2nd-generation Intel Classmates reviewed

2nd-generation Intel Classmates reviewed

Summary: I just love these little laptops, so here's another repost while I've "gone fishin'".Intel recently sent me two examples of their second-generation Classmate PC for testing.


I just love these little laptops, so here's another repost while I've "gone fishin'".

Intel recently sent me two examples of their second-generation Classmate PC for testing. The Classmates include numerous improvements on their already well-thought-out first-gen machines and mark the first versions that we can expect American and European OEMs to begin distributing in so-called mature markets.

My students, kids, and I spent quite a bit of time with the first generation Classmates, and all of us were impressed. Mini laptops (or "netbooks" as Intel has dubbed them) have their quirks and certainly aren't for everyone. However, there are few of us in education who couldn't find a lot of uses for cheap, highly portable, really rugged computing devices that get kids online, collaborating, and creating content. Frankly, there are a lot of adults (me included) who would rather toss a $300 semi-ruggedized netbook into my bag to take everywhere than always carry around my $1400 MacBook.

That being said, the second-generation Classmates were unveiled today at Intel's Developer Forum in Shanghai and, based on the few days I was able to spend pounding away on a couple of early machines last week, I think Intel (and the OEMs that end up distributing these machines in mature markets) are going to have a serious hit on their hands, especially in the educational and home markets. I've created a gallery of pictures of my two test machines and a video highlighting new features. Intel 2nd-gen ClassmateFirst off, let me give you the highlights of 2nd-generation models, including some extra details provided last week during a conversation with Intel spokeswoman, Agnes Kwan, and engineer, Jeff Galinovsky, who took a few minutes to speak with me about the new netbooks and answer some questions I had about their design choices.

Both machines I received were running Windows XP; we'll see how this evolves come June, but Intel will also be shipping me a Classmate loaded with Edubuntu shortly (the Edubuntu version was also unveiled at IDF). Previously, I had tested first-gen Classmates running Mandriva (loved it) and Metasys Linux (this was fine, but I didn't feel like it could compete with the look and feel of Mandriva). Performance from the 900MHz Celeron M's was quite acceptable, but no anti-malware software was running or installed. A Norton-style suite would not be advisable on these little guys; a combination of Windows Defender and Clamwin or AVG run periodically would be a much better choice (these have all been tested by Intel developers on the Classmates).

The netbooks also had half a gig of RAM installed; one of the features of this generation will be the ability to select from multiple SKUs depending upon your needs and the market, including larger or smaller amounts of RAM. Doubling the RAM from the previous first-gen Classmate provided a welcome performance and multi-tasking boost. I was able to capture video on the built-in webcam (another new feature), surf the web with multiple open windows, move files, and launch the built-in educational applications with no problem. It didn't multitask quite like my loaded MacBook, but that's not the intention.

Perhaps the most significant upgrade was the introduction of the 9" screen. While the 7" screen is still available, I found myself using the 9" model much more. 9 inches seems to be a real sweet spot for these machines, allowing them to retain the same form factor, but making the screens much more usable. 9? vs. my MacBook Herein, however, lies my only complaint with the Classmates. The native resolution is the same for both screens (800x480), leaving the 9" model feeling as if it wasn't being used to its full potential. Kids have good eyes - crank up the resolution so that they can make better use of the extra screen real estate. You can actually set the resolution to 1024x768 and pan across the screen, but this can get cumbersome. According to Intel, higher resolutions are in the works for Generation 3.

The 30GB PATA driveThe Classmates are still available with 1, 2, and 4GB solid state drives. However, the model I tested included a 30GB PATA drive. This was also a welcome addition, especially with the built-in webcam that makes it all too easy to fill up storage space. I asked the Intel engineer if this had compromised durability at all; he noted that as the computers get dropped from higher and higher locations, other things break before the hard drives. Check out the drop test at the end of the video embedded above.

Another particularly cool feature is the inclusion of full 802.11s (mesh networking). While this does not yet work on Windows XP, the Linux models support it now, enabling immediate collaboration among users, with or without an access point. It should be noted that Intel's primary intention here is not connection sharing, but easy ad hoc collaboration, file sharing, and even gaming as new software is added.

More details to come as additional announcements come out of IDF. For now, get ready for invasion of the Classmates.

Topics: Processors, Hardware, Intel, Networking, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Alternative OS

    This laptop looks good and rugged for its intended audience. However I feel Intel should allow the user to choose the installed OS such as linux, bsd etc

    It will also serve as a good thin client to run software from a central server

    • It's going to be up to OEMs

      Intel has partnered with several OSVs (most notably Canonical, Mandriva, and Metasys) to certify Linux distros on the Classmate. Whatever OEMs pick up the Classmate and begin selling it to consumers/educators will have to decide which distros to offer.

    • User choice of OS is fine for geeks like us ...

      ... but in emerging markets, target users know little, if anything, about computers. They need functionality more than they need choice. That's why it needs to be left up to OEMs and the governments purchaisng these devices as to which OS best meets their needs. Hopefully, educators are included in this decision but we cannot count on that.
      M Wagner
  • CRE 2nd-generation Intel Classmates reviewed..

    Way cool for school. Last years was such a hoakes when it was ran on PBS in South America..what a pizza! Not anymore; what is the size of the hard-drive? USB ports?
    • specs...

      30GB hard drive
      512MB RAM
      2 USB ports
      SD card reader
      Fast wired Ethernet
      802.11b/g/s wireless

      Good stuff!

  • RE: 2nd-generation Intel Classmates reviewed

    If I don't get one, I'll hold my breath till I turn blue!!~!
    • Intell vs OLPC

      The new Classmate looks nice, but let us remember that Intel is pursuing a different strategy than OLPC. Intel is following the standard oem strategy of uping the hardware specs every year or two, and keeping the price constant.

      OLPC, on the other hand, is keeping the hardware specs constant so the price keeps droping, eventually reaching something like $50 in a few years.

      The result is that Intel will sell many millions of laptops, but OLPC reach a far larger group that can't possibly afford Intel's products, and so it is going to have a far greater positive impact on the world.

      Christopher, do you agree?
      • I agree that they are pursuing different strategies...

        but I'm not so sure about the pricing issue. Intel will be rolling Atom processors into these machines shortly, driving costs down further, while keeping other components competitive and inexpensive.

        Intel's goal remains to get really cheap laptops into the hands of kids who can't afford them (hence, their low-end SKUs) and cheap laptops into mature markets where the higher-end components are affordable and feasible. One could actually argue that this sort of market segmentation will allow for greater benefit than OLPC, although I don't think I'll go there.

        I will say that this platform now offers greater potential for penetration into all markets than the OLPC. Whether that ultimately is better for the world, I don't know. I do know that OLPC is working hard to build their software stack and train users (a good thing), but that Intel has consistently pursued markets in which an educational infrastructure already exists, ensuring that the opportunity costs of rolling out the Classmates is not too high.

        At any rate, this market is going to explode in the next 5 years. There is a lot of room for competition, as well as for many different approaches.

        • But, What is OLPC Up To

          There has not been a lot of new news out of the OLPC crowd lately. Last semester a couple of my grad students received a couple of OLPC loaners and they were pretty nice machines considering the market they were intended for. Does OLPC have an answer?
          • From what I understand

            their goal is to get training and the server side of XO deployments handled better. No new hardware is forthcoming, although that isn't necessarily a bad thing - aside from performance issues, the hardware is quite well-suited to the target market, as you pointed out.

  • Resolution not even enough for requesters

    Open up Windows display properties on a 480 pixel screen and you'll notice you can't click on the OK button unless the taskbar is hidden. This is the acid test of resolution. The 9-inch Asus EEE has a higher screen-res and is the winner for me.
  • Linux FTW - Mesh Networking

    First, that's cool that it supports mesh wireless. Second, it would be cool to see it next to an OLPC or an Asus Eee PC for scale since those are closer competitors than the MacBook. Finally, it's imporant to remember the OLPC is not about selling laptops. It's about education and cheap laptop is their best way of working toward that. Intel mainly wants to sell chips.
  • RE: 2nd-generation Intel Classmates reviewed

    Thanks Chris for sharing your reviews of the Classmates. This really is as exciting as the Educator 64's from Commodore many years ago.
    They certainly make a good jumping point into the real world. I can even see schools investing $300 into a student say around middle school age, by giving them something that they could use through graduation, especially given the proliferation of web applications that aren't limited by the horsepower behind the browser.
    • I agree...

      It's only been with the advent of the Classmate (and, to a lesser extent, the XO because of system limitations) that 1:1 is really starting to make sense. It's an interesting time to be an educator, isn't it?

  • RE: 2nd-generation Intel Classmates reviewed

    The Classmate fits very well into targetted emerging markets -- especially those with a variety of needs which the XO just cannot meet.

    However, there is another angle here that Intel needs to pay attention to ... and maybe they are!

    In the industrialized world, there is a niche market in the cellular sector for compact near-handheld devices with full functionality. More and more people are leaving their $1,400 laptops at home in favor of BlackBerrys and iPhones but often they find these elegant (and expensive) devices lacking. How many would be happy to have a cellular-capable Intel Classmate instead?

    At the Classmate's price-point, it could be a serious alternative for those road warriors who are tired of lugging their $1,400 laptops around just to get at those resources which the small screens found on the BlackBerry and even the iPhone just don't deliver.

    By selling a cellular-equipped Classmate with a two-year contract at a smartphone pricepoint, Intel could reap enough profit to permit them to fund the emerging-markets side of the business. This could have the effect of driving the price of the Classmate down in those emerging markets.
    M Wagner
    • Can you say "Atom"?

      You're right on the money, Marc. As MIDs and Classmate-like devices become more ubiquitous, the sort of scenario you describe is going to make full-blown laptops far less relevant for students and business users alike.

  • RE: 2nd-generation Intel Classmates reviewed

    I see the specs above, what about weight, battery life, etc.?
    • More specs

      2.7 - 3.3 pounds depending upon battery and hard drive configurations. The solid state drives combined with the 4-cell battery gives the lowest weight. The 30GB hard drive and 6-cell battery max out the weight, but I was able to use it all day, much as a student would (open and closed throughout classes, word processing, web surfing, etc., wireless enabled). 5 hours of moderate usage is quite reasonable given what I experienced with the 6-cell battery.

  • RE: 2nd-generation Intel Classmates reviewed

    Hey, here's an idea...

    why not just stick computers in the classrooms and let the kids just head on down to the welfare office on the 1st day of kindergarten? After all, isn't the purpose of education the improvement of thinking machines rather than teaching children knowledge and how to think... for themselves?

    I see more technology thrown at students as the years go by, and I see more ignorant students. Enough already.
    Books. Paper. Tests. Sit there and be miserable and learn the knowledge shoved in front of you. You're not in school to be entertained or find pr0n on the intertubes.
    • I don't entirely disagree with you...

      However, I have also seen kids highly motivated by technology and learning both fundamentals and their extensions when the technology is used correctly. My own 5-year-old is pushing well ahead of his class in terms of reading because a particular bit of reading/spelling software has really clicked with him. An overloaded teacher is able to let him run with it while she works on remediation with other kids.

      I have also seen kids become so bogged down in software that they miss the point of a lesson. It just has to be done correctly. Tech for the sake of tech will never be advocated in this blog.