US$100 laptops to roll off production lines in Q2 2007

Manufacturer expects to produce 10 million laptops in the first year of production

The US$100 (NZ$151) laptop PC at the heart of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative aimed at school children in developing countries will start rolling off production lines in the second quarter of next year.

Taiwan's Quanta Computer, the largest contract notebook PC manufacturer in the world, was tapped by the OLPC project to produce the low-cost devices, and says it's gearing up to play its part.

Although the final numbers will depend on how many orders come in for the US$100 laptops, Quanta expects to produce 10 million of the devices in the first year of production, says a company representative.

The OLPC group, led by Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of OLPC and a cofounder of the MIT Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, plans to offer the low-cost laptops to governments and organisations around the world as an educational tool to ensure school children in poor nations keep up in the digital age. A number of academic and industry groups worked together on the project to come up with the US$100 laptop design.

An improvement to inexpensive LCD display technology was key to pushing the cost of the laptop so low, according to the OLPC website. OLPC improved LCD displays commonly found on inexpensive DVD payers, resulting in a laptop screen costing US$35. Normally, such screens make up hundreds of dollars of the cost of a notebook PC.

OLPC also reduced the amount of software in the laptops, cutting the fat out of the system. "Today's laptops have become obese. Two-thirds of their software is used to manage the other third, which mostly does the same functions nine different ways," the OLPC website says.

In addition, the group believes that mass producing the laptops in very large numbers will keep costs down. The group has said it will not begin production until 5 million to 10 million of the laptop PCs had been paid for in advance.

The US$100 machine will run the Linux OS on a 500MHz microprocessor from Advanced Micro Devices, will be wireless broadband-ready, and contain 128MB of DRAM and 500MB of flash memory for storage. The only major component missing will be a big hard disk, according to the group.

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