COMING SOON: A SUB ATOM
Intel to focus on cheaper PCs
Sujit John | TNN
Bangalore: Efforts to take PCs to the masses in India hasn’t had a great record. Yet, Intel is taking new initiatives in that direction.
The company’s chief technology officer, Justin Rattner
, who was in Bangalore last week, told TOI he’s starting what he calls a “frugal engineering” effort at its India facility. “It’s intended to bring high technology to these huge populations, to those whom our products for the most part do not touch today. And India seemed to be the perfect place to do that kind of work,” he said.
Rattner said his lab was “kicking around ideas” in the space now. “We want to do very low cost PCs, very power efficient, very robust in the face of unreliable power sources. So we are moving from a US/European audience, with hundreds of millions of customers, to an audience of a billion or two billion. Give them online reach, but at a price point that is unprecedented,” he said.
For this, he is even looking at developing a new processor, a ‘sub-Atom’ as he called it. Atom is currently Intel’s lowest cost processor and is used for netbooks, nettops, smartphones and the company’s smart TV platform. “We see an opportunity even below that,” he said.
Rattner expects the India labs to do a lot of rethinking on how to provide various functions on a chip. “The India lab is currently working on absolutely leading edge technologies, now moving from 32 nanometre chips to 22 nm ones. What if we backed off, and used chips of two generations back,
say 65 nm. Now, those plants are fully depreciated, so the wafer costs are dramatically lower. But for a very high volume, low-cost product, that technology may be sufficient. It’s a big mental shift for Intel,” he said.
Praveen Vishakantaiah, president of Intel India, said one innovation in the area of frugal engineering could soon be in the market. “With HCL, we have launched a nettop with a battery backup in the power adaptor. It’s a three hour backup that helps in areas that do not have continuous power supply. The innovation was in the adaptor; if we had done it in the nettop, it would have raised the cost significantly,” he said.
The past decade has seen several attempts to mass market PCs through innovations like the Simputer, Classmate PC and a $100 portable computer under the one-laptop-per-child initiative, some of which had Intel’s involvement. Vishakantaiah said some of these initiatives did not fully appreciate the complexities of the Indian market. “Broadband connection is a problem, so is reaching rural areas. Classmate PC has been a success in Latin America, with success in one country influencing others in the region to take it up. But in India, success in one area is no guarantee that others will want to do it,” he said.
So, apart from efforts to bring breakthroughs in chip architecture to make them both low cost and multi-functional, Intel India will be looking at triggering innovations around low-cost chips, like the battery backup in the power adaptor.
“Besides, in India, we can’t just provide a box and expect people to know what to do with it, like in mature markets. We have to provide content, we have to work with the teachers using the PCs to explain what’s possible. We will have applications preloaded on the system which are activated only when the buyer starts using them; and they pay only for the time they use the app. We will work with our partners and the entire supply chain to do all of this,” Vishakantaiah said.
Rattner said he expects early results from the `rethinking’ initiative a year from now. “We will do a number of projects in this area and quickly weed out the ones that aren’t going anywhere, and focus on one or two that look promising,” he said.