Intel updating its Classmate PC designed for schoolchildren in developing countries. Intel's work forms part of a wider effort to spur demand for low-cost laptops.

Based on Intel's upcoming Silverthorne processor, the Classmate PC will be sleeker and have longer battery life than the current version, according to Navin Shenoy, general manager of Intel's Asia-Pacific operations.

"It's fair to say that there is a Silverthorne-based Classmate design in the works that would likely come out coincidentally with the microprocessor," Shenoy said, adding that Intel has not determined pricing for the new laptop design.

Silverthorne, which is billed as being easy on both power and the pocketbook, is part of Intel's Menlow platform that also includes the upcoming Poulsbo chipset.

The dual-core chip is scheduled for release during the middle of this year and is central to Intel's plans for small, handheld computers that Intel calls MIDs, or Mobile Internet Devices, and low-cost laptops, like the Classmate and Asustek's Eee PC (reviewed here).

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The current Classmate PC is a big-boned, 1.4kg machine with a 900MHz Celeron M processor and a 7in screen. The laptop runs Windows XP and comes with Wi-Fi, 256MB of RAM and 2GB of flash memory in lieu of a hard disk. These specifications won't send a gamer's heart racing, but they are enough to get the intended job done.

Priced at around £145, the Classmate PC is roughly £50 more expensive than the One Laptop Per Child Project's XO laptop, the Classmate's main competitor. Intel has said volume production would bring down the Classmate's cost to about £100, but the low-cost laptops have so far grabbed more headlines than sales.

Even so, Intel's Classmate PC development efforts have had a wide impact, largely thanks to the Eee PC, which uses many of the same components but has a thinner, more stylish design.

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Consumer enthusiasm for the Eee PC largely caught Intel off guard. When the low-cost laptop, which also uses a 900MHz Celeron M processor, was announced at the Computex trade show last year, Intel expected Asustek to announce a £100 laptop for education customers. But the Taiwanese computer maker had other ideas and declared - to the surprise of Intel executives - that the Eee PC would instead be marketed to consumers in markets around the world.

While the Eee PC's price tag climbed substantially from the original announced price, at £200 or so the small laptops remain a relative bargain and users have been snapping them up as fast as Asustek can make them.

As other computer makers show interest in following Asustek's lead, Intel has embraced the low-cost laptop as an important product segment for the consumer market, as well as the education market.

"We think that there's going to be a wide variety of multinationals and local original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who decide to go after this segment," Shenoy said.

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