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Chinese Company Produces $150 Linux PC 325

Posted by Zonk
from the inexpensive-penguins dept.
srinravi writes to mention an Ars Technica article about another ambitious 'inexpensive computer' project. A Chinese manufacturer, YellowSheepRiver, is aiming to make available a $150 Linux PC built with inexpensive hardware components. From the article: "Urging potential customers to 'Say no to Wintel,' YellowSheepRiver is devoted to using its own Linux distribution and hardware designed and manufactured by Chinese companies. YellowSheepRiver hopes to close the "digital divide" by making computer technology available to the Chinese public at an affordable price. The Municator, which comes with 256MB of RAM, uses a unique 64-bit CPU with an instruction set based on a subset of the MIPS architecture. Designed by a Chinese company called BLX, the the cheap chip is clocked at 400 or 600MHZ and supposedly provides performance comparable to that of an Intel P3."
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Chinese Company Produces $150 Linux PC

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  • by Dutchmaan (442553) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @10:58AM (#15212267) Homepage
    Bear in mind that $150 dollars probably means a lot more in the Chinese economy than it does here in the U.S.

    Basically, how much is $150 to the average chinese citizen?
    • by everphilski (877346) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:04AM (#15212332) Journal
      Seeing as you can get a Pentium III processor for about $10, 256MB RAM for $25 (both on Pricewatch)... throw in a motherboard ($25) with onboard video, sound, etc. and a hard drive ($30 for a 40gb EIDE) and you have a similar product for cheaper, and we didn't even have to resort to OEM/bulk pricing.

      The unique feature is a 64 bit RISC chip and S-video out for a TV interface. No need for a computer monitor.
    • by MasterC (70492) <cmlburnett@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:14AM (#15212443) Homepage
      Just randomly picking from a google search finds this PDF [sagarpa.gob.mx] which says the average household income for a rural household is 2262 Yuan which is about $327 USD [yahoo.com]. So a $150 computer would be about 6 months work for a rural family.

      The graph on this page [iiasa.ac.at] confirms the ~2200 Yuan for rural households and shows urban households at just more than double that of rural.

      So, from 3 to 6 months net income for an average household.
      • The lower your income, the bigger random windfalls become. The $100 raffle pays out $100, whether you make that much in a month or that much in a day. That extra kidney you didn't really need sells for $2000 even if that's more than you make in 5 years.

        Then there are families that pool their resources... very common when you get to the dirt poor. Houses with 4 families in them are common. Why not pool their resources and get a communal PC? It's not as off-the-wall as you make it sound.
        • It's not as off-the-wall as you make it sound.

          The question was how much $150 is to the chinese. After finding some data, I answered between 3 to 6 months work. I wasn't making it sound any particular way.

          I wrote: So, from 3 to 6 months net income for an average household.

          [sarcasm]Boy, there's so much spin on that that I think Bill O'Reilly would be speechless.[/sarcasm]
      • by aemain (678301)

        Ummm...from your own pdf:

        In 2003, per capita income in rural area is Yuan 2622 (RMB).

        Per capita != "household income." And, from your same source (in the same paragraph!):

        Ratio of urban household income to rural household income is 3.2:1.

        So, for a urban family of three, their total household income would be $3139 ($327*3.2*3)...so a $150 computer would be ~5% of their total annual household income...

        The median US household income is $43318 [google.com]. 5% of that figure is $2165--basically the price at whic

    • So these machines might not be affordable for rural families, but what if an organization funds 1-4 of these per village. Much better then not having any computing.
    • China has an upper class and middle class of about the same numbers as the US - 25 million and 200 million, respectively. But it has a huge poor farmer and urban labor lower class- thereabouts 800-1000 million.
      If you restrict the discussion to the middle class, they are probably making about $10,000 in equivalent US purchasing power- about quarter US median income. That number is a little dicey, because economic sectors vary widely and the Chinese currency is assumed artificially lower than free market
  • by the_humeister (922869) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:01AM (#15212292)
    With the death of commodity of PowerPC computers imminent with Apple's switch, this can fill the niche for commodity alternative architectures. I'd get one if it comes here. Hopefully it won't be a "Lisa Lionheart."
    • What's most interesting about it for me is the question of whether it has integrated Treacherous Computing. With both Intel and AMD chips becoming infested with it in the near future, a computer with a foreign chip like this might be the only alternative (which reminds me, I need to check on the status of IBM, Via, Transmeta, and other chips).
  • by OctoberSky (888619) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:01AM (#15212295)
    Urging potential customers to 'Say no to Wintel,' YellowSheepRiver is devoted to using its own Linux distribution and hardware designed and manufactured by Chinese companies

    But can it run (my) Linux?

    • Because a key selling point for any product is to see how long it takes to get Linux on it.

      If they really wanted to make a killing, they'd hamstring the machine to ensure that it could never run Linux, and then the company would make outlandish claims about how Linux will never run on their machine.

      Then, there would be a rush of people trying put whatver toaster oven version of Linux on the thing. Within weeks, the free publicity machine would splatter screen shots of those first beautiful lines of [FAILE

  • by Enquest (579041) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:01AM (#15212298)
    There is a danger that GNU/Linux will get a bad name because it mostly installed on very cheap systems. Often these projects tend to fail and then the scape goat will be GNU/Linux. Better would be that large hardware firms put GNU/Linux on there system. Just imagine Ubuntu on all Dell, HP ... systems. That would be the break for GNU/Linux
    • I disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

      by catch23 (97972) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @12:01PM (#15212917)
      This is extremely similar to Seiko's crappy watches, Toyota's crappy cars, or Intel's crappy computers back in the 70's & 80's. Clayton Christiensen calls it disruptive technologies. You can read more about this phenomenon in his book, "The Innovator's Dilemma". Dr. Christiensen gave a talk at OSCON2005 (I think) that roughly described the contents of the book if you're too lazy to read the whole book, download the podcast at itconversations.com (called Capturing the Upside) and see how cheap crappy (yet decent) products eventually turn the tide. Companies in the past have avoided the cheap low end market simply because they don't want their name associated with it, and plus the margins at the high end sector is usually much more appealing to investors. Dr. Christiensen's ideas were one of the reasons Andy Grove created the Intel Celeron brand to compete with the extremely low end market.
    • Just imagine Ubuntu on all Dell, HP ... systems.

      What? Having no choise in my Linux distribution is the same as having no choice in my Windows distribution.

      I would prefer to have a real choice. I like SUSE, somebody else would rather have Fedora or any other.
    • So you think GNU/Linux should be open, but selectively open? Why bother GNU license then? Why is there such a 'danger'? Just coz they're Chinese??
  • by gasmonso (929871) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:02AM (#15212308) Homepage

    I bet this thing filters questionable content right out of the box!

    http://religiousfreaks.com/ [religiousfreaks.com]
  • by t0qer (230538) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:02AM (#15212311) Homepage Journal
    Designed by a Chinese company called BLX, the the cheap chip is clocked at 400 or 600MHZ and supposedly provides performance comparable to that of an Intel P3."

    When you watch american kung fu flicks (chuck norris) they automagically get the "out of sync english voiceover" effect.
  • by pr0nbot (313417) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:03AM (#15212322)
    I ain't drinkin from that river!
  • by kawika (87069) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:05AM (#15212342)
    Clearly with specs like this it's not going to run any heavy-duty apps, so I would think a typical application would be to run a browser and web/intranet apps to keep the client footprint small. Instead of a 40GB drive, why not put 2GB of flash onto the board formatted as a file system, and make the spinning drive optional? That would reduce power consumption and increase reliability.
    • I would think a typical application would be to run a browser and web/intranet apps

      Perhaps that's what it's called the [com]Municator? :-)
    • by MoxFulder (159829) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:13AM (#15212424) Homepage
      What if you want to store lots of MP3s, run a small web server, do software development, play movies, etc.? I was happily running on a fairly similar laptop (okay, 1 ghz CPU) until a few weeks ago. It ran linux quite well... if you can afford the latest-and-greatest to run your high-powered apps, that's great, but if not an older system works pretty well even for a lot of resource-intensive tasks.
    • 400 MHz is plenty for all but the most demanding computation jobs and games. And 256MB RAM is more than enough for a web browser, spreadsheet, word processor, GUI database designer, compiler, development suite, presentation designer, DTP suite, and image editor to be in core for each of three simultaneously logged in users.

      The only problem is the current breed of desktop environments and the software that runs on them. They perform poorly, consume far too much memory, and don't work reliably.

      2GB flash is *v
    • It doesn't state that the drive is in the machine, from the article;
      For storage, the Municator comes with a 40 GB external USB drive and support for an optional external optical drive
  • CeBIT 2006 Demo (Score:5, Informative)

    by fred911 (83970) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:08AM (#15212369)
  • See the video here (Score:5, Informative)

    by denisbergeron (197036) <DenisBergeron@yahoo. c o m> on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:09AM (#15212382)
    People at linuxdevice [linuxdevices.com] have a good article [linuxdevices.com] on it and even a link to a interview with a chinesse seller in video [google.com] made by a french reporter! I post this a some time ago, but people here don't like my syntax.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:11AM (#15212409)
    It's easy to make stuff cheap when you are stealing IP from the USA. Thanks again China!

    http://www.eetimes.com/news/design/business/showAr ticle.jhtml?articleID=166402034 [eetimes.com]
  • brand Name? (Score:2, Funny)

    by lbmouse (473316)
    OK...
      Communicator
    - Communist
    ----------------------
          Municator

  • by Toasterboy (228574) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:19AM (#15212478)
    I have an SGI Octane with dual MIPS R12k 300 mhz and it outperforms a P4 2ghz on floating point ops all the time. Integer performance isn't as good, but that's the way the things are built. Some of the reason it's faster at floating point than a much newer P4 is because each chip has 2MB cache, and MIPS chips have way more registers than intel+friends, but still...it's a ten year old machine.

    Even if the MIPS implementation these guys are using is dated and has a teensy cache, 400-600 mhz MIPS would be roughly in the ballpark of a P3... and 64-bit to boot. And have a lot more registers, which makes it easier to write fast code because you dont have to swap things out of your primary (what, four? =P) registers to do anything, like on Intel + friends.
  • I'm tired of the 'hook' of Linux is that it's free -- it should be seen as an equal alternative; albeit one that is free/open and community supported. I'm sure this scares folks off, but to have those fears doused simply because something is cheap seems the wrong tactic. I remeber seeing those crappy 200$ eMachines PCs running some hacked up KDE desktop (that looked about 2 years out of date) at Fry's, and the whole thing was cheap. Cheap keyboard, cheap mouse, all onboard crap, cheap, cheap, cheap. Why
  • Red Office (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JumperCable (673155)
    With China's policies on internet, I think using their system would be akin to using an OS designed by the CIA.
  • From another article (which, predictably, I can't find), it sounded as if there are some issues with the processor design that keeps this processor from being marketed in the US. It's not really my area, but does anyone have insight on this issue?

    Other than that, I'm thinking we might be looking at the next Audrey or something. I'll never figure out why they don't put every piece of documentation on the web and open the box up to the hacker community. Seems straightforward to me, but I'm no marketer (tha
  • products specs (Score:5, Informative)

    by Janek Kozicki (722688) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:29AM (#15212585) Journal
    Is it so difficult for the article submitter, to provide a link to the actual product [yellowsheepriver.org] ?
    • hey! I think it's skype, or something very similar. From their website there is a link to some videos, pick this [google.com] one, scroll forward to 10:06.
    • Thanks for the link, I was too lazy to look it up.

      All I could think when I saw the specs was YowSeR, YowSer, YowSer! The Mac Mini purchase just got put off indefinitely.

  • http://shop1.outpost.com/search?cat=-46612&pType=p Display [outpost.com]

    $270 American vs. $150? Linspire vs. whatever PRC government-approved distro this is?

    Big deal (or not, really).

    • Yes, but that won't fit in my dashboard or in my ATV cargo-box.

      The Municator would be ideal for a cheap car PC, or for a GPS mapping box I want to build for my ATV.

      At $149 I'm ready to buy one and see how easy it is hack / alter.

    • $270 American vs. $150? Linspire vs. whatever PRC government-approved distro this is?

      You should compare it to a mac mini and tell me if anything is not made in China these days.

      Red Flag, Microsoft, same thing [slashdot.org]. Good thing you don't need either. Expect to see a lot of activity with Debian MIPS [debian.org].

  • by FishandChips (695645) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:30AM (#15212595) Journal
    The box from YellowSheepRiver may sound like a bit of an April Fool - too bad it's not called the Munchicator and boots from a .baa file since we are talking sheep - but what we're seeing is another early step from the Chinese economy towards designing, manufacturing and assembling all its own IT stuff right down to the microchips. This may not sound much right now, but it sure will before long. The folks at Intel, AMD and other Wesern chip houses, Dell, etc., must feel a little queasier every time they see an announcement like this. I guess the same may eventually be true on the software side. The box is shipping Linux, but then didn't Microsoft recently ask the Chinese authorities to stop producing naked boxes with no OS on board? I guess the Chinese are now doing exactly what Microsoft asked.
  • by xenocide2 (231786) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:31AM (#15212600) Homepage
    Apparently this is somewhere between 2 months to half a year old. Someone on digg was trying to get ahold of these for mass purchase and failed to get any replies. I haven't seen any pictures floating around of this thing in the wild online. You can't buy them anywhere. Multiplied by the fact that BLX hasn't acquired a MIPS liscence (their CPU likely borrows certain patents originally designed for MIPS, given how similar it is), I doubt you'll see many of these floating around on eBay. Some theorize it's a grandstand by the Chinese government to demonstrate how much better they are than other local countries such as Korea, Taiwan or Japan. Plausible, but I suspect this is just the first visible vaporware company out of China.

    In summary, it's not a 150 dollar device until you can acquire one somewhere at that price.
  • very interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MORTAR_COMBAT! (589963) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:31AM (#15212605)
    Looks like it would make a decent little headless server, for http/imap/ftp/etc. The Godson-3 (successor to this Godson-2) chip plans look even more interesting. basically take a 4-pipeline 64-bit superscalar MIPS chip (Godson-2) and put 4 cores on a chip.

    http://www.infoworld.com/article/05/08/01/HNgodson 2_1.html [infoworld.com]

    Assuming, though, that legal and patent issues don't prevent it being sourced in US-bound computers and components...
  • Am I the only one that doesn't exactly see this as a terrible thing? I don't think it would be a good idea for familes or individuals to have this as their main computer, but think of the other options. Think of public libraries: dozens and dozens of computers where people just want to do Internet research, nothing else. Card catalogues where the only software the computer runs is either a browser or a card database. Think of public kiosks that could be made with free internet access. I'm sure the thing i
  • Ambitious (Score:2, Troll)

    by suv4x4 (956391)
    another ambitious 'inexpensive computer' project

    You know, purely based on context, the meaning of the word "ambitious" starts shifting to a new meaning of "brave but clueless".

    Why would I need a computer based on non-Intel chip for? Is there any software for it? The article says we'll do it to say no to WinTel. I need to buy a $150 worthless piece of hardware to say no to WinTel.

    Are they targeting kindergardeners or something?

    That's like selling cheap Internet that's however not Internet so you can't connec
  • Interesting Uses (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Postmaster General (136755) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:50AM (#15212810)
    These things aren't actually as crappy as most everyone here seems to believe they are.

    I challenge anyone here to actually go out and purchase the equivalent, new (not refurbished/used,) components and put it together into such a small footprint as this thing, with the ability to power it by lithium-ion battery, for under $150 USD.

    The most appealing spec to me is the size. This thing is t-i-n-y. With that in mind, here are a couple uses I have thought of for them:

    1. Car PC (media player, engine performance monitor, GPS navigation.) You can roll your own Car PC's these days, but for $150? ... good luck.

    2. Home automation controller (have a touchscreen monitor mounted into a recessed area in a wall, with this thing inside a small space, which would also be recessed into the wall, under the monitor.)
  • by loconet (415875) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:50AM (#15212817) Homepage
    A much more appropriate name would have been YellowCheapRiver. Ha Ha.,

    Thank you. I'll be here all week.
  • Driver Support (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CookieJago74 (888299)
    Correct me if I'm wrong, of course, but I would have thought that the different style of CPU would make things difficult in terms of driver support, and maybe breaking existing applications for obscure reasons. Though the Chinese will obviously test it thoroughly, I can still forsee architecture problems.
  • Don't forget what population is the market drivers in the IT industry everywhere - it's not gamers, for the most part it isn't even home users. It's goverment and businesses. And this segment doesn't require high powered CPU's, memory or video cards - they need a computer to do their business on.

    I doubt the target market for such cheep computers is families at home - as many people pointed out, it'd take 4-6 months pay for them. It's businesses that will make most use of this hardware, and in bulk orders o

  • "Yellow Sheep River."

    Well, I guess it beats "Sheep Yellow River," which can sometimes be found downhill from where large numbers of sheep are grazing.
  • Will it include a legal mediaplayer and recorder for mp3, dvd, avi and what not?
  • Those who do not remember the NetWinder are doomed to repeat it.

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