Intel shows off Classmate PC at IDF

April 18, 2007 // 6:02 a.m.

Tags: #classmate #intel #laptop #notebook #pc #toughbook

While the Classmate PC won’t be winning any design awards, it is still a groovy little number. It’s designed to be ultra cheap and although it may look to be taking on the $100 laptop that isn’t quite the case.

Intel provides a complete solution, but also has a different approach to providing under-privileged people or those from remote communities a chance to education through computation.

The Classmate notebook PC is a 245x196x44mm customised chassis of plastic and weighs around 1.45KG. However, unlike most ultra-light notebooks, the Classmate has a heavy duty appearance. While it’s no Toughbook, it should withstand the general day to day abuse of travel and education systems.

It’s powered by an Intel ULV 900MHz, single core mobile processor that doesn’t include L2 cache. It also has an Intel 915GMS and ICH6-M chipset, a 256MB DDR2 SO-DIMM, 7” 800x600 LED backlit display and either 1GB (with Linux) or 2GB (with Windows XP) flash on board. You also get stereo audio with microphone input, Fast Ethernet (100Mbit/sec) and 802.11b/g WiFi. The battery is six-cell and allows for around four hours of use.

It even includes a customised note taker with wireless pen and IR receiver module that works exceptionally well. While hand writing recognition on a tablet is always kind of funky in a more fully integrated and gadgetry sense, you do have to write in an unusual way or speed to get it to pick up on some devises.

At least this way you get exactly what you’ve put down (great for scientists and mathematicians when the software can’t recognise formulae) rather than try and get an expensive gadget to work at the cost of saving a few pages of paper.

There is also a customisable backing to it, which is held in with poppers and there are also several colours available to provide some customisation as well. This does come across a little Disney and additional cost for no reason, the colours can be used for easy identification and it acts like a cushioned cover keeping the PC inside more secure.

It's certainly more rugged than a MacBook. After Wil managed to kill his during an incident with some flying coffee over his keyboard the unit completely died. In comparison, you can apparently do the same thing with the Classmate PC and the liquid just pours straight off without damaging the internal components.

It has no hard drive, and 2GB of flash is extremely limiting but it’s only designed for documents and browsing the Internets. The lack of L2 cache makes the CPU far cheaper to produce, but this and 256MB of memory should have given it quite crippling performance. I expect if you tried anything more complicated than the simple tasks we were doing while playing with it, it might have croaked a little. Having said that, the hand writing recognition was very nippy, as was the loading of the basic set of windows programs installed.

The biggest “annoyance” was the teeny LCD screen that meant the desktop needed to be scrolled, but in retrospect, having this or little to no education at all I’d know what I’d choose.

Pakistan has invested in 100,000 units for its Open University system, that will allow people in remote areas of the country to be able to still obtain an education without having to travel to the big (and expensive) cities.

Priced at $200-$250 that’s more than double the price of the $100 laptop project, and one could argue that Pakistan’s OU could have received 200,000 laptops for students if it had gone for the cheaper model.

It’s not just going to benefit students though, as teaching staff will also benefit from the additional organisation and universal contact method that the Classmate PC can provide. As we all know, staying in contact is far easier and cheaper through the Internet than other methods, given an available connection though.

The notebook is particularly aimed at “second world” countries, like South America, India, Pakistan, Mexico and some parts of China, that have a comparatively lower standard of living but are still reasonably technologically advanced. To many, $200 is still a lot of money in these countries, but traditionally they have a family orientation is such that the aspiration for your children to do better through education means that this should be a highly sought after product. It was why the original $100 laptop was conceived.

By introducing some form of competition it hopefully drives this movement forward and other key players in and around the same industry might take it seriously enough to join in as well. As we all know, competition breeds development and lowers prices so it could be all good for those who desperately need this kind of device, just as long as the focus on the benefit of education to the end user is kept completely clear.

Think it's a great idea to support developing countries like this, or is Intel simply in it for the money and should have just supported the $100 laptop instead? Let us know your thoughts.