OLPC XO-1 Review: A Laptop for the Masses

The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative has finally released its XO-1 laptop. For a $200 donation, it will send one to a child in a developing country that doesn’t have the means to buy one. You currently can’t get an XO-1 of your own, at least not without paying for 100 or more of them.

Technology- wise, the XO-1 is a study in contrasts. Its sub-500-MHz processor, 256MB of RAM, and 1GB of flash storage are puny by today’s standards (though fine for its target audience of 6- to 12-year olds). Other features, such as its networking capability, LED-backlit screen, and ruggedized exterior are things we’ve seen in $2.000 notebooks.

The two antennas serve as both screen latches and port covers, shielding the three USB ports as well as the headphone and microphone jacks. The XO-1 is Wi-Fi enabled, compatible with 802.11b/g, and capable of 802.11s mesh networking, in which the laptop acts as a node in a P2P network.

The laptop’s 7.5-inch screen can pivot 180 degrees into an e-Book mode. The interface is built on Fedora Linux. A taskbar at the bottom displays icons for functions such as Chat, Browse, Write, Paint, and Calculate, as well as open-source, educational programs. Among the more advanced are the TamTam music-creation program, and TurtleArt and Pippy, this programs will teach computer programming. The browser, a tweaked version of Firefox, supports Flash and AJAX-based sites.

The XO-1’s green-and-white frame is resistant to water, tumbles, and temperature extremes. The keyboard is very responsive. The XO-1 uses so little power that any 8-to-11-volt power system (hand generator, solar panel, or car battery) is enough to run it. I measured power usage at 18 warts while the battery was charging and 6W when charged. (Even an energy-efficient value desktop draws 60 to 100W.)

Millions of kids around the world have never used a computer and lack the means to get one. Putting the power of technology into their hands, and those of their families, has the potential of both improving their standard of living and moving us toward a true global village. And who knows? The Xo-1’s success may change the future of laptops in the U.S. as well.

OLPC XO-1 Review
- 433-MHz AMD Geode LX-700 processor
- 256MB 333-MHz DDR SDRM
- 1GB flash storage
- Integrated graphics
- 7,5-inch LCD screen
- Fedora Core 7 Linux

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