Intel's Classmate PC isn't just for students anymore. HCL Infosystems plans to sell a version of the Classmate PC to consumers and businesses in India who want a rugged, low-cost laptop.
Priced at 13,990 rupees ($356), HCL's MiLeap X laptop uses the same beefy case as the Classmate PC. But HCL -- which signed an agreement with Intel last year to produce the Classmate PC -- insists there is very little in common between the two computers.
"It is a totally different product," said George Paul, executive vice president at HCL Infosystems.
The specifications of the MiLeap X suggest otherwise. Both computers have a 7-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) screen with 800-pixel by 480-pixel resolution, a 900MHz Celeron M processor, Wi-Fi, and 2GB of flash memory for storage instead of a hard drive. They also use the same chip set, Intel's 915GMS.
The main difference between the MiLeap X and the Classmate PC appears to be a minor aesthetic change: The MiLeap X's vinyl cover more closely resembles a business folio than the blue covers typically found on the Classmate PC. The MiLeap X also comes with HCL's logo emblazoned below the display.
Paul acknowledged the MiLeap X can be considered a "derivative" of the Classmate PC since both computers use similar technologies, but said significant differences exist between the two products. He did not specify what those differences are.
Nor Badron, an Intel spokesman, confirmed the MiLeap X is based on the Classmate PC.
The basic Classmate PC systems are supplied by Intel and manufacturers such as HCL configure the computers and install software to meet the needs of their customers, Badron said, adding that Intel was "extremely supportive" of HCL's plans to develop a Classmate PC version for consumers and business users.
The MiLeap X gives HCL a start in the low-cost laptop segment, where most computer makers have yet to release products. "It's a quick and easy way of getting into that market," said Bryan Ma, director of personal systems research at IDC Asia-Pacific.
The MiLeap X, which runs a version of the Linux operating system, will go on sale in India on Jan. 26.
Developed in response to the One Laptop Per Child Project's low-cost laptop efforts, Classmate PC was designed for schools in developing countries. The computers were not originally meant to be sold to the general public, largely over fears within Intel that the low-cost laptops would cut into the company's gross margin.
Last year, Taiwan's Asustek was the first to crack open the door for wider Classmate PC sales with the introduction of its Eee PC, which uses many of the same components. Intel expected Asustek to announce a version of the Classmate PC for education customers, but the Taiwanese hardware maker instead declared the Eee PC, which uses the same processor and components as the Classmate PC, would be sold to consumers.
Intel has since embraced low-cost laptops as a product segment, despite continued resistance from some executives inside the company. The company's focus on that market will intensify later this year with the release of Silverthorne, a low-cost, energy efficient processor that will appear in a number of low-cost laptops currently under development.
(John Ribeiro, in Bangalore, contributed to this report.)