Walmart.com: Small Cheap Computers Keep Getting Cheaper

Walmart is selling 15 tablets in the $50-$100 interval. e.g.

Pandigital R7T40WWHF1 Novel with WiFi 7.0" Touchscreen Tablet PC Featuring Android Operating System, White at $59.98

Does anyone believe Wintel is holding its own against this tide? Wintel can hardly sell a CPU or a licence for the OS at the price of a complete system yet four of these are the best sellers for all tablets at any price.

see Electronics: Tablet PCs: Walmart.com.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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22 Responses to Walmart.com: Small Cheap Computers Keep Getting Cheaper

  1. oldman wrote, “How do you know what “we” do with our computers? Are you clairvoyant?”

    No. I am old. I have been using computers and watching others use computers in all kinds of roles for decades: number-crunching, data-collection, data-analysis, publishing, CAD, photography, simulation, control, networking, storage,… There are people who need a building full of CPUs maxed-out but the ordinary user who goes into a retail establishment and buys something without regard to price/performance (being non-technical and totally snowed by salespeople) does not. In schools where I have worked I have seen the children and adults of our society using PCs and rarely reaching 10% CPU-utilization. I have had 30 people run on a single 32-bit CPU and get great performance because when they clicked, things happened in a hurry. That does not take a lot of CPU-cycles. It takes short bursts of activity to draw something on the screen and wait for the human. Humans are slow. They put stuff on their screens to read at a few hundred words per minute or to gaze at pictures. Video does use a bit of the CPU decoding stuff but a lot of PCs are used with video rarely. In many businesses, video might never be used. I know schools that block YouTube and so on. YouTube also uses only part of the screen and Beast only gets to 20% utilization. That video just takes up slack on the idle-loop. Without YouTube running, Beast uses only 1%.

    Beast is a 95W CPU built at 40nm. ARM could easily do the same job with 4 or 5 cores.

  2. oldman says:

    “We can easily get by with 1gHz processors to do what we need done. ”

    How do you know what “we” do with our computers? Are you clairvoyant? DO you actually think that your experience constitutes the entire spectrum of computing?

    Not everyone wants to subsist in the “good Enough” computing world that you inhabit Pog.

  3. Ted wrote, “Howexactly? Magic pixie dust??”

    ARM uses a minimal instruction set so that more money is put into performance rather than bloat. Imagine a business with 10K employees compared to one with 1K employees and the same revenue…

    You can do everything with a stored programme computers with just a few instructions, basic things like, load, store, add, complement, and, or, … Of course we can easily make computers that multiply and divide faster so a few more instructions are quite useful and then there are some special instructions to set up input/output or to control looping and conditional branching. There aren’t any more actually required to do the job. Intel and M$ conspired to make as much as possible backwards-compatible so x86/amd64 is burdened with almost every instruction since 8 bit microprocessors and every advanced feature of Intel CPUs. The more instructions there are and the more complicated instructions may be, the more silicon sits there holding the keys and flipping bits whether needed or not.

    Now, I am not arguing that an ARMed CPU can trounce any Intel CPU but the throughput per $, watt, cm3 or whatever is higher for ARM. That matters. It’s a measure of specific performance, performance/cost, say. We can easily get by with 1gHz processors to do what we need done. Imagine what can be done with four or five 2.5gHz ARM processors on a chip costing $25 and using 1/2 a watt.

    Wintel always got people to replace their PCs with newer stuff so that more CPUs and licences could be sold, not because the world needed lower rates of CPU-utilization. Remember that much of the throughput of an x86 system comes not from the CPU but the bandwidth of the motherboard and the devices on the bus doing DMA. Often a busy system has CPU idling. Think of how many hard drives it takes to keep a CPU busy adding the numbers… many gigabytes/second data-processing capability versus 100 MB/s read-spead… Why not have a cheaper CPU idling? It just makes sense.

  4. Ted says:

    “They are accomplishing the performance people need at much lower clock-speeds, with less silicon and with less heat.”

    Howexactly? Magic pixie dust??

    “The only increase in complexity we have seen in ARM are more cores, which is the same measure as Intel and AMD took, and a longer pipeline, efficiently implemented.”

    More cores is more transistors. Which is more complexity. Which is more difficult and more expensive to produce. And more transistors means more power used, and more heat generated.

  5. Ted wrote, “Are ARM chips getting more complex to compete with Intel on performance, or aren’t they?”

    No. They are accomplishing the performance people need at much lower clock-speeds, with less silicon and with less heat. The ARM cores have only a few percent of the transistors of an Intel core. ARM doesn’t need to increase complexity to compete with Intel, because Intel is locked into bloat. The only increase in complexity we have seen in ARM are more cores, which is the same measure as Intel and AMD took, and a longer pipeline, efficiently implemented. The instruction set of ARM does not require much complexity at all compared to Intel.

  6. Ted says:

    “That’s why Intel is not on a lot of small cheap mobile devices.”

    They’re in mobile phones these days. Ones given out free with contracts, too.

    “It really does make it easier to rip off people when you have a monopoly.”

    Monopoly? Over what? You have a server with a an AMD64 chip, and you say Intel have a monopoly?

    “ARM keeps their CPUs simple.”

    Are ARM chips getting more complex to compete with Intel on performance, or aren’t they? If they are, they’ll get more expensive to produce. If they’re not, please stop quoting Moore’s Law to explain the inevitable demise of Gordon Moore’s company.

    “The performance of chips still rises much faster than the costs of production.”

    Moore’s second Law states capital expenditure rises exponentially with the complexity of the circuits. And it’s not just the cost of production to be considered – consider retooling, retraining, changes to supply chains, even buiulding a new fabrication plant if the current one is in sufficient. As chips get more complex, yield levels on wafers go down too. (Although clever design of caches and pipelines to allow them to be disabled on QA failures for budget ranges gets around this somewhat.)

  7. Cognitive Dissonance, Thy name is... says:

    Mr. Pogson, you really need to think about what you are saying. On one hand you are saying that according to Moore’s 1st Law that the prices of Intel chips should be halving every 18-24 months, then you turn around and say that the 2nd law is the reason why prices don’t drop.

    You can’t have it both ways. Prices can either drop by not making newer chipsets (but never to $0 because of factors like price of raw materials, defective chips, etc.), or you have to increase price to provide new features and the like. Pick one and stick with it.

    As regards your “free-market” comment: bull. There is no such thing as a totally free market, unless you want to go some place like Somalia… and even then you won’t always see prices fall.

    Prices for anything will stabilize around a common price point based on quality, materials used, and demand (and that is over-simplifying!). Prices will never drop to where you pay $0.01 for a CPU or other IC. The sheer cost of materials will keep the prices up (not including stuff like R&D, retooling for newer designs, packaging, shipping, advertising, oh, and wages for workers).

  8. Ted wrote, “Ever heard of Moore’s SECOND Law?

    This other law states that captal expenditure for manufacturing increasingly complex circuits rises exponentially too.”

    That’s why Intel is not on a lot of small cheap mobile devices. ARM keeps their CPUs simple. The performance of chips still rises much faster than the costs of production. As a result, Intel’s margins are huge (~30%) compared to Nvidia. It really does make it easier to rip off people when you have a monopoly.

  9. Ted says:

    “While the CPU is a major component of a PC, Moore’s Law, if the market were free, would have dropped prices seriously.”

    Nonsense.

    Ever heard of Moore’s SECOND Law?

    This other law states that captal expenditure for manufacturing increasingly complex circuits rises exponentially too. CPU fabs do not build themselves. R&D costs money. To fit more and more transistors on impure silicon costs more and more money.

  10. Ted wrote, “It applies only to CPUs/ICs. It’s all about the transistor count.”

    Partly right. It’s all about transistor count but those transistors are used all over IT: displays, memory, storage, auxiliary chips… The transistor count affects the prices of everything in IT, even the PSUs and cases. It does that by making everything in IT more productive and all those things are produced using IT, robotics, R&D etc. So, everything in IT progresses thanks to the transistor-count.

    Now, the marketing droids at Intel figure they can swim upstream by adding features to the chips and charging ~$1K+ for their newest top-end chips. They noticed the low-end was being eaten by Via, ARM and the like so Atom happened. Same for M$. Their monopoly depends on huge cash-flows that can only come by charging several times market-price for licences. It’s not working. Folks can create an OS and distribute it for peanuts. Wintel has tried to resist Moore’s Law but it’s not working. The world bought more small cheap computers than Wintel machines last year and probably for the future that will continue.

    Further evidence: While the CPU is a major component of a PC, Moore’s Law, if the market were free, would have dropped prices seriously. Instead Intel tries to keep prices high and still the prices of PCs have fallen. Around 1990, any old PC cost ~$1K just for the box. CPUs were ~$200 for mine… Today, the CPU is still ~$200 but you can buy the whole box for $300. Things like Atom are clearly “good enough” and Intel was really reluctant to ramp up production but ARM forced their hand. It will still be a couple of years before Moore’s Law helps x86 compete with ARM.

    Granted, prices for PCs have not halved every 18 months but neither have CPUs although they could have in a free market.

  11. Clarence Moon says:

    Ever heard of Moore’s Law?

    Moore’s Law, as such, was formulated in the 1960’s according to most sources and its applicability to Microsoft’s fortunes seems rather ambivelent. Microsoft’s entire business history is within the operative period of Moore’s Law, so whatever it needs to do to cope with the law in order to preserve its success seems to be being taken proper care of. Similarly, Linux has been introduced and developed in the same timeframe as Windows and it has gone next to nowhere in consumer circles.

    Pretending that the destiny implicit in Moore’s Law will be some sort of deus ex machina that will slay the Microsoft dragon and deliver Linux to its rightful position has become a tradition around here, used to explain away how conventional market dynamics will not apply to future market behavior.

    But it isn’t going to ever happen.

  12. Ted says:

    “Ever heard of Moore’s Law? It applies to tablets, not just CPUs/ICs.”

    No, Robert. It applies only to CPUs/ICs. It’s all about the transistor count.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law

    “Moore’s law is the observation that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.” [emphasis mine]

    Moore’s observation, which became a sort of general prediction (It’s not really a “law” in a scientific sense as you can’t test it or falsify it by experimentation like Boyle’s or Newton’s Laws. All you can do is just wait and see if it comes true.) has been pretty damned accurate for a very long time. Which is impressive by any standard. The man knows his stuff.

    For the history buffs;

    http://download.intel.com/museum/Moores_Law/Articles-Press_Releases/Gordon_Moore_1965_Article.pdf

    From back in 1965, when Gordon Moore worked for Fairchild, before going on to help found a little company called INTEL. Ironic how you use his own law to predict the downfall of his company because of ARM, isn’t it?

  13. Resuna says:

    The main problem with Android tablets up to now has been the lack of a common tablet version of Android. Honeycomb was a lame duck, missing the new Fragment API in Ice Cream Sandwich, and until there are lots of new ICS tablets available it’s not going to take off.

  14. kozmcrae says:

    Robert Pogson wrote:

    “Ever heard of Moore’s Law?”

    The Cult of Microsoft avoids talk of Moore’s Law. It strips hardware of it’s cost thereby revealing Microsoft’s licensing fees. In their world of make believe Moore’s Law doesn’t exist.

  15. Philip wrote, “Everything at that level I have tried has been a joke so far. Some day but not yet…”

    Welcome. Thanks for your comment.

    Ever heard of Moore’s Law? It applies to tablets, not just CPUs/ICs. About every 18 months, the performance per dollar or the cost of a given performance change more or less by ~50%. Competition in the market passes that through to consumers/end-users. The OEMs who crank out tablets are new to the game. They are “learning on the job”. It won’t be long before the ~$100 unit is all anyone would need. My wife has a second-hand Samsung thingie and it rocks. Imagine how pleased we would be with it if it had five cores, tons of RAM, Android/Linux 4 or 5 and connectors for everything? Moore’s Law will give us that in a year or so and prices continue to fall. Even Apple is having to lower some of its prices. Lord knows they have margin…

  16. Clarence Moon wrote, “The more that Android is associated with the bottom, the more likely it is to be rejected by the more affluent buyers at the other end of the spectrum.”

    No one is associating Android/Linux with bottom of the line. Most OEMs have a wide range of Android/Linux devices from ~$100 to whatever the rich guys are willing to pay. Android/Linux is ecumenical.

  17. Philip says:

    I have given up my laptop. I now use an Asus Prime for all my portable stuff. I have recently purchased a 23 inch touch sensitive all in one for my desktop. Once I got used to the touch screen there was no going back I find it difficult to use devices without a touch screen now. Wintel Tablets are coming and they will not be shooting for the sub 100 market. Everything at that level I have tried has been a joke so far. Some day but not yet…

  18. Clarence Moon says:

    Long before Microsoft came along and even before personal computers were around, merchandisers were conditioning the public to the idea of “good-better-best” product spreads going from a bottom of the barrel to a top of the line model in 3 or even more steps.

    The more that Android is associated with the bottom, the more likely it is to be rejected by the more affluent buyers at the other end of the spectrum. This is pretty obvious even today with Apple easily holding onto its revenue stream by remaining a class act in the minds of the buyers.

    The Microsoft marketeers didn’t go to State U, either, and they are now trying to out-reach Apple on the high end with the Surface product that they are floating into public view. Time will tell if the Android promoters can successfully swim up stream or whether they will find their anchor at the bottom.

  19. Chris Weig says:

    Does anyone believe Wintel is holding its own against this tide?

    Does anyone believe sub-$100 Android tablets are anything else than crap?

    That’s your fanboyism speaking, Mr. Pogson. As long as GNU/Linux runs on something, it’s enough to be deemed good by you, whether the product actually sucks or not. And even if you should recognize that the product sucks, you’ll be off making excuses like: “The user has the code! He can fix it!”

  20. ch says:

    A little sidenote: A while ago their was abig tradefair for all things music, and quite some interesting stuff for tablets was shown, including two virtual synthesizers cooked up by Moog and Korg.

    I can well understand how a tablet would make a good hardware for stuff like that: With the touchscreen you can manipulate all those knobs and buttons much more intuitively than with a mouse (and the actual notes are of course played with an attached MIDI-keyboard). Really nice stuff.

    Oh, all of that cool stuff was for the iPad. What about Android? No show. Why? Some conspiracy? MS and Apple forcing the ISVs to ignore Android? Evil Space Hamsters? No, something much more mundane: Android has too much audio latency.

    Something “Linuxy” not doing well with audio? Sounds incredible – like all those other times I heard _that_ theme before …

    PS: Mr Pogson, thanks for getting rid of the filter!

  21. oldman says:

    The interesting take on this tablet came from one of the people posing reviews.

    “I got this for one reason taking notes for my research for my masters degree. I can throw this little tablet in my tote and head out to the library and do my reaseach, save it in a word doc and then transfer it to my laptop at home. ”

    This says it all. This tablet is being viewed by many people an adjunct to a full function computer. I also see a lot of this form factor being used as eBook readers, Movie viewers and game playing platforms.

    I see nobody even trying to use it as a full on pc subsitiute.

    Microsoft has no problems with this class of throwaway device.

  22. Phenom says:

    Hm, “Wintel” tablets are almost nowhere to be found yet, Pogs. It is Apple and Amazon who should be afraid.

    Btw, a few months ago I tried such “small cheap computer”, i.e. an Android 2.3 tablet for $100. I can tell you, the screen was just outright horrible. Hard to read, hard to use, with very poor touch sensitivity. On top of that the interface was sluggist and not very responsive.

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