A chip for the gap: CULV devices give netbooks a run for their money
Oct 18, 2009, 11:28 GMT
Munich - Netbooks are selling like hotcakes. They're small, mobile, and with prices ranging from 350 to 450 dollars, they're not expensive either. It used to be that laptops at that price were probably underpowered, discontinued, or both. To fill the gap between cheap netbooks and bigger, better performing notebooks, manufacturers are now pushing a new class of devices: laptops with so-called ULV or CULV processors.
ULV stands for Ultra Low Voltage. The processors work with a truly low voltage, meaning that they consume less power than laptops packing a dual core processor. The ULV chips also work at lower temperatures, explains chipmaker Intel from its Munich offices.
Less cooling is required for the processors, which translates into smaller or silent passive fans and ultimately into less power consumption by the computer. It also means that less space is required within the case. This allows much of the computer's thickness to be eliminated, earning them the moniker 'ultra thins.'
From a technical standpoint, ULV processors are nothing new. They've been around for a while, says Thomas Rau from Munich-based PC Welt magazine. 'Until recently they were almost always built into sub-notebooks for business users,' Rau says. Those machines, built for the needs of frequent travellers, are relatively expensive. They cost 1,500 dollars or more.
The current hunger for netbooks has shown on the one hand that consumers are interested in affordable mobile computers with long battery lives, even if they are less powerful than a PC. On the other hand is the lingering dissatisfaction on the part of netbook owners with their devices. That was the findings of a survey by US market researchers NPD. Among 600 users surveyed, only 58 per cent of them expressed satisfaction with their netbook.
All of which explains the rise of a new laptop class priced similarly to netbooks at 600 to 800 dollars. That extra money works out to significantly more performance than a netbook. These are consumer devices, intended for private users. That is why they are also called 'Consumer Ultra Low Voltage' chips.
Intel competitor AMD provides CULV processors like the Athlon Neo and platforms to go with them. Yet spokesman Stephan Schwolow sees less of a focus on individual processors. 'Buyers just aren't interested in that,' he says. AMD is instead interested in reducing the number of stickers adorning new computers, especially since no-one seems to be able to understand them anymore anyway.
The company is instead promoting its Vision platform in basic, premium, and ultimate versions. Computers would then no longer be labelled with a precise processor speed, but rather with their category (basic to ultimate). CULV laptops land in the basic or premium categories.
One major plus for CULV computers is their ability to go without a wall plug. 'Within each size class, CULV devices offer a significantly longer battery life than comparably sized laptops with other processors,' Rau explains. In general that totals up to five to eight hours. Acer recently presented its Aspire Timeline 1810T laptop built around a CULV chip. The 11.6-inch device works for more than eight hours on battery power. At 500 dollars, it costs hardly more than a netbook.
CULV processors are certainly more powerful than the Atom processors that dominate the netbook market. That doesn't mean they're a good choice for power-hungry 3D games, though. 'They are only of only limited value for gaming,' Rau says.
CULVs do have other benefits. Unlike netbooks, they come in formats bigger than 10 inches, which prevents the constant scrolling through Office documents that marks life with a netbook. That includes models ranging up to 15-inch models.