Austin (TX) – Intel was able to conquer the netbook market almost without any competition from other CPU manufacturers. Freescale is the first company to have created a noteworthy ARM-based Intel Atom rival, which will challenge with a much lower cost, possibly enabling $199 netbooks.
Freescale’s netbook platform consists of a 65 nm CPU based on an ARM Cortex-A8 blueprint. The i.MX515 processor combines traditional CPU functionality with a hardware-based video acceleration block and will ship with clock speeds of 600 MHz to 1 GHz. Created in collaboration with Pegatron, the reference platform also includes the SGTL5000 “ultra low-power audio codec”, Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux operating system and Adobe’s Flash Lite software. OpenVG and OpenGL graphics cores are available.
The i.MX515 supports both DDR2 and mobile DDR1 memory. While mobile DDR1 is ideal for the most power sensitive mobile Internet devices, DDR2 is better suited for netbooks as it provides low power at significantly less cost, the company stated.
Freescale said the reference platform is available now and volume production is targeted for Q2 2009, which means that netbooks based on the i.MX515 could become available by Christmas 2009, if everything goes to plan.
It is interesting to note that Intel initially targeted its Atom processor (with Silverthorne core) at devices that are or could be equipped with ARM-based chips. When Atom was unveiled, Intel noted that the CPUs advantage is its support for the x86 software stack. If necessary an Atom processor could run every application a Core 2 Duo supports. Now it seems that ARM licensees are catching up and the software stack issue has been solved at least in this case and at least as far as the operating system is concerned.
There was no information on the possible performance of the Freescale chip, but industry sources told TG Daily that the processor will not be able to match the speed of Atom, but undercut it in terms of power consumption. The performance-disadvantage may not be a huge problem, since the platform is targeting a product segment Intel can’t touch at this time and the netbook segment is all about good-enough performance anyway. If the i.MX515 can run a web browser and other basic applications with acceptable speed, it might turn into an interesting product.