Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Wired effect

In "The Netbook Effect: How Cheap Little Laptops Hit the Big Time" (Wired magazine, March 2009), Clive Thompson describes how Mary Lou Jepsen in designing a low cost screen for Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child computer started the netbook computer craze. It is a good story, but like much of Wired (the dolly magazine of the computer industry) it is not quite true. Perhaps we need a new term: the "Wired effect": where you notice something happening and reach for the nearest media release to explain it, without giving the issue much thought.

I have been buying small, low cost disk-less computers for about a decade, long before the OLPC was started. These computers came from UK, Japanese and Taiwanese firms. They were not popular in the USA, because of their small size, limited performance and non-standard software. What changed in the last few years is that the performance of the electronics improved to where these little computers could do a good job of running office applications and at the same time wireless Internet access provided a viable alternative to on-board disk storage. With web based applications added into the mix, a netbook became a viable alternative for most personal computing.

Thompson's article does go on to give a reasonable analysis of the reasons for the netbooks success and the problems it is causing for the computer makers (how to sell a $1,000 laptop when the $300 model is good enough). ASUS deserve the credit for starting the current netbook boom with their EEE PC.

What the author fails to mention is that ASUS is trying the same success at the desktop with their nettop models: desktop PCs using similar low cost components to the netbooks. If successful, this will drive down the cost of desktop computers to lower than that of the netbooks. The nettops do not need their own keyboard, mouse or screen as they use standard desktop PC ones. Nor do they need a battery. If you take a $US300 netbook and remove the unnecessary components you end up with something between $100 and $200. As well as a desktop PC, ASUS are adding a PC built into an LCD panel to their EEE PC lineup. If you build the computer into an LCD screen, or an LCD TV, then the computer does not need a case, power supply, or some of the display interface components. That should take about $50 off the cost of the nettop, bring the effective cost of the unit to between $50 and $150 (not counting the LCD screen, keyboard or mouse).

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Blogger Craig Fisher said...

Building a computer into an LCD screen does not obviate the need for a power supply.

April 02, 2009 3:40 PM

Blogger Tom Worthington said...

Craig Fisher said April 02, 2009 3:40 PM:

"Building a computer into an LCD screen does not obviate the need for a power supply."

If the computer is built into the LCD screen, then you can use the one power supply for both the screen and computer. So you need only one power supply, instead of two, lowering the cost overall.

April 02, 2009 4:37 PM

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