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ARM-Powered Linux Laptops Unveiled At Computex 272

Charbax writes "At Computex in Taipei on June 2-6th, several companies unveiled ARM-powered laptops that are cheaper ($99 to $199), last much longer on a regular 3-cell battery (8-15 hours) and can still add cool new features such as a built-in HDMI 720p or 1080p output, 3D acceleration, connected standby and more. The ARM Linux laptops shown as working prototypes at Computex will run Ubuntu 9.10 (optimized for ARM), Google Android, Xandros OS for ARM, or some Red Flag Linux type of OS. In this video, the Director of Mobile Computing at ARM, is giving us all the latest details on the status for the support of full Flash (with all actionscripts), the optimizations of the web browser (accelerating rendering/scrolling using the GPU/DSP), the stuff that Google is working on to adapt Android 2.0 Donut release for laptop screens and interfaces and more. At Computex I also filmed an interview with the Nvidia team working on Tegra laptops, the Qualcomm people working on Snapdragon devices and the Freescale people doing their awesomely thin ARM laptops in cooperation with manufacturers such as Pegatron as well."
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ARM-Powered Linux Laptops Unveiled At Computex

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  • by MathFox ( 686808 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @09:44AM (#28240945)
    I would buy such a 9" smartbook and use it as ultraportable second laptop (as it can do OOo impress presentations it would be very useful too.) I can imagine other computer users in Europe and the US to buy such a machine as second (third) system. However, if the suppliers can keep prices under the $200, it will be an affordable system for "the masses" in China, India and South America that were unable to afford their own PC before. Somehow, prices for netbooks crept up with the addition of harddisks and Windows.
  • by eddy ( 18759 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @09:46AM (#28240959) Homepage Journal

    I don't understand who are going to sell these when Microsoft call them up and say "Oh, I see you're selling computers with [non-windows OS], that's interesting... Yeaaahh so... you know those rebates you get on Windows? Yeah, you can forget about those. Have a nice day"

    Do they think they're safe because they're on ARM?

  • by moon3 ( 1530265 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @09:47AM (#28240963)
    The most interesting part is that those devices have integrated CPU/GPU/Video Accel. on a single chip. Something that Intel, AMD and nVidia is pursuing for a long time, but these ARM based solutions from Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and others are delivering now and the performance / power consumption ratio is already impressive.
  • by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @09:58AM (#28241013)
    I'd consider buying one for the extended battery life as long as it's not too much slower. I generally only use a netbook for browsing, and occasionally remoting into home machines, but occasionally will run Eclipse or NetBeans. As it is, the big drawback is not the processor, but the vertical screen resolution that stops me from doing it more often.

    That said, I work in software development, and I'm the only one I know that has a netbook. I've heard that in Europe, purchase rates are 8-10 times higher than here in North America. Why is that?

  • 7" size missing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 07, 2009 @10:01AM (#28241027)

    As another Nokia Internet Tablet user, I look forward to a slightly larger size, but retaining 2+ days of battery use. 10" screens are too large.

    Don't get me wrong, my N800 is good for highly portable needs (geocaching, mobile email, skype, lite blogging), all without a mandatory cell data plan, but there are times when a larger screen would be useful without adding weight. A Eee is too heavy and too large. A 7" screen with a built-in keyboard that I can touch type on and GPS included would be really nice. Some external connections - monitor, keyboard, USB, 100base-tx would be really nice too. Those missing things hurt N800/N810 adoption, IMHO.

    No need to support video editing or any other high powered processing. Just lite word processing, spreadsheets, web surfing, email, plus all the things the N800 does already.

  • RiscOS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dynamoo ( 527749 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @10:02AM (#28241031) Homepage
    Of course, RiscOS [] is a tailor-made OS for ARM processors. That really is a very lightweight and simple OS and while it doesn't have the applications available that a Linux distro does, it might make an interesting port for this sort of platform.
  • Re:RiscOS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by david.given ( 6740 ) <dg AT cowlark DOT com> on Sunday June 07, 2009 @10:22AM (#28241149) Homepage Journal

    Last year I put together a basic kernel reimplementation in portable C (as much as possible); interested parties may want to check it out []. It was a pretty unpleasant job. While RISC OS looks elegant on the surface, inside it's a nasty maze of inconsistent APIs, duplicated APIs, APIs that require certain (unfriendly) implementations, APIs that should have been deprecated and haven't been, APIs that don't exist and should to avoid having to read the kernel private workspace, and most terrible of all, APIs that expose kernel implementation details. And, just to add insult to injury, most of RISC OS is written in hard-to-maintain machine code. (And the APIs are very unfriendly to C.)

    Not to mention the fact that RISC OS is missing certain bits of functionality that everyone nowadays takes for granted: threads, preemptive multitasking, memory protection between processes, a GUI that can be driven from the keyboard...

    Given how much of an overhaul it would need to be meet modern standards of functionality, it'd probably be easier just to start again from scratch with a proper OS design. I find myself rather intrigued by Prex [], for example, which is a minimalist embedded operating system with hypervisor-like functionality and a Unixish system call interface. And, unlike RISC OS, it's BSD licensed.

  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @10:25AM (#28241171)

    From one of the linked articles...

    "He acknowledged two concerns for smartbooks are the lack of native support for Adobe Flash on ARM and the fragmentation of Linux application environments. However, he said solutions to both issues are in the works." Emphasis in bold mine.

    And further,

    "One of the downsides of Linux is the fragmented nature of it," he said. "That's why so many designers are excited about Google's Android, because it's managed by a single entity," he added."

    Now, these are folks doing very serious work with Linux. Many Slashdoters have said the same things only to be branded as trolls. I can see a future for Android if Google continues to do a good job.

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @10:29AM (#28241183)

    readable outdoors in daylight implies either a monochrome e-ink display or something with enough backlighting to overcome skylight - which is where your battery life is disappearing to.

    The key here is a reflective color display (not reflective in the sense of a mirror, but like a book, which uses the sunlight itself to illuminate the page). My Garmin GPS has what they call a "transflective" screen that is color, but visible in daylight in just the same was as a monochrome LCD, and for dark conditions it has a backlight also. I assume there must be some good reason they can't put this in a laptop - poor color rendition perhaps?

    The other route, though it seems horribly-wasteful, is to overwhelm the ambient sunlight with a super-bright backlight as you said. I have a Lenovo T400 with an LED backlight which does this surprisingly well, though still not ideal for full-blast sunlight at, say, the beach. LEDs are more power-efficient than standard flourescents too, though as you said fighting sunlight is a losing proposition.

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @10:36AM (#28241231)
    PS I would seriously consider buying a portable add-on E-ink screen for my laptop. It would have to be thin enough to sit in front of the normal screen (not with the lid closed, of course), and plug into the laptop's VGA output. Sure it would be monochrome and have a sluggish response time. But for sitting outside doing word-processing or spreadsheets, and consulting wikipedia etc, that would be fine. The add-on route would avoid having to make a special-purpose laptop with only an E-ink screen, which I agree is not too attractive.
  • by christurkel ( 520220 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @10:53AM (#28241313) Homepage Journal
    So they're happy to have a single entity that focus on a subset of hardware with a consistent API and a development force behind it. Where have I heard that before? Let's see, it's run by a mercurial egomaniac...
  • by Johnny Loves Linux ( 1147635 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @11:10AM (#28241403)

    From your posting and the quotes you refer to, I'm guessing the issue you seem to be having is the availability of proprietary software on Linux.

    From my perspective, I couldn't care less about proprietary software. I've got linux. I've got Debian Linux. I've got 24,000+ software packages ready to go on ARM. What do I need proprietary software for? What's the smartbook for? Reading e-mail, web browsing, watching a video, maybe doing a presentation. Where's the need for proprietary software? I already have google for online searching, maps, e-mail. What need is there for proprietary software?

    If you're a proprietary software developer why not save yourself some grief and pain and write your software for the iphone. Apple would be happy to review your software for its suitability to its platform. I'm also sure that if you write software for Microsoft's platforms and it's wildly successful there's a pretty good chance of being bought out by Microsoft on their terms, and if the terms aren't good enough for Microsoft they might just take your good idea and make their own inferior copy of it.

    If you really want to write proprietary software for Linux, then I would encourage you to write web based software where you own the server and your clients interact with your server using a standards compliant browser. That way it doesn't matter what OS the client is running, and you don't have to deal with support issues.

  • Re:RiscOS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by horza ( 87255 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @12:01PM (#28241683) Homepage

    There is certainly some truth to what you say, though I may disagree with some of your interpretations. Though I have been away from RiscOS for a number of years, so cannot comment on the current state, I always found the APIs a pleasure to use. The ability to add or patch 'modules' was great. I interned at Acorn for my Masters and worked directly on the kernel (the http module amongst other things) and found the source well written and commented. There was certainly some ARM assembler (not quite the same as machine code) but I don't remember it being 'most' of RiscOS. I bow to your more recent knowledge though, you seem to have investigated quite thoroughly.

    I've written RiscOS apps in ARM, C and BASIC, and it is the most pleasurable computer experience I have ever had. Even BASIC apps ran full speed, and GUI apps were a doddle to write. From a user perspective it was the most productive windowing system for its time. It did have limitations, however, and was very targeted at Acorn's own hardware.

    I disagree that it misses preemptive multi-tasking and threads. It was a design decision to go with co-operative multi-taking, much like Linus decided to go with a monolithic kernel instead of a micro-kernel. And in much the same way as one was supposed to be theoretically better than the other but one "just worked", RiscOS was the fastest most responsive OS on the market. One software manufacturer forced their clients to buy Acorn computers just to run their software as no other OS was responsive enough to run it (Sibelius). It requires a different way of thinking, much like writing a Twisted module instead of an Apache one, but for all the theory of a rogue app slowing or taking down the OS in practice it never happened.

    Though from a performance perspective RiscOS would be perfect for a netbook, and would be more responsive than most other OS, it doesn't make sense from a commercial perspective over Linux due to the vast wealth of available software easily ported. It is an easy choice for users between a slight performance increase, and Ubuntu with thousands of free apps installable in a single mouse click for free.


  • Re:Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Larryish ( 1215510 ) <> on Sunday June 07, 2009 @12:13PM (#28241775)

    Linux fonts and the Linux interface in general (I use Gnome) have really improved. In fact, many cross-platform apps like Firefox and OpenOffice don't show any appreciable difference between the Linux version and the Windows version.


    I gave my mother-in-law a used laptop early last year, Gateway Solo 5300 700mhz with half a gig of RAM and Ubuntu 7.10

    It was the first computer she ever actually owned. She had only used Windows machines up to that point.

    She teaches at her hometown high school and uses her computer for email, browsing the web, editing Word documents and playing Mahjong.

    I never once had her call for help, and she was able to do everything that she needed.

    About 3 months ago the machine went dead, most likely a motherboard problem.

    She had me find her a decent laptop on eBay, gave me a budget of $250. I roped in a 1 ghz Thinkpad for around 190 bucks and she requested that I set it up with Ubuntu. So I graduated her up to Ubuntu 8.04, handed her the machine, and haven't had a support call yet.

    Unless you are an avid gamer, or your job/hobby requires esoteric software that only runs on Windows, Linux is ready for the desktop. Your 60 year old mother-in-law could even use it.

  • by vivaelamor ( 1418031 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @12:47PM (#28242105)

    If you take a look at the progress the Moblin distribution has made for the atom processor then you can see what is possible with a full blown OS. Near instantanious bootup (faster than a lot of phones) as well as an innovative yet full featured small screen interface. I am sure that linux can adapt to slower processors faster than Windows CE can adapt to bigger screens considering linux is already feature complete for computers a lot slower than the new arm processor.

    One point you make which seems really fuzzy is about the tasks you do on a netbook being the same as the tasks you would do on a phone. I would be surprised if 99.9% of what you wanted to do on a current Windows CE device would include using a webcam, watching a high definition movie, running a complete development environment, playing strategy games, troubleshooting a network, writing a novel, running project management software, file sharing with a windows network.. etc. Basically, there is a lot you can do with a slow computer as long as the screen is big enough.

  • Re:They could (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 07, 2009 @01:04PM (#28242221)

    They could do what they did on the Alpha version, include an x86 emulator. Given that dynamic recompilation has come a long way since the DEC Alpha and NT 4.0, they could probably pull it off and get halfway decent performance.

  • by Bazer ( 760541 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @02:22PM (#28242861)

    It draws 250mW when using the ARM core (complete with FPU and vector unit), the DSP, the OpenGL 2 ES GPU, the 512 MB of flash and 256MB of RAM and the other integrated components in the package.

    You have got to be kidding me. This is ridiculous. If this is what x86 compatibility costs in terms of power consumption, then this is a killer feature. If ARM laptops will get an order of magnitude more runtime on battery power, compared to their x86 counter-parts then Microsoft shareholders are going to be very disappointed in the coming year.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 07, 2009 @02:48PM (#28243065)

    Yes you can run wine on arm. Source 'man qemu-i386':
    "The qemu-user emulator can run binaries for other architectures but
                  with the same operating system as the current one."

  • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @03:27PM (#28243381) Journal

    When you factor everything in, the best x86 solutions need over an order of magnitude more power for the same level of performance.

    This is completely baseless. See point #1 here: []

    In fact ATOM uses anywhere from the same amount of power in the best case, to much less than an order of magnitude in the worse...

    And even if it were an order of magnitude difference in power consumption as you claim, you're utterly wrong that ARM will outperform x86 solutions. The claim has been made forever by interested parties, and it's never been true. ARM has never been designed for performance equivalent to even the lowest-end x86 CPUs, and ATOM CPUs easily outperform OMAP3 packages, just not as much as they historically always have.

    And I must admire how you single-out Geode... Comparing an extremely, EXTREMELY OLD x86 CPU design based on much older tech and vastly larger fab processes (from 10 years ago), with a practically brand-new ARM solution. Just going out of your way to make the comparison as unfair as possible?

    Even the Geode has an embarrassingly high power consumption (close to 7W for a complete system, excluding display),

    The "excluding display" comment makes it obvious you in-fact know the problem with your claim, but continue to pretend that it doesn't exist...

    Cutting the power consumption of the CPU any further than Geode/ATOM has, just doesn't have a market... Not because it's not possible, but simply because other factors begin to dominate. The display is a huge one. Even if you can cut your CPU power consumption by 50%, you're only cutting overall system power consumption by perhaps 10%. The display obviously dominates, and there's no sign of any near-future technology that will substantially reduce that power requirement by a significant amount.

  • by Qubit ( 100461 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @04:04PM (#28243671) Homepage Journal

    the status for the support of full Flash (with all actionscripts)

    Gnash [] is getting extremely close to being a drop-in Free Software replacement for the Adobe Flash Player. In the linked videos, the ARM director of mobile computing was talking about how the ARM folks were working with Adobe to get Adobe Flash running on the ARM processors, but Gnash has already had ARM support for years. If they're demoing Ubuntu -- a Free Software OS -- on these machines, then why not use a Free Software program to play Flash programs on them? Why not invest their time and energy in the Free Software project?

    Rob Savoye (lead dev for Gnash) wrote a bit on this topic [] on the gnash-dev mailing list:

    Jason Guiditta wrote:
    > Just saw this...article...bsquared porting flash lite to run on an upcoming dell
    > netbook.

    Yes, I'm familiar with Bsquared. They're porting the Adobe v10 to
    embedded platforms, basically getting rid of Flash Lite, which has
    always been somewhat limited. I've talked to several company's also
    talking to Bsquared.

    > ...This seems like a perfect opportunity to get some
    > funding for gnash, since it is already designed to run on so many
    > platforms. If a big company like Dell is willing to pay to get flash
    > well-supported on their netbook, why could that player not be gnash?

    We'd need a contact at a sufficiently high level. Of the companies I
    know using BSquared's promised flashplayer for ARM, MIPS, etc... have
    decided they'd rather spend hundreds of thousands of $$$ for the
    Bsquared solution, than give much smaller amounts to Gnash, which
    already runs on the ARM and Android. Big companies that prefer
    proprietary software seems to prefer to give business to each other,
    regardless pf the much higher price tag. Of the few machines I've played
    with the Bsquared plugin on, it usually hung the browser in seconds, and
    many other stability problems. But I guess they'll get it right

    I also talked to Google about Gnash for Android several times, but
    they don't appear to be interested in the slightest. Unfortunately, the
    only people willing to support Gnash with any funding are people that
    believe strongly in free software solutions already. To those people, I
    can't thank you enough!

                    - rob -

    Free Software can be a great benefit to the hardware folks like ARM, and can be great for a mobile platform like Android, but it's sad that these groups don't seem to take any interest in what the Free Software community is offering. That's why it's so important for people to donate time, code, and/or money to projects like Gnash. Software Freedom isn't going to just happen without people like you and me stepping up and getting stuff done.

  • Re:Obligatory flame (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> on Sunday June 07, 2009 @06:31PM (#28244747) Homepage

    While you're at it, why not open up the classified ads section in your local newspaper and immediately buy the cheapest used car you can find without doing any research at all. You can round it out by renting the cheapest apartment in the city and shopping for food at the cheapest grocery store, all without doing a bit of research.

    Whoever said stupidity wasn't painful enough?

  • Re:7" size missing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tzanger ( 1575 ) on Sunday June 07, 2009 @11:03PM (#28246585) Homepage

    Screw 1024x600; I want a 10" netbook with a 1920x1080 screen. I *WANT* high DPI. All that exists right now seem to be 1024x600 and even smaller (1024x576??!). I'll adjust my font size, just gimme my damn high res!

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