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Chinese Company Produces $150 Linux PC 325

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 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
  • Re:1 problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Warlock ( 701535 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:02AM (#15212307)
    To be fair, that's 600 MHz on MIPS, which is quite a bit more clock-efficient than a Pentium 4. Saying "zomg, the P4 has four times the gigahurtz!" is not exactly a fair comparison.
  • thin client? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:02AM (#15212313)
    I see it as a powerful thin client... hmmm. nice!
  • Re:1 problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by castoridae ( 453809 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:04AM (#15212328)
    It'll be insanely tough to convince customers that a 600mhz, 256mb ram linux machine is equivalent or better than a 2.0ghz, 512mb winbox

    You don't have to. You just have to convince them it's a better bang for the buck. Not everyone drives a Mercedes - and it's not because they think their Kias are better cars.
  • by cduffy ( 652 ) <> on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:10AM (#15212395)
    You're forgetting the target audience. To compensate, let's do a thought experiment: Scale the prices up.

    Let's say that right now the cheapest PC you could get were $3000 (akin to the Dell $300 box), and a really good one cost $30,000 (think your $3K gaming box). Making a crappy machine for $1500 means that there are a whole bunch of folks would couldn't possibly afford a new computer who now can.

    Remember, these things aren't targeted at the US market, and aren't targeted at people who can afford current prices.
  • 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.
  • by HunterZ ( 20035 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:23AM (#15212523) Journal
    Plus, who can afford a TV with S-Video inputs but can't afford a low-end VGA monitor?
  • Red Office (Score:2, Insightful)

    by JumperCable ( 673155 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:25AM (#15212548)
    With China's policies on internet, I think using their system would be akin to using an OS designed by the CIA.
  • Re:1 problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by adolfojp ( 730818 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:28AM (#15212571)
    My first x86 computer was a 386 with 2 megs of ram and a 40 MB hard drive.

    I used it for word processing, spreadsheets, charts, databases, basic programming and even games!

    Our need for something faster is somewhat artificial. People don't need to have the latest and the greatest unless they want floating transparent rotating windows or to play duke nukem forever.

    Our perception of utility and function has been distorted by our voracious consumerism.

    By our logic and reasoning, if we were ever visited by a more advanced civilization, all of our technology would become obsolete instantly. The fact that it worked right up to that moment is completely irrelevant.

    I sometimes drive my 17 year old car for fun and it works great. It is looked down upon by society, but it does the same basic tasks that the newer cars on the street can.
  • 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.
  • Plus, who can afford a TV with S-Video inputs but can't afford a low-end VGA monitor?

    People who already have a TV?

  • by frostoftheblack ( 955294 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:36AM (#15212659) Homepage
    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 is a piece of crap to run a lot of software, but if you just want a system that runs basic applications (especially a browser), I don't see anything wrong with this.
  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:36AM (#15212660) Homepage Journal
    Yes but with this computer all the money is staying in China! China sees no reason to give billions of dollars of it's money to the US for Windows or for Intel/AMD cpus.
    They see no need to be tied to the X86 ISA.
    It makes a lot of sense in that it helps China become more independent of the West and possible make the west more dependant on China.
    You want to sell systems to the Chinese government? Someday it may have to have a Chinese CPU in it.
  • by monkeyGrease ( 806424 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:44AM (#15212739)
    With that kind of configuration, we will be going back to the 1990s. It is not worth 150 bucks. If you pay 200 dollars more, you could get a emachines desktop computer with the latest technology.

    Stupid reply. The whole point of the cheap entry computer is because of low incomes. I could just pay 20k more than 15k and get a BMW instead of a Hundai, but maybe I don't have that extra 20k.

    I can't believe someone serious asserts something based on "you could just pay 133% more..."
  • 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.)
  • Driver Support (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CookieJago74 ( 888299 ) <toxicjames @ g m a i> on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:52AM (#15212834)
    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.
  • by Chandon Seldon ( 43083 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:55AM (#15212865) Homepage

    Assuming that this processor is no slower than a 600mhz Pentium III, the machine can easily run a normal set of productivity applications and access the internet. It'll be slow, but not too bad.

    As other posters have stated, $150 in rural China is like half a year's pay. Paying more than twice as much for better performance isn't nessisarily the plan. It'd be like if I had gotten a BMW C series instead of my Hyundai Accent - possible, but not nessisarily economically responsible.

  • 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 (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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 27, 2006 @12:20PM (#15213111)
    "then a half an hour later you're running Windows again."

    Will Windows run on this "unique 64-bit CPU" made by this Chinese company? Does anyone know something about that?

  • by aemain ( 678301 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @12:23PM (#15213157)

    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) a $150 computer would be ~5% of their total annual household income...

    The median US household income is $43318 []. 5% of that figure is $2165--basically the price at which computers went mainstream in this country.

  • Re:Driver Support (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 27, 2006 @12:46PM (#15213432)
    Not if they are open source drivers. Recompiling them will sort that out.

    If there is hardware that doesn't have OSS drivers, they either won't go in, get reverse-engineered or china are making them and will take the tech.
  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @03:53PM (#15215296) Homepage Journal
    "How many billions in exports is the Wintel platform worth to China?"
    That is fine for exports. China makes lots of stuff for export that it wouldn't sell in China. The difference is anything sold in China with an Intel or AMD CPU and Windows involves money leaving China. If it exported then it is a net gain.
  • by porkThreeWays ( 895269 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @04:23PM (#15215561)
    The rationale that "I can just get a used computer for the same price so this product shouldn't exist" is retarded and I'm so sick of reading it. Selling used uniform equipment would be difficult and wouldn't scale. Please tell me where I can get 10,000 500 mhz celerons, 15 GB hard drive, same brand of 128 MB of RAM, same NIC, etc etc, all used, all the exact same model, all in great condition.

    I do sidework where we have to worry about these kinds of things. After we find a good deal on parts we ask ourselves "Can this company supply us enough units if this product takes off?", "Is this company going to be around in 3 years?", "Are they going to be able to supply this exact product for the next 3 years?", and so forth. Long term supply of uniform parts is a HUGE deal to companies. If you interchange your parts haphazardly you will run into issues. Issues that cost money. Any money you saved by doing so will be lost in support costs.

    Building a PC for your grandma and building a PC for 10,000 customers are two different ballparks. Every screwup, every tiny cost, every little bit is multiplied 10,000 times. But I suspect many on here don't understand that.
  • Re:I disagree (Score:3, Insightful)

    by catch23 ( 97972 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @06:05PM (#15216389)
    Uhm, that was the point. AMD & Cyrix both had "crappy" low end processors that Intel really didn't care about because their more expensive processors had higher margins, but they did not see that AMD & Cyrix were producing the so-called disruptive technology that would could force the upper market to disappear. For example, DEC made minicomputers that were better and better but never focused on the personal computer which was significantly underpowered at the time of introduction. Had they focused on creating a separate brand to compete with the lower end "crappy product market" they may have saved their higher end market as well. If you look at Toyota in the early 1980's, they created crappy cars that only college students would want to own. The expensive automakers took no notice because these cars were not competing in the same price markets as theirs. And of course, if you look at Toyota today, they've got expensive brands like Lexus.

    Back to your original point, Seiko, Casio, and Timex all had crappy watches when they brought their first products to market. Had companies like Rolex created a new low-end brand to compete with the low end market, Seiko would have probably not grown to the size that it is today. Such business strategies are discussed in Dr. Christiensen's new book, "The Innovator's Solution". It's the same reason Intel created a separate company/brand to focus on the Celeron product to compete with AMD & Cyrix. At the time, AMD & Cyrix were eating up Intel at the low end and Intel took no notice because it actually made their high end products produce greater margins. The instant Intel started competing at the low end, they basically forced brands like Cyrix into non-existence (bought out by AMD).
  • by iminplaya ( 723125 ) on Friday April 28, 2006 @11:15AM (#15221102) Journal
    Thanks again China!

    Absolutely! They're putting stuff on the market that otherwise be locked down by the "owner". If China sets one good standard on the planet, it would be their present attitude towards IP law. Let's hope it spreads to other parts of the world. Then we can say China actually promoted freedom. Unfortunately, the WTO will have something to say about this. And it won't be good since China will bend over to appease them.

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak