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New Laptops defy dim market expectations

Posted: 11.17.08

Figure 1: Market share of laptop and desktop PCs. (Source: Jon Peddie Research)

Figure 2: Market share of laptop and desktop GPUs. (Source; Jon Peddie Research)

Figure 3: Market share of laptop GPUs (IGP and Discrete). (Source: Jon Peddie Research)

There were some interesting announcements last week in Laptop Land as the manufacturers geared up for the impending holiday madness, although it does appear that the global recession worries, and general lack of consumer confidence may dampen some of the dreams of the suppliers.

Typically, in times of economic depression non-essential purchases are postponed, or at best case, the consumer looks for the lowest priced product available. If history is any teacher, some of the high-end shiny notebooks may soon begin looking like the last doggie in the pet shop.

One contrarian is Acer, the world’s third-largest PC vendor. Acer executives expect shipments of netbooks and laptop PCs to grow 20% to 25% compared to the third quarter, while desktop PC shipments remain flat. The company’s fourth quarter revenue will also outpace the third quarter they said, but the executives did not say by how much. And, DigiTimes reports that Asus is dropping prices on several models including the Eee PC 701, 901, 904, 1000H, and 1000HD. The move is reportedly part of an effort to meet the company’s goal of shipping five million units by the end of the year and to clear out some older netbooks.

Nonetheless, the news of a pending recession didn’t stop, even if it could have stopped, the introduction of a few new laptops with some novel and exciting features. Laptops, notebooks, and mini-notes have been the high point in the industry for a while, with the mini-notes surprising some and being the big hope for price elasticity market expansion and the ultimate parity and leadership in market share over desktops.

However, due to double attach, and uses beyond the PC for GPUs, the market share of GPUs is not reaching parity as quickly as PCs.

And, within the laptop GPU market, the market shares have shifted over time from one supplier to another.

  • The future: With laptops now such a dominate factor in the PC industry, extending all the way from the mini-note to the extreme gaming and workstation class, a supplier’s position in this segment is one of the measures of its overall success and future.
  • ASPs: However, average notebook IGP ASPs (in low $20) are lower than desktop IGPs ASPs (high $20 to $30s), and growth in notebook discrete GPUs is challenged by the market expansion driven by IGPs and the much lower associated attach rates. So, overall, whereas it’s a segment with great growth, it’s not as rich a segment as the desktop.
  • Must do: Nonetheless, to avoid investing in this segment is to be cutting off one’s future growth and success. And, alas, there is no Moore’s law for batteries, so power management is still the key to success in this segment.

How many GPUs can you cram in a laptop?

Alienware’s M17 with dual GPUs. (Source: Alienware)

Ask Alienware, they’ve got two in the new M17

Although there have been phony announcements of dual GPU laptops before, this time there’s a real one available. Alienware has introduced the M17 (which is not the same thing as their M17x) and it employs ATI CrossFireX dual graphics.

Using an MXM card with two Radeon RV670 Radeon HD3870 GPUs, each with 256-bit 512MB GDDR3 frame buffer memory and 320 stream processors, the laptop pushes the envelope on thermal management by running the RV670s at their rated 775MHz clock and the GDDR3 at 1.12 GHz. (although the memory clock of a RV670 is capable of 2.25 GHz.)

Dell has maintained Alienware as its high-performance PC gaming brand and Alienware has maintained a strong loyal following. Their new 17-inch beast is not likely to disappoint those folks.

The unit isn’t small, measuring 4.3 cm (1.7-inches) thick, 39.7 cm (15.65-inches) wide, 30 cm (11.80-inches) deep and weighing 4.3 kg (9.5 lbs.) in a stealth Black, a soft-touch, matte black finish that protects the system from fingerprints and scratches

You can get a single GPU and 2.2GHz Core 2 based system with a 1440 x 900 screen for as little as $1,399, but if you configure one with dual GPUs, a 1920 x 1200 screen, a 250 GB 7200 RPM HDD and a 2.53 GHz Core 2 Extreme Quad CPU you can run the price up to $3,000.

The unit has a VGA and HDMI output, and the HDMI can use a dongle to drive an external dual-link DVI display up to 2560 x 1600.

What do we think?

Laptops have been gaining market share over desktops at an accelerating rate for the past four years, and depending on who you talk to, they may be at parity with desktops this year or next. The one stronghold for desktops has been the ability to modify and add really powerful AIBs. That had been a safe haven for desktops due to the power (wattage) and cooling requirements of the big AIBs, and for the extreme systems it will continue to be. However, the M17 is challenging those precepts and is an interesting alternative to a desktop for the gamer that travels a lot. And if you think this is interesting, read the next story.—JP

If you liked two, then how about three?

Toshiba’s Qosmio X305 multi-GPU laptop. (Source: Toshiba)

Toshiba announces laptop with three Nvidia chips

Hot on the heels of the Apple design-win announcements, Nvidia and Toshiba jointly announced the first laptop with three—that’s not a typo THREE Nvidia GPUs in it. The new Toshiba Qosmio X305 laptop uses Nvidia’s core logic and GPUs—a GeForce 9400M and two GeForce 9800M GTS GPUs in SLI mode or less power demanding operations in Hybrid. This is the first laptop to use three GPUs and also the first GeForce 9M Series SLI laptops. The GPUs run at 1.5 GHz, have 512MB per GPU, and the memory clock is 800MHz.

When the system senses that you disconnected from main power (the wall) it automatically switches off the dGPU(s) and engages the IGP, and it takes less than a second, so the user is not even aware of it happening. Thus, with the IGP you save battery life.

HybridPower transition happens automatically when you unplug. The system automatically switches off the dGPU(s) and engages the IGP in less than a second so users are unaware of what just happened, if they care. The user can also force transition. For instance, it might be useful to shut off the dGPU and the accompanying fan noise when watching Blu-ray.

There are two new models added to the Qosmio X305 line, the Q706 and Q708. The big difference between them is the Q706 offers a Core 2 Duo P8400 CPU.

Why did they do this? “We wanted to deliver an extreme-performance gaming machine that gives gamers a complete, no-compromise system in a laptop form factor,” said Carl Pinto, vice president of product development, digital products division for Toshiba America Information Systems.

The units have a 17-inch 1680 x 1050 display and weigh 9 pounds. Starting price is $1,999 for the Q706 and $4,199 for the quadcore based Q708.

What do we think?

Toshiba has been one of the leaders in high-performance laptops, and whereas this is a pretty fantastic product introduction, it isn’t too much of a surprise to see Toshiba do it. The use of Nvidia’s IGP, which they call a motherboard GPU—mGPU, with hybrid operation is a brilliant move by Toshiba in that it provides the best of both worlds, max performance, or max battery life—JP.

Two screens too

Fujitsu’s dual-screen NY7010 Lifebook laptop. (Source: Fujitsu)

Fujitsu offers two-screen laptop

Fujitsu announced a new laptop, the Lifebook N7010 that has a secondary 4-inch 960 x 544 touchscreen LCD just above the keyboard that can be used to control media playback, display quick-launch icons, or scroll through a photo slideshow.

The Ny7010 has a 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 processor, 256MB ATI Radeon HD 3470 GPU, 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth, a Blu-ray drive, a gesture-enabled touchpad, removable dust filter, and spill-resistant keyboard.

The 16-inch widescreen display has a resolution of 1366 x 768 and the system also offers an HDMI port for an external display. The second display can also help you multitask; instead of minimizing an application, you can drag it into the display below. (The example from Fujitsu: You can work on a large file in the main screen while chatting on the Webcam below).

Pricing for the Fujitsu LifeBook N7010 starts at US$1,499. The system can be ordered today and is expected to start shipping by November 10, but only in the U.S. (for now).

What do we think?

Not much. For one thing Fujitsu is a difficult company to get any information from, and their web page specifications don’t show the laptop’s dimensions. Located just above the keyboard, the second screen is not in a convenient place to actually use, and is more useful than keyboard short cuts—this has gimmick all over it.—JP

Thin, light and chrome powered

Fujitsu S6520 ultralight. (Source: Fujitsu)

S3’s first discrete GPU to be used in ultralight-class notebooks

At 1.9kg, the Fujitsu S6520 is one of the lighter notebooks around—it’s powered by a Core2 Duo 2.4GHz processor with 2GB DDR2 SDRAM, and a S3 Chrome 430 ULP GPU, representing the first ultra light to use a discrete GPU.

The 14-inch WXGA 1280 by 800 display makes the notebook small enough for travel but wide enough to type out a market report or prepare a boardroom presentation, and the 320GB hard drive has more than enough storage space.

Its dull grey look and feel may not impress those with an eye for style, and the S6430 isn’t cheap at $2,688. There’s a 13-inch version too, the S6420

What do we think?

S3, after years—a decade actually—has broken back into the notebook market where it used to enjoy great success with IBM and others. There was a change in management at S3 about three years ago, and it’s taken that long to get things straightened out, back on track, and to win the confidence of the big brands. VIA didn’t even use S3 in their HP Mini-Note win, so maybe we will see that relationship improve too.—JP

HP uses style to sell Mini-Notes

HP’s new Mini-Note 1000. (Source: Hewlett Packard)

Needless to say, the mini-note class of notebooks has proven to be a big success, despite some of the big market research firms discounting it. It’s difficult to fix the actual introduction of the mini-note, some think it was the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, which was the dream of MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte beginning in 1999. Others say it was Intel’s Classmate reference design in 2006, and still others say it was Asus’s Eee brought out last year. They’re all wrong. We put it down to the Practicality Gap (http://jonpeddie.com/back-pages/the_practicality_gap/)—prices, capabilities, and convenience got to the right point and the lack of clear standards actually freed companies to try out different form factors. So, companies like Asus and HP didn’t wait for a starting signal and just did it.

HP introduced its first Mini-Note, the 2133, in April 2008 (http://www.jonpeddie.com/MtTibTestingLabs/stories/2008/2008_09_15b.shtml) and, as we have pointed, out truly predates that with the HP Omnibook in 1993— the first Mini-Note.

Now HP has brought out its second generation of the Mini-Note, and has taken a new marketing tack—it’s not just a lower cost and slightly smaller machine, it’s an alternative and probably second (or third) machine to be called the HP Mini 1000.

At $399.99, it’s about $100 less than the HP 2133 Mini-Note that came out in April, but $100 more than the price you can pay to pick up the cheapest Mini-Note available from Amazon today.

The case looks similar to the HP 2133 Mini-Note chassis, with an HP Mini-Note 1000 available with an 8.9” or 10.2” diagonal display, both limited to 1024 x 600, as compared to the 2133 that can drive its 8.9-inch display to 1280 x 768.

HP moved (from VIA) to the Intel GMA 950 and Atom Processor N270 (1.60GHz) for this new offering and has developed a slick UI that sits on top of Linux. It comes with Open Office; however, there are also Windows XP options available too, but no Vista.

HP is positioning the new 1000 Mini-Note as a compact device so small that you can carry it in your briefcase or bag/purse, or even just in your hand. And HP has developed a stylish finish with their onyx-toned “Swirl” Imprint design—this is baked into the aluminum, not a decal or paint job, so it should wear very well.

One of the usage models for this computer is as a companion. It’s a fully functional, internet WiFi and Bluetooth aware device with an almost full-sized keyboard (92%) and a big enough screen to do such things as email, note taking, and web surfing.

What do we think?

We like it. We like the style aspect of it, the size of it, certainly the price, and the HP UI is excellent—this is an HP machine, not an Intel or Microsoft machine that HP happens to sell. HP may be taking a page out of Apple’s book, is branding their products HP and giving up the kickback from Intel and Microsoft to carry their logos on the machine—we applaud that. —JP