ARM-based netbooks struggling with video

April 14, 2009 at 6:14 pm

ARMThere has been much talk of how ARM processors are set to change the netbook landscape when they start to appear in netbooks by the end of this year. ARM netbooks would have the advantage of being up to ten times more power efficient than their x86 equivalents as well as being designed for 24/7 wireless connectivity. However, the first wave of netbooks may be underpowered according to engineers who are currently working on ARM netbook prototypes.

One issue that engineers have encountered is that Adobe Flash does not yet run natively on the ARM processor. The ARM platforms support for web video will be critical to its success. ARM and Adobe did announce that it will deliver a version of Flash 10 optimised for ARM devices at some point during 2009, although nothing has materialised so far. Another problem is that a number of web video sites are moving from Flash to the H.264 codec. Whilst ARM does support the codec, significant work will be required on the wrapper to make sure H.264 web videos can be played smoothly.

To compound these issues, the first generation of ARM-based netbooks may face hardware limits as they look to play video in screen sizes varying from 7-inch to 12-inches. “The baseline expectation for video is 30 frames/second, and at that rate every ARM device has different resolutions it can support on different size displays,” said Gregor Berkowitz, president of Moto Development Group, a contract design company working with three clients on ARM/Linux netbooks. “As screens get bigger, we’re pushing the top end of the ARM performance,” he added.

This is only expected to be a short-term hiccup however as chips launched by Qualcomm, Texas Instrument, Nvidia and Freescale will include video acceleration hardware. “Units coming this fall will have a risk of being slightly underpowered, though they could have a good user experience,” said Berkowitz. “The parts coming next year will eliminate that problem and make platforms very impressive,” he added.

Another important issue that engineers are facing is that a number of Linux-variants available for ARM do not support any standard for how they run applications. This is as each has a slightly different mix of software components. In addition with a range of different hardware configurations, an application that runs well on one netbook may crash on another.

Neither of these issues will be completely resolved before these netbooks begin hitting the market this fall according to Berkowitz. However, on a happier note, an ARM/Linux netbook could cut 60 percent of the cost compared to their x86/Windows peers. Success isn’t guaranteed despite the cheaper cost. Berkowitz predicted several netbook vendors will release models using new Freescale, Nvidia, Qualcomm and TI chips by the end of the year.

Via EE Times.


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