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Thursday, July 15, 1999 Published at 22:55 GMT 23:55 UK


PC-on-a-chip launched

Information-Appliance-on-a-chip. Courtesy: National Semiconductor

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

National Semiconductor Corporation has launched its much-touted PC-on-a-chip, a breakthrough in bringing low-cost computer appliances to the consumer.

The announcement from the California-based chip maker adds to the welter of support for devices that will appeal to consumers looking for cheaper and easier access to the Internet.

It came a day after Microworkz of Seattle said it was close to a distribution deal for its $199 iToaster PC with Dixons' Freeserve, the UK's leading Internet Service Provider (ISP).

One chip for the price of six

[ image: Chip inside a natural geode]
Chip inside a natural geode
NSC says its Geode SC1400, previously known as the "PC- or Information-Appliance-on-a-Chip," is designed to "deliver an optimal Internet experience for the interactive set-top box market - providing full web-browsing functionality together with state-of-the-art digital video."

A news conference in London was told that it could also be used in other affordable Internet appliances and Grundig announced it would power its next generation of set-top boxes.

Functions incorporated in to the SC1400's single chip of silicon include a 266mhz processor, system logic, graphics, MPEG video decompression, audio, TV input/output and peripheral input/output. National says this would require at least six separate chips in a conventional set-top box.

Beyond the PC

[ image: The WebPAD concept]
The WebPAD concept
National says market demand for Net access has moved beyond the PC, since it announced plans for the chip in April 1998, to include a variety of other devices. It produced its own model for one, a pen and tablet device called the WebPAD last November.

The iToaster seems like a cross between a PC and the WebTV set-top box promoted by Microsoft. It is a small black box, sold for $199 without a monitor, with a Pentium processor, 2.1Gb hard drive, 32Mb of RAM and a 56K modem inside.

You can plug it into your TV, it has an instant on-off button, there is no floppy disk or CD-rom drive and the Operating System is not Windows. Microworkz saves money by adapting the free Linux OS for the machine.

The iToaster appears to be the "access device" that the Dixons chairman, Sir Stanley Kalms, mentioned last week. He said the UK electronics group would be selling it by the end of the year for around £200.

Cheap Apple laptop due

Other devices around the corner to tempt the non-Netheads online:

  • Apple's Interim Chief Executive Steve Jobs is expected to unveil its new laptop at MacWorld in New York next week. Many of the components will be on a single chip, cutting costs and making it appeal to students and home users.

  • Tiny, the UK's largest computer maker, is giving away a PC worth more than £300 to anyone subscribing to TinyTelecom, its new telephone network, for 12 months. They will have to pay a minimum of £29 per month in call charges.

  • AOL is to supply free PCs from E-machines of California for customers agreeing to sign up to its Compuserve online service in the US for three years. Microsoft is making the same offer of a free PC for three-years subscription to its MSN service in the US.

  • Games consoles will have Internet access. Sega's Dreamcast, going on sale at £199 in September in the UK, will feature a built-in modem for online gaming, Web browsing, email, and chat capabilities. Its rivals have similar plans.

  • Cable and satellite services such as Cable&Wireless, NTL and BSkyB will offer digital interactive services including e-mail later this year through set-top boxes.

With UK Internet adoption already accelerating because of the subscription-free ISP revolution, the fall in hardware prices and increased choice for consumers could lead to a Christmas boom in new users going online.

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