IDF - Intel gives Classmate PC a makeover

Intel announced details of a new version of its Classmate PC at the Intel Developer Forum.

Intel unveiled an updated version of its Classmate PC laptop at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in Shanghai, but changes made to the device are largely cosmetic -- at least for now.

The new Classmate PC has a sleeker look than its predecessor, and should appeal to a broader range of users. It also offers the option of a 9-inch screen instead of a 7-inch screen, and can have a built-in video camera. However, most of the laptop's internal components remain largely unchanged from the original Classmate PC. The new laptop also retains the soft plastic cover that does double-duty as a carrying handle.

Pictures of the updated Classmate PC slipped out ahead of IDF when a Malaysian PC maker unveiled the device at an event and pictures appeared online last week. A product sheet for the new laptop was also leaked from a US PC maker, giving observer a first glimpse of the machine.

Like its predecessor, the latest Classmate PC runs Linux or Windows XP and can include specialised software for schools.

One of the most useful improvements to the new Classmate PC design is the location of its memory-card slot. In the first version, this was located behind the laptop hinge and was hidden by the plastic cover. This slot was moved to the right side of the chassis in the new version, where it remains protected from dust by a rubber cover but is more easily accessible.

The keyboard remains the same size on the new Classmate PC, and most adults will likely find the keys a bit cramped for extended typing. But Intel has added color to the function keys to make them stand out more. In addition, the trackpad is larger, making it easier to use for adult-sized fingers.

Both Classmate PC versions are based on the 900MHz Celeron M processor and available with either hard drives or solid-state drives, which use flash memory chips instead of a spinning magnetic platter. The solid-state drives are available in 1GB and 2GB capacities.

During the third quarter, Intel plans to refresh the new Classmate PC by replacing the Celeron M with an unspecified version of Atom, said Tom Rampone, an Intel vice-president and general manager of the company's Channel Platforms Group. Atom is designed to be inexpensive and consume less power than previous Intel chips.

Originally designed for students in developing countries, the Classmate PC will be made available to PC makers in the US and elsewhere who can market the laptops to consumers, as well as schools. Indeed, pictures of the new Classmate PC offered by smaller PC makers in Malaysia and the U.S. circulated online ahead of the official launch.

Pricing for the new Classmate PC will vary depending on configuration, but should range between $US400 and $600, Intel said.

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