Acer goes for a bit of Wii, er, Cywee, er...action

24 April 2009

Acer held a demo session for its upcoming AspireRevo, based on the combination of an Atom processor and the nVidia 9400M graphics processor earlier today. At the same time, the company showed the 3D wireless controller it was going to ship with the top-end model for around 300 quid: a Wiimote-style device you can bend into the shape of a gun.

The controller is made by fellow Taiwanese company Cywee, but Acer product manager Peter Aaen said that name probably won't appear on the systems that ship on 5 May in the UK, which is probably just as well. Like the Wii controllers, the Cywee Z, which got a first showing at CES earlier in the year, has accelerometers in it. It communicates with the base unit through an RF dongle that plugs into one of the Revo's USB ports. It should work with games and interface that can cope with 3D mice; one game that works with the controller directly is, not surprisingly, a golfing simulator.

The idea behind the Revo is that it's a "family living-room" PC for internet browsing and games, which is why the company has added the option of the weemote, as opposed to the Wiimote. That's why one of the chip suppliers, nVidia, was at the demo. The Revo concept pushes the idea of processor inversion: that the graphics processor is potentially more important than the central processor in consumer products. The 9400M is in there to run HD-video as well as games, and offload things like video compression and photo editing, in the hope that no-one will notice that the x86 is just an Atom and not a Core2 Duo or an i7.

The argument from nVidia is that, for around £200 to £300 you can buy a PC that consumes less power and is about as fast on games as a £500 Core2 Duo machine with a discrete graphics card in the back. User tests will show how realistic this is. However, the demo machine happily played 1080p video and one or two games. It might be enough to tip the decision from a Wii to a PC, especially when you take into account the internet and video support.

Until Windows 7 ships and, in the Mac world, Snow Leopard the reality is that a lot of applications rely more on the CPU than the GPU. However, by focusing on video decoding and games, Acer and nVidia hope that the Atom and GPU combination will provide a better balance. Until more applications are recoded to use GPUs and software libraries such as DX11 Compute, OpenCL and CUDA, real-world performance is likely to be quite variable. It'll be interesting to see how a Mac Mini running Boot Camp fares against the Acer option. Or, indeed, a Hackintoshed Revo.

As with the Acer Atom-based netbooks, the Revo runs either Linux in the cheap models or Windows in the more expensive versions. But it's Ubuntu Linux this time - not the customised Linpus Linux that Acer has on the netbooks. This, apparently, was down to "customer demand". Right now, it looks as though Acer is going to persevere with its homebrew Linux for netbooks, although there is a strong push from some of the chipmakers for the system makers to get a grip and standardise on one or two of the common distros, such as Ubuntu. ARM, for one, is very keen on Ubuntu. And an ARM11 will feature in the nVidia Tegra-based netbooks expected to ship later this year, as well as a crop of designs from other chipmakers based on the later A8 and A9 cores from ARM.