TECH TALK: Massputers, Redux: AMDs $185 computer

This week, AMD will launch its Personal Internet Communicator (PIC). Priced at $185 (without monitor) and $249 (with a monitor), it is aimed squarely at the next users of computing. First, a look at the details:

InfoWorld: AMD estimates that more than 200 million households around the world with sufficient incomes to support a PC have yet to purchase a system. These potential users might not even realize they can afford a computer until they are presented with a low-cost product like the PIC, the company said. The PIC is a small form factor desktop designed for simplicity and affordability. A customized version of Microsofts Corp.’s Windows operating system and basic application software ships with each system. Most of the software settings are locked in before the system ships in the hopes that users won’t break any applications, and service calls can be kept to a minimum. AMD’s Geode GX500 embedded processor powers the bare-bones system. It also comes with 128M bytes of DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), a 10G-byte hard drive, four USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports for the USB keyboard and mouse and a monitor. The PIC machine also includes a modem. [AMD] also specifies a version of Microsoft’s Windows CE operating system, fitted with Windows XP-extensions, allowing it to provide consumers with a graphical interface, e-mail, Web browsing, instant messaging and word processing. The PIC machines will also be able to play multimedia files and show PDF and PowerPoint files, AMD said. The performance (of a PIC machine) is very robust, said Steve Howard, an AMD spokesman. It boots in 25 seconds, and, once loaded, the browser performance is very snappy and word processing and spreadsheet is equivalent to what you’d see in a PC today.

The Wall Street Journal adds: One key to the AMD effort is the Geode, an inexpensive line of chips purchased from National Semiconductor Corp. The chip in the communicator draws just a watt of power, a fraction of the power consumption of AMD and Intel Corp. chips that use the same software. The other key element was assistance from Microsoft Corp. The software company worked with AMD on an operating system that is based on the Windows CE product line for hand-held computers — enhanced with elements of the Windows XP software for PCs — offered at a low price AMD isn’t disclosing. The communicator also comes with a word processor, spreadsheet and other simple application programs, licensed from a German company that Mr. Gino Giannott of AMD declined to identify. The devices are designed to be limited in function, so users can’t accidentally erase important files or add software that would keep the system from operating normally, he said.

Here is a look at the wider view on AMDs strategy: The machine is geared toward families who make the equivalent of between $1,000 and $6,000 annually. Three companies in India and Latin America will be among the first to market versions of the machine, an AMD representative saidAMD will introduce the PIC as part of an effort it calls 50×15, which aims to raise the percentage of the world’s population that has Net access to 50 by 2015. Right now, only about 10 percent of the global population can access the Net, the company says. Reaching the next large group of computer and Internet users–people in countries such as China, India and Russia–has become a major focus of many of the big names in computer technology. Most of those companies appear to agree that lower-price personal computers will help them sell more products.

WSJ: AMD doesn’t plan to market the device itself. Rather, it hopes to take orders from telephone companies and Internet-service providers, which will put their names on the communicator and sell it to customers — perhaps as part of a bundle with Internet access or telephony. Besides targeting India and China, the company plans to aim at Brazil, Mexico and Russia. We are not interested in being in the system business per se, said Gino Giannotti. We are interested in providing an opportunity for people to improve their lives. Although it intends to steward the low-price PIC into the market, AMD isn’t getting into the business of manufacturing computers. The company drew up the plans for the PIC, but tapped Solectron to build the first run of the machines. The chipmaker plans to go forward by essentially licensing the PIC design to local companies, including telecommunications or Internet service providers, allowing them to use local contract manufacturers and control distribution, marketing and pricing of their PICs. Thus the companies will sell PICs under their own brand names and be free to subsidize the machines’ cost to lower the price consumers pay.

AMDBoard has some pictures and specifications, while Slashdot has a discussion.

Tomorrow: Emerging Market Realities

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.