The Eee PC is here

The tiny commercial laptop aimed at children comes to the U.S. for the first time.

Eee PC
Asus' Eee PC is now available in the U.S. Erica Ogg/CNET Networks

The mini-laptop from Taiwanese computermaker Asus made its official U.S. debut Thursday.

In an outdoor courtyard of the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, Calif., the computer's intended audience--schoolkids--were in ample attendance. Like most animated Disney films today, the Eee PC is on the surface intended for children, but has plenty to keep the attention of adults too.

The Eee PC is similar in idea to the XO from the One Laptop Per Child initiative and Intel's Classmate PC. But unlike the former two, the primary audience for the Eee is not children in developing nations. Instead, it's intended as a device for the general public.

Classifying the product and its category may be slightly confusing for customers. It looks like a laptop, and mostly acts like one, but Eee PC product manager Donald Leung goes out of his way to say that the tiny device is not that.

"We want to emphasize that it's not a laptop," Leung said. "We'd rather call it a 'super mobile Internet device.'"

Besides its low-power Intel mobile processor, it has 512MB of memory, a 4GB flash drive, built-in Wi-Fi, and standard USB and monitor ports, so it looks and acts like a portable PC. It weighs a scant 2 pounds, and has a 7-inch LCD screen with a built-in camera. The kid-friendly computer runs Linux, and by the end of the year will be available with Windows XP. Color choices include black, white, and three pastels: pink, green, and blue.

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For now, the first model, the Eee PC 4G, is available on the Asus Web site, a variety of regional computer dealers, national chain Microcenter. Next month it will be sold on BestBuy.com and Costco.com for $399. More national chains will carry the product in coming months, according to Asus North America President Jackie Hsu.

Also on the agenda are lower-priced versions of the Eee. A $349 version--sans built-in Web camera--and a $299 version with a smaller 2GB flash drive are on the way.

Though it is still in the beginning stages of the process, Asus also intends to follow the initiative of OLPC and Intel. In the next year, Asus plans to ship 1 million Eee PCs to schoolchildren in third-world countries, said Hsu.

Until then, Asus believes the laptop will sell well among parents as a gift for their kids, as well as among stay-at-home moms (for "recipes and online auction-monitoring") and first-time computer users. But its portability could make it attractive for bloggers and mobile workers, too.

About the author

Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.

 

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