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VIA OpenBook Mini-Note Platform Preview

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: VIA
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Specifications and Features

What Could Have Been

You wouldn't know it by looking at the market today, but VIA Technologies was really the original mainstream company to be the proponent of the "mini-notebook" market that has become epitomized by the ASUS Eee PC.  Last June VIA demonstrated and showed off a device called the VIA NanoBook at Computex in Taipei; essentially a very small form factor laptop with Windows XP on it.  Looking at it next to the current generations of the Eee PC and you'd be hard pressed to find significant differences.  The single area that VIA failed to address was actually PUSHING their devices into the market - we never really found them in the US and they never took off. 

In my view VIA lost out on a big opportunity to push their brand into the new area they desperately needed.   And with the advantages of having their own complete compute platform consisting of CPU, GPU and chipset they still have the chance to make a big splash.  That is just what they are planning to do with a completely new design this June: the VIA OpenBook.

The New VIA OpenBook Platform

-larger pics, specifications, platform

The original VIA NanoBook was a nice design but definitely wouldn't be confused with a "sexy" technology device like the iPhone or newer Blackberry phones.  The design team behind this reference platform decided to fix that:

The OpenBook design is much more curved and offers a lot of shiny, metallic-looking surfaces.  We have lots of other photos of the device provided by VIA that we'll place in while discussing its various features.
The quick check of the system specifications reveals some interesting hardware insight the squat little machine including a standard 2.5" hard drive, WiMAX and/or HSDPA 3G cellular network support, a 1.6 GHz C7-M processor and even support for Vista, XP or several versions of Linux.  The 1kg weight translates to about 2.2 lbs for those on this side of either ocean and puts it in the same weight class as ASUS' Eee series.  Current estimates of battery life point to a 3 hour or so time frame but we'll have to wait for our own testing to be sure.

Features and Highlights

The display on the VIA OpenBook is 8.9" and features a 1024x600 resolution; since we are simply looking at announcements and photos from VIA at this point I can't say anything else on the quality of the display but I can assure you I'll have my hands on one next week at Computex. 

The keyboard on the device offers up pretty much the same layout as other available mini-notebooks and should be more cramped than typical notebook computers.  The integrated webcam is rated at 2 MP and has a lens both on the front and rear of the display.

Connectivity is one of VIA's big selling points on the new OpenBook as it offers up the ability to OEMs to integrate just about anything into the system.  Besides the critical 802.11 wireless and 10/100 NIC it supports Bluetooth, WiMAX, HSDPA and W-CDMA networks.  This makes the OpenBook the most flexible mini-note design by a long shot and should appeal to professionals on the go for just that reason. 

The secondary reason behind the OpenBook branding is the support for all types of operating systems: VIA lists Vista Home Basic, XP, Ubuntu, Suse and G/OS all as ready-to-go options. 

The 1.6 GHz C7-M processor might seem surprising since VIA has been pushing their Isaiah processor design in recent months but it just isn't quite ready for a full scale product going to into product just yet.  The chances are good we'll see CPUs based around VIA's new technology in a refresh to the OpenBook platform but probably not before the end of year.  It shouldn't matter though as the C7-M and VX800 chipset with integrated video should be more than powerful enough for the form factor this notebook rests in.

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