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Via pushes $200 Internet PC

Wen Chi Chen wants to fill void

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Via Technology Forum The CEO and president of Via kicked off the company's technology forum this morning by claiming cheap PCs will fill and satisfy the needs of the rapidly growing worldwide Internet market.

The devices will bridge the gap between dedicated information appliances and more powerful machines costing over $500, said Chen.

"From our point of view this is a transition time [for the PC] but the most important application is there, and it is the Internet. This application is more important than any applications we had before. It will have a major impact on all aspects of the industry," he said.

"Connection will play a bigger role than the computer itself, The pipe will play a much bigger role than the engine."

He said that the so-called Information PC, which Via dubs Value Internet Architecture to match its own initials, will include open standards, flexible platforms, technological innovation, and cooperation between partners to "leverage the growing capabilities of the Greater China Manufacturing Engine."

"If we have billions of devices, they'd better be cheap and reduce cost and improve bandwidth," he said.

"If we have billions of devices, they'd better be cheap and reduce cost and improve bandwidth," he said.

He said, in an obvious reference to Intel that "no company will be able to say we have to invent everything".

So how will Via be able to fill this gap? Some of those details were filled in by Bert McComas, a keynote speaker at the conference, who yesterday showed the press a slide in which a $199 PC could use the Linux operating system, come with 32Mb of memory, include a Via chipset, and have ports, inbuilt modem and graphics cards to produce a compatible, and according to Chen, an upgradeable machine.

Chen said that market research figures showed massive Internet growth in other territories than the US, and that this growth could be soaked up by a generic, low cost PC sold and branded to government agencies, educational authorities and the like.

Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, Chen's view of the Info PC chimes with confidential slides we saw last weekend, which demonstrated that most CPU power was underused, with the majority of applications focusing on word processing, email, browsing and the like.

That is likely to mean that CPUs used in such an Info PC could eventually cost pennies rather than pounds, with foundries, such as TSMC, churning out Via CPUs at one or more of its soon-to-be fourteen fabrication plants.

A speaker from TSMC followed Chen, and said that it will move to producing .13 micron fabs in spring next year, giving the possibility that Via, one of its customers, could roll out such CPUs earlier than expected.

He also said it had low power notebook technology, and sources close to Via suggest that chipsets for cheap notebooks were en route from the Taiwanese firm. That, matched with the falling cost of LCD panels, now that the Taiwanese factories have ramped up, could put further pressure on Intel.

This kind of cheap CPU headache, Chipzilla doesn't need right now.

Other keynote speakers at this morning's session included 3Com, Micron and AMD. More of this later. ®

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