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Another $100 PC is here, but what is inside?

business Updated: May 05, 2007 04:32 IST
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Yet another company is taking a crack at producing a sub-$100 computer.

Novatium, a Chennai-based company, which was co-founded by US-based Analog Devices chairman Ray Stata, Netcore Solutions managing director Rajesh Jain and professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala of IIT Madras, is hawking an up-and-running $100 (Rs 4,500) PC, based on a thin-client model.

A thin client is a small box that does not contain any software or computing power. It is linked to a central server, which hosts all applications such as word, excel and can be accessed whenever required. The model is a bit different and is based on a lower entry-level cost of acquiring a PC as compared to coughing up Rs 15,000 for a basic Intel-powered, CRT monitor with a Microsoft operating system. “With Rs 5,000, a user can have a PC and subsequently follow up a pay-as-you-use model,” says Alok Singh, CEO, Novatium.

NetPC comes with a monitor, keyboard, mouse, a Linux operating system (and free open source software), an access device (for accessing the Internet), and connects to a server over a local area network and offers some free entertainment. "With NetPC you can access email, word, spreadsheets, media players, and surf the Internet," Singh explains. The technology used is another factor, which prices it so low when compared to conventional PCs. "We use mobile chips that are cheaper than conventional Intel chips and less RAM," he added. This is similar to flash-based chips that are used on mobile phones.

However, despite the attractive pricing, industry watchers are sceptical. “This device is targeted at rural hinterlands, where DSL and Ethernet technologies (technologies that allow Internet access) are non-existent,” says a CEO of a Mumbai-based cable company. Muthu Logan, CEO of Brovis, a Chennai-based broadband company says that processing power of thin client devices are not at par with conventional PCs, which are used for education and entertainment by home users. “Desktops require a lot of local processing power,” says a senior official in HP. Singh argues that while wireless networks are still not in place, the device is robust and with this kind of model, the customer need not invest in software at his end.

In India it has rolled out pilots in Chennai with about 500 users already registered and it will be replicated in other cities in the future. The company is planning to sell 2 million NetPCs by the end of 2008. Novatium has 20 pilots underway in India, the US, South Africa, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and in some European countries.