Amongst the many innovations introduced by Dell's latest Latitude Z laptop is one that is not clearly visible; tucked in the device is a small secondary processor from ARM that runs a separate Operating System.
The solution, which Dell calls a sub-processor and a sub-operating system, has been deployed on the Latitude E4200 and E4300 notebooks.
Codenamed BlackTop (for Blackberry Laptop), the embedded system uses an unknown ARM processor coupled with a customised SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 distribution and is sold as an optional $249 add-on.
What's more surprising is it completely independent from the Wintel platform that resides physically within millimeters from it. It has no access to the hard disk drive but aside from this, utilises the same resources.
Dell says that it wanted its laptops to offer instant on boot-up, in a way similar to smartphone. Blacktop offers a separate working environment that comes complete with its own set of applications and could potentially last days.
But we shouldn't discard the fact that Dell could one day decide to dump Wintel completely, at least on some solutions, and offer devices that use ARM and Linux rather than AMD/Intel and Windows.
The homogeneous nature of ARM's solutions means that the Texan company could potentially make huge savings (and thereby increasing its bottom line) per unit sold.
It could also provide with the perfect backdoor for Dell and the embedded/open source community to gauge the level of interest from potential corporate customers.
A small step for Dell, a huge step for ARM and its supporters. Dell is a tier-1 candidate and others like Lenovo and HP could soon follow, especially as they get accustomed with ARM's smartphone strategy and its elegant designs. Still, we'd be curious to find out exactly who made the chip that went in the Latitude Z.