The latest from the Bad Ideas Never Die department: a number of vendors are postulating a really cheap PC that is, get this, network-based. Back in the dark ages of coal-fired mainframes, these things used to be called terminals, and they weren’t that popular even then. Since then every successful personal computing device has had significant persistent memory. So poor people are supposed to go without?

The basic idea seems to be that with today’s PC-on-a-chip systems a really cheap PC could be built.

The goofiness is in removing the hard drive to save money. Presumably users would store their data on the network. So where are all the millions of people who can’t afford a really stripped PC but can afford broadband to the home? The fact is that storage capacity is much cheaper than bandwidth from a total cost of ownership perspective.

If these guys really want to sell a billion really cheap PCs, they need to get a disk manufacturer to build a really cheap disk. It would be slow (3600 rpm or less) and optimized for low cost, maybe even using just one head, with smaller motors required and slower chips, small buffers, and none of the diagnostics and predictive failure that most drives have today. Put the whole disc controller on a single cheap chip. A 20GB $20 drive would make a $100 PC something people could use for years for websurfing, email, and basic office applications.

I might even buy one myself.