DPRK appears to be manufacturing laptops

Martyn Williams reports in PC World (2011-5-25):

North Korea might be an unlikely place to find a PC factory, but the country has started manufacturing three models of computers, according to a recent state TV report.

The three computers consist of two for educational use and one for office use.

The educational computers each run the same custom software and come in two versions: one is a netbook-sized laptop, and the other is a bland-looking box with a keyboard and mouse, that’s designed to be connected to a television.

“You can use multimedia educational materials,” said Pae Myong-sok, a factory representative interviewed in the TV report. “For example, you can view elementary and middle schools textbooks, do intellectual training exercises, view various types of dictionaries, edit documents and even learn foreign languages.”

The office computer is a laptop and runs productivity software and includes a web browser, Pae said. It’s also netbook-sized and has dual USB ports — something that’s not included on the educational machines — for data transfer. The battery lasts about two and a half hours, the report said.

No other specifications or details were offered in the report. The operating system was unclear from the TV images, but it didn’t appear to be Windows. North Korea has developed its own version of Linux called “Red Star” and it’s possible the computers are running that.

“The devices and programs of these computers were designed and developed purely using our own expertise,” said Pae. “These computers have low prime cost but are designed to carry out all the necessary functions without difficulty.”

The factory was identified as belonging to the “Information Technology Institute.” No other affiliation was provided, but the name matches a unit of Pyongyang’s Korea Computer Center (KCC). The KCC is one of North Korea’s centers for information technology study and learning and has successfully marketed a handful of software applications overseas.

I have posted the segment from the North Korean evening news that features the computers to YouTube.  You can watch it here (2011-3-10).

A reader later pointed out on Martyn’s blog that the DPRK computer is identical to a discount computer sold in the USA. According to Martyn:

Son has posted a comment noting the similarity of the office laptop to a $99 netbook sold in CVS stores in the U.S. The netbook carries the Sylvania brand of Siemens.

From the looks of the two machines, they are identical. It’s either the same or similar basic hardware.

The North Korean manufacturer could be supplying them to Sylvania, or both companies could be buying the laptops from another manufacturer, likely in China, and customizing them. (Just because the Sylvania model runs Windows CE, it doesn’t necessarily mean the North Korean laptop has the same software.)

Below are pictures of the two computers via North Korea Tech:

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TK5CHRSU6F55HOFD2GP7WUXEDM Tom M

    Since the Sylvania Netbook will also run Android 1.6 it should be possible to squeeze a small linux onto it.

  • http://profiles.google.com/sehar22sep sehar abbasi

    In one shot, eight workers could be seen sitting in front of a long,
    green bench carrying out tasks such as installing the keyboard and
    checking the laptop hinge. In another shot, a worker appeared to be
    testing a new laptop by scrolling through screens.
    http://www.electrocomputerwarehouse.com/

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great progress. North Korea should be more open to new tech.