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North Korea making its own PCs

The rudimentary PCs are among the first from the nation

North Korea might be an unlikely place to find a PC factory, but the country has started manufacturing three models of computers, according to a recent state TV report.

The report, on the country's main 8pm evening news, took viewers inside the factory that's making the computers. The factory and the computers are far removed from the advanced and automated production lines that churn out thousands of laptops each day in neighboring China.

In one shot, eight workers could be seen sitting in front of a long, green bench carrying out tasks such as installing the keyboard and checking the laptop hinge. In another shot, a worker appeared to be testing a new laptop by scrolling through screens.

The three computers consist of two for educational use and one for office use.

The educational computers each run the same custom software and come in two versions: one is a netbook-sized laptop, and the other is a bland-looking box with a keyboard and mouse, that's designed to be connected to a television.

"You can use multimedia educational materials," said Pae Myong-sok, a factory representative interviewed in the TV report. "For example, you can view elementary and middle schools textbooks, do intellectual training exercises, view various types of dictionaries, edit documents and even learn foreign languages."

The office computer is a laptop and runs productivity software and includes a web browser, Pae said. It's also netbook-sized and has dual USB ports -- something that's not included on the educational machines -- for data transfer. The battery lasts about two and a half hours, the report said.

No other specifications or details were offered in the report. The operating system was unclear from the TV images, but it didn't appear to be Windows. North Korea has developed its own version of Linux called "Red Star" and it's possible the computers are running that.

"The devices and programs of these computers were designed and developed purely using our own expertise," said Pae. "These computers have low prime cost but are designed to carry out all the necessary functions without difficulty."

The factory was identified as belonging to the "Information Technology Institute." No other affiliation was provided, but the name matches a unit of Pyongyang's Korea Computer Center (KCC). The KCC is one of North Korea's centers for information technology study and learning and has successfully marketed a handful of software applications overseas.

North Korea is one of the most tightly controlled countries in the world. Few homes have computers and those that do are not permitted access to the Internet. A domestic intranet service is available at libraries and educational establishments.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com


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