Gateway Sets Itself Up To Fail

While netbooks & nettops have been pouring into homes around the country, many netbook users have been craving a bit more power.  Nvidia has promised this power bump with few comprises in their new ION platform which couples the ubiquitous Atom processor with a 9400M GPU instead of the standard integrated solution.  This spring many saw demos of the added power ION brought to the table and the anticipation for real products grew.

Lenovo announced what would be the first ION netbook the IdeaPad S12, with promises of pre-orders in June and deliveries in July.  Unfortunately when those promises became reality, Lenovo admitted it had fibbed a bit.  While you can now buy a S12 – if you want an S12 with ION (the whole reason to buy the S12) you would have to wait until September-October. Marketing students will now ponder what Lenovo hoped to accomplish with such a deception…

Enter Gateway’s LT3103. Launched seemingly in response to the Lenovo bait and switch – another 12″, full keyboard, netbook with a better GPU just after the IrONic truth came to light.  The company couldn’t have timed it any better if it was staged, but will this gift of circumstances translate into gang-buster sales?  My guess is no.  Sadly, Gateway completely missed the boat and provided customers with the opposite of what they wanted: instead of more power the gave less. Let me explain:

The LT3103 uses a AMD Athlon 64 L110 Single-Core Processor – which from what I can tell is an old Athlon 64 2800+ chip underclocked by a third. Now while Athlon is a more powerful CPU than the Atom, the power drain of the old CPU led Gateway to lower the clock speed significantly.  Still the Athlon running at 1.3Ghz should be on par with the Atom at 1.6Ghz.  Unfortunately, Gateway set the chip to 1.2Ghz.  Strike 1.

The Radeon X1270 GPU in the LT3103 scores a meager 328 on 3DMark06 (todays reference for GPU power). While this is better than the 100-ish scores that Intel’s integrated graphics receives it is vastly below ION.  The Asus N10 has a Atom chip + 9300M GPU (the closest real world product to the ION) scored 1417 3DMarks.  ION netbooks with the better 9400M will probably score somewhere between 1600-2000 once they are on the market.  And the slight gains here will be offset by the slight CPU losses. Strike 2.

Finally, Gateway has avoided making any battery claims thus far (always a bad sign) but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here.  We’ll assume the LT3103 gets OK battery life.  The older CPU and GPU will both consume more power than their standard fare netbook bretheren as will the larger 11.6″ screen.  So it is safe to assume that battery life will be on the low end of the netbook typically long life spectrum – if not worse.  Now had Gateway included enough extra umph in their latest offering to offset the power loss it would be one thing, but if it isn’t going to perform better than the average netbook… why would you settle for less battery life? Strike 3.

Now let’s look at what Gateway could have done to create a wildly successful product. The standard is well established: 10″ screen, Atom CPU, etc. etc.  No guessing here.  And customers are calling for larger screens, full keyboards, and more power – all without losing the portability and price.  Now with AMD parts you can’t do all of these things but you could do all but one – and Gateway could have cornered the market for 3 months until ION really rolled out.

Take the LT3103 and split the difference on the underclocking and put a competitive GPU in it.  Now we’re looking at 1.5Ghz Athlon besting the Atom by 15% and ATI X1400 with 3x the horsepower (1064 3DMarks) of the X1270 and a significant boost over integrated solutions.  While this won’t best any full sized notebooks, you at least can wipe the floor with any netbook on the market.  The CPU price should be the same and the GPU cost increase should be small. Meaning that only one area would be lacking in the checklist of “perfect” netbook: battery life.  The power drain of this upgraded device would be even higher and most likely take it out of the realm of netbook longevity and down into notebook times.  But here’s the thing: no one would care.

OK some people would care, but those people aren’t going to buy a 4-5hr life device anyway (assuming the original LT3103 could hit those times), they’ll go with one of the 8+hr devices out there.  But many people would trade longevity for power as long as the size, weight, and most importantly price all remained in line.  Gateway could have easily brought the upgraded device to market for $449 (instead of $399) and possibly thrown in a 2nd battery at $499. Many customers would gladly find an outlet or grab a second battery to have the most powerful netbook available.  And right now those customers have 0 choices on the market.  This fall there will be several.  Gateway those sales could have been yours.

Medicare Vs EveryoneCare

Medicare is currently costing the US almost $500,000,000,000 per year (and growing) which equates to 5.77% of EVERYONE’S paycheck.  Unfortunately we are currently only taxing 2.9% of everyone’s check so we have a $180B shortfall.  Which is currently being picked up by the general budget and some past overages.  Once the overages run dry, it will become difficult for the general fund to cover the entire difference.  But I digress.

Medicare currently covers around 40M people or 13% of Americans.  Now I think most people will agree that the medical coverage of medicare is mediocre at best but it allows for a reasonable comparison of the costs of baseline (borderline) coverage.  So we do the math and:

EveryoneCare would cost Everyone’s Paycheck 44%!!! – and I mean EVERYONE just like Medicare taxes the Fry Cook along with the Wall Street Banker.  So can we really afford universal health care?

Of course, these numbers assume that the burden is shared equally like Medicare.  If you imposed a “progressive” structure that omitted or reduced the burden on anyone it would result in an even higher numbers for those still footing the bill.  And remember that this is ONLY the cost of Medicare expanded to everyone.  This would be in addition to your current taxes and what not that come out of your check.  It also doesn’t include any increases related to providing care that is better than the admittedly mediocre Medicare.  It also omits any additional expenses in expanding the current systems bureaucracy tenfold.

Will Netbooks Exist In 2 Yrs

AMD announced today that they have a chip that will compete with the Atom chip dominating the netbook landscape… starting in 2011.  Which begs the question – will netbooks even exist in 2 yrs or will they be swallowed up as low end notebooks.

I see the netbook category still around in 2 yrs but much smaller -niche wise not size wise- than today.

Between ION, dual core atoms, and more the current NETbook goes from handling 90% of the typical consumer load to 99% and thus becomes a not-over-priced-ultra-portable or notebook.

However the net only (ok mostly) concept is sound especially with more and more cloud type services coming online (could resist).  With the first ION net-er-notebooks about to launch at $500 it’s safe to say they could run $300 in 2 yrs.  Which shows that price differentiation is going to be less important in the future – at some point you hit the bottom (keyboards, trackpads and such all cost SOMEthing to make).  Which leaves weight and battery life.  So the netbooks of the future will be $200ish, weigh less than two pounds, have a real world battery life of 12 hours (claimed 15-18), and have just enough power to play hulu (which by then will be accelerated).  OK maybe that’s 3 years out ;)

Equifax Needs A New IT Department

So I got my credit report the other day to check my FICO score and such and discovered a (small) error on it.  No big deal, I’ve disputed stuff before – pretty painless.  Well this time it was -uh- a little less smooth process…

  1. Dispute the error.  Equifax has a web site just for this (  Fill out some info and search around a bit to figure out how to dispute the negative info (why it doesn’t default to that section of the report I’ll never know) but not too bad.
  2. Get email saying it’s processing and it could take 45 days to complete
  3. Get email a few days later saying dispute process complete and to go to with dispute # to see results
  4. Follow link and find yourself at the same welcome screen from step 1… no problem look for place to login with dispute #… find none
  5. Check FAQ and find link to check dispute status
  6. Follow link and find yourself at the same welcome screen from step 1…
  7. Try contact us link… which sends to back to main equifax site and requires login (need to protect those 800#s)
  8. Login and check to see if credit report is update… nope
  9. Find dispute status link on main site
  10. Follow link and find yourself at the same welcome screen from step 1…
  11. Waste time clicking on anything on the page that could possibly take you somewhere you can login
  12. Find phone # on main site and call it
  13. Select option 1 at prompt for disputes
  14. Select option 1 at prompt that I have a dispute #
  15. Listen to long description of how one can dispute items on credit report: online… mail… telephone… which then repeated.  Apparently the fact that I’m on the phone punching buttons for dispute is not enough for this system to believe that I want to continue  my dispute on the phone unless I listen to this long spiel about how the process could work so I know what button to push  (never mind the fact that possessing a dispute # means that I have already initiated the dispute process so this info is pretty useless at this point).
  16. Get a real person.
  17. Explain situation.
  18. Be told I need to contact the dispute department!!!
  19. Explain how many dispute choices I had to select to reach said person
  20. Take new phone #
  21. Select option 1 at prompt for disputes
  22. Select option 1 at prompt that I have a dispute #
  23. Enter dispute # at prompt
  24. While waiting on hold the computer says this can all be checked online at (a different URL) so check that while on hold: said web does not exist.
  25. Get a real person
  26. Give dispute # to real person
  27. Hear that my dispute has been resolved in my favor!

Scary that a company that holds a country’s credit lives in their hands can’t coordinate a web site or a phone system effectively.