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CEO's 'death of netbook' claim exaggerated

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AMD CEO Dirk Meyer has been reported to have forecast the death of the netbook, but looking back at the original story in which he's quoted reveals he doesn't have quite such a negative view.

The confusion centres on Meyer's statement, made in a brief interview with Cnet, that: "I hate to say netbooks because a year from now people won't say netbooks."

From that, a lot of folk will have assumed the netbook segment will somehow have vanished. Not so. In fact, Meyer sees the already hazy line dividing netbooks from notebooks simply becoming even more indistinct.

"A year from now people are not going to talk about a netbook versus a notebook because the lines are going to be so blurred it's not going to make any difference anymore," he said.

That's no great insight - it's happening already. Dell has a 12in machine out that's part of its Inspiron Mini family, and Samsung's about to introduce a 12in netbook-spec laptop of its own. Netbook pioneer Asus reckons there'll be a clear shift this year away from 9in and smaller netbooks to the 10in form-factor. Acer's move to launch a 10in Aspire One, with the prospect that it'll quietly kill off the original, 9in version, suggests it agrees with Asus.

The 10in form-factor certainly isn't going to disappear, then, and Meyer said he wants AMD to compete with Intel and VIA to get its CPUs into 10in machines. Not smaller ones, it's true, but that ties in with the general move to establish the 10in screen as the netbook's defining characteristic.

"You will see our chips show up in devices down to the $399 price point,” Meyer forecast.

What defines a netbook? Sub-laptop performance? Size? Price? Given how cheap so many 15in laptops have been over the past 12 months or so, price was always a tricky differentiator. Yes, machines like the Aspire One and original 7in Eee PC came in at under £200, but most netbooks filled the £200-400 space, most congregating at a point north of £300.

Right now, netbooks aren't as powerful as notebooks, but that's inevitably changing as processor technology evolves. Plenty of folk already reckon an Intel Atom is just as effective at running the apps they need as a Core 2, and that's not going to change, especially if Windows 7 does indeed turn out to be less resource-hungry than its predecessor.

The key applications for netbooks may be web browsing, email and office tools, but that's true of the great majority of notebooks out there.

SSDs? Most netbooks have HDDs now. Linux? Too many Windows XP machines on the market for that.

That leaves size as the only true stand-out feature separating netbooks from notebooks, and as the former have grown from 7in to 9in to 10in and now 12in, they've joined up with notebooks to form a continuum of sizes extending through 13.3in, 14in, 15in and 17in to the handful of 18in monsters out there.

So, netbooks become notebooks, and we can go back to calling any mobile PC a laptop then? Maybe, but crucially there will be small, cheap computers next year and beyond. And they'll be what we today call a netbook, no matter what we call them tomorrow. ®

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