New Netbook Player

Just found out that there is a new and exciting player in the low-end X86 market, today! NorhTec, a Thai company, has come out with a small netbook powered by 8 AA sized batteries. I checked out their product website and the netbook has a very exciting architecture. The main thing that made it stand out was that the entire PC motherboard + CPU platform consumes barely 1.2W of power. This beats even the numbers from AMD/Intel/VIA. Being the processor geek that I am, I decided to investigate further.

The netbook is based off a Xcore86 System-on-Chip, which contains a 586 class processor, audio, video, network, storage, and I/O all on one chip. From a purely technical perspective, this would actually be a whole PC-on-chip. All you would need to get it to run is to add some memory, monitor, keyboard and mouse. This got me thinking that it would be an excellent candidate for a variety of other PC-based products.

So, investigating further, this Xcore86 is a re-branded Vortex86 System-on-Chip. Again, checking out the information on the website, this chip reminded me of some of the older 386 based SiS System-on-Chips operating in the embedded market. So, doing a little more digging, it turns out that I was right! It is the SiS based system. It was the former SiS division that was sold off to a Taiwanese company. So, these babies are essentially the new and improved SiS chips.

Personally, I think that it is great that the SiS chips are still alive – rise from the dead. They had a very specific niche market segment – embedded x86 applications. However, with the present boom in netbooks, they seem to have found a new market segment. However, I don’t see Intel taking this lying down. The situation with x86 patents is rather murky. They may or may not have the legal right to actually produce x86 processors.

Regardless of the legal issues, you can expect this processor to be slower than the offerings from any other company. However, they should be able to compete on cost – shrinking a whole motherboard of chips into one. Couple that with a sightly older manufacturing process, the prices should be competitive for the low-cost segment. Performance while running Linux should be perfectly fine. I am also running Linux on a similar class machine at home.

All in all, an interesting development. I like this NorhTec company. They have been at the fringe of my radar for quite a while now. They’ve got a bunch of other small-form factor PC products, including a couple that I am interested in.

Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered/Professional Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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