Intel has officially unveiled their new Atom Processor, though netbooks with them won’t go on sale until January 4th.  Early benchmarks on the new 1.66 Ghz N450 chip put it at around 5% faster than current 1.6 Ghz N270 and about 1% faster than the less common 1.66 Ghz N280.  Intel has also “improved” their graphics by 50%.  Which sounds impressive until you realize that Nvidia’s Ion netbook GPUs are over 1000% more powerful than Intel’s current offering.

So if the performance improvements are marginal at best – why bother?  Simple: power. The new Atom chips are designed using a 45nm process and Intel’s new NM10 Express Chipset.  It also moves the memory controller on chip.  Which means the Atom N450 and chipset package has TDP of just 7 watts. Compare that to the 10 and 12 watt TDPs of current offerings.  Less power consumed means both longer battery life and thinner devices (since there is less heat to dissipate).  The netbooks launching after the New Year should be slightly thinner and 10 hour usage should be the norm for 6 cell batteries.

So if Santa doesn’t bring you that netbook you’ve been eyeing, I’d hold out a week. Unless you can score a killer clearance deal.  ;)