Hardware, Technology

The Mighty Atoms

Netbooks (mini notebooks) have been on the market for a few years now. As ultra-portable budget PC’s you can’t go wrong.

Almost all netbooks are powered by an Intel Atom processor of some sort; a few VIA chip-sets are still around, their numbers declining as the performance couldn’t match the first and second generation Atom.

The common Atom models are the N270 and N450 both single-core processors using a similar core and instruction set…

The N270 contains is just the processor, manufactured using 45nm technology. The clock speed is 1.6GHz, with the multiplier dynamically changing between 6 and 12 governed by Intel’s Enhanced Speed Step firmware. The TDP (typical power consumption) under load is 2.5W, so in theory battery life should exceed 6 hours using a traditional 62 watt hour 6 cell unit.

The N450 is an integrated chip containing the processor core (CPU), a graphics processing unit (GPU) and a memory controller. This close integration on one die should mean better power consumption. Processor speed, L2 cache, operating speed and Front Side Bus frequency) match those of the N270, the main difference is a higher TDP; the processor draws 5.5 watts in operation, but has to move fewer electrons over a shorter distance. Again, in theory, an N450 should have a typical battery life between 9 and 12 hours – in theory.

The netbooks equipped with the N270 use older Intel GPU’s; GMA945 or GMA950. The N450 has the GMA3150 manufactured on the same die. Bad news for Nvidia and ATI, but at least the netbooks get reasonable battery life, if average graphics performance. What this does mean is that the PC makers have little room to produce individual designs leading to a homogeneous market. The N450-based machines also get better wireless throughput thanks to a higher level of integration.

If you have the budget, the N450 should be the way to go, it’s a more recent, more advanced design than the older, cheaper N270. The PC brands compete closely on price until you get to certain premium brands. As usual you get what you pay for. However, both have been around long enough for realistic benchmarks to be available. It is worth checking the battery performance of any machines you are considering as the PC-makers implementation of both N270 and N450 can make a big difference in actual battery life and that’s before your real-life pattern of usage. In reality the N450’s can fall way short of the quoted 9-12 hours. I know of HP machines that consistently deliver 8 hours and Dell ‘s that fall off at 3 and 4 hours. There can be a wide variation in models even from the same manufacturer, even the big names Asus, Acer, Samsung aren’t immune. Find some user benchmarks before you buy and consider the software bundle running on the machine. Linux, Windows XP and Windows 7 are all available options and the power-management set-up in the software makes a big difference too. AJS

About Allan J. Smithie

Allan J. Smithie is a journalist and commentator based in Dubai.


2 thoughts on “The Mighty Atoms

  1. I really like your writing style, superb information, regards for putting up : D.

    Posted by Arlie Waldow | Apr 10, 2011, 9:51 pm
  2. Nice Thanks

    Posted by Gracie Wareheim | May 22, 2011, 7:50 pm

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