The chip maker's Convertible Classmate design, which includes 10.1-inch touchscreen that can swivel to turn the netbook into a tablet PC, is undergoing a complete overhaul, said Agnes Kwan, an Intel spokeswoman. The newer model will be upgraded with faster Atom processors and will be announced in the first half of this year, Kwan said.
New Atom processors are also being added to the older Classmate clamshell design, which does not include a touchscreen. The company announced two new Atom processors in December, the N450 processor running at 1.66GHz, and the N470 running at 1.83GHz.
The new Atom processors are 60 percent smaller than their predecessors, and consume 20 percent less power. The chip improvements could make future Convertible Classmate netbooks smaller while giving them more battery life. Intel wants to make the netbooks easier to carry, but also wants to keep the devices rugged so they don't easily break, Kwan said.
Intel is adding more wireless connectivity options to both the netbook designs, including 3G mobile broadband and WiMax capabilities, Kwan said. The company is also investigating larger screen sizes for the Convertible Classmate netbooks, she said.
Intel announced the Classmate PC in 2007 as part of an effort to deliver laptops under US$400 to school children in developing countries. At the time Classmate PCs competed with One Laptop Per Child's XO laptop for market share. Intel later expanded Classmate's role as a reference design for PC makers in developing countries to make low-cost PCs.
The last redesign of the Classmate was in September 2008, when the chip maker launched the Convertible Classmate. The addition of new chips should give a new level of graphics and application performance to the Classmate devices. The new Atom chips come with integrated graphics processors that can handle 720p high-definition graphics, according to Intel. An integrated memory controller will help the processor communicate faster with system components, leading to faster application performance.
Intel has also said that Argentina would buy 250,000 Intel-powered Classmate netbooks with Pineview processors beginning later this year. The units will be distributed in 1,500 schools in 24 states and will be delivered by United Nations. The company also said Brazil and Turkey had purchased Classmate PCs.