More good news? Getting the system up to a gig of RAM from its 512MB base only costs $15. The base hard drive is also a 16GB SSD, which should be quite reasonable for most applications. Jumping from 512MB of RAM to 2GB is only $45.
From there, however, things start adding up quickly. Dell requires that for users who want both Windows and Office they upgrade to 80GB hard drives. The company offers Vista Business as a $99 option (from their $399 base price when Windows XP Home is installed) but that just seems silly; the same price gets you a downgrade to XP Pro, but we're already looking at a $520 netbook at this point (including the 80GB hard drive upgrade to handle some sort of productivity software).
The bad news continues: Cool color beyond "Chalkboard Black" cost $15-$30 per netbook. That slick anti-microbial keyboard we've heard about (great idea, by the way)? $20 per netbook. The 6-cell battery? $25 a pop. An upgrade to Draft-N wireless speeds is another $15, while Bluetooth (increasingly used for educational probes and science hardware) is another $15. A built-in camera is $15 and the touchscreen is another $30.
While none of these are expensive options in and of themselves, a system running XP Pro, 1GB of RAM, the 80GB hard drive, the camera, touch screen, the larger battery to reduce recharging during the day, and N networking will run you $585 a piece. We're ignoring the germ-killing keyboard and Bluetooth and assuming we don't want more than the 1 year basic warranty. We're also assuming we'll use free anti-malware and OpenOffice. Finally, there is no educational software stack included in the now competitively-priced convertible Classmate, which has the added advantage of a tablet form factor, palm rejection, and a stylus for on-screen input.
I'm just not seeing it, folks. Anyone out there disagree with me? Even if we're not looking at Classmates and just want to spark a 1:1 initiative, this isn't the way to go; there are much cheaper ways to get computers into kids' hands. If anyone at Dell is reading this, feel free to send me out a sample and convince me otherwise.