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IBM fattening up "thin client"

IBM hopes to stand out among all the vendors expected to introduce "thin clients" at Comdex next month by setting a new performance standard for its version of the network computer.

IBM (IBM) hopes to stand out among all the vendors expected to introduce "thin clients" at Comdex next month in Las Vegas by setting a new performance standard for its version of the network computer, sources told CNET.

IBM has already taken its first stab at the NC concept with the IBM Network Station introduced earlier this year. This is being built by Network Computing Devices, a Moutain View, Calif.-based company.

But IBM's Austin, Texas-based PowerPC group is ready to take another tack with the thin client by adding more processing power and providing an alternative reference platform.

The network computer is a stripped-down box designed primarily for Internet surfing and affordability.

IBM's Austin, Texas-based PowerPC group is expected to introduce an NC built around a 603e PowerPC processor, a chip that can run at speeds as fast as 200 MHz.

The new "reference" box is expected to offer higher performance than IBM Network Station, which uses a less powerful microcontroller-class processor, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

IBM will offer a choice of operating systems, including an environment written in Java and OS-9 from Microware, sources said. IBM is still firming up its Java strategy but will is expected to build in something with a Java just-in-time compiler so that applets will run quickly on the new box.

The company will offer the reference platform box as a kit and let users piece together their own NCs, said one source, referring to a strategy where IBM will give users the choice of operating environments and other options so that users can craft their own solutions.

The NC is expected to be in the same general price range as the Network Station: between $700 and $1,000.