I was going to call this post "Intel Finally Pushes Past The PC Processor," in recognition of the fact that this is the first time I can remember when a blue sky concept for a new-fangled computing device has moved beyond the bloviating stage and into the real world. But that's sure the case with Intel's Ultramobile PC. Hot little items like the HTC Shift are making their way to market, and lots more are on the way. Hey, I want one!The quick history is that Intel announced the Ultramobile PC(UMPC) concept to much fanfare about a year ago, at one of its Developer Forum events in Taiwan. That was followed up in New York last April, where Intel talked up a bunch of low-powered processors crammed into small packages. Variously code-named Menlow, McCaslin, and Silverthorne, these were all intended to power non-PC devices., called Ultramobile PCs, Mobile Internet Devices, or even Apple TVs (this last one was at the time a real product, not just a concept).
Fast forward this week, when Intel will use a chip conference in San Francisco to chat up Silverthorne again. The part is a complete X86 processor, but vastly shrunk down in terms of power consumption, so that it can be used in a UMPC. Unlike what you would think about dinky computing devices, Silverthorne is only slightly shrunk down when it comes to clock speed -- it'll be able to do 2.0 GHz, which isn't bad.
In both cases, I said to myself, "Yeah, whatever, nice idea, but we'll never see these things." That was even before I got that headache I get whenever I try to deconstruct Intel's taxonomy. So many processor code names and platforms; so little time. How many cities and rivers can there be in the West, anyway?
The heck with that, though. For our purposes right now, all you need to know is that Silverthorne is in the future. Some of current crop of UMPCs (like the HTC) are based on Intel's A100 or A110 processors, which I believe are McCaslin-generation devices. The A110 runs at 1.7-GHz. (There are also some UMPCs out there using Menlow processors.)
The A110 powers the HTC Shift. This is a UMPC made by the Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer which is rightly noted as being the only vendor which makes stuff good enough to compete with the iPhone. I'm talking about the HTC Tilt and Touch.
As for the Shift, depending on who you believe, it's either shipping or about to ship in the next few days. I would love to get my hands on one and test whether you can really run Windows Vista decently on a 1.7-GHz processor. No matter; the Shift seems to have put to rest the notion that you can't put a full-fledged computing device into an easily damaged form-factor. (Only kidding, but don't try dropping this thing at home. Me, I'd probably lose it.)
Finally, a handheld device might be a viable alternative to a light laptop. (Though as I wrote last month, the OQO model 2 is still a great option on this front.)
It'd be wrong for me to imply that the Shift is the only UMPC out there; it's simply the one most easily found on my radar screen. As to the others, Gizmodo has compiled a nice collection of UMPC gadgets, here.
To get a better feel for the Shift, check out this video, courtesy of HTC:
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