Using The XO Laptop

The XO Laptop, also known as 100-dollar laptop or Children’s Machine, is an affordable laptop developed by the non-profit organization One Laptop Per Child with a goal of distributing these computers to children in developing countries.

The XO Laptop was made available to the U.S. market on November 12, 2007 as part of the “Get One, Give One” promo that encourages consumers to buy one laptop and donate the second laptop to a child in the developing world at $399 a pair. During this 7-week program, OLPC announced that the organization sold over 170,000 XO laptops. Since then, OLPC continued donation-based promotions, such as buying a $199 laptop to give away, donating a used car to pay for multiple laptops or offering monetary donations.

XO Laptop Specifications

For a laptop called $100-laptop, many people were intrigued how the OLPC developed such a low-cost machine. To learn more about the controversial laptop, take a glimpse of the design, power consumption and usage:

1. Design – The first XO laptop weighed 3.2 pounds with the battery included. It is half the size and weight of a standard laptop.

  • Case – The plastic white and green case that features a dotted pattern is dustproof and waterproof. OLPC boasts that the XO laptop has been dropped with the antennas up from 5 feet with no damages. The carry handle provide a space for kids to tie a string or scarf to the laptop, giving them a way to carry the laptop over the shoulder. On the back of the laptop is the two-colored “XO,” which has over 400 different color combinations to reduce the odds of two students owning identical laptops.

2. Display – The laptop features a low-power, 7.5” LCD display that features two modes, colored and black-and-white. The resolution of the colored mode is 800×600 (133dpi), while black-and-white mode has 1200×900 resolution (200dpi). The XO display was designed for outdoor classrooms, so the screen is still readable on the black-and-white mode, even in direct sunlight. For e-book or gaming mode, the screen has the ability to swivel 180 degrees. There are buttons on the lower part of the screen that look like game controllers.

3. Video Camera – Located on the right side of the screen is a 640×480-resolution video camera that can capture both still and motion. It also allows users to chat with other users connected to the internet and within the mesh network.

4. Keyboard – OLPC revealed that the XO laptop keyboard was dunked in water for ten minutes and received no damages. The green rubber sealed keyboard was designed for a child’s hand. It is available in traditional QWERTY layout and has configurations for languages such as Spanish, Arabic, Urdu and Thai. A slider key located at the top left of the keyboard shows the user who else is connected to the mesh network. A touchpad is also available to be used as a drawing tablet.

5. Internal Hardware – The XO laptop is powered by AMD 433 MHz processor, a 256MB SDRAM memory and with a 1GB flash storage.

  • Storage – For the XO laptop to weigh as light and as low-powered as it is, there is no cooling fans, no CD or DVD, no hard drive and no other moving parts on the XO laptop. For storage, the XO laptop has a 1GB flash memory, which can be expanded via an SD memory card slot located underneath the screen.
  • Processor – The AMD-made chip with a built-in graphics card has a speed of only 433MHz, which is slower compared to basic laptops. However, it is designed to be energy efficient, shutting down automatically by itself when nothing changes on the screen. It turns back on when it is needed.

6. Software – The XO laptop has a customized Linux operating system developed by Red Hat. The OS takes up only 130MB of space. Since the OS is open source, OLPC is hoping that children will develop new programs with the code. It includes basic programs such as Firefox, a word processor, a media player, a PDF reader, music creation tools, drawing programs and games. The interface used is called “Sugar,” which has a distinctive white, round circle in the middle called the “Doughnut.” As multiple programs are opened, their respective icons appear on the doughnut. When the doughnut is full, no other programs can be used simultaneously.

7. Power Supply – The XO comes several battery choices, all of which are designed to maintain the goal of keeping the laptop low-powered. OLPC offers two choices of rechargeable batteries – which can hold their charge 4x than standard laptops – at $10 a pop. The XO laptop can also be recharged with an 18W power adapter, used preferably in areas with electricity supply. In areas without electricity, the laptop can be recharged using a solar panel, a foot pedal, a hand crank or a pull-string recharger. Schools are also encouraged to buy ‘group recharging stations.’ The small battery compartment is located at the bottom of the unit.

8. Connectivity – The Wi-Fi adapter supports basic wireless protocols used in offices and home computers.

  • Wi-Fi – When closed, the “laptop’s rabbit ears” or the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi antennas lock the laptop and cover the data ports. To conserve battery power, the Wi-Fi adapter operates without the main processor, but uses its own customized low-power chip. The wireless connection of the XO laptop is pretty impressive because two laptops can communicate and pass information, even if more than 2 kilometers apart. If any laptop is switched on within the range of an internet connection, all other laptops in the network can share the access, but those farthest from the connection will have to suffer from the slowest internet speed.
  • Data Ports – Three USB ports are available on the XO laptop – for the headphone, microphone and USB jacks – located on the left side of the display. On the right side are two more USB jacks. The Wi-Fi antenna covers these ports when the laptop is closed, keeping them free from dust and water.

XO Laptop Review: Pros and Cons

The XO laptop comes with a 30-day warranty should the hardware fail. OLPC does not offer extended warranty packages. However, bulk orders by governments are given support contracts to ensure all units ordered can be repaired.

The XO laptop has a lot of features to like for a child’s educational computer, and for a system designed to provide kids from developing countries a chance to get hands-on computer education. Some of the impressive features of the XO laptop include its innovative wireless mesh networking, tough build, energy management technology, lightweight and small size, an intuitive interface, creative use of ports and buttons.

However, the XO laptop also has its disadvantages, such as the inability to upgrade hardware and update software, the short warranty period, the difficulty in typing on the keyboard and the unavailability to support .Doc format. The XO laptop also loads extremely slow on rich websites, such as those on Flash and multimedia features are not powerful enough to play videos, and playing songs usually skips intermittently.

A disappointing thing about the XO laptop is that it comes without a manual. It includes two pieces of paper, one that explains the hardware and software features and a thank-you note from OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte. The best alternative to an XO documentation is the user-compiled Wikipedia.org article with detailed answers to some of the most common XO questions. Unfortunately, since volunteers post the tutorials and documentation online, there is no way to verify accuracy of information. The only good move that OLPC made when it comes to tech support is that it provided a toll-free phone number for those in need of support.

Bottom line: OLPC started the project with the goal of bringing computer-based learning and the Internet to children ages six to twelve who would otherwise have no hope of touching a computer. For its purpose, the laptop can be surprisingly useful to its target audience. Advanced computer users thinking of using the XO laptop as an alternative to standard notebook computers should just stay with their current systems because the XO has certain limitations not suitable for high-level use.

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