Users waiting for laptops based on Intel's forthcoming Atom chip can expect to see some models by the middle of the year. More than 25 low-cost notebooks are in the pipeline, including models from multinational PC vendors, according to one of Intel's top executives.

These Atom-based notebooks will be available in the middle of this year for about US$250 (£124) to $300 (£149), said Navin Shenoy, general manager of Intel's Asia-Pacific operations. "We'll see some slightly richer configurations that get up to $350 (£173)," he said.

The Atom processor, formerly called Diamondville, is a small, low-power chip designed for inexpensive notebooks, a class of device that Intel and others refer to as netbooks. These machines are intended for first-time computer buyers in emerging markets as well as users in mature markets willing to trade performance for a low-cost notebook that complements their existing computers - a market that until now has been largely dominated by Asustek's Eee PC.

Atom will offer lower performance than Intel's Core 2 Duo processors for mainstream notebooks, but the Atom's performance will be good enough for browsing the Internet and sending emails, Shenoy said.

Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner was more specific about the processor's capabilities last month, telling reporters that a related chip, called Silverthorne, offers performance similar to Banias, the first version of Intel's Pentium M processor released in 2003. Silverthorne is designed for small, handheld computers that Intel calls Mobile Internet Devices, and will be available as part of the Centrino Atom chip package set for release during the second quarter.