Intel is expanding its vision for the low-cost laptop company engineers initially designed for school children in poor countries.

The company is pushing to bring the second generation of the Classmate PC to schools and retail outlets in the United States and Europe this year, according to Agnes Kwan, a spokeswoman for Intel.

"For the past 18 months, we were very much focused on classrooms in emerging markets," Kwan told Computerworld. "But we do have a select number in mature markets and we've been getting really good feedback in those mature markets."

Kwan noted that Intel has been getting a lot of interest in the Classmate PC from educators in the US, as well as from people interested in buying the laptop for home use.

"The schools in the US are interested in getting a rugged and affordable design, as well as a fully functional computer," she added. "The kids in the mature markets have largely had experience with technology and they expect more features and memory, more power. We're working those expectations into the new design, as well."

The second generation of the Classmate PC, which was designed by Intel and has been sold by vendors like India's HCL and Indonesia's Zyrex PC, should come in under $500, according to Kwan. The laptop runs on a Centrino processor now but Kwan noted that in the future it will run on Intel's Atom processors, a new family of low-power chips.

The 45 nanometre Atom chips, which were previously codenamed Silverthorne and Diamondville, are based on a new microarchitecture and are designed for small devices and simple internet-centric computers. The new processors are expected in the first half of this year.

Kwan said Intel sees the Classmate PCs as part of the company's so-called netbook category of computers, which consist of inexpensive, portable machines with small screens. The netbooks largely are focused on the education market.