AMD offering blueprint for $185 PC

"Personal Internet Communicator" is geared toward families in so-called emerging markets, such as China and India.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
Advanced Micro Devices plans to unfurl next week a blueprint for building a low-price computer aimed at providing Internet access to people in so-called emerging markets.

Dubbed the Personal Internet Communicator, 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 said.

The Personal Internet Communicator, or PIC as AMD calls it, will cost about $185 without a display. To reach that price, AMD selected several standard PC components, including one of its own Geode x86 processors, 128MB of Samsung RAM and a 10GB Seagate hard drive. The company 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."

AMD will introduce the PIC as part of an effort it calls 50x15, which aims to raise the percentage of the world's population that

Related story
Ballmer: We need
a $100 PC
Can cheap PCs help stem piracy? Microsoft's CEO thinks so.
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.

Microsoft, for one, is aiming to help create lower-cost PCs by creating less-expensive versions of Windows XP. The company has produced so-called starter editions of XP for several markets.

Intel has also discussed creating low-price processors for emerging markets. Sources say the company has been selling a special low-price processor and motherboard combination as part of a project code-named Shelton.

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. AMD is targeting companies in Brazil, China, India, Mexico and Russia, initially.

When it came to choosing the individual parts that make up the PIC, AMD aimed for Windows and Web software compatibility, but also low price. The AMD Geode GX500, an x86 chip that powers the PIC, consumes only 1 watt of power, meaning it can run without a fan, which lowers component costs for the PIC. Aside from 128MB of RAM and a 10GB hard drive, a PIC machine will include a modem and four Universal Serial Bus ports for adding peripherals such as a keyboard.

Still, there have been numerous efforts to deliver low-cost Internet access devices in the past, most of which have failed.

Although the PIC is similar to the Internet appliances that were unsuccessfully marketed as inexpensive Internet access devices, AMD says the PIC costs less and is more useful.

Unlike Internet appliances, which were essentially terminals for Internet access, the PIC be used both online to surf the Web, watch streaming video and read e-mail, and offline for word processing and viewing documents, similar to a traditional PC, Howard said.

AMD will officially announce the PIC and unveil its first three customers on Oct. 28.