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5/23/2006
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Pay-As-You-Go PC Scheme Heralds Another Step In PC Security

Security will ensure users don’t hack the systems to get free Internet time or remove components to make a quick profit by selling the PCs for parts.

SEATTLE — Taking a page from the cellphone business model, Microsoft Corp. will officially unveil at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference Tuesday (May 23) FlexGo, a scheme to let service providers subsidize the price of Web-connected PCs.

Chip makers including Advanced Micro Devices, Infineon, Intel and Transmeta are partnering with the software giant on the program that could help drive new levels of hardware security into PC components.

The effort aims to bring fully configured PCs to some of the 1.3 billion homes worldwide that do not use PCs. Rather than selling systems designed to hit $100 to $300 costs, FlexGo aims to sell top notch Internet PCs that are paid for over time as users buy more minutes on the Web through a service provider.

Key to the effort is a new level of security. The security will ensure users don’t hack the systems to get free Internet time or remove components to make a quick profit by selling for parts the systems that sport a low initial price tag.

Initially, the security comes in the form of firmware or BIOS supplied by Microsoft or Phoenix Technologies that keeps track of how many Internet minutes a user has consumed. Transmeta Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.) implemented the features as new instructions on its Efficeon processor thanks to the company’s “code-morphing” technology. OEMs such as Taiwan’s Asus and India’s Wistron used conventional X86 CPUs with the Phoenix software.

In 2007, AMD and Intel will provide hardware security via CPUs that embed a random number generator, hashing algorithms and secure storage. Infineon will supply an ASIC that is a version of its Trusted Platform Module modified for the Microsoft program.

Ultimately chip makers expect all their products will include such hardware to support a secure execution mode. Eventually graphics chips and hard disks are expected to implement similar features so those high-value parts are not scavenged from FlexGo systems.

Initial system use processors and memory chips soldered directly to six-layer pc boards that embed key traces deep into their substrates so devices cannot be stolen or snooped, said a Microsoft representative.

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