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China to Make $125 PCs

samzenpus posted about 8 years ago | from the the-peoples-computers dept.

172

TechFreep writes "A Chinese computer company hopes to sell low-cost PCs to schools and government agencies, but allegations of ripped-off processor designs might slow the effort. From the article: 'Chinese-based ZhongKe Menglan Electronics Technology Co. will produce several thousand low-cost PCs to distribute to schools and local governments. The PCs, which will initially sell for $150 to $175, will run on Linux and include 256Mb of RAM, a 40 or 60GB hard drive, and a Godson-2 CPU clocked between 800Mhz and 1Ghz. If initial sales of the product are successful ZhongKe will begin mass production of the units for sale at around 125 US dollars. However, the Godson-2 CPU included in the PCs has come under scrutiny of late. BLX IC Design Corp., producer of the Godson-2, produced its first working prototype in 2005. The chip clocked at 500Mhz, and BLX at the time claimed the Godson's performance rivaled that of higher-clocked Pentium III CPUs. However, the chip's architecture has gotten attention around the industry for its similarities to the MIPS chip from MIPS Technologies Inc. According to market research group In-Stat, the Godson-2 is about 95 percent compatible with the MIPS R10000, which was introduced in 1995.'"

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MIPS patents? (5, Interesting)

tepples (727027) | about 8 years ago | (#16101555)

Plasma [opencores.org] implements the MIPS architecture minuses the patented parts. Could the Godson CPU be a variant of this?

Re:MIPS patents? (5, Informative)

pchan- (118053) | about 8 years ago | (#16101635)

The MIPS architecture is a popular one with people who implement their own cores. In fact, it is rather common for computer science/engineering students to implement their own using FPGAs, based on the commonly used Computer Architecture [amazon.com] by Hennessy and Patterson. The architecture is extremely simple, straightforward, and easy to implement.

I believe you can implemented a near complete MIPS R3000 core with only minor differences and avoid any patent issues (as long as you don't call it a MIPS). Some of the ops on the newer cores are still encumbered and cannot be implemented without paying money to MIPS Technologies [mips.com] . I've worked with a couple of MIPS clones, some by American companies, and there is nothing illegal about them. In fact, it would be far more surprising if the Chinese companies wasted the time creating their own architecture instead of basing it on a proven one.

Re:MIPS patents? (0, Troll)

spamchang (302052) | about 8 years ago | (#16101673)

MIPS isn't such a common architecture to teach students anymore, imho. Most schools teach x86 assembly (Caltech, for one) instead of MIPS assembly. But you may be one of the fortunates who go to school where Hennessy is president, so you may have learned MIPS there =P

Re:MIPS patents? (3, Insightful)

qbwiz (87077) | about 8 years ago | (#16101704)

It's not too terrible to program an x86 in assembly (all those extra instructions can sometimes come in handy, in a way), but I'd really rather not implement an x86. The instruction decoder alone would take ages to work out.

Re:MIPS patents? (4, Informative)

pchan- (118053) | about 8 years ago | (#16101799)

But you may be one of the fortunates who go to school where Hennessy is president, so you may have learned MIPS there =P

I take it you mean Stanford. I went to UCLA, but many people I've met from different schools in the US have used the same architecture book. I'm talking about computer architecture, not just assembly language. The complexity of the x86 processors is far too great to teach them to undergrads. However, in about a hundred hours of work, one lab partner and I were able to construct a working MIPS-architecture CPU (on a Xilinx FPGA) starting with nothing but gates, flipflops, and other basic elements.

Now, since you know x86 assembly, let me teach you MIPS assembly in one minute:
32 registers, r0-r31. r0 is hardcoded to zero. jal/bal (jump/branch and link) push the PC to r31. otherwise, all registers are equal.

li rD VAL ; load to register rD (destination) immediate value VAL
lw rD rS ; load word at address stored in rS (source) to
add/sub/... rD rA rB ; perform op on registers A and B, store to register D
sw rD rS ; store word at rD to address in rS

You'll be doing a lot of load/stores. The instruction after a branch statement gets executed even if the branch is called. The rest is just details (extend to half-words and bytes at your convenience). There are no index registers, no flags, no predicates, nothing. Congratulations, you are now qualified to program a MIPS processor.

Re:MIPS patents? (2, Informative)

IamTheRealMike (537420) | about 8 years ago | (#16102644)

Hey, that's pretty cool, thanks :) One thing that did surprise me is that the instruction after a branch is always executed. What's up with that? Does that mean in practice after a branch there is always a no-op?

Re:MIPS patents? (2, Informative)

AuMatar (183847) | about 8 years ago | (#16101829)

Many don't- UIUC teaches MIPs asm to CS students (and x86 to the comp engs). But just about every school teaches processor design on MIPs- x86 is just too difficult to design a decoder for in 1 semester.

Re:MIPS patents? (1)

JohnFluxx (413620) | about 8 years ago | (#16102396)

We did the arm chip which I think is very very similar (it all being RISC and all). But that's not surprising since it was our professor that designed and made the arm chip in the first place :-)

Re:MIPS patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16102480)

But you may be one of the fortunates who go to school where Hennessy is president, so you may have learned MIPS there =P

Hennessy? President? You can forget that...

Where I went to school, Courvoisier was king. :-)

Re:MIPS patents? (3, Interesting)

Jason Earl (1894) | about 8 years ago | (#16101688)

One thing is certain. Microsoft can't pretend that these Linux computers are going to end up running Windows.

Re:MIPS patents? (3, Informative)

poopie (35416) | about 8 years ago | (#16101723)

One thing is certain. Microsoft can't pretend that these Linux computers are going to end up running Windows


There *IS* Windows NT 3.51 for MIPS...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_NT [wikipedia.org]

We had NEC MIPS servers running it way back when.

Re:MIPS patents? (2, Interesting)

Jason Earl (1894) | about 8 years ago | (#16101764)

Yes, I remember Windows NT for MIPS. That hardly means that you can buy such a beast today. Even if you could buy NT for MIPs what are the chances of it running on something that is 95% compatible?

Besides, what sort of freakshow would rather run Windows NT 3.51 on MIPs over Linux? The most sophisticated piece of software that is likely to run on such a system is notepad.exe.

Re:MIPS patents? (4, Informative)

PAPPP (546666) | about 8 years ago | (#16101788)

It's worth noting that the patent most likely to be stepped on in dealing with MIPS is US patent 4,814,976, which covers the unaligned load/store instructions lwl, lwr, swl and swr. This patent expires 2006-12-26, which won't be long now. Google for "Lexra" "MIPS" and "Patent" for details of the various spats over the patent.
Apparently some of the more recent extensions fall under other patents, but the basic archetecture will be entirely unencumbered after this one expires. And as a Computer Enginering student I can tell you as ISAs go it's far and away the easiest useful one to impliment.

Re:MIPS patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16102520)

There is still the MMP patent portfolio for variable clocks. I doubt that they found a way around that concept in a 500 MHz system and Patriot Scientific + TPL will sure knock on the door when enough systems are delivered. Could be that the Chinese have stronger knees than the Japanese.

Ernst

Re:MIPS patents? (1)

jamar0303 (896820) | about 8 years ago | (#16102587)

Well of course they do- where do your iPods and stuff come from? China, most likely. They could threaten to cut off that manufacturing and America's cheap stuff all goes away (not that it's a bad thing- Wal-Mart would go away too).

Re:MIPS patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16102469)

Why don't they just use OpenSPARC (http://opensparc.net/) ?

Re:MIPS patents? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16102669)

Because it didn't exist when this CPU was created.

So what are we upset about? (4, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | about 8 years ago | (#16101559)

Are we upset that some defunct chip designer isn't getting their cut? Or is it that the Chinese are making cheap computers for themselves instead of for us? Or maybe it's that the Chinese aren't outsourcing their production to the West?

I don't know what's the problem here. It sounds like a great idea to put as many people on the internet as cheaply as possible because more people means more information and more information transfer. Now Wang Chung in the sticks can be just as up to date with government propaganda as Chung King in Shanghai is.

Bruce Lee unavailable for comment.

Re:So what are we upset about? (1)

anagama (611277) | about 8 years ago | (#16101577)

Now Wang Chung in the sticks...

Everybody have fun tonight,
Everybody Wang Chung tonight ...

Re:So what are we upset about? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101588)

Well, I'll ignore the racist tone of your comment (Wang Chung, Chung King, etc) - but MIPS is hardly a product of a defunct chip designer. I know, I work for them as a product engineer.

In fact, MIPS is the #1 architecture in several market segments, including:
Cable STB 76%
Satellite STB 30%
DVD Recorders 70%
Cable Modems 95%
Internet Backbone 40%
DSL 52%
WLAN 55%
VoIP 72%

See http://www.mips.com/ [mips.com] for more information on that.

-Bruce Chin

Re:So what are we upset about? (2, Informative)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | about 8 years ago | (#16101600)

I see your MIPS and raise you an ARM [arm.com]

Re:So what are we upset about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101626)

... who occupies mostly a different market segment (especially portable devices). Although ARM is trying to enter MIPS markets with a decent high-performance core (superscalar, 2-issue, inorder).

In general, the "MIPS is dying" meme is not quite right... (And no, I don't work for MIPS.)

The only threat for stuff like the Broadcom BCM1480 (quad-core, up to four IPC per core, quad-channel DDR2 memory controller) is really PowerPC, not ARM.

Re:So what are we upset about? (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | about 8 years ago | (#16102654)

Intel do some pretty beefy ARM compatibles.

800Mhz, 333Mhz FSB.

http://www.intel.com/design/iio/iop333.htm [intel.com]

It's still in order, no SMT, but I reckon most embedded applications can live with that.

Re:So what are we upset about? (3, Insightful)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | about 8 years ago | (#16101624)

Assuming that you're actually serious, someone owns those designs - cheap PCs are a laudable goal, but that's no justification for ripping off a bunch of people.

Re:So what are we upset about? (1)

the_humeister (922869) | about 8 years ago | (#16101657)

The summary states that the Godson-2 chip is 95% compatible with a R10000. That doesn't mean it's a direct copy of the R10000. It could just mean they use the 95% of the instructions that the R10000 uses (the ones that aren't patented). But without further details, we can't tell at this point.

Re:So what are we upset about? (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | about 8 years ago | (#16101676)

The implication in the article and the comment I responded to was that China ripped off the design and the comment I responded to implied that that was OK. Given China's history of playing fast and loose with IP, I find the implications plausible.

Re:So what are we upset about? (1)

Jason Earl (1894) | about 8 years ago | (#16101719)

Patent issues are only likely to be problematic if the Chinese try to sell these machines in the U.S. If they are for the Chinese market there really is very little that the MIPs folks can do, even if they are using MIPs patents.

As much as I would like to be able to get my hands on an inexpensive MIPs-alike Linux box I don't think this is going to be available in my neck of the woods anytime soon.

Re:So what are we upset about? (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | about 8 years ago | (#16101804)

I can imagine that maybe Chinese designers considered just making a copy, but then deciding to work around applicable IP just in case they come up with something worth exporting.

Re:So what are we upset about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16102666)

A poster who knows what he is talking about would more clearly specify whether he or she is talking about "patent infringement", "copyright infringement", "trademark infringement" or some other cause of action. The parent poster appears to be trying to cover his or her ignorance by hiding behind ill-defined terminology like "ripped off" "playing fast and loose with IP."

It is essential to the efficient functioning of a competitive economy that producers copy each others ideas against each others will.

Re:So what are we upset about? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16102207)

I agree. Sheaper hardware for everyone is a nice thing.

This shows, yet again, that IP and monopolies are bad. Also it is an example of why china should choose to stay outside of international IT agreements, so that their companies are not affected by american patents. (btw. why would they be, even in europe it is required that you have european patents, us patents are not valid).

Is this MIPS architectyre really patented in china?

Re:So what are we upset about? (1)

AchilleTalon (540925) | about 8 years ago | (#16102674)

Isn't China government itself being a monopoly and chinese company stated controlled?

I find your point a little bit ironic.

Re:So what are we upset about? (1)

AchilleTalon (540925) | about 8 years ago | (#16102686)

Should have written:

Isn't China government itself being a monopoly and chinese companies State controlled?

I find your point a little bit ironic.

Re:So what are we upset about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16102438)

The Chinese are already a big enough economic threat to the rest of us; they certainly don't need freebies. Besides, isn't it interesting how despite their "internationally competitive" universities, "brilliant minds" and "unlimited resources," they can't even design a relatively simple CPU without ripping off the West?

Personally, I find the prospect of a world economically dominated by China to be scary as all hell, and if you're European or American, you should too.

Oh, by the way, did you hear they're harvesting organs from (living) Falun Gong practitioners [organharve...gation.net] ? I have no problem with Chinese people--but I fucking hate their country and everything it stands for.

Re:So what are we upset about? (3, Insightful)

Noodlenose (537591) | about 8 years ago | (#16102566)

I have no problem with Chinese people--but I fucking hate their country and everything it stands for.

You're of course trolling, but your lacking maturity makes this acceptable.

Nevertheless there is nothing more abstract and idiotic to say "I hate this country". What do you hate? Is its rolling hills, its rivers or panda bears? Or might it be that you have a problem with Chinas government and its struggling reformist arm?

Well, you should say so. There are millions of trolls on Slashdot, but why not aspire to be a troll with something to say?

Re:So what are we upset about? (1)

M1FCJ (586251) | about 8 years ago | (#16102675)

I hate those friggin' pandas and their ability to turn into Saotome Genma every time they go into a hot water bath/lake!

If I can't turn into an innocent panda every time my boss asks about my slipping deadlines, I can't see why someone else should!

hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101565)

so my guess is the industry is angry cause designs were copied(can they be copyrighted?) and I imagine it violates many patents?

Re:hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101578)

so my guess is the industry is angry cause designs were copied(can they be copyrighted?) and I imagine it violates many patents?

See the first post [slashdot.org] .

first post I hope (-1, Offtopic)

thegnu (557446) | about 8 years ago | (#16101567)

speed joke:

They should use linux, I hear it's free!

NAS (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101569)

Gods son

What's in a name? (1)

mr_neke (1001861) | about 8 years ago | (#16101571)

I find it a little interesting that ZhongKe could be pronounced to sound like "shonky".

With any luck this doesn't actually reflect on the capabilities of their PCs...

Re:What's in a name? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101672)

shonky isn't a word you stupid fucking faggot

Re:What's in a name? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101974)

lol u looze

Re:What's in a name? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101683)

The actual pronunciation is even more amusing. ZhongKe () sounds a little bit like a Chinese'ified version of the work "Junk".

Interestingly enough, I was prompted to download some Url_ISAPI.dll file when i went to the site www.zhongke.com. What's up with that?

Re:What's in a name? (1)

VirusEqualsVeryYes (981719) | about 8 years ago | (#16101843)

I thought the name was quite amusing. While the pronunciation of zhong1 ke1 sounds sort of like "junk" to English speakers, it actually translates roughly to "Central Technology". Talk about your subliminal messages :P

(Hmm, Slashdot doesn't accept Chinese characters. Bummer.)

Why is this so hard? (2, Insightful)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | about 8 years ago | (#16101586)

I seem to recall that 200 MHz and an 8 Gig hard drive was top of the line, some time during the 90's. Such computers seemed to handle word processing, web browsing, email, etc. just fine. What would those components cost now? Not very much because of miniaturization. A $125 computer should be no big deal right?

So how's that $100 PC coming along? WHAT?? Why do you need those kinds of specs?

Re:Why is this so hard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101612)

but there was no AQUA! WE NEED BRIGHT COLORS

in all honesty, something vintage windows 95/mac os 7.5 would serve 95% of people fine, but everyone's got to keep up with the joneses, so we now have 3GHZ machines doing powerpoints and word documents. How Wasteful!

Re:Why is this so hard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16102692)

The problem with vintage equipment is that when something goes wrong you're on your own and shit outta luck. That gets real old real fast.

Re:Why is this so hard? (4, Insightful)

grumbel (592662) | about 8 years ago | (#16101621)

Such computers seemed to handle word processing, web browsing, email, etc.

Not when you want to use OpenOffice and Firefox. I am not sure if they really want to, but todays applications simply require quite a bit more CPU and RAM then yesterdays applications, even for the very same jobs. So unless they also write the low-spec software, they better make sure that they have enough power to run current days applications.

Re:Why is this so hard? (-1, Flamebait)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | about 8 years ago | (#16101627)

Not when you want to use OpenOffice and Firefox. I am not sure if they really want to, but todays applications simply require quite a bit more CPU and RAM then yesterdays applications, even for the very same jobs.

Yeah, good point, they are pretty poorly-designed software.

Yet 256 megs is the operational point to use them. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101875)

Just because windows is memory hogs does not mean the linux OS is.

512 megs just to turn over Vista. Linux right wm about 32meg.

Note using KDE or Gnome might be pushing it. At least linux can be slimed down.

Re:Why is this so hard? (1)

spectrumCoder (944322) | about 8 years ago | (#16102557)

I think the above post is a good point, not flamebait. There is a place for simple, streamlined software that anyone can figure out how to use, and the perfect place for it is on a $125 PC. OpenOffice and Firefox are not simple, and not streamlined. There's no point someone having an expensive PC (by which I mean $400+) running these apps if the user doesn't want to or doesn't know how to utilize them fully.

There is plenty of software that can perform the same basic internet and office tasks while using far less CPU cycles and memory. How else could my mobile phone be capable of browsing xhtml web pages?

Re:Why is this so hard? (1)

ImaLamer (260199) | about 8 years ago | (#16101931)

I think "word processing" is a bit advanced for people who have never used PC's before. A simple text editor would be a revolution, people are still going to type (and somehow typing turns into economic upturn). After people have exhausted their use of the plain text editor (I like "Joe [sourceforge.net] " for linux) and have move the society forward, they can get computers that support OpenOffice.

Besides, lightweight applications already exist. Even better, they are stable. Resurrect them!

Re:Why is this so hard? (1)

Sfing_ter (99478) | about 8 years ago | (#16102023)

ummm running Zenwalk 2.8 (current virgin), on a k62 500 with 192mb ram, run firefox and ooo no problem. Multi-taskin' my ASS off, (gaim, terminal, firefox and tbird, rdesktop and gftp all open at once) ....

Re:Why is this so hard? (1)

noidentity (188756) | about 8 years ago | (#16102109)

I am not sure if they really want to, but todays applications simply require quite a bit more CPU and RAM then yesterdays applications, even for the very same jobs.

They use quite a bit more CPU and RAM, but do they really require it? As in, maybe they could be written better. Of course, given that such CPU and RAM are cheap these days, it doesn't make sense to spend extra time reducing these requirements a lot.

Try it with modern software. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101653)

If you can find a system like that today, try running some modern software on it. What you'll likely find is that certain software does run very well, but other software will be awfully slow for some reason.

I just tried this recently with Ubuntu 6.06, on a 266 MHz Pentium system with 128 MB of RAM. I encountered problems with some GNOME/GTK+ programs, notably Firefox. I'm not certain why, but it would take well over a minute to actually start up. This was with the GNOME desktop running, so I imagine many of the shared libraries it depends on would already have been in memory. Starting Firefox with GNOME started would also consume more than 128 MB of RAM, so swapping was encountered. This significantly slowed down the system.

I switched to KDE, and that did improve things somewhat. Konqueror would start fine, and it ran reasonably. I think this is because it all managed to stay within the 128 MB of physical RAM in the system, and thus swapping was mostly avoided.

I can't tell you why KDE ran so much quicker than the GNOME or GTK+ software I tried, but that's just how it worked. So while such systems may be cheap to produce today, and may have been able to perform many of today's tasks then, it's likely something that cannot be done with most modern software. If you do use modern software, you'll have to choose carefully, to find software that makes good use of the resources. In my case, I found that KDE did that, while GNOME did not. I don't know about Windows, or modern Windows software, so I can't tell you how well that'd work.

Re:Why is this so hard? (2, Insightful)

mcrbids (148650) | about 8 years ago | (#16101878)

I seem to recall that 200 MHz and an 8 Gig hard drive was top of the line, some time during the 90's. Such computers seemed to handle word processing, web browsing, email, etc. just fine. What would those components cost now? Not very much because of miniaturization. A $125 computer should be no big deal right?


Don't forget the concept of the minimum cost of production.

It doesn't actually cost (much) more to produce a 300 GB HDD than an 8 GB HDD. You have the same basic amount of aluminum, wire, circuit boards, chips, solder joints, IDE connectors,etc in either case. It occupies the same amount of space, and still needs to be assembled, checked, packed, shipped, and accounted for.

All these things do not change regardless of the HDD capacity. At a certain point, these costs overtake the profit involved in manufacturing, so that it no longer even makes sense to manufacture the drive any longer. That today is somewheres around $75-100 per drive. (retail) This cost is dropping, and has continued to drop, but it's still there.

This is why a $300 computer today blows the doors off a computer built 5 years ago for $1000, but the 5 year old computer cannot be produced today for its relative value. (say, $125)

Re:Why is this so hard? (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about 8 years ago | (#16102118)

This is why a $300 computer today blows the doors off a computer built 5 years ago for $1000

Yep, increased performance at the same cost holds true for those components which are relatively mature in design, but still suited to incremental improvement. In computers, that's hard drives, RAM, CPUs and to some extent, mainboards. Other components which are fully mature in their niche, such as maths co-processors, soundcards and to a lesser extent, VGA and LAN adaptors get embedded into other components, which is where the real cost savings come from.

That modern $300 computer has a lot less parts than the equivalent previous generation $1000 item, and that's where I'd look to see ZhongKe making their savings. The computer may have 8GB storage for example, but it'll be flash ram embedded on the mainboard.

Re:Why is this so hard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16102413)

This is why a $300 computer today blows the doors off a computer built 5 years ago for $1000, but the 5 year old computer cannot be produced today for its relative value. (say, $125)

Except in China, where the costs of assembly, checking, packing and accounting are much less than in the west.

The decades-long cycle of economic growth, with the associated increase in standards of living, inflation etc has got us into thinking that for $125 you can not do much. But for a Chinese worker it is still a fortune.

Re:Why is this so hard? (1)

Ambidisastrous (964023) | about 8 years ago | (#16101990)

I'm using a $125 computer right now -- not the one in the article, just an older Toshiba laptop that someone was replacing. It came with Windows 2000, which I immediately replaced with Xubuntu. Firefox can be a little sluggish at times, but in general it works fine for everyday use.

As I recall, the OLPC $100 laptop was designed to not only be useful for Web browsing, programming, and general educational use, but also to serve as a wireless mesh node, wiki engine, and hammer if necessary. It's supposed to have a long battery life and a screen viewable in bright sunlight, be rechargeable without a connection to the power grid, and be unbreakable by even the mighty Kofi Annan. And it needs to be tiny and cute so that kids will like it and be able to carry it around. My $125 laptop can run Python and Gaim, but the battery is crap, and it has basically no peripherals without its docking station. Definitely not a solution for remote areas with intermittent utilities.

A side note: I have a deep appreciation for the many lightweight Linux distros out there. Switching from commercial operating systems is an excellent way to break out of the forced hardware upgrade cycle and salvage old machines.

Re:Why is this so hard? (2, Interesting)

evilviper (135110) | about 8 years ago | (#16102116)

I seem to recall that 200 MHz and an 8 Gig hard drive was top of the line, some time during the 90's. Such computers seemed to handle word processing, web browsing, email, etc. just fine.

Yes, they ran Netscape 3.0 and Windows 95 just fine. Similar software today, however, is much better than it used-to be, which is why almost nobody uses that old software on their new computers.

Though, you aren't extremely far off. Something like a 400MHz P2 is fast enough for things like DVD playback, and most office apps if you don't mind a bit of waiting.

What would those components cost now? Not very much because of miniaturization.

There becomes a point when making a slower CPU, and a smaller (capacity) hard drive, just isn't any cheaper.

Maxtor tries to get around that by making their cheapest, 10-20GB 5400 rpm hard drives only half the height of normal 3.5" drives.

Now that's only NEW units. You can get some old surplus units pretty cheap, because they'll sell them at a loss to get them out of their wherehouse, but that's a limited supply, that's gone when it's gone.

With that said, for reasonably small quantities, you can put together many systems if you're willing to wait for surplus components to drop in price, but it wouldn't make much of a business. Someone ordering 500 systems wants to know what the clock speed of the CPU is, the type of motherboard, the brand and size of hard drive. You can't just say "You'll get whatever's available at the time". For larger companies, the added maintenance costs of systems with various parts outweighs that inital savings.

For individuals, though, it's pretty easy to piece together a multi-GHz system for a little over $100 (provided assembly time is free).

Re:Why is this so hard? (2, Insightful)

drsquare (530038) | about 8 years ago | (#16102509)

Yes, they ran Netscape 3.0 and Windows 95 just fine. Similar software today, however, is much better than it used-to be, which is why almost nobody uses that old software on their new computers.


Is the software really better? Compare the system requirements for Word XP to Word 95, and tell me how much extra functionality it really has. People upgraded from Windows 95 because it crashed so often, not because the newer versions had more functionality.

Re:Why is this so hard? (1)

Tim C (15259) | about 8 years ago | (#16102546)

So how's that $100 PC coming along? WHAT?? Why do you need those kinds of specs?

Because without those specs, I can't use my PC for what I want to use it for. We don't all just surf, email, and fire up vi occasionally.

Re:Why is this so hard? (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | about 8 years ago | (#16102661)

I think it costs roughly the same to produce a 200 Gigs HD than a 1 Gig one, that's why we don't see many 50$ PC "top of the line 20 years ago". You can find used computers, but you cannot find new ones with low specs.

Now imagine, you can produce 1Go disks for $20 or 100Go for $30, which one would make more sense for your business ?

hmmm... (1)

RuBLed (995686) | about 8 years ago | (#16101597)

If all of China supports this initiative, we might have for ourselves another competitive processor maker, ZMET.

I wonder how long before they catch up with the "core" race...

Re:hmmm... (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 8 years ago | (#16102372)

Actually, it would require less than 5% to make it a viable competitor.

American retailers not much more (4, Interesting)

davidwr (791652) | about 8 years ago | (#16101610)

I've seen several "house brand" PCs from major retailers that ran under $250 with Windows and under $150 without when on "we do this almost every week" sales. Yes I know what "loss leader" means but at these prices the Linux boxes probably wholesale for $150-$175. Large school systems and other institutions would probably pay very close to wholesale.

Re:American retailers not much more (3, Informative)

WuphonsReach (684551) | about 8 years ago | (#16101679)

Hmm, $150 is a tough price point to hit for a regular PC if you're at all picky about components.

$45 CPU (AM2 Sempron 2800+, which means upgrade capability later)
$65 M/B (GeForce 6150 w/ integrated video)
$55 2x256 or 1x512MB (or $25 256MB single-stick)
$20 DVD-ROM
$25 Case+PSU
$45 Hard drive
===
$255

More like $300 once you buy a reasonably good case w/ PSU for $50-$75. And it would be expandable to put more memory and a more powerful CPU in it down the road.

You could still probably shave $100 off that price if you go for close-out deals, really cheap motherboards, older CPUs that are only $20ea, 256MB of RAM, and a really cheap case+PSU that will probably catch fire right after the warranty expires.

(The machines I'm building for work are around $500 for parts, but those are dual-core w/ 2GB RAM.)

It doesn't really matter... (2, Informative)

Belial6 (794905) | about 8 years ago | (#16102070)

It doesn't really matter how hard it is to hit the $150 price point. Fry's electronics does it all the time. They have an add in their flyer just about every week for a brand spanking new x86 PC for $150.

Re:American retailers not much more (1)

RzUpAnmsCwrds (262647) | about 8 years ago | (#16102149)

HP, Dell, Lenovo, and the like don't pay anywhere near retail price for components. Complete $250 PCs are common - with 256MB of DDR2, a Sempron 3400+, GeForce 6150 graphics, 80GB SATA drive, CD-ROM, flash card reader, and even a PCIe x16 slot.

I got a $150 eMachines PC - with a 17" monitor, 512MB of DDR, DVD/CD-RW combo drive, 80GB HDD, XP Home, and a 2.93GHz Celeron at Best Buy on Black Friday last year. It's not at all out of the question.

But see your problem (1)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about 8 years ago | (#16102255)

Is that as you said, you are being picky about components. I take it you've little experience with really cheap Chinese goods. They are cheap in both senses of the word. The idea is bottom dollar and to hell with quality.

I've a feeling this PC will follow along those lines. I mean please note that your system has a vastly more powerful CPU (with upgrade path as you noted) a real GPU, double the memory and so on. This is not an equal comparison. Also I'm going to guess that all the components will be the most minimal construction possible. Cheapest caps, most basic boards, etc. Anything to cut cost.

So ya, these'll beat essentially anything on the American market in the new sector, but then I imagine they'll be less quality than even the most bargain basement PCs. Don't expect this to be some revolution here. China also produces some amazingly cheap cars, but you really don't want to be in an accident in one. There is only so much cost you can cut before you must cut features to make it cheaper.

Originality (1)

Pacifist Brawler (987348) | about 8 years ago | (#16101634)

At least they're ripping off something other than ix86.

Cheap computers for all (2, Interesting)

HatchedEggs (1002127) | about 8 years ago | (#16101647)

I really can't complain about the sentiment of wanting to provide computers for all. Why do I get the feeling though that the only reason the government wants to give people there access is so that they can find more ways to pull mone into Chinas society. Regardess, $150 PCs isnt suh a great deal.

We've all known MIT has been working on the $100 laptop project for some time. http://laptop.media.mit.edu/ [mit.edu]

A 500Mhx chip, etc... It might be inadequate for most programs that arent specifically made to work with it, but for a little more you'd think they could add some of those basic features to it and still undercut a $150 pricetag.

What about the $100 laptop? (1)

Modeski (1002388) | about 8 years ago | (#16101655)

How will this affect the $100 laptop from Quanta? This Digitimes Systems article from August 31st talks about how they aim to ship ten million units during 2007:

Quanta will not categorize orders for the US$100 notebooks under its general notebook business, said Wang, noting that production for the US$100 laptop project will initially take place in Changshu, Jiangsu province (China), where Quanta mainly fulfills orders for its non-notebook products.

http://www.digitimes.com/systems/a20060831A2004.ht ml/ [digitimes.com]

I know 10m is a global figure, but even so, I'm sure more than a few thousand (per the TechFreep article) of those would end up in Chinese schools.

Re:What about the $100 laptop? (2, Interesting)

HatchedEggs (1002127) | about 8 years ago | (#16101705)

The point wasn't that this is going to affect the 1 Laptop per child initiative.

It was that building a computer for relatively cheap (that still functions) is quite possible. I'm not very surprised that china can build $150 laptops... and the government will still make a healthy profit on it probably.

Re:What about the $100 laptop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16102024)

Wonder if I can my company to sign up to a one laptop per engineer - I spend about 3 days out of 5 either in meetings or offsite (or both) and so far its taken: four forms, threee directors, alot of phone calls to even get the request approved. Now its a 6 week wait while our IT outsourcing company actually get around to providing it. (And knowing them it will be missing everything my desktop has or won't work first time etc).

On a lighter note (3, Funny)

OldManAndTheC++ (723450) | about 8 years ago | (#16101666)

The system will come bundled with lots of open-source software, including the famous Radiant Dragon Pearl 2.0, which is known as the Perl of China, written by Won Ton, who is known as the Larry Wall of China.

95% compatibility? (1)

Phiu-x (513322) | about 8 years ago | (#16101667)

My take: Instriial espionnage at its finest.

Re:95% compatibility? (4, Insightful)

shadow_slicer (607649) | about 8 years ago | (#16101817)

'Instriial espionnage' is not needed. The MIPS instruction set and architecture are standard reading for anybody in the field. They're not saying they copied the layout or instruction set, it's more like the API.

All processors have a language they understand, a sequence of bits that have an arbitrary meaning to them. And these are usually published far and wide, so that people can write compilers and operating systems and assemblers for this processor. MIPS in particular is very popular to study because the simple structure makes it possible for teachers to make creating a VHDL or Verilog implementation of a simplified MIPS instruction set into a half-semester project.
In fact I doubt their implementation is anywhere near the same caliber as the Pentium III implementation, even if they claim the same speed. What probably happened is they have access to more modern, smaller fabrication methods so they can cram more transistors into the pipeline. And even soft IP cores in FPGAs can hit 200MHz, so a well designed core could probably hit 500 MHz in an ASIC.

That being said, creating a full super-scalar CPU implementing even 95% of the MIPS 64-4 version of the instruction set in silicon is difficult. I was not familiar with this specification, but a quick search on google reveals that
The Mips R10000 is a dynamic superscalar microprocessor that implements the 64-bit Mips-4 Instruction Set Architecture. It fetches and decodes four instructions per cycle and dynamically issues them to five fully pipelined low-latency execution units. Instructions can be fetched and executed speculatively beyond branches. Instructions graduate in order upon completion. Although instructions execute out of order, the processor still provides sequential memory consistency and precise exception handling.The R10000 is designed for high performance, even in large real-world applications which have poor memory locality. With speculative execution, it calculates memory addresses and initiates cache refills early. Its hierarchical nonblocking memory system helps hide memory latency with two levels of set-associative, write-back caches.
This is a really beefy processor that was probably state of the art in its time. Of course that was over 10 years agos. Is it really so suprising China is only 10 years behind in chip design? After all aren't most of the chip fabrication facilities in east Asia? I'd imagine there would be quite a few people who after a few years decide they want to be on the other end of the process.

R & D (1)

Techman83 (949264) | about 8 years ago | (#16101686)

We all know how much Research and Development costs when its a private company, it would be unfeasable to design something original and Initial cheap!

Chinese attitude towards Linux (5, Funny)

patio11 (857072) | about 8 years ago | (#16101692)

"We were going to pirate it, but couldn't figure out how."

Re:Chinese attitude towards Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16102643)

hahahahaha .. now *that's* funny !! LOL

That's the volume? (1)

WoTG (610710) | about 8 years ago | (#16101693)

produce several thousand low-cost PCs
They're going to have a hard time making those CPUs cost effective if they're only doing a few thousand. I'm thinking that either something was lost in translation, or the $150 price is some estimate after sales ramp, or it's all calculated in that every wishy-washy government slush fund kind of way.

Anyone care to guess what fab technology they're using?

Re:That's the volume? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101758)

Anyone care to guess what fab technology they're using?

string and a pinboard?

Re:That's the volume? (1)

oliderid (710055) | about 8 years ago | (#16102505)

These CPUs are already used in low-cost routers.

Anyway I've read the spec. But there aren't any screen :-). So you get a pretty box for $150 and then? I guess the real price is around $200 at least.

Olivier

Re:That's the volume? (1)

mgblst (80109) | about 8 years ago | (#16102699)

It is probably aimed at upgrading boxes for schools, and they can keep the screens, but get a pretty reasonable machine. There seems to be a glut of old monitors at the moment, I see them going every day for £10...everybody wants new lcd screens.

Why no ARM micro-desktops? (1)

diablo-d3 (175104) | about 8 years ago | (#16101725)

With ARM's new Cortex-A8 processor [arm.com] , why haven't I been seeing more micro-desktops and power efficient laptops and whatever based around this technology?

Why is the processor seen as a ripped-off design? (3, Interesting)

joeykiller (119489) | about 8 years ago | (#16101745)

In earlier coverage on Slashdot of this chip (see the initial announcement [slashdot.org] , the follow up [slashdot.org] and the announcement of a 64-bit variant [slashdot.org] ), at least in the coverage of the 32-bit Dragon version of the chip, no one blamed the chinese for ripping of anything. I even remember someone saying that the MIPS specification were free to use for anyone, as long as they paid around $20 for access to the specs. What has happened since then, and what is different in this case from, say, AMD cloning til Intel instruction set?

The principal investigator of the Godson program, Hu Weiwu, have some colorful comparions [eetimes.com] to houses and bedrooms when he tries to explain why he means that the Godson-2 processor does not infringe on any patents or intellectual properties.

Re:Why is the processor seen as a ripped-off desig (1)

evilviper (135110) | about 8 years ago | (#16102017)

no one blamed the chinese for ripping of anything.

You're kidding, right? Did you actually look through those comments? There are numerous accusations.

and what is different in this case from, say, AMD cloning til Intel instruction set?

AMD didn't just say one day "We're going to clone Intel chips". They had a contract with Intel, which allowed them to use both the instruction set, and the architecture of Intel's x86 chips. Intel did that because IBM demanded a chip with a second supplier.

AMD went to court with the issue, and secured their rights to use the instruction set, although not the actual same chip architecture.

In more recent years, Intel licenses all of their patents on this, so you just have to pay them a fee for it. AMD also has a lot of tech that Intel wants to use, so there has been extensive cross-licensing between the two.

he tries to explain why he means that the Godson-2 processor does not infringe on any patents or intellectual properties.

When the Chinese government tells you to say something, YOU SAY IT.

China is constantly running afoul of international copyright and patent laws, and they always deny it, even when the evidence is overwhelming.

Re:Why is the processor seen as a ripped-off desig (1)

joeykiller (119489) | about 8 years ago | (#16102321)

You're kidding, right? Did you actually look through those comments? There are numerous accusations.
I admit that I wasn't clear on what I meant -- I didn't think about the comments, but about the wording in the lead text.

China is constantly running afoul of international copyright and patent laws, and they always deny it, even when the evidence is overwhelming.
I know this, and I didn't mean to present Hu's words as evidence of anything. I just thought he used some colorful (and funny) metaphors when trying to explain that they're innocent :-)

125$ is still unaffordable (1)

unclocked (854664) | about 8 years ago | (#16101766)

to most Chinese, and to most Indians too.

Re:125$ is still unaffordable (3, Insightful)

808140 (808140) | about 8 years ago | (#16101895)

It's far cheaper than what (the Chinese anyway) currently have to shell out for a computer system. It may not reach impoverished farmers in Guizhou province, but it will certainly increase the number of people who can afford a computer.

However, I anticipate that no one will buy it. Computers are too expensive for many Chinese to own personally, but "internet cafes" ("gaming cafe" would be a more accurate name) are plentiful and extremely cheap -- 2 or 3 yuan per hour is typical (that's about 25 - 30 cents US). PC gaming is huge in the PRC (consoles never really caught on), and that's what the vast majority of Chinese use their machines for -- that and chatting, mostly on QQ, which GAIM and friends do not support*.

The result is that most Chinese are routinely exposed to Windows, and worse, they're addicted to a wide variety of Windows-only software. While owning your own machine is certainly a nice perk, the question they will be asking themselves is, do I want to shell out 125 dollars for a machine that won't run any software I want, or do I want to suffer through not having my own machine, and buy a USB memory stick instead, and do all my computing at the local internet cafe?

My guess is that for the vast majority of Chinese, the latter will seem like a much sounder choice. A 125 dollar x86-compatible machine would be one thing, but if all it can run is Linux, the Chinese won't go for it. Linux penetration in China is virtually nil, except maybe in the government, but they're not the types that would buy 125 dollar, 500MHz desktops.

Thankfully, Chinese support is much better in Linux now than it used to be, but there are still no decent free Chinese fonts -- something that, as a Chinese speaker who uses Linux exclusively, I am very aware of. This company probably would think nothing of bundling MS's SimSun and SimHei fonts with their distribution, as they've thought nothing of using a rip off MIPS chip, but that would be copyright infringement and in my mind wrong. I personally use SimSun and SimHei, but I paid the MS tax when I bought my thinkpad with XP pre-installed (in China, no less). The $125 laptop doesn't come with a Windows license.

All in all, it looks like a bust. It's cool, though.

(*There have been a few attempts to port QQ to Linux, but Tencent adds features to the QQ protocol much too quickly to keep up. Lack of support for wanted features would make Linux seem broken, even though the real culprit is a complex, proprietary, binary protocol with built in obsolescence... but hey, they don't know that.)

Imagine... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 years ago | (#16101776)

A beowulf cluster of those!

$125 still might be too expensive (3, Insightful)

the_humeister (922869) | about 8 years ago | (#16101795)

This is especially when I can get a used computer with decent specifications (Pentium III, 1 GHz, etc) for approximately $25-$50 at the local surplus store.

Re:$125 still might be too expensive (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | about 8 years ago | (#16102252)

A... Reliability A machine that's likely to fail is worth less than nothing, B Hardware standardization software actually set up to work with your hardware and a community of people using the same hadware (Teh Awsome!), also while the hardware isn't super powerful it probably has a lot of the functionality we'd expect usb2.0 instead of 1, pci-E slots (Same price as AGP 1 slots but nicer, PXE for the network, wireless, NCQ just tonnes of tiny little features that actually make a computer useful nowadays.

Re:$125 still might be too expensive (2, Insightful)

MarkByers (770551) | about 8 years ago | (#16102310)

This is especially when I can get a used computer with decent specifications (Pentium III, 1 GHz, etc) for approximately $25-$50 at the local surplus store.

Now try buying a few hundred million used computers at your local surplus store and see if you can still get the same deal. China has a lot of people and buying computers from American second hand stores isn't really a feasible business plan for a company trying to make ground in the Chinese market.

Run on linux? (1)

Sfing_ter (99478) | about 8 years ago | (#16101968)

Daaaaaaaamn, we're so backwards, our computers in the US still run on electricity...
Ba Da Dummmm, we'll be here til Friday, try the salmon.

XBox (3, Insightful)

kyb (877837) | about 8 years ago | (#16102094)

XBox: Intel Celeron 733 MHz CPU, nVidia GeForce 3MX, 64 MB of RAM, 10 GB hard disk, a DVD drive and 10/100 Ethernet.
Cost new: $125

So there's already a 125$ pc that can run linux in the mass market here for $125. The specs aren't quite as good as the chinese one, but it is quite a few years old now, and has a well known intel processor and graphics accelerator.

kyb

Leave It To China..... (0, Troll)

IHC Navistar (967161) | about 8 years ago | (#16102154)

.....to clone American technology, and then pass it off as their own.

-----

For Sale: One (1) genuine Soviet-made Iraqi AK-47 automatic rifle. Never fired. Dropped once.

the kernel? (1)

xoundmind (932373) | about 8 years ago | (#16102672)

So these chips are 95% compatible with MIPS? What exactly does that mean? What did they do, grab the entire Debian MIPS [debian.org] project and hack it from there? If so, wouldn't the GPL require the code to be released? (Yeah, I know, I wondering whether the Chinese government is willing to respect the GPL.)
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