Hoping to lead the way in an emerging market for home computing, Intel has announced a new product line to make it easier for families with more than one computer to share access to the Internet, printers, files and games.
Called the AnyPoint Home Network, the products will use existing phone lines to connect home PCs without the need for additional wiring. Families using the system can share a single Internet connection, allowing two or more users to surf the Web at the same time without the need for a second phone line or Internet account.
Users can share PC peripherals such as printers and external storage devices, including back-up drives. Family members can send files and messages from one PC to another, and participate in multi-player PC games from separate rooms in the home.
"We have a vision of a billion connected computers in the next decade," Mark Christensen, vice president and general manager of Intel's Network Communication Group, said last week. "Simple, affordable home networks are an essential step and necessary component towards realising this vision."
There are 17 million homes with multiple PCs in the US at the moment, with the number expected to reach 26 million in the next four years, Christensen said.
The products will initially be available in two packages. The Parallel Port Model for two PCs has a suggested retail price of $US189, including two external units, cabling to connect two PCs and their printers and Intel's Internet sharing software. The Parallel Port Model for one PC costs $99 and includes one external unit, cabling to connect one PC and its printer and Intel's sharing software.
The products are immediately available in the US, but are not likely to be shipped anywhere except Canada this year.
Analysts said the release of the products will help Intel at a time when the prices for PCs and computer chips, of which Intel is the world's largest maker, are falling.
"People will say you might as well buy another PC for this system because they [PCs] are so cheap," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight 64 in the US. "Now you can justify having multiple PCs in your home."
"This move recognises the important role kids are playing in home computing," said Greg Blatnik, a vice president at Zona Research.
The simplicity of Intel's product line will be attractive to potential users, according to another analyst.
"So far, Intel has done everything right in its first move into the consumer networking product and gone out of its way to make the installation software user-friendly," Michael Wolf, an analyst with Cahners In-Stat Group's networking unit, said in a statement.
In the US, Gateway 2000 will begin offering on April 12 the AnyPoint Home Network PCI card with its Performance, Essential and Select desktop computers.
"Gateway is committed to becoming the premier provider of Home Networking solutions in the consumer market," said Bob Burnett, Gateway's vice president of product management and planning.