Reader question: Atom-based netbooks and UMPCs

Intel_atom_silverthorne_diamondvill

In response to yesterday’s news about the Fujitsu LifeBook U2010, Pocketables reader Atom4Dummies emailed me with the following question:

I just read on your site that the Fujitsu U2010 will have a 1.6GHz Atom CPU and cost almost $1,400. Gah! Why is it so expensive? The new Eee PC 1000H has the 1.6GHz Atom CPU plus a larger screen, bigger hard drive, etc. and is only $550 from Newegg. I’m new to the UMPC world so maybe this is a stupid question, but what’s so great about the U2010 (and the Sharp D4 you like so much) that makes it almost three times more expensive than the 1000H?

Atom4Dummies isn’t the first person to ask me why Atom-based UMPCs are so much more expensive than Atom-based netbooks, so I thought it might be worthwhile to lay out my non-technical answer here. Head over to Intel if you’re looking for nitty gritty details.

The short of it is this: netbooks and UMPCs use different Atom processors. As you can see from the graphic above (via Crave), the Atom Z500-Z540 chips (previously codenamed Silverthorne) for MIDs/UMPCs are not the same as the Atom N270 chip (previously codenamed Diamondville) used in just about every netbook on the market right now. The Eee PC 901/1000H, MSI Wind, Acer Aspire One, and Gigabyte M912, for example, are all being powered by the 1.6GHz Atom N270 processor.

Intel_atom_z5xx

The problem, and the root of the confusion, is that most people (including me) just refer to a new device as being "Atom-based" or "powered by Atom" without specifying exactly which chip is being used. I won’t speak for anyone else, but the reason I do this is because Intel announced Atom, the Centrino Atom platform (previously codenamed Menlow), and the five Z5xx processors several months ago.

Enough time has passed, then, for my brain to automatically fill in the blanks. When it was revealed yesterday that the new Fujitsu U2010 would feature the 1.6GHz Intel Atom CPU (Z530), for instance, I knew it wasn’t the same 1.6GHz Atom (N270) tucked inside the netbooks. The U2010, in fact, is actually the first device ever to use the Z530.

And at the moment, it is only the third UMPC to be seated on the Centrino Atom (Menlow) platform. The first two Menlow-based UMPCs are the Kohjinsha SC3 and Willcom D4 (Sharp WS016SH), both of which are running on the 1.33GHz Atom Z520:

willcom_d4_size_kohji_sc3

Back to Atom4Dummies‘ question. The Z5xx processor may not be the only reason Atom-based UMPCs are more expensive than Atom-based netbooks, but I believe it’s the main one. It’s the catalyst, so to speak. While the chip’s smaller size allows manufacturers to build smaller devices, its higher-profile features enable it to be more capable. And none of that comes cheap.

Oh, and as for the price of the Fujitsu U2010? That was just a straight currency conversion. When the U2010 is released in the US, it will not necessarily be priced at the equivalent of what it’s being sold for in Hong Kong. I do expect it to cost more than $1K, but exactly how much more remains to be seen.

Learn more about the Intel Atom processors: N270 (PDF), Z5xx (PDF)

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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