My new evaluation Linux Classmate arrived last night and, much to my youngest son's delight, it was purple. Much to my delight, this particular machine worked flawlessly out of the box, unlike the previous Linux-based Classmate I test drove. Intel's thoughts on the problems? It's a beta OS. Fair enough, although I was very excited to hear that they had recently signed an agreement with Canonical to have Ubuntu qualified to run on the Classmate. Personally, I'd really like to see Xubuntu loaded on one of these machines; performance on older machines (a P3 in my basement, for example) is really impressive using the Xfce desktop environment, coupled with Canonical's operating system.
Enough about the particular religion to which I think the Classmate should subscribe, though. The point is that it works and works well. Does it work as well as the Windows machine that has been the subject of most of my Classmate reviews? At first blush, it seems comparable, but I really need to compare startup times, application load times, etc. My five year old only noticed the difference in color. I'll have to let my older kids and students bang away on the little purple laptop today and this weekend for a better assessment.
There are a few features I discovered while reading the manual last night (I had to wait for said five year old to relinquish the laptop); none of these features are specific to the Linux or Windows Classmates. All relate to its upgradability. While the system comes standard with 256MB RAM, it is compatible with most 200 pin, 1.8 volt DDR2 SDRAM, up to 1 GB. Similarly, the stock 2GB flash-based storage device can be upgraded as larger sizes become available/cost effective. This solid state drive can be replaced by a 1.8 inch PATA laptop hard drive. While this would decrease its reliability in terms of drops and bumps, it would drastically increase its storage capabilities. This might make a lot of sense in areas where students may take the laptops out of the range of a file server or wireless connectivity frequently.
Finally, the laptop includes a hidden 2-in-1 memory card reader, supporting SD and MMC memory cards. It's hidden underneath the outside jacket and is held firmly in place by the jacket when the laptop is closed. With 2 and 4GB SD cards becoming fairly cheap and common now, this is probably the most sensible way to upgrade storage.
I've created a brief gallery showing the upgradable bits of the new Classmate. Expect more Windows vs. Linux performance numbers next week now that I have 2 functioning laptops at my disposal.