Card PC packs a punch

In the good old days of IT, operators would program their computers using stacks of punch-cards.

In the good old days of IT, operators would program their computers using stacks of punch-cards.

In memory of those times IBM has developed a fully-fledged PC that's almost the same size as a punch-card. But from the specification it seems to packs a lot more punch than a stack of punch-cards.

Code-named MetaPad, the device is just 1.9cm thick and measures 7.5cm by 12.5cm. IBM said it is capable of holding all of a user's applications and data with a bare-bones hardware configuration.

IBM researchers were able to make the device as small as it is by removing its power supply, display, and input-output connectors, leaving just the Transmeta Crusoe 5800 variable processor - with speeds ranging from 300MHz to 800MHz - a 10Gbyte hard drive and 128Mbyte of memory.

Those components taken out of the MetaPad then become accessories and options that individuals can add or not add, depending on how they want to use the device, company officials said.

The unit has been demonstrated running Microsoft Windows XP but IBM is working on a version of Linux that will run on the new device. IBM also said support for the wireless 802.11b standard would eventually be added as well.

Ken Ocheltree, manager of Next Generation Mobile, at IBM Research said: "One of our goals with this device is to study how users work with information." IBM will use what it learns to develop the software, middleware, and hardware needed to improve users' experience.

The card can operate with a docking station or cradle that can be plugged into a desktop monitor and keyboard allowing it to function as a desktop system.

A 7.5cm by 12.5cm colour touch display can be used to turn the card into what is effectively a PDA. In this configuration IBM said users would be able to run videos, play music CDs and surf the Web.

Users can also attach the device to a harness they can wear that has a small head-mounted display, allowing it to be used in those environments that require hands-free computing.

The device includes IBM's handwriting recognition software and an on-screen keyboard, permitting users to input data with a pen or type it in onscreen. The device is also capable of supporting IBM's Via Voice speech recognition software.

IBM currently has no plans to sell the system, although it has been showing it around to selected OEMs. While there has been some level of interest among them, none have committed to private labelling the handheld system.

While there is no price set on any of the devices's configurations, the price for the core in its basic configuration could be somewhere between $800 and $1,000, which would place it in competition with lower end laptops.

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