Intel Revs Convertible Netbook

Click on the graphic for a larger view. Source: Intel

SAN FRANCISCO — Classroom computing just got more flexible. Chip giant Intel plans to release details of its latest Classmate PC at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this Friday. The “convertible” model features a standard (8.9-inch) display that can be turned to a tablet mode for pen input, draw, paint and other applications that favor the more vertical format. It features a touch screen that can be used with a stylus.

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) doesn’t sell Classmates directly, rather it’s created a reference design for computer manufactures to use which of course includes use of Intel’s chips. The new convertible model uses an Atom N270 running at 1.6 GHz.

The original Classmate, featuring a clamshell design, will continue to be offered. It was updated this past April. PC makers are expected to offer clamshell and convertible models in the $200 to $400 range respectively.

The clamshell weighs about 2.2 pounds while the convertible model is a bit over three pounds. The convertible sports an 8.9-inch screen, a bit larger than the 7-inch clamshell model.

Exact pricing and further details, including which companies will be offering the Classmates, is slated to be announced Friday.

“You should recognize the names and some will be surprises,” said Jeff Galinovsky, regional manager for the Intel-powered Classmate PC Ecosystem during a demo of the new reference design model for

Galinovsky wouldn’t comment on specific sales expectations, but said “we’re bullish it will be a great success.”

Intel’s announcement comes during the worldwide economic crisis pinching most budgets including school systems. The Classmate, which includes Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system, competes with the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative.

The original aim of the OLPC project was to offer a $100 laptop system for emerging markets. It wasn’t quite able to deliver systems that cheaply. The Linux-based XO laptop sells for about $200 and is available in the U.S. from online retailer Amazon.

A broader strategy

“Clearly Intel is trying to revamp their offering to be more appealing to educational systems, which continues to be a challenge given the economy and the state and federal budget cuts,” IDC analyst Richard Shim told “We’re not expecting a lot of growth in this market, but Intel has done a good of making these systems more appealing. The question is will there be funds to buy them?”

While OLPC and Intel’s partners continue to target emerging markets, Intel said some of its partners will offer the Classmate in the U.S. through traditional retail channels.

Becky Davis, director of marketing for Intel’s emerging market platforms group, said the company is taking a more holistic approach to the education market. “We want the conversation to be more than purely device focused,” she said.

Davis mentioned Portugal as one of the countries that’s already made a strong commitment to the Classmate. “The government there’s taken an aggressive stance, offering it to the full age range, from kindergarten through 12th grade,” she said.

With the help of government subsidies, Portuguese students are able to purchase the Classmate so they can use them at home as well as school. In the classroom environment, teachers can manage how the wireless devices are used, for example, limiting student’s access to certain applications so they stay focused on whatever subject is being taught.

Shim said the Classmate may ultimately help Intel’s broader strategy of promoting netbooks to a wide variety of markets. “That mobile client market hasn’t taken off, but in the next few years there’s a possibility it will,” said Shim. “Particularly as the market matures and is more accepting of cloud computing.”

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