One Laptop Per Child dumps AMD for VIA
The One Laptop Per Child folks have found new brains for the $199 laptop that wants to change the world.
OLPC will keep the look and feel of its current XO laptop (which we reviewed last January), but will replace its end-of-the-line AMD Geode LX-700 with a low-power VIA C7-M. The Geode was x86-compatible, and so is the C7-M.
The "refresh" was announced by John Watlington, OLPC's hardware-development chief, and it answers the question that many OLPC-watchers had been asking since it became clear late last year that AMD wasn't going to compete in the low end of the netbook market. The writing was on the wall: The Geode line was not going to enjoy any further development.
Not only is the OLPC group moving to a new, equally power-miserly processor, it's using the switch as an opportunity to give other elements of the XO a hefty upgrade. The new version, XO 1.5, will look the same as its predecessor - we'll have to wait until XO 2.0 to see if the next offering will be a less jarring-but-unmistakable green - but inside will be a number of welcome improvements.
Perhaps even more important than the C7-M will be its support chip, the VIA VX855 Media System Processor. This low-power, small footprint chip provides DirectX 9.0-capable graphics, eight-channel 192kHz HD audio, support for two DDR2 memory channels, and hardware acceleration for assorted video codecs, including H.264, MPEG-2/4, DivX, and WMV9. According to VIA, the VX855 is capable of "smooth playback of high bit-rate 1080p HD video."
There will be more room inside to store audio and video as well. The original XO had a 1GB flash drive. The new version will come with either 4GB or 8GB. RAM will be boosted from a meager 256MB to 1GB, and the wireless networking hardware will be upgraded to a 400mW Marvell 88W8686 and made field-replaceable.
OLPC is also working with the manufacturer of their laptop's display, PixelQi, to improve its brightness. After all, not every kid is fortunate enough to go to school indoors.
You've got to hand it to OLPC. They've endured layoffs, doubts from folks who suggest that cheap netbooks are just as good, and competition from companies who tout virtualization as a better way to get more kids in front of more screens.
Through it all, the good people at OLPC have kept their laser focus on empowering kids in the developing world. Well, at least when they're not building hella-sexy electric motorcycles. ®
But will it run Linux?
From what I recall, the VIA line of GPUs isn't exactly Linux-friendly, to say the least. Now, VIA claim the VX855 supports Linux - but they claim that about a lot of their hardware that doesn't have any sort of usable Linux graphics drivers.
Also, the original OLPC had a custom firmware with all sorts of neat features designed for easy deployment and upgrading. Are they dropping that?
Plus, the release announcement says the new hardware doesn't support mesh networking, at least not yet.
Electronic media does not do complicated, involved, reasoned arguments well. It does do quick, short, high-impact and emotional content well.
That's great for MTV, ADD sufferers and advertisers, but less useful for learning and analyzing the economic and social origins of the second world war and comparing them to our current worldwide position. I think we need more thoughtful reflection.
Stimulation != education; even knowledge accumulation != education.
As far as my child's academics are concerned, I look for comprehensive analysis based on a reasonable knowledge-base based on wide-ranging investigation. She should be learning how to learn. I want her to learn to operate independently, not rely mostly on google or wikipedia whose results may be driven by advertising or merely a feedback loop.
Plus, books don't auto-destruct when the ambient temperature hits 40 degrees centigrade and won't be used for playing donkey kong instead of homework. They don't need power or wifi. They usually last more than 3-4 years and have a lower environment impact than electronics in their manufacture and biodegradability. Marauding warlords and corrupt government officials tend not to steal them. Their physical nature means I can check them for appropriateness and remove any concerned mainly with the relative merits of the undiscovered country and the wrath of khan or Beverly Hills 90210 and twilight. While I tend not to pay much attention or give much credence to the wackier end of the internet, "grooming" is pretty difficult with a book.
When it comes to creating work, the process of thinking about and planning what you wish to say before writing is important. Writing "all I know" about a subject and then re-arranging it to fit the question is to be discouraged. Pen and paper help with this. Word-processors do not.
As something awful says - the internet makes you stupid.
Laptops for children...
I don't have any issues with the laptop - and think it does well to be introducable to a number of poverty striken countries. Althouhg infrastructure, such as data centres for content, wifi, fibre/LAN connections, etc might cost a lot to implement and just fill the purses of firms.
I have a serious concern over the push for governments to introduce laptops to children in order to provide "education". Most of the educational needs (in 3rd world and latin america) could be provided by other non ICT means and through allowing the children to participate in their environments. Sitting a child (from any walk of life) for 7 hours infront of a small screened laptop isn't going to increase their real world knowledge in the long run. Most governments (especially in 3rd world) could utilise the laptops to provide propaganda or biased information to impressionable children.
There are ICT programmes such as NotSchool which provide ICT services to children in the UK out of school. If run correctly they can mostly work.
A quick google search shows the vision of ICT in education...
I noticed in the search that the UK has big plans for ICT and schooling. Perhaps they will be providing the OLPC to UK children in the longer term?
A laptop for every child???
Seriously... whatever happened to educating kids... pencils, paper, crayons, paste... I'm still trying to convince a friend tha putting his child in front of the tv with 'educational' videos isn't going to make her smart. He actually has to get off his lazy butt and spend time with her. These laptops aren't going to make a difference, just more landfill down the road for no real productive reason. Is the rest of the world really in a hurry to develop the American ideal of putting up the least amount of effort to accomplish something as important as education???
Sounds like a very capable machine. 8-channel 192kHz sound is obviously overkill on a laptop (44.1 stereo is still adequate for studio-quality audio production) but if the chipset is as power-efficient as its predecessor, then why not provide the option ?
I hope the OLPC Foundation allow the sale of these in the developed world as a means of raising funds - I'd be very interested in having a hack around on such an interesting piece of kit.