Taiwan's E-Way Technology is the latest vendor to promise a PC for less than $100. Assuming that price isn't just wishful thinking, what are the possible applications for such a cheap machine?
Intel's rush to cram more cores onto a processor than you'll find in an orchard filled with apples means its older releases are suddenly becoming a hell of a lot cheaper, and as a result the whole CPU industry is cutting prices.
That in turn means that it's increasingly becoming possible to produce basic PCs with a price tag of under $100, assuming that you already have a few input peripherals lying around and are happy with a stripped-back Linux implementation such as Puppy or Damn Small Linux.
The latest entrant into this market is Taiwan's E-Way Technology, which is offering a bare-bones sub-$100 system via an astonishingly cheesy-looking Web site. Disappointingly, the company is not obviously related to the similarly named E-WAY Technology, which promises "to become the most intimate partner for each client" and "expects to offer versatile & various choices for customers".
E-Way: Keeping PCs cheap by not spending any money on graphic design.
The discount PC itself, however, is potentially quite "versatile & various". The TR Tiny model includes a 200MHz "x86-compatible" CPU (translation: clearly not from Intel), 128MB of memory, three USB connections, and the usual video, mouse and keyboard ports. Clearly, such systems aren't going to be much use for testing Vista betas or cutting together your personal videos for humiliation via YouTube, but they'll coast through more basic, single-purpose applications.
(Incidentally, E-Way's price is quoted in US dollars and assumes that you're going to order a palette-load of the things. For the sake of argument, we're assuming that even allowing for currency conversion and a more sensible order quantity, the sub-$100 pricing will be possible, because, let's face it, we're a lot closer to Taiwan than the US is.)
Note: For $100, the hand is not included.
How might a sub-$100 PC change the world? Here's APC's ideas for what such a PC could be used for; naturally, we'd welcome other suggestions.
Configure it as a basic data server. Bloody hell, that's a boring way to start. Let's try for something a bit more interesting.
Set up your own karaoke machine. This is one of E-Way's own recommended applications. Sure, you'll have to buy some microphones and dodgy vocal-free recordings, but it's still cheaper than getting a PlayStation and running SingStar. You can spend the money you've saved on beer to get people "warmed up" for their performances.
Get Granny to go ga-ga over Google. Cheap PCs are often seen as an important strategy for crossing the so-called "digital divide" and making the benefits of the Internet available to the poor, elderly and otherwise disadvantaged. Test the validity of this theory on your own elderly relatives, which leads on to the next point...
Use it as a test-client for miniature Linux distributions. Cut-down implementations often don't have the user base of the "big name" Linux distributions; do your bit for the community by working your way through the main contenders and picking out all their flaws. (Wikipedia has a handy list to get you started).
Install a dedicated Bittorrent server in your toilet. Repurpose the wasted time you spend flushing your cache to downloading torrents.