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China firm eyes One Laptop per Child project

Posted: 22 Mar 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:OLPC project? Loongson microprocessor? China? ZhongKe?

Prototype of a laptop computer from One Laptop per Child program

Banking on machines powered by the locally-designed Loongson microprocessor, a PC maker in China is looking to get in on the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project. The PCs would be used in China and made by ZhongKe Menglan Electronics Technology Co., a government-backed firm. The company said it is reaching out to the OLPC project and is focusing on performance as a selling point.

ZhongKe believes the 800MHz Loongson 2E CPU is technically superior to the 366MHz AMD Geode GX2-500 currently used in the project, but because just-enough performance is a key part of the project, touting a faster chip (with a higher power budget) probably isn't enough. So ZhongKe is also trying to persuade backers of the project that it will be able to facilitate distribution and service in China because of its familiarity with local supply chains.

Nicholas Negroponte, the man behind OLPC, visited China last July to promote the project, but there's still no definitive plan for expansion in the country. Like many developing nation's, China's poor children have bigger problems than access to cheap laptopsfor instance, in rural areas, just getting basic teaching tools like desks and chairs is still a headache.

ZhongKe may also have trouble providing low-cost Loongson processors, since the processor's designer, Beijing-based BLX IC Design, lacks the economy of scale needed to produce ultracheap processors.

Using different suppliers and architectures may also be a challenge. The OLPC is a standardized, uniform platform based on the x86 architecture. The Loongson 2E is similar to a MIPS architecture.

Quanta Computer, the Taiwan-based ODM chosen for OLPC, said last month it has received orders to make 1 million $100 laptops for the project. For now, the cost is around $130. That's expected to drop to $100 by 2008 when it begins mass production.

- Cai Yan
EE Times

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