Hints of a New Market for Cheap, Power-Sipping Servers

Netbooks are hot. Intel (INTC) estimates that the laptops–which can cost less than $300–sold faster in their first 12 months on the market than Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone or Nintendo’s Wii game console did. Could a similar low-end niche emerge in server systems?

It’s too early to tell, but there are some tantalizing signs–and some big ramifications if the trend takes hold.

First, some background: Hardware companies have long tried to convince customers to buy new machines that do computing work faster. Many customers in recent years have moved an increasing percentage of jobs away from “big iron”–mainframes and other servers that use proprietary circuitry–in favor of inexpensive servers based on the same x86 chip design used in PCs.

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