Dec 4, 2008

Business - India;Move aside desktops,here come nettops

Leslie D'Monte

It all started with the advent and success of smaller laptops or netbooks, as they are called, in June 2008. Now, Indian and multinational PC makers like Asus, HCL Infosystems and Wipro are ready to give a push to the retail sales of even smaller desktops or Nettops, based on Intel Atom processors. Others like Dell, HP and Lenovo are expected to follow.

The system (excluding the monitor) is understood to cost around Rs 6,000 to assemble. However, the retail price points range between Rs 11,000 and Rs 18,000 since the manufacturers include a CRT (bulky) or LCD (thin) monitor and optional CD/DVD drives. The nettop comes loaded with a printer and universal serial bus (USB) ports.

Aimed primarily at e-mail and Internet users, nettops and netbooks provide a low-cost option for education, photo and video viewing, social networking, voice over IP, e-mail, messaging, browsing and other Internet activities as well as for basic applications,

“They are not suitable for high-end gaming but anyway, that’s not the purpose,” said Intel India Managing Director (sales and marketing), South Asia, Ramamurthy Sivakumar,

Sivakumar explained that Intel went slow on nettops “simply because we did not have enough processors”. “We are now laser-focused on nettops, and committed to matching the demand. Surprisingly, the response from developed markets too has been good,” he said.

These PCs weigh less than a kg, consume less than 10 watts against over 60 watts that normal PCs use and are less noisy because the use of the fan is reduced.

“This has opened up a new computing paradigm,” said Sivakumar.

The increasing popularity of brands like the Asus Eee box and HCL’s Neutron (priced at Rs 17,999) has made Intel realise there is a market for budget desktops in emerging and mature markets as well. The netbook/notebook segment category is a result of designing smaller, yet low-cost chips, now called Intel Atom, formerly known as ‘Diamondville’ which features the 45-nanometer manufacturing process.

Incidentally, players like Chennai-based Novatium have partnered MTNL to offer cheap desktops at less than Rs 10,000 (including the service, monitors and so on). The desktop called netPC costs just Rs 4,999. However, Novatium offers a managed service which means that customers store data on the Novatium servers. Nevertheless, analysts say it’s a good option for small- and medium enterprises too. Over 7,000 netPCs have been sold to date.

Research firm IDC has predicted that the new market segment, comprising small, energy-efficient and low-cost devices (netbooks and nettops), could grow from fewer than 500,000 in 2007 to 9 million in 2012 as the market for second computers expands in developed economies.

The government in consultation with the industry identified that the cost of computers, Internet access, and non-availability of suitable content in the local language, tools interfaces and applications for the rural population were the major reasons for low PC penetration in the country.

Intel, according to Sivakumar, is hopeful that nettops will help the Indian government bridge the digital divide.

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