Freescale hints at Apple netbook - Updated
Source: FreeScale Chip manufacturer Freescale plans to commercially produce the highly integrated, 65 nanometre, .MX51 System on Chip (SoC) with a 1-GHz ARM core, in the second half of 2009. A picture included in their press release hints that the Freescale SoC may appear in a future Apple netbook. The vendor also envisages budget notebooks with Ubuntu Linux and i.MX51 under people's Christmas trees in 2009.
Formerly owned by Motorola, the Freescale chip division is hoping to profit from the current netbook trend, using a Cortex A8 core licensed by ARM (ARMv7) in their design, rather than the PowerPC processor that may seem a likely contender. However, the embedded i.MX51 combination processor, offers a lot of additional features, for example a 2D/3D graphics core and a DDR/DDR2 memory controller. For netbooks with i.MX, Freescale also offers a power management chip (MC13982), a sound chip (SGTL5000), an acceleration sensor and a touch-screen controller.
Until now, Freescale sold processors with ARM9 and ARM11 cores only within its i.MX series; the full data sheets for the more powerful i.MX35 and i.MX37 varieties aren't yet available. A number of different i.MX varieties – some of which, like the i.MX31, equipped with GPU IP cores from the PowerVR series by Imagination Technologies – are used as embedded processors, for example in mobile phones, smartphones, navigation devices, control systems and cars.
With its x86-compatible Atom processors and highly integrated SoCs, Intel is increasingly targeting these market segments that have so far been dominated by ARM's 32-bit micro controllers. Conversely, ARM is trying to conquer areas of application requiring higher CPU and GPU performance. They emphasise the specific advantages of ARM cores, especially pointing out their low power consumption and low prices. According to Freescale, this means that future i.MX51 netbooks with 8.9-inch displays and a battery life of up to 8 hours are feasible for less than $200.
The vendor suggests using the Ubuntu Linux operating system and also highlights the improved support of Adobe Flash (and AIR) for ARM cores. In recent months ARM announced co-operations with Adobe and Canonical to this effect. The GPU portion of the i.MX51 is planned to be OpenVR and OpenGL (ES) compatible. Linux drivers are also available for PowerVR MBX graphics. Pegatron, the component manufacturing division of Asus, is to supply an i.MX51 reference netbook.
Freescale gives no further details of the Apple netbook pictured in the press release for the i.MX51, which is apparently equipped with a touch-screen. Judging by the size of the two USB sockets located on the side (shown in the larger picture), the potential Apple netbook may be equipped with a 16:10 ratio, 12 inch display. The image suggests that Apple has ported Mac OS X to ARM cores, as it doesn't appear to show the iPhone OS. The price of a netbook with a 12-inch touch-screen is likely to be far higher than Freescale's projected price of around $200.
It has been speculated that future Apple netbooks will be equipped with PowerPC cores by P.A. Semi. However, P.A. Semi's mastermind Daniel (Dan) Dobberpuhl was also involved in the development of the StrongARM family. Tomorrow (Tuesday 6th of January 2009), Apple's vice president for product marketing Philip W. Schiller – not Steve Jobs – will give the keynote speech at the Macworld show. If Apple indeed plans to release a netbook with touch-screen, he might reveal more.
The marketability of netbooks without x86 processors has been a matter for speculation. The netbook boom proves that there is a brisk demand for affordable "mobile companions" that offer better performance and more functionality than smartphones, but are more compact and cheaper than traditional notebooks. The concept of a simple surfing companion device is far from new, but so far has been unsuccessful. Devices called web or surf pads have been available for years without making much impact. Palm, for example, discontinued its Foleo even before its release in 2007. One netbook for 180 euros, the Chinese Jee-PC 400S with MIPS Linux, is already available, and a tiny mobile messenger called iKIT with 320-MHz ARM (Marvell XScale) is scheduled for release soon. Both Nvidia (with its Tegra) and Qualcomm (with the QSD8672 "Snapdragon" dual core processor) also aim at making ARM netbooks feasible.
Update - Freescale has denied the suggestion that it may be making an Apple Netbook, saying "Freescale’s current netbook approach is unambiguously an ARM/Linux play, and any suggestion otherwise is inaccurate."