Intel Classmate PC: You've Come a Long Way, Baby!


Oh how we've slagged the Classmate PC on OLPC News. We've sure had our fun with Intel's reference design for low-cost computing for education. In fact, sometimes, we've even been downright dismissive of Intel's efforts to counter OLPC's hardware.

But now I'll have to stop. Why? Because Intel is playing a strong game of catch-up. With it's newest Classmate PC designs; the "clamshell" and the "convertible", Intel has met... Wait, dare I say it? Yes, Intel has surpassed the XO laptop.

The Atom chipset

First off, Intel has really shifted their strategy on low-power processing. Five years ago, I remember begging Intel to even consider shifting from high-power, high-end, and utterly unsuitable Pentium chips. Then Intel realized that on their current power profile, they'd run out of global electrical capacity before the company saturated the potential PC market.

From this the Atom chip was born - a disruptive low-power innovation that's upended the developing world computing market. Where we once scrounged old technology to make relevant technology, we can now buy appropriate hardware off

Clamshell form factor

When the ClassmatePC was first introduced, I felt sorry for the Intel folks. You could tell it was rushed to market to counter OLPC and it lacked the polish you'd expect from a leading IT company.

Over time, they've refined the clamshell to be more respectable. It is now a nice student laptop, and its specs are better than the XO-1.5, it's equal to any netbook, and with its ruggedization, tougher than any netbook. That matters when careless kids drop it on hard floors.

Smoking hot convertible

Now the convertible ClassmatePC is a real show stopper. With a screen able to swivel around to become a tablet or eBook reader, it's got equal to or better form factor functionality than the XO, and its anti-bacterial keyboard sounds perfect for grubby kids.

But it's not a kid's computer. Unlike the XO, I can see the convertible being quickly adopted by high schoolers, even college students with its adult sized components. In fact, I feel that the convertible ClassmatePC has applicability far outside the classroom.

Essentially, the convertible ClassmatePC is an affordable ruggedized laptop, a cheap Toughbook, which could be used by everyone from rural health care clinicians to emergency first-responders.

And unlike an XO, you can buy ClassmatePC's in any amount, for any reason.


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Very interesting to see Wayan - it really is a step up from the XO 1.5 at this point, and I know some jurisdictions prefer not to re-train on a new OS. One concern would be that the Atom is still underpowered for what many Windows users demand - but as long as the purchasers had set their expectations to match and planned the learning only at that level, it could work well. Another concern is that the point (for some) of smaller mobile devices is the fact that its not a more complex, desktop OS device that requires training to fully operate as a windows machine like this does (I do find Sugar OS to be more intuitive and kid-friendly, but at the same time can do less. Its simple/accessible vs higher-end/more complex).

I do see that all schools when looking at 1:1 devices right now are exactly in the middle of going with tablets or sticking with laptops - so with the Classmate being in the dead middle of these two categories, perhaps it could be a good choice (as could be the XO 1.75 with touchscreen when it appears next year).

I agree that the Windows interface is a pretty daunting and confusing for the typical school user. Several orgs have come up with a simplified UI, which can be helpful. I find them annoying, but I am not a novice user.

Note that the Clamshell convertible is a stylus screen, not a true touchscreen, nor will the XO-1.75 ship with a touchscreen. We have to wait for the XO-3 for that.

At $410, it should be better than an XO. The Asus EEE at $200 is probably a more viable choice for older students.

I am still amazed that there is not a realistic alternative to the XO for primary school use.

Agreed that there is a price issue - for all hardware. The Classmate can be as low as $300 with decent volume (100+ units). The Asus is cheaper, but much less rugged.

Sadly, eBay XO sales is the only way to get small lots of XO's these days, and that's no way to supply a school with laptops.

...or you could talk to OLPC about puchasing XOs for a deployment. We do that, you know.

Unfortunately, non-profit tax law in the US prevents us from selling the machines to the general public; we got IRS permission for the Give 1 Get 1 program only if we agreed to sharply limit its duration.

We do have plenty of small deployments these days.

Um, I call bullshit on this:

"non-profit tax law in the US prevents us from selling the machines to the general public"

OLPC can sell XO laptops all it wants. Now if the XO sales are not directly part of its mission, OLPC has to pay Unrelated Business Taxes on the proceeds. But in no way is OLPC prevented from selling XOs.

Sorry, this is going to have to stay a "he said, she said" deal. My information was that we were barred from direct sales. You say we shouldn't be. I'm not a tax attorney (and I suspect you aren't either) so I don't think we can profitably resolve our impasse.

(And my actual point remains: if you've got an educational purpose, OLPC-A *can* get you machines. eBay is not the answer.)

If you can get XO laptops from OLPC now, that would be a momentous & welcome change from previous pronouncements which were very clear: small deployments of less than country-wide were not welcome.

Yes, it is a change from 2007-era OLPC. It's not a new change. It dates roughly from the OLPC-A/OLPC-F split.

OLPC-A *can* get you machines after you've been vetted for "seriousness".

Meanwhile, back in the lab, our hero plots to bomb children from Heelicopters.

We can all achieve such seriousness if we really try.

C. Scott Ananian states that OLPC-A will provide XOs to small deployments. I think we need to have a clear explanation of the supporting policies and procedures.

I have been asked several times how a small deplaoyment can acquire laptops. I have mistakenly answered that it is not possible except through a national Ministry of Education. I would like to be able to give a more accurate (and encouraging) answer.


still plugging for intel, eh wayan? Do they still pay you or this a freebee once in a while?

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