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The Taiwanese company’s latest eee PC lacks Windows or an Intel chip, plumping instead for Google Android, and Qualcomm’s SnapDragon processor - whose chipset packs a built-in 3G radio that will support Telecom XT, Vodafone 3G or any frequency band on the planet.
The new eee PC (pictured below) was previewed at the Computex trade show, now on in Taipei. It will ship later this year.
It’s easy to see why Asus would continue to seek alternatives to Windows. Google’s Android is free, which helps in the ultra price-competitive netbook segment pioneered by Asus. It’s also economical on resources, and offers one click access to Google Apps online; handy if your netbook has next to no storage space.
But why Qualcomm over Intel (the incumbent eee PC processor provider)?
The US company is better known as the inventor of CDMA and its successor W-CDMA, and its chipsets are found inside the vast majority of cellphones sold today.
During a recent visit to Auckland, Qualcomm business development manager Robert Hart said his company sees a proliferation of devices with cellular radios that stretches well beyond phones to include netbooks, and the likes of Amazon’s Kindle.
All-band 3G, w-fi, GPS, "smartbook" small
A further advantage of hooking up with Qualcomm: Asus’s new netbook not only has a built-in 3G (itself nothing new) but support for Telecom XT’s 850MHz W-CDMA, Vodafone and Two Degrees’ 900MHz, and in fact every frequency used for third-generation calls anywhere, thanks to its so-called 'universal' radio.
The SnapDragon chipset also features 720p high def video, GPS, wi-fi and, because it requires no heat sink, allows for a thinner netbook form factor. (Due to all the extra features, Qualcomm is even trying to hawk a new category name for SnapDragon-based netbooks - "smartbooks". A Qualcomm website pushes the concept, adding prototype touchscreen devices to the mix in a promo clip; see still above).
The new eee PC is being demo’s with a 1GHz Qualcomm SnapDragon processor (so far, netbook makers have overwhelmingly favoured Intel’s 1GHz Atom processor). A 1.3GHz version of SnapDragon is due later in the year.
Keeping its bets open, Asus also demo’d a second version of the SnapDragon netbook running Xandros Linux. The PC maker is expected to continue supporting Windows too (Microsoft has just zapped the three-application limit on the Starter or so-called netbook version of Windows 7, making it a little easier for any netbook maker to lean in its direction).
A second Taiwanese manufacturer, Compal - which is best known as a contract manufacturer for most of the big PC brands on the planet - also demo’d a netbook running Android.
The world’s larget PC maker, HP, has also confirmed it is testing netbooks running on Google’s OS, but has yet to confirm if it will commercially launch an Android model.