Laptops

Cheat Sheet: The $100 laptop

Update: Getting a handle on wind-up computers

It's green and has a handle - is it a watering can?
No, it's the $100 laptop. Basically some clever types are trying to build a load of laptops for poor children who can't afford to get on the internet.

That's a nice idea...
Sure is. But it's not available yet. Although it won't be for sale in shops, you could see this hit the world at the end of this year or the beginning of next.

How can you make a laptop that sells for $100?
According to MIT Media Lab, it's because monitors are getting cheaper. The laptops only use a fraction of the software that most computers run and by manufacturing in real bulk - a hundred million is the aim - they hope to save a bit of cash.

So what do you get for your money?
You get a Linux-based operating system, a dual-mode display, a 500MHz processor, 128MB of DRAM and 500MB of Flash memory.

There's no hard disk but it will have four USB ports and wireless broadband that can mesh network.

Oh and a wind-up handle.

It'll do most things but you can't really save any data on it.

Who is making them and who is behind the scheme?
A Taiwanese firm, Quanta Computer, is the design manufacturer.

The idea was developed by a not-for-profit organisation called One Laptop per Child (OLPC) - set up by the MIT Media Lab. Nicholas Negroponte is chairman of that organisation.

The companies backing the scheme include AMD, Google, News Corporation, Nortel and Red Hat.

How and when can I get me one?
You probably can't unless you're a disadvantaged child, or you work for one of the companies making them or in the education business.

These machines are to be sold to governments – one for every child.

Kids in Brazil were the first to get their hands on the $100 gadget when 50 devices were dished out in November 2006.

Other countries that intend to equip children with the low-cost laptops include Libya which has 1.2 million on order and due to be delivered in mid-2007.

The OLPC project recently denied reports it received four million orders from Argentina, Brazil and Thailand.

But surely we should be shipping over help and not hardware to developing countries?
It's true some critics of the project, including the Indian education secretary believe the money invested in the $100 gadgets would be better off spent on more traditional materials.

Just to pour more salt into the OLPC's well-meaning wounds, the project was further criticised when the first $100 laptop prototype was showcased with a price tag of $150 last year. The OLPC foundation hopes to get this figure to less than the $100 mark by 2008.

But Negroponte rejects the idea the developing world does not need a low-cost laptop. He told silicon.com: "People say if a child is malnourished, he doesn't have drinking water, he's sick, why do you want to give him a laptop? Substitute the word 'education' for 'laptop' and you'll never ask that question again."


The $100 laptop

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