More competition for low-cost laptops

The Asus Eee PC is about to get a lot more competition in the emerging category of low-cost laptops from the HP Mini-Note, Acer Aspire and a new version of Intel's Classmate PC.

The Asus Eee PC is about to get a lot more competition in the emerging category of low-cost laptops. This morning HP made its Mini-Note official. Acer is reportedly working on its own 8.9-inch subnotebook. And Intel has big plans for its Classmate PC.

HP Mini-Note
The 2.6-pound HP 2133 Mini-Note PC will be sold in five different configurations starting at $500. All of them have an 8.9-inch diagonal WXGA display and weigh 2.6 pounds. The base configuration has a 1.0GHz Via C7-M processor, 512MB memory, a 4GB flash drive and SuSe Linux. More costly models add more memory, standard hard drives in 120- and 160GB capacities and Windows Vista. The Mini-Note will be shipping later this month.

Acer is planning to launch two low-cost models, an 8.9-inch Aspire and 12.1-inch Slim Gemstone Aspire, according to DigiTimes. The 8.9-inch Aspire will use Intel's new Atom processor, and configurations will range from $300 to $450 depending on the storage (flash-based SSDs and standard hard drives) and operating system (Linux or Windows XP). No specs or or pricing on the 12.1-inch model yet.

Intel Classmate
At the Intel Develop Forum in Shanghai last week, Intel announced the second generation of its Classmate PC. The "top range" includes a 9-inch display, an Intel Celeron M processor, 512MB memory, a 30GB hard drive, and Linux or Windows XP. The design is still a bit dull and utilitarian, but a prototype of a much sleeker model got lots of attention at the show. And it won't be long before Intel updates the Classmate PC with an Atom processor, which should lead to smaller and cheaper versions.

Meanwhile, Asus has begun selling a Windows XP version of the Eee PC at Best Buy. The new configuration includes a 7-inch WXGA display, 900MHz Intel Celeron M processor, 512MB memory and a 4GB SSD. The price is still $400. CNET Labs has an early look at this version, and how it stacks up the Classmate PC. Later this year, Asus will release a new model, the Eee PC 900, with an 8.9-inch display, more memory, a larger capacity SSD and most likely Intel Atom processors.

Though all of these are marketed as student laptops, computer manufacturers are clearly going after a broader market of home and business users who want a second, relatively inexpensive PC that is ultraportable and well-suited for basic tasks such as for checking e-mail and browsing the Web.

Acer aims to sell 5 to 5.5 million of the 8.9-inch Aspires in the second half of 2008, according to DigiTimes' sources at the contract manufacturers. Intel has dubbed the category "netbooks," and recently announced that it will sell Classmate PCs in the U.S. and Europe, a surprising move since it puts the chipmaker in competition with its own customers.

Microsoft's announcement last week that it would make Windows XP available for another two years specifically for these low-cost models is another indication that this category may have legs.


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