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Small and inexpensive notebooks designed primarily for schoolchildren — particularly in developing countries — have been a hot topic ever since Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project began in 2005. Production XO laptops (above, left) became available in November 2007.
OLPC is a not-for-profit organisation, whereas Intel, which notoriously joined and then exited the OLPC project, most definitely is not. Nevertheless, Intel's World Ahead program has the laudable aim of 'connecting the next billion people to uncompromised technology around the world', and part of that program is a low-cost notebook platform called Classmate (above, centre).
ASUS's Eee (above, right) has proven extremely popular since its mid-2007 launch. Designed in conjunction with Intel, the Eee has a broader remit than the OLPC and the Classmate in that it's less specifically targeted at developing countries and therefore less rugged. In the UK, the Eee is distributed by RM as the RM Asus miniBook.
In the following pages we take a comparative pictorial look at the OLPC XO, Intel Classmate and ASUS Eee.
Photo credit: Charles McLellan
The Intel Classmate (centre) is the bulkiest of the three notebooks, measuring 24.5cm wide by 19.6cm deep by 4.4cm high. The OLPC XO has the biggest footprint (24.2cm x 22.8cm), while the ASUS Eee is the baby of the bunch at 22.5cm by 16.5cm by 3.5cm. The Eee is also the lightest of the trio by some distance, weighing 920g, compared to 1.45kg for both the XO and the Classmate. In terms of overall stylishness the Eee is the winner, but the XO and the Classmate are both more rounded and rugged, and come with carrying handles.
The OLPC XO has the biggest screen, an innovative 7.5in. dual-mode transmissive/reflective LCD that can swivel from traditional clamshell mode to 'e-book' mode with the screen facing outwards, tablet-style (although it's not a touch-screen). The Classmate and Eee both have similar, rather cramped, 7in. TFT displays.
There are three different operating systems on view here: the XO runs a Red Hat Fedora 6-based version of Linux and the Sugar graphical user interface (GUI); the Classmate runs Windows XP (although some Linux distributions are also supported); and the Eee runs a Xandros-based Linux distribution (with Windows XP also now available).
The XO's keyboard is a waterproof membrane-style unit, while the Classmate and Eee have more traditional, if small, keyboards.
The left-hand sides of the three notebooks all carry a pair of audio jacks (mic/headphone) and a USB port; the Classmate and Eee add an RJ-45 Ethernet connector and a fan intake — features missing from the wireless-only, passive-cooled OLPC XO. The latter's ear-like antennas cater for 802.11s mesh networking as well as standard 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connectivity (also supported in the Classmate and Eee).
The connector for the XO's 12V AC adapter is also on the left-hand side: the notebook is designed to work with off-grid power sources such as solar panels and car batteries; a human-powered 'yo-yo' pull-cord generator has also been designed, although this is not yet widely available.
Another unusual feature of the XO is its microphone input, which can also be used to measure voltage and resistance, allowing sensors to be plugged in and their output recorded by the included Measure application (or 'activity' in OLPC's terminology).