Intel was taken by surprise by the worldwide demand for netbooks, but has now decided to lean into the trend with ‘nettops.’ At the Intel Developer Forum, the chipmaker unveiled a new chipset to power these desktops aimed at connecting to the Internet. And, they’ll be even cheaper than netbooks.


When chip makers and computer companies designed low-cost netbooks they intended to market them in emerging nations, especially in schools. So it was a big surprise when they got a ton of orders from Americans, Europeans, and Japanese customers.

This has shown that there’s a large demand for low-cost computers in these established markets. Business travelers have jumped on netbooks, and so have home users who want to use these as second computers or basic home PCs for their kids.

Intel has recognized this demand and decided to jump in with both feet. On Tuesday at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Intel announced a new desktop motherboard — Intel Desktop Board D945GCLF2 — that will allow computer makers to build ‘nettops’ (desktops built mostly for using the Internet) with solid performance at very low prices.

“Small on size and big on potential, the best of 45nm technology is used to deliver a rich and full experience in a tiny, power-packed package,” said Tom Rampone, General Manager of Intel’s Channel Platforms Group. “Nettops represent a fundamental shift in system design and PC consumption. Over the next 20 years we will see nettops emerge as a powerful and significant force in computing.”

Intel expects netbooks and nettops with its Atom processor to outsell systems with its standard desktop and laptop processors within 2-4 years.

Here are the features and specs of the Intel Desktop Board D945GCLF2:

  • Low-power dual-core Intel Atom processor
  • 533 MHz system bus
  • Intel 945GC Express chipset
  • Integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 chipset
  • 1 DIMM slot for up to 2 GB DDR SDRAM
  • Integrated 10/100/1GB Ethernet
  • Integrated six channel audio
  • Can support up to 8 on-board USB 2.0 ports
  • One PCI expansion slot
  • Two SATA ports
  • IDE connector with support for two drives

The boards will be available in September and Intel has a dozen computer manufacturers who are signed up to build systems based on the D945GCLF2. Intel didn’t talk about the potential street price of these systems, but once you look at the price of the netbooks and realize that you’re removing the LCD screen, I think it’s clear that we’re looking at under $200 for the low-end nettops.

Here come the thin clients

These low-cost motherboards based on the Atom processor won’t only result in nettops. Intel also expects computer makers to use these boards to build point-of-sale (POS) systems, kiosks, and thin clients, for example.

For IT, this could be the tipping point that makes thin clients a lot more attractive in the enterprise. There were already a lot of factors driving IT toward thin clients, including:

  • Desktop virtualization
  • Increase in Web-based applications
  • High-bandwidth LAN and WAN connections
  • Compliance and data security concerns

The big drawback to thin clients has been cost. Many thin clients systems cost as much and sometimes even more than standard business-class desktop machines, often $800 and up. This has been a mental barrier for many IT leaders who couldn’t justify purchasing machines with far less functionality for the same price.

Atom-based ‘thin-clients’ could have plenty of power to run apps locally, if needed, but could generally be restricted with software and policies to only act as a thin client that connects to the user’s software image in the data center. At $200 per user, and a centralized infrastructure that’s much easier to manage, that would be a big cost-saver that also reduces complexity for IT.