Intel working on third generation of Classmate PCs

Intel will announce details of the next generation of its Classmate PCs soon.

Intel will announce details of the next generation of Classmate PCs soon, with new hardware and software that will make the laptops more user-friendly, the company said Wednesday.

Intel declined to provide specific details on the updated hardware and software features, but the new laptops will be announced in "a month or so," said Agnes Kwan, an Intel spokeswoman. The company also declined to provide more specific shipping or pricing information.

Overhauling of the laptop includes a design update. The third generation of Classmate laptops will have a new look and feel, Kwan said. The changes are based on feedback Intel got from educators and students using Classmate PCs, Kwan said.

The Classmate PC was originally designed as an educational laptop for kids in developing countries. The laptop's new version, Classmate 2, was announced earlier this year, and Intel expanded its availability to the general market through PC makers.

For general users, the Classmate PC is designed as a no-frills laptop that can be used for basic applications like surfing the Web and checking e-mail. Today the Classmate PC is available in 35 countries through 30 PC makers, Kwan said. HCL Infosystems in India is selling a MiLeap X laptop based on the Classmate design for US$356. Actronix is selling the JumPC in the U.K., also based on the Classmate PC design, for £239.

A user interface for the new Classmate laptop could be a version of Sugar, originally developed for One Laptop Per Child's XO laptop, an educational laptop for kids in developing countries. Intel is pushing for the development of Sugar for Classmate PCs through Sugar Labs Foundation, which has assigned a community volunteer to work with Intel on Sugar.

Though not official, the Sugar interface has already been shown to work on the Classmate PC on OLPC News, an enthusiast Web site.

The chip maker also announced on Wednesday that it is shipping the current Classmate 2 with updated hardware, adding speed and memory capabilities.

The laptop now has Atom processors running at 1.6Ghz and supports up to 1G byte of RAM. Earlier versions of Classmate included an Intel Celeron processor running at 900MHz and supported up to 256M bytes of RAM. Intel originally talked about the inclusion of the Atom processor earlier this year. Other hardware features for the new Classmate 2 include an 8.9-inch screen and hard drive storage of up to 30G bytes.

Intel is working with the Portuguese government to ship some of the new Classmate 2 PCs with Atom processors to around 500,000 basic-level education students for the upcoming school year, Kwan said.

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