The personal computer industry is poised to sell tens of
millions of small, energy-efficient Internet-centric devices.
The new computers, often called netbooks, have scant onboard memory. They
use energy-sipping computer chips. They are intended largely for surfing Web
sites and checking e-mail. The price is small too, with some selling for as
little as $300.
The companies that pioneered the category were small too, like Asus and
Everex, both of Taiwan.
Several makers are taking the low-powered PCs one step further. In the
coming months, they are expected to introduce "net-tops," low-cost versions
of desktop computers intended for Internet access.
A Silicon Valley start-up called CherryPal says it will challenge the idea
that big onboard power is required to allow basic computing functions in the
Internet age. On Monday it plans to introduce a $240 desktop PC that is the
size of a paperback and uses two watts of power compared with the 100 watts
of some desktops.
It wants to take advantage of the trend toward "cloud computing," in which
data is managed and stored in distant servers, not on the actual machine.
Industry analysts say that the emergence of this new class of low-cost,
cloud-centric machines could threaten titans like Microsoft and Intel, or
even H.P. and Dell, because the giants have built their companies on the
notion that consumers want more power and functions built into their next
It is a market that caught the major computer companies - both hardware and
software - by surprise after Asus, entered the market last year with the
$300 Eee PC. The company thought the device would essentially appeal to the
education market, or as a starter laptop for adolescents, but the interest
has turned out to be broader.
With an emphasis not in on-board applications (like word processing), but
Internet-based ones like Google Docs, the Linux-based Eee PC sold out its
350,000 global inventory. It has been in short supply ever since, said
Jackie Hsu, president of the American division of Asus. Everex has sold
around 20,000 of its CloudBook, which sells for about $350.