Saturday, 13 October 2007

OLPC Alternatives

I'm always on the lookout for OLPC alternatives for Africa. It's actually rather tricky, for the following reasons:
  • You really need a low-powered device, something that can be powered by hand or via solar cells. This is because often in Africa the electricity isn't often reliable. Realistically a person could provide up to 466 Watts, so 15 minutes worth of effort can power a 50 Watt computer/display for up to 2.33 hours.
  • You need a system which can survive extreme conditions. That's another reason why it needs to be low-powered, because low-power means cool.
  • You need a system which uses pretty much off-the-shelf components: standard RAM, pretty much standard HDs.
  • You need a system which is low maintenance. This pretty much rules out sending old second-hand PCs. There's 2 reasons for this: replacement parts are hard to find and computing expertise is hard to find.
  • You need a system which has conventional interfaces: VGA, USB.
  • You need a system which is very cheap. The $100 laptop is currently at roughly $200 which is realistic to donate in 10s of units (£1000).
  • You need a system which is based on open source software, e.g Linux.
Not many computers fulfill these kind of criteria. One of them is the Asus eeePC.
Research machines are currently selling them for £169 each for the 2Gb version. However, they are for educational use only.

Another alternative is the FitPC.
Assuming we have to pay the full whack of $285 (£150) this means we can put together a cheap developing country PC for around £260 (£85 lcd display, £150 machine, £10 keyboard/ mouse, £20 Hand crank PSU).

However we can probably cut this down somewhat. If we sell it through a charity on a non-profit basis we can probably do it for half the price: $143 (£72) and then get the rest of it ex-vat, we get: £72+£98 = £170 for the machines themselves (we'd then have to transport them).

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