Well the spec is hardly earth shattering for starters, a clock speed of 1GHz, 256MB of DDR memory and a 40GB hard drive. No Intel Inside either, or AMD for that matter. Instead your cheap PC will be driven by the BLX Godson CPU, a chip whose architecture is very similar to MIPS and said to be 95% MIPS-compatible. Perhaps the biggest catch is that you will have to be a school or local government in China to get one of the machines, manufactured by ZhongKe Menglan Electronics Technology Co., Ltd.
That and the fact that it will cost as much as $200. Apparently, the first batch of 2000 units will cost that, with the price dropping as the numbers increase.
But it’s not all bad news, because the YellowSheepRiver "Municator" is available now, well they will build you one with a three month lead-time, for $150. Wait a bit longer and the MIT ‘One Laptop Per Child’ vision of the $100 lappy could well be a reality if production at the Quanta Computer of Taiwan plant ever gets started. Mind you, Intel Chairman Craig Barret has already described the OLPB design as being a one hundred buck gadget, rather than a proper computer. Oh, and lately that $100 price tag seems to have climbed up to between $130 and $150.
What about UK inventor Trevor Bayliss, the man behind the clockwork radio? He has been known to be working on ideas for a cheap wind-up PC for many years now, but again nothing has ever come of it. The last I heard from Bayliss he was saying that low powered screen technology was the main stumbling block on availability and likely component cost fronts.
Yet surely the truly affordable, and that means by third world not our standards, PC cannot be that far away? After all, look how much a mobile phone cost when they first came to market, anything up to $4000 if my memory serves me well, and now they are pretty much considered a give-away, loss leader, commodity. Why can the same not happen with the humble PC, and why has it not happened already?
The answer, I suggest, is greed. Not just financial greed either, but a kind of appetite for technological advance that fails to appreciate not everyone requires cutting edge technology. An old legacy PC that we might confine to the scrapheap is perfectly capable of getting onto the Internet and serving as an essential educational aid in third world schools. Lose the bloated operating systems and get back to basics and the concept of ‘One Laptop Per Child’ doesn’t look so daft after all.
The good folk at TIER (Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions) seem to have a better handle on all of this than the vast majority of technology innovators, entrepreneurs and established bigwigs that I have spoken to.
“The aim of the TIER project is to address the challenges in bringing the Information Technology revolution to the masses of the developing regions of the world. Historically, most projects that aim to do this rely on technology that was developed for the affluent world, but these imported technologies fail to address key challenges in cost, deployment, power consumption, and support for semi- and illiterate users.”
“TIER focuses on developing a hardware/software infrastructure explicitly designed for the physical, political and economic realities of developing areas. It will build on existing research at Berkeley and elsewhere, but also face a number of new technical and organizational challenges. This project addresses these challenges with novel technology, while validating the impact of through real-world deployments.”
Check out the TIER blog for more details.