COMPUTEX - Low-cost laptops and new chips on tap for Computex

Computex Taipei 2008 starts next week, and promises dozens of new low-cost laptops and MIDs.

Computex 2008 could be the most exciting IT hardware show in years, complete with the launch of several ultra-low cost laptops armed with Intel's new Atom microprocessor, a new iMac lookalike from Asustek and reportedly a new processor from Nvidia code-named Tegra.

Computex Taipei 2008 is one of the world's largest IT hardware shows. An estimated 150,000 people will attend or display products at the event in Taiwan between June 3 and June 7. There has been so much demand for booth space that organisers have added an extra hall for the event, so attendees will travel about an hour between venues in downtown Taipei and the suburb of Nangang.

The extra space means more room for new gadgets. The number of booths for vendors has soared to 4482 this year, up from just under 3000 in 2007, and they will be teeming with the latest in computers and components.

One of the highlights will be ultra-low cost laptops, priced from about $US200 to $550, based on Intel's new Atom microprocessor. Several Taiwanese companies have announced plans to join Intel for the launch of Atom, which is designed to extend battery life and keep costs low.

Taiwan's Asustek Computer, which sells the most popular low-cost laptop so far, the Eee PC, will unveil new members of that family at Computex. The Eee PC 901 and 1000 series will arrive just over a month after Asustek launched the Eee PC 900, which added a larger, 8.9-inch screen for the first time. The Eee PC 900 uses an Intel Celeron M processor, but the 901 and the 1000 could use Atom, and one of them may push the screen size to 10 inches.

Other hardware makers have announced plans to launch rivals to the Eee PC at Computex. Taiwan's Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS) plans to launch the G10IL, which can access the Internet via mobile phone networks, while rival Micro-Star International has talked about Wind, a low-cost laptop with a 10-inch screen. Acer has also promised a low-cost laptop to be unveiled at Computex.

When Intel announced Atom a few months ago, the chip giant said around 25 new products, including Mobile Internet Devices, were already under development for the chip. MID is a term coined by Intel for small, tablet-type devices with touch-screens and easy Internet access.

Low-cost laptops have become popular because they're small and light, usually less than a kilogram (2.2 pounds), making them easy to carry around. A possible fly in the ointment is a rumor that Atom is in short supply, meaning some of the new products at Computex may not be available until later this year.

The stir created by low-cost laptops has invited more competition for Intel. Taiwanese microprocessor maker Via Technologies is expected to unveil soon its latest Isaiah processors for low-cost laptops and MIDs, while graphics chip maker Nvidia has also reportedly developed chips for handhelds based on ARM's processing core.

The MIDs at the show should make an interesting contrast to the low-cost laptops, but some analysts say low-cost laptops like the Eee PC could ultimately wreck the market for MIDs. The bottom line is price. Gigabyte Technology, for example, is expected to show off an MID that could retail for more than $1000. Mobile phone-maker, BenQ, also plans to show off an MID at Computex.

Other new items at the show will include graphics modules and SSDs (solid-state drives) with larger storage capacities from vendors such as Samsung Electronics. New networking gear will also be on display, as well as the normal fare from Computex -- motherboards, graphics cards and other PC components.

A few additional events running alongside the show will highlight other hardware trends. The 2008 WiMax Expo in Taipei runs the same week as Computex, and DRAMeXchange, the online clearinghouse for memory chips such as DRAM and flash, is hosting its Compuforum 2008 as well.

The shows run through next week and bring thousands of visitors to Taipei. For the uninitiated, it's best to print out directions to hotels and exhibition halls in Chinese to present to taxi drivers. And if you don't have a hotel reservation already, you should probably stay at home.

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