A Chinese netbook in every pot

A hint that China's consumers are waking up: Global shipments of cheap computer processors are surging

Published November 10, 2009 7:08PM (EST)

From the waiting-for-China's-sleeping-consumer-giant-to-wake-up department we bring you this quote from a CNET news story reporting that shipments of computer processors worldwide set new records in growth and volume in the third quarter of 2009. (Italics mine.)

"The story about 3Q09 leads with Atom processors being sold in mini-notebooks (a.k.a. netbooks) manufactured and sold in China," said Shane Rau, IDC's director of semiconductors for personal computing research

Low-cost netbooks have been selling at a rate of 200,000 to 300,000 a month all year in China, according to China Daily, although one analyst predicted that the "euphoria" would peter out toward the end of the year, as consumers start "to realize the limits of the products."

It's a tough market to get rich in -- netbooks use cheap, underpowered processors that don't allow for much profit per device, and the competition to bring new products to market is extraordinarily intense. Yesterday's netbook is today's paperweight. So while the sheer total of computer processors being shipped may be setting records, revenue is not. Still, while we wait and watch in the U.S. for indisputable signs that an economic recovery is under way, taking meager hope in such indicators as a slight uptick in temp hiring, the reports of the fast-growing Chinese consumer computer market are intriguing. If the netbook is an entry-level computing device, then there are millions of Chinese ready for an upgrade. That's good news for the semiconductor industry, the global economy and, naturally, Intel.

What does it mean for American jobs? Well, Intel is still building state-of-the-art semiconductor fabrication facilities in the U.S. So as long as Chinese computers continue to incorporate Intel CPUs, there should be a trickle-down benefit to to American workers from a booming domestic Chinese computer market. But we'll see how long that lasts.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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