Classmate PC: Intel's Two Hour-Long Joke

   
   
   
   
   
olpc future
I want to know more
Hello my name is Will Ahdoot and I have some experience with OLPC's XO but no hands-on experience with Intel's Classmate PC. I am very skeptical of the Classmate PC for a number of reasons but primarily because of the Veil of Secrecy that Intel keeps around it.

While some people feel that OLPC miscommunicates, Intel hardly communicates at all. We know hardly anything about the Classmate PC. There is nothing on the web beyond a few brisk product reviews and Intel's own pathetic "community" website that basically reviews it hardware and software specifications.

I was quite curious to read Tina Gasperson's review of the Classmate running Mandriva Linux . Apparently it comes w/ several learning applications such as Tux Typing, Club Penguin, a web browser (Konqueror?), and . . . that's it. Yup, no Block Party, no eToys, no TamTam, no OLPC Library. Wow, Intel's commitment to content is impressive! Most amazing about the Classmate is how long its battery lasts power -- Two whole hours!

classmate power outlet
See any power outlets around here?

That blows my socks off. The battery lasts for two hours. You've got to be kidding me. Kids using the Classmate PC will need to recharge theirs computers at least twice during the course of a six hour school day.

Compare this to the XO that can last a whopping 13 hours in eBook mode and 8 full hours under continuous use. Furthermore, OLPC has uber-Linux gurus such as Andrew Morton, Jens Axboe, and Greg Kroah-Hartman working to make the XO even more power efficient.

Based on Tina's review and other reasons I have cited, I highly doubt that Intel is committed to Linux on the Classmate or even actually committed to the Classmate at all. They are likely offering Linux only because the Brazilian government requires it. Intel certainly isn't providing Mandriva with more resources to improve Linux on the Classmate: Last week Mandriva announced layoffs.

I would love to see a beneficial competition between Intel and OLPC emerge, but it doesn't look like Intel is actually trying to put out a laptop and learning content that meets the needs of kids in the developing world.

An interesting side note: Apparently Classmate comes with a hardware-based DRM Trusted Platform Module to allow kids in the developing world to uphold intellectual property rights. The needs and concerns of the Motion Picture Association of America and RIAA coincide so closely with those of kids in the developing world. How could I not have foreseen it!

olpc classmate linux
Where are all the Classmate PCs?

I want to know more about the Classmate PC and the readers of OLPC News can help me. I want to know the details of the learning applications it has and will have for Windows and Linux, how much its control features will cost, and how long does its battery actually last under Windows with the WiFi on.

The XO is undergoing extensive field-testing right now but what about the Classmate? Maybe we have seen so many pictures and videos of the XO in action but so few of the Classmate laptop because possibly it totally sucks.

If you know this information please post it in a comment to this article. Please do your part to remove Intel's Veil of Secrecy. Once we do, I think we will find that Intel's World Ahead program will look more like a program to keep the developing World Behind.

My Comparison of the Classmate and XO:
olpc classmate comparison

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25 Comments

Will Adhoot,

Your table lists the XO as having no mesh networking.

Is that right?

And what would be the WiFi range indoors? Say normal USA high rise building.

Winter

Although the title of the article seems a bit harsh, I can 100% confirm what Will says. Intel commits only few resources to their Classmate notebook. The notebook is not practical under third world conditions. For this purpose, it is indeed a joke.

Correction: The XO does have mesh networking. The 2 km wifi range is in flat terrain.

I have no idea if an XO on the top floor of a high-rise building could communicate w/ one at ground-level. I do know that Wi-Fi signals tend to degrade quickly in big cities due to signal interference.

The Classmate is indeed a bad joke on the children.

I am convinced the Classmate will be discontinued the moment the OLPC project fails. Nothing Intel did suggests otherwise.

Winter

Will Ahdoot :
A small correction on your post.

I think the Classmate is intended to be used inside schools connected to the power grid. Eg, like western students use their laptops.

Winter

I also agree that Intel's Classmate PC is only an attempt to kill OLPC, it is definitely not a serious education project, just a tool of war.

Also, correct the XO screen. It┬┤s a 1200 x 900 in ebook mode (makes a huge difference in reading...). BTW, anyone has the link for Mary Lou using the XO under rain?

Don't forget to mention:
the longer touchpad
the hacked ac97 mic input which can be used to connect sensors to it (temperature, pressure sensors, etc.)
the sunlight readable display


I agree competition is good, but Intel's Classmate doesn't look like healthy competition.

Winter: Good point that the Classmate is designed for Western classrooms. Then why they are trying to sell them in Brazil, Peru, and Thailand? Of course, because they're not actually serious about laptops for kids in Developing Countries! It is all part of their World Behind and Intel Ahead programs

I read about Mary Lou using the XO in the rain on OLPC's weekly update http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Current_events -- probably archived now

Hi Will

I always get ugly faces when I say something positive about Classmate, but I'm used to it anyways (I'm a University Professor).
I think Classmate PC is not a joke for Intel. They are deadly serious about their deployment all around the world, including several Latin American countries. As someone said before, the Intel people have been long before in the 'education for development' field through their Intel Ahead programs, which include extensive work with teachers (I don't remember the numbers right now, but we are talking about thousands of teachers being trainned in the 'Intel way' of using technology.)

I've been testing/using both the XO B2 and the Classmate PC here in Chile. There are a couple or reviews by myself in OLPCNEWS.com But more importantly that my opinions, we have extensive interviews with Intel executives in the Youtube gallery of our campaign UCPN.CL

http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=ucpn

The three-part 30 mins interview with Ramon Morales (in Spanish) shows all the details you are missing in your evaluation. There's also a 10 minutes interview with Franck Welch (in English) which may also help. (sorry for my lame English skills though...I'm not Larry King anyways)

Finally, I do agree with some of your views about Classmate PC but I think you should get a bit more info before a final assesment. However, please remember, a huge part regarding the final success or failure of Classmate PC is related with TEACHERS accepting it and Ministries of Education loving it. That's not a technological battle.

greetings from Chile

Luis
ucpn.cl

Will,

You state that the development and testing process is close on the Classmate and open in the XO. While I definitively agree on the first claim, I have serious doubts on the second. What does it mean that the XO has open testing? What is the methodology used? None of this is actually known or done transparently, so this is not what I call an open testing procedure. I hope you are not referring to the current: "handing-out-the-laptops-and-see-what-happens" philosophy, because it seems to be the same philosophy Intel is using for the classmate. This of course unless you have more details I am not aware of...

Nick

Luis: "a huge part regarding the final success or failure of Classmate PC is related with TEACHERS accepting it and Ministries of Education loving it. That's not a technological battle."

Agreed. thanks very much for your input.

However, if the technology isn't ready or is ineffective, laptops in the classroom are a non-starter. Two hour battery life is not sufficient for almost any classroom setting. Further, I would like some hard data on the Classmate's durability. Perhaps you have seen it thrashed but that is far from a systematic testing process.

My argument focuses on Intel's technical deficiencies. Perhaps Intel has a better approach to working with teachers. However, if the Classmate PC doesn't meet the needs of students, all the teacher training in the world won't change that.

Can you fill in the blanks like how long the Classmate battery lasts running Windows w/ the Wifi turned on? What learning applications it has on Windows and plans to have? How much their school server and its all-proprietary software will cost? Hmm, $3 windows and $1000 for a Windows 2003 school server?

I have watched the video of Frank Welch. I have to say I am not impressed. Basically the lessons he demonstrated were translations of regular paper-based lessons. I would like to think Intel would use the Classmate for something more sophisticated than multiple-choice tests. Apparently not.

I'll watch some more videos but so far I am still not impressed.

Luis, I do appreciate your input on the Classmate PC. Do let us know more

Nick: Please visit wiki.laptop.org, browse the OLPC mailing lists, and jump on OLPC IRC #olpc. I think you will find that the development and testing process is very open. These are all public forums and that is where the testing and development take place.

Thanks, Will. I see what you mean by testing here: hardware testing. I'll keep an eye on IRC and wiki. I am more interested in the content and educational testing based on the actual feedback from the children, which was the part I was concerned in my previous post.

"I think Classmate PC is not a joke for Intel. They are deadly serious about their deployment all around the world, including several Latin American countries. "

But currently, they sell the Classmate with a $200 subsidie per laptop. Even Intel cannot afford to sell 10 million laptops with this kind of subsidies, let alone 100 million.

They might be dead serious, but if I compare the HW specs with the XO, it is not for delivering innovative and superior technology for children. And from your post I cannot see evidence that they do target children and parents, just teachers.

From what I have read, the Classmate is a poor-mans laptop for second world children. It's impact on education will be limited as it does not really extend the communicative and educational abilities of the students. It depends too much on first world type infrastructure (power, broadband internet) and an office metaphore.

So yes, children will have internet access and MS Office lite. And that might indeed be good. But only if they have good power and internet access of first world quality.

Winter

I wonder how this $200 Intel subsidy idea got started. Winter, where do you base your idea that the Classmate is priced below cost? Where is your cost estimation?

If it has anything to do with Classmates at a few thousand units and OLCP at a few million I will call bullshit - Intel then would get the same price point if they talked in millions of units. Order amounts neither organization has.

Will: I tell you what'll do. I'll put both machines connected to wi-fi with fully charged batteries and see what happens. I just don't think it's a good idea right now because the B2s are not ready and they still have some energy-management issues, but I'll do it just out of curiosity.

Winter: The idea of the subsidy seems a bit bizarre in the way you express it. I can tell you what's going on in Chile right now. If you are a school principal you can buy a Classmate PC directly through the national web site for public buyings www.chilecompra.cl. Let's say you want to buy just one to test it in your school. Price? 425 dollars per unit

Where's the subsidy? Not sure in the price. However, what Intel is doing (not in Chile yet but in Argentina) is offering a 50 million investment plan to have the Classmates PCs built there (instead of in Taiwan)IF THE GOVERNMENT AGREES TO GET A 1 MILLION ORDER. That's an offer Argentina cannot reject and probably one of the reasons why Negroponte was so angry at Intel the other day on the 60 Minutes TV show.

What Intel executives have told me is that they EXPECT the price to fall by the end of this year to reach AROUND $200 per unit. They can also offer a special price for bigger orders.

Yes, it is a business after all for them. And yes, I guess they are really concerned about the potencial success of a project with millions of AMD's processors inside. Can we blame Intel for that?

Wayan wrote:

"I wonder how this $200 Intel subsidy idea got started. Winter, where do you base your idea that the Classmate is priced below cost? Where is your cost estimation?"

I seriously doubt you will get a coherent answer, Wayan...

:-)

Don't underestimate the chances for Classmate's success by just looking at its technical spec. You (and I) are all computer enthusiasts and believe that Classmate is no serious competition because its spec is inferior to the XO's and could never be as effective in education as the XO. I believe this is true. But is it relevant for the project success? First of all the laptop projects have to convince the decision makers. What arguments are important to those decision makers? I think the spec and the price will be considered but are not the only decisive facts. It is also whether the laptops can be built in the target country. And it also depends on the decisions makers' either progressive or conservative perspective towards education. It might easily be that the revolutionary education model scares the responsible people more than it convinces them or they might be afraid that the teachers would not welcome it and create trouble. As long as no scientific pilot projects are done that can be compared I am afraid that the actual educational effectiveness of both laptops will not become a decisive factor. Both projects will present some (unscientific) results that seemingly prove their educational effectiveness.
Therefore in the end Intels teacher education and serving the more conservative perspectives and offering local manufacturing might become more important than the real educational effectivness.

OLPC really needs to conduct scientific pilot tests not only with XOs but also with Classmates and without laptops. Anything less will not be effective as argument of OLPC's educational superiority since Intel will also deliver positive test results. And Intel will be smart enough not to do direct comparison with XOs in pilot tests.

Very well said, Roland.

Wayan,

I think all here will agree with you when you say *"If you just look at the technology, the OLPC is far superior". At $425 (less if you want to buy 1 mln units according to Luis Ramirez's post above) it's also much more expensive. So as far as hardware price and the usebility it gives a student, Classmate seems indeed a very poor value for money...

However, after reading so many posts of yours focusing on alleged or true lack of OLPC implementation methodology you stated *"Intel's World Ahead implementation methodology is just that - a world ahead of the One Laptop Per Child's ".

I read Intel's website but, apart some general statments about how great Classmmate hardware is and how Intel will bring education to the 3rd world, it doesn't give any detail at all.

In your "world ahead" comment you don't give any details either. Could we please know what the details of the World Ahead implementation methodology/plan is and what makes you think it is (or will be) successful ? A detailed critical review would be very much appreciated - thanks.

*Implementation Plan Challenge: OLPC XO vs. Classmate PC
( http://www.olpcnews.com/countries/brazil/olpc_xo_vs_classmate_pc.html )

Luis,

"'ve been testing/using both the XO B2 and the Classmate PC here in Chile."

As per my post above to Wayan. Could we please know what the details of the World Ahead implementation methodology/plan is and what makes you think it is (or will be) successful ? Thanks.

Luis: I look forward to your side by side battery test of the XO and the Classmate. I recommend you use one of the later software builds for the XO. I believe the newer builds vastly improve the battery life. All of the numbers in my comparison chart come from the latest software builds and possibly the B3 instead of the B2.

Hi everybody, I'm running the promised test right now (in fact for the last two hours). It's about 23:30 Chilean time and one of the laptops already died. The other can still run for about 1 hour I guess... I'll publish the results in my blog in about one hour or so, (and yes written in English) and it will probably be the second most surprising thing of the week after Lost's Season Finale.

My blog:
AUDENTES FORTUNA IUVAT
luisramirez.cl

Troy wrote:
>>>>>>>>
Wayan wrote:

"I wonder how this $200 Intel subsidy idea got started. Winter, where do you base your idea that the Classmate is priced below cost? Where is your cost estimation?"

I seriously doubt you will get a coherent answer, Wayan...
<<<<<<<<

As there are fears that my answers are incoherent, I will only link:

Selling price:
http://www.olpcnews.com/people/negroponte/olpc_pot_intel_black.html

Cost estimates:
http://www.tribuneindia.com/2007/20070317/biz.htm#7
http://www.itnews.com.au/newsstory.aspx?CIaNID=48582

And of course, the $1B fund Intel set up to push the Classmate. That fund was definitely NOT used for R&D. So where is Intel spending this money on?
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v447/n7140/full/447006a.html

In no way are the initial customers of the Classmate paying $300-$400 a piece for 700,000 laptops (Pakistan paying $250M, distribution and maintenance excluded?).
http://www.app.com.pk/en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7442&Itemid=2

If you suggest third world countries are going to select laptops not based on price (1 Cm = 2 XO), HW specifications (1 XO = 2 Cm), and educational software availability (1 Cm = 0.05 XO), you are actually suggesting that they are going to be bribed. For that, $1B might indeed be enough.

Winter

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