AMD 'Emma' SoC revives Net Appliance concept

Targets developing world

AMD is developing a system-on-a-chip product with the idea of pitching the part at Internet appliance developers within the next six months.

According to CEO Hector Ruiz, whose Monday after-dinner comments were written up by the Austin American-Statesman, the chip maker has a vision of a Net access device no bigger than a pack of ciggies.

Sorry, Hector, but such a device already exists. It's called a PDA.

To be fair to Ruiz, the gadget he has in mind connects to a separate screen, keyboard and wired Internet connection. But there's no reason why PDAs will not shortly offer such functionality. The Microsoft-backed Portable Media Centre devices probably will too.

Ruiz's aim is to bring the Internet to many more people across the world. With developing world telecoms infrastructures being what they are, he's going to have to start think wireless, and consider adding 802.11 or even WiMAX into whatever reference platform the company is cooking up.

The key component, however, remains the chip, codenamed 'Emma'. Long-term Reg readers may recall that fellow chip maker National Semiconductor was touting a similar silicon concept back in the mid- to late 1990s, a dream that ultimately led to its x86-compatible Geode SoC.

The plan was so successful that Nat Semi decided to ditch Geode a couple of years back and sell the technology off. Who bought it? A company called AMD, which now offers it as the Geode SC1100.

NatSemi's vision was founded upon demand for Internet appliances, devices that provided Net access and nothing else. This dotcom bubble-fuelled concept was a favourite of research analysts during the late 1990s, who attempted to wow us all with their talk of the 'post-PC era'.

In the end, the bubble burst, revealing that the world wasn't quite so bothered about the World Wide Web as the industry thought. More to the point, personal computer vendors and their suppliers - like... er... AMD - were more interested in promoting their systems as the ideal Internet access tools, and so the Net appliance concept faded into the obscurity it frankly deserved.

What's (slightly) different this time round is AMD's interest in the developing world, rather than developed world consumers, who would clearly rather have a PlayStation 2 than a set-top box for web-surfing. In short, it's looking to build demand among users who are unlikely to ever consider buying a computer, which is really not the case among Western consumers these days. ®

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