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Cyrix designs wireless Net device

The company will show off the WebPAD design at Comdex, hoping it catches on better than its Media Center.

Cyrix has developed a reference design for a handheld wireless Internet device it will demo at Comdex next week, hoping to snap its Comdex losing streak.

Cyrix believes the WebPAD will bring Internet access into the homes of the approximately 60 percent of Americans who do not own PCs. Attempting to move beyond the traditional PC mode of Internet connectivity, the WebPAD is more of a communication device and not a computer. It offers no other functions or applications, just Net access.

An 8-1/2 by 11-inch tablet, the WebPAD will feature a 10-inch LCD screen, 16MB of RAM, 8MB of ROM, built-in speakers and USB ports, but, initially at least, no hard drive or PCMIA slot. The device will come with a cradle similar to those used for portable phones that will work as a modem.

The system is based on a upcoming version of Cyrix's Media GX processor with integrated graphics, audio, video, and network functions. Combining many functions on one chip reduces the total cost of building a device and results in a lower price point. NEC showed off a prototype of a similar device at an Intel Developer Forum earlier this year.

Although pricing will be determined by vendors, building such a device would probably cost a manufacturer around $500, Cyrix said, a figure which will come down over the next year as components like LCD are expected to significantly decline in price.

"Today, the cost of the entire system would be around $500, which is still just a little bit more expensive than we would like it to be," said Steve Tobak, vice president of corporate marketing for National Semiconductor, parent company of Cyrix. IBM, for instance, has introduced a fully-configured desktop PC for $499.

But Tobak points out that the WebPAD serves an entirely different purpose from the PC, which he terms a productivity tool. "This is a single application device that surfs the Web. That's the contrast with the personal computer: Yes, it accesses the Web, but it was designed for productivity."

Cyrix expects consumer electronics companies, PC makers, and networking firms to sign on as customers, although it has struggled to find a manufacturing partner for the last reference design for a non-PC device it introduced at Comdex, the Media Center.

Intended as an "info-tainment" device, the Media Center was also based on Cyrix's Media GX chip. "It was designed as a set-top box, home theater center, Web browser, video conference device--essentially it could do anything you want to do from an information or entertainment point of view," Tobak said, insisting that the concept hasn't been spiked and pointing to Compaq's Presario 2100 as an example of a reference design that was adopted.

"These kinds of conceptual products can't necessarily be productized quickly. Sometimes the price has to come down," he said, noting that the Media Center would cost around $900 to make. "On that product the price needed to come down. Now the WebPAD could be a very marketable product."