Coby to intro sub-$100 “Midget PC”

coby

Coby, that company that maks all those dirt cheap electronics that you can find at discount stores and shopping mall kiosks plans to enter the netook market early in 2009. Except, for some reason Coby refuses to call their new products netbooks, instead refering to them as “Midget PCs” since they company says they’ll be smaller than netbooks, which seems like a dubious claim, since Coby says the Midget PCs will have 7 or 9 inch displays.

So what do we know so far? It looks like Coby plans to offer some sort of Linux-based operating system to help keep the cost of the OS and software down. The keyboard will be about the same size as an Eee PC 701 keyboard, and the first Midget PC will be called the PoqetMate-7 and will have a 7 inch display. The company plans to follow it up with the PoqetMate-9, which will have a 9 inch screen.

There’s no word on the CPU, storage, RAM, or other specs yet. But since Coby is hoping to sell these machines with a starting price of $99.95, I wouldn’t expect them to be powerhouses. Update: As Fu Long points out in the comments, the PoqetMate computers will use the Loongson processor, which is the same CPU you’ll find in the Emtec Gdium.

I’ll be honest. Coby has never been a name I’ve associated with quality electronics. But that’s really not the point here. The point is that Coby puts out cheaper versions of products that already exist in the marketplace. The company offers low cost MP3 an portable media players, cheap digital picture frames, DVD players, and even television sets. And while they might not have all the features or be as durable as products from Sony, Apple, or other high end electronics makers, the whole point is that they’re cheap because Coby can mass produce these products and has the distribution channels to make them available in all sorts of places where you wouldn’t normally expect to find TVs, MP3 players, or soon, netbooks.

via Eee PC.net

Update: There’s been some speculation that the Coby PoqetMate is a hoax. I’m going to reserve judgement on whether or not it’s real and just call it a rumor for all. A denial from a company’s PR arm doesn’t mean that the product doesn’t exist. It just means that the developers aren’t ready to talk about it yet. And the wording of that denial seems to leave some room for interpretation.

Update 2: Nail, meet coffin. Coby has released an official statement that couldn’t be much more clear.

  • bolomkxxviii

    If it is built with typical Coby quality is will last about a week. If the razorbook is about $200 how will Coby get something around $100 that actualy works?

  • Nate

    That name won't go over too well with the PC crowd.

  • Andy Norris

    Nate,

    If they really hit a $100 price point, it won't matter. It will be an impulse purchase. Geeks will buy them to take apart, mod, and see what they can get to run on them. Random consumers will buy them because they're small, cool, and dirt cheap. If it can do anything at all, it might literally become the best-selling SKU in the entire computer industry.

    It wouldn't surprise me if the CPU is actually repurposed from a Linux cell phone or something, and it's not even an x86 part. If you start with a reference design like those Nokia internet tablets or a cell phone, then it's actually cheaper to move up to a 7″ netbook format — the screens are dirt cheap because they're much lower res, and you can use cheaper, bulkier parts than those that go into cell phones because your not aiming for a target weight of 6 ounces or something. Strip down a distro to fit on 1gb of flash (or go Damn Small Linux style and fit it on 128mb), and include an SD slot for people who want to store anything bigger than small documents. It will probably have a real small battery repurposed from a portable DVD player. They might only drop in 256mb of ram, soldered to the motherboard.

    If what you want is one of the really nice 9″ or 10″ netbooks out there, I don't imagine you will be terribly interested in this as an alternative. But if you're just interested in things just because they're different or want something cheap enough that you don't feel bad about hacking the hardware, this could totally be the ticket.

  • bolomkxxviii

    For $100 it definitely won't have an x86 processor. It will probably have 128mb RAM, the OS might be in ROM and storage could be on SD cards ONLY. Forget wireless/bluetooth/trackpoint/etc. Yes it will be cheap, but what can you do with it?

  • Andy Norris

    bolomkxxviii,

    Good points. I wouldn't expect bluetooth and such, but I hadn't considered the possibility that it would ship without wifi, which would be pretty annoying (then again, you can buy a USB wifi adapter for $25). An OS in RAM would be annoying too, but I expect you could be a little creative with partition mapping to map chunks that you needed to change onto flash.

    For me personally, any system I can run a stock command line and emacs on is useful. It would be annoying not to have firefox, but it will run some kind of browser, and I should be able to VNC into a machine that will run a proper browser when I need something better. And at some point it becomes a fun game to see what you can get running on a small system.

    Meanwhile, basic end users have gotten by with everything from WebTV to a blackberry for basic web browsing and email, so I imagine that some will adapt just fine, and those that can't will either avoid it or return it. But ultimately, anyone with sense is going to understand that a $100 computer is not going to do everything that a full-blown system will.

  • Andy Norris

    That should read “OS in ROM.”

  • Nate

    PC as in Politically Correct, not Personal Computer.

    It's in reference to the “Midget PC” naming. I guess I should have explained myself better.

  • Nate

    Things like USB adapters won't matter if the OS doesn't support it.

  • Steven522

    Little Computer, Big World

  • Andy Norris

    It's Linux. If it doesn't support necessary hardware out of the box, within 60 days, there will be a howto file up.

    Obviously it will be a much bigger problem if it doesn't have any USB ports at all, but I doubt they'll go that far. If they do, you're right, it will have considerably less geek appeal, though people may still buy it for things like a bedside table alarm clock computer or a kitchen recipe holder or something, even if they have to hard-wire ethernet to it.

    At that point it would probably require dedicated hardware hackers willing to do things like solder new crap onto the motherboard to extend the system. But look at the Aeeeris or some of the hardware hacks that have been done to Xboxes and such. Give hackers a cheap computer, and they'll find a way to use it.

  • Nate

    It isn't anything, at this point.

    We don't know that it will be Linux. Who's to say this thing won't ship with nothing more than a low end cellphone type OS.

    But, really, this is all speculation. We're all talking out of our asses, considering we know nothing about this device, other than the target price and LCD size.

  • Linc

    Coby actully makes 'failrly' good products. I've had my cheap CD player for years and it works great. It is not fancy. It does not have a flashy display or features. Nevertheless, the damn thing works. My father has a portable DVD player that has lasted for over a year and he USES it three days a week at his night watchman job.

    Take a look at Coby's website, their stuff looks a lot more interesting& stylish then before. If I were to make a small wager, I'd say Coby's unit will be on par in terns of specs/power with SYLVANIA's G Netbook. That might not sound impressive, but I bet they sells well.

  • captkit

    The $98 blister pack pc hanging on the wall at Walgreen's–one year early.

  • Fu Long

    I read that they will use Loongson processors (MIPS architecture)

  • Fu Long

    http://arkansas.indymedia.org/newswire/display/
    “Also, the computers will be made in Coby's own factory in Foshan China. They will employ Loongson processors, a brand of the People's Republic of China, not a household name but known to be reliable.”

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  • Andy Norris

    Interesting.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loongson
    From Wikipedia:

    The first revision of the Loongson architecture, the Loongson1 is a pure 32-bit CPU running at a clock speed of 266 MHz. Its primary focus is with embedded designs such as cash registers, where 64-bit capability and high speed are not necessary. It was released in 2002. As of 2006 it was used in the Sinomanic Tianhua GX-1C PC.

    In March 2006, a €100 Godson II computer design called Longmeng (Dragon Dream) was announced.

    In June 2006 at Computex'2006, Taipei YellowSheepRiver company has announced a Municator YSR-639, a mini-computer based on the 400 MHz Godson 2.

    In September 2006, Li Guojie, director of the Institute of Computer Technology under the CAS announced a Longxin IIE (Godson IIE), a 64-bit chip containing 47 million transistors and reaching speeds of 1 GHz. It implements a subset of the MIPS III ISA.

    In the second half of the third quarter of 2006, China revealed the latest addition to the Godson series, the Godson 2E, which was already in the early stages of manufacturing. Developers claim tests show that the Chinese chip can rival Intel Pentium 4 processor in performance and it was superior to the early series of the Pentium 4 CPUs, with much lower production costs.[5]

    Unlike processors from Intel, Advanced Micro Devices or Via Technologies, the Godson-2E is not based on the x86 instruction set. Instead, the chip uses a modified version of the MIPS instruction set that replaces proprietary instructions with ones developed by ICT. This means the Godson 2E cannot be used in PCs running Microsoft's Windows XP operating system, and thus the computing devices based on the Godson 2E would be most likely running the Linux operating system.

    The processor runs at a clock speed of 1 GHz and like other chips in the Godson family, the Godson 2E was designed by the Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Computing Technology (ICT) and was the first Chinese CPU produced using 90-nanometer process technology. Earlier versions of the Godson 2 chip were produced using a 180-nanometer process and ran at clock speeds up to 500 MHz. The Godson 2E CPU contains 47 million transistors, more than the 42 million of the original Pentium 4. Battery drain will be less, with power consumption between 3 to 8 watts, according to CAE Fellow Li Guojie (李国杰), director of the ICT. Li Guojie also announced that at the end of 2006, scientists would start to upgrade Godson 2E to Godson 2F, which will improve performance by about 30% and reduces power consumption by about 50%. It was announced that the Godson-3 is scheduled to enter production by 2008.

    In January 2007 Gentoo Linux was ported on this machine, the initial port was compiled on a Cobalt Qube micro-server.

    According to the table on Wikipedia, there are parts ranging down to 200 MHz, but a part that starts at 400 MHz was used in a 100 Euro computer 2 1/2 years ago, and there have been Linux ports. Hopefully the specs will be in the ballpark of the Razorbook, though Nate was right to point out that even that is still speculation.

  • Andy Norris

    One more interesting tidbit, from Wikipedia — there are multiple Linux ports in progress:

    These computers primarily run the Linux operating system, however users have managed to port other operating systems such as Windows CE to the Loongson architecture.
    Linux distributions that work on Loongson:
    Debian Linux, specifically their mipsel port
    Gentoo Linux, work in progress
    Slackware Linux is also being ported, although nothing has been released yet.
    Red Flag Linux
    Mandriva, since September 2007

  • John Morris

    I was stoked when first reading this piece yesterday. Now I'm smelling something ill from this whole thing that says hoax. Lets wait to see if any reputable news service or wire picks this up before we get all excited, K? Even a press release on Coby's own site would make it real. Until then it is just a rumor on a dodgy website.

  • Linc (Monkey-King)

    True or not, I think it would be a good move for Coby or Craig to make Netbooks. Both brands sell in Wal*Marts, drug stores, etc. These companies make devices with screens, DVD drives, USB ports, onboard memory, and about 80% of the parts you would have in a Netbook. True, they would need a far more product support for a computer, but that wouldn't even be such thing. If Coby and Craig had product support set up they coudl support their MP3, DVD, Picture frames, and radios better as well.

    From a marketing point of view, Coby is actually a better known BRAND to average consumers then Asus, MSi, or any of the other dozen Hong Kong/Taiwan companies putting out Netbooks. Coby and Craig are known as cheap brands, but they are known to Middle America.

    The interesting part is Coby wouldn’t even have to hit the $99.99 mark to do well. Even at $175 -$200 they could get some traction in the market place. I would even say Coby doing this could do a great deal to “save” Netbooks. It is troubling to see that the prices are heading into the $500 range as more companies add to the Netbook market. Coby making a $99 or $200 machine could be seen as a helpful “corrective” influence on the prices of the Netbooks inching towards $700.

  • Steven522

    It seems this was a hoax. I've read several reports that the “official” word from Coby is that it was not their press release.

  • Linc

    Too bad….I would have been very interested to see what Coby could have made. I hope someday we will see one of these small electronics companies make a Netbook….I want a Netbook in a thermoformed pack on a hook in a drug store for $99. I want a Netbook you could get out of a vending machine….god knows why…but I want it.

  • bolomkxxviii

    I actually think something like this would hurt the netbook market. Many people would buy one because it is cheap, but when they find out they can't load any programs they already own and doesn't have many features they expect in a more expensive laptop they will bad-mouth all netbooks to anyone and everyone they know.

  • Steven522

    Same here. I want a “keychain” PC that is about as powerful as an old 286 that would allow me to load all of my old DOS games onto it and carry it around in my poket.

  • Andy Norris

    Oh, well. It's a shame it wasn't real.

    I still think someone with a really efficient supply chain and mass-market experience could put together a Razorbook-class machine for well under $200.The Razorbook cuts back on many of the components, but nearly costs as much as the 7″ Eee 4G Surf does now.

    If Royal can put touchscreen PDA knockoffs on shelves for under $30, a cut-spec sub-netbook with an off-brand CPU and a Damn Small Linux-grade OS loaded ought to be doable in the $100-150 range. And I'd totally buy one.

    bolomkxxviii, I feel your pain, but most people know that just because they can buy a cheap handheld game system for $49 that totally sucks, it doesn't mean that a DS will also suck. I think the same rule applies here.

  • Mikez

    Just to let a bit of reality leak in here and give some links for thought
    about the <$200 devices . . .
    This little puppy is alive and well (based on a 600Mhz ARM device made by TI):
    http://beagleboard.org/
    Send these people money and they will ship you one, same day in my case:
    http://search.digikey.com/scripts/DkSearch/dksu
    Most certainly not a wet dream, details on the processor line here:
    http://search.digikey.com/scripts/DkSearch/dksu
    And it runs one of the major (in the embedded world) Linux distributions:
    http://www.angstrom-distribution.org/
    - – – -
    As to the Razorbook (A.K.A. many other names) – an Exon PC701-LX – -
    Its follow-up machine, the PC703-LX, is (according to Exon) shipping now -
    with a suggested retail price of $205-$215.
    - – – -
    And there is a site-local thread, started on the PC703-LX, but turning general:
    http://www.liliputing.com/forums/index.php?topi
    On supporting non-Intel processor Convenience Netbooks (cheap-o's).

    some people are indeed already headed for the “blister packed on a card”
    computer market – even if we have to create it ourselves. ;)

  • Mikez

    Just to let a bit of reality leak in here and give some links for thought
    about the <$200 devices . . .
    This little puppy is alive and well (based on a 600Mhz ARM device made by TI):
    http://beagleboard.org/
    Send these people money and they will ship you one, same day in my case:
    http://search.digikey.com/scripts/DkSearch/dksu
    Most certainly not a wet dream, details on the processor line here:
    http://search.digikey.com/scripts/DkSearch/dksu
    And it runs one of the major (in the embedded world) Linux distributions:
    http://www.angstrom-distribution.org/
    - – – -
    As to the Razorbook (A.K.A. many other names) – an Exon PC701-LX – -
    Its follow-up machine, the PC703-LX, is (according to Exon) shipping now -
    with a suggested retail price of $205-$215.
    - – – -
    And there is a site-local thread, started on the PC703-LX, but turning general:
    http://www.liliputing.com/forums/index.php?topi
    On supporting non-Intel processor Convenience Netbooks (cheap-o's).

    some people are indeed already headed for the “blister packed on a card”
    computer market – even if we have to create it ourselves. ;)

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