Qualcomm SnapDragon Powered EEE PC Surfaces at Computex

Computex 2009 was host today to the newest member of the EEE PC family, powered by the Qualcomm SnapDragon system-on-a-chip and Google's Android OS for mobile devices. The Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC incoroporates an ARM11 core operating ag 1 GHz (future models will be running at 1.3 GHz), an integrated 600 MHz DSP (a coprocessor for math, audio, and 3D acceleration), as well as embedded hardware video codecs, enabling this processor to support HD video of 720p (later models with 1080p). This netbook also offers always-up connectivity with an integrated internationally-compatible 3G modem, as well as the standard 802.11g wireless connectivity. The full spec list is available here. However, the kicker in favour of ARM-based netbooks is their power efficiency. The Qualcomm-powered EEE PC is expected to boast a battery life of 8 to 10 hours on a single charge!

ARM based processors are what power 99% of today's cellular phones and mobile electronics, such as the iPhone. As one might expect, there is no room for a heat sink or fan in a mobile phone. Therefore, ARM engineers and their licensees have taken power efficiency to a whole new level with this technology. Aside from the impressive multimedia and gaming capabilities, and like most ARM-based SoCs, all of the transistor logic for the CPU, co-processor, and peripheral devices is integrated onto a single wafer of silicon, hence the term 'system-on-a-chip'. Its as if the video, sound, network, PCIe controller, memory controllers, etc, etc, etc, were crammed onto a single package. For comparison, a similar netbook platform, based on the Intel architecture, would occupy at least three, but more commonly four or more chips, resulting in a drastically larger amount of power dissipated as heat.

The 1GHz barrier for ARM chips was first traversed commercially by Marvell, with their Shiva-Plug. Texas Instruments had reached milestones even earlier with their OMAP line of chips which power devices such as the BeagleBoard development board and the OpenPandora mobile gaming platform. The Qualcomm-powered EEE PC is not the first ARM-powered netbook though; some people may still have their eyes on the Always Innovating TouchBook, which is also powered by the familiar OMAP processor. However, if ASUS blesses this marriage of ARM and Android in their cathedrals of manufacturing, then the new Qualcomm-powered ASUS EEE PC might be the first ARM-powered netbook that hits the mass market.


Christopher Friedt said...

In spite of this, in my opinion, being a major step forward for ARM processors, Linux, Android, and green computing, my wife brought up a very valid point; will it run SPSS?

The answer, at present, is no. The major conflict that Linux-powered devices have (but more generally mobile devices), is that they are incapable of running most business software. Sure, Android has a word processor and spreadsheet supplied via Google Apps, but users want the ability to install any application of choice, even on their netbooks.

That is the ugly truth - netbooks need to be capable of not only being our mobile connectivity solution for browsing, multimedia, and entertainment, but they also carry the burden of form-factor. If laptop-A can run Application-Y that runs on Windows, then why can't laptop-B?

Not only is this a problem due to Microsoft's wide-spread infection, but they have also cornered the business software market too. Even if this laptop were to run a re-engineered version of Windows, the 3rd party application developers would still need to port their proprietary software to it to distribute in binary form, which also is problematic due to software bloat.

I wonder if investing some time porting GNU Octave to Android would be a wise choice. That way, many Matlab applications would work, and SPSS users could make use of a plug-in of sorts.

paratwa said...

Christopher, I completely disagree. Don't confuse Netbooks/Smartbooks with full blown PCs. Just as you don't expect to do word processing on your cell phone, nor should you expect to do specialized commercial or industrial applications on a commodity Netbook/Smartbook.

You use the right tool for the right job, don't expect every tool to work like the last one, because it may be for a different job.

I've already pre-ordered a Touchbook from AlwaysInnovating and eagerly await its arrival. I'm not going to be building databases for enterprise use, nor rendering the next Pixar movie. I'm going to browse the web, lightweight word processing, and do so for 10+ hours after a regular PCs battery has died. Use the right tool for the job.

Christopher Friedt said...

Hmm... some other announcements are suggesting that it's actually Acer that plans to release an Android-powered netbook in the next few months, while ASUS says that it plans to hold off on Android indefinitely.

Christopher Friedt said...

Hi paratwa,

I agree with your disagreement to some degree - netbooks and smartbooks have their place in the computing universe - although you may have misread. I'm not confusing anything,but basically just conferring the interests of the general consumer.

People who don't necessary understand the intricacies of semiconductors and software just see 'a computer'. Moreover, they want to be able to do the same thing on 'computer A' as they would on 'computer B'. This is a fact, and is the reason that the Linux-based EEE PC's had such massive return rates. Consumers didn't understand why they couldn't install any random windows application to the Linux OS. Ultimately, it's the consumer that companies cater to.

I for, example, use a 7" EEE PC with 8GB of storage as my workstation for everything from Linux kernel hacking and Matlab, to multimedia playback in my living room. You could say that I'm pushing the limits, of course, but really, it's just about having the vision to make computers do cool things, and packing more performance into more convenient and efficient packages.

I could definitely foresee wine being ported to ARM, for example, and along with it, many of the 'legacy' applications that prevent people from using Linux or alternative architectures. Thats one thing that open source software has proven over the years: if there's a will, there is a way.