Intel Readies CPU for Cheap Laptops

Intel Corp. plans to unveil a new microprocessor for the One Laptop Per Child notebook and other ultra-low cost laptop PCs at the Intel Developer Forum in Shanghai next April, an executive said Monday.

No current Intel microprocessors fit the requirements of the OLPC, which uses a processor from Advanced Micro Devices Inc., so Intel will design a new architecture specifically for the ultra-low cost laptop category, said Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of the mobile platforms group at Intel.

"OLPC is a new category that will allow many, many people in many places to have access to the Internet," he said. "It's a category for itself. It will grow, it will not be a cannibalization of an existing [product] category."

The OLPC Project started as an attempt to build a US$100 laptop for children in poor nations, but the laptop from the group, named the XO, will likely end up costing nearly double that amount at first. The organizers of the effort, led by academics and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), hope heavy volume sales of the device will drive down costs.

The goal of OLPC is to make sure nobody misses out on the benefits of computing. The fear is that the price of a PC is keeping too many people in developing countries from learning how the software, Internet and communications benefits of computing can improve their economies, job prospects and lives, or that poor countries will fall further and further behind the modern world due to their inability to access computers, a conundrum commonly referred to as the digital divide.

The OLPC laptop is unique because it's designed for people with limited access to electricity or indoor classrooms. To that end, developers focused on creating a long-lasting battery with built in recharging systems, with a screen people can read in sunlight, and a durable, dust-proof casing.

The current, lime-green OLPC laptop runs on AMD's 433MHz Geode LX-700, an x86-architecture chip that met OLPC's price target and consumes little power.

Last month, Intel executives talked about using existing mobile chips for the OLPC, such as modified versions of the Celeron M or upcoming Silverthorne processor, which is designed for small, mobile computers. But the small size, low cost and low power consumption required by the OLPC laptop make it unique enough to require a new architecture, said Eden.

The OLPC laptop has inspired copycats, including an initiative from Intel called the Classmate PC. Unveiled last year, the Classmate PC is a small laptop that runs on Intel's 900MHz Celeron M microprocessor. Taiwan's Asustek Computer Inc. plans to officially launch its Eee PC on Tuesday, an ultra-low cost laptop built around an Intel microprocessor and chipset, with a 7-inch screen.

Intel's Shanghai developer forum will take place on April 2 and 3, 2008, at the Shanghai International Convention Center.

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