Thu, Dec 01, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Local manufacturers in talks on cheap laptop project

BIDDING PROCESS Local contract manufacturers are vying with a South Korean firm for the right to produce a US$100 laptop as part of a global technology project

By Jason Tan  /  STAFF REPORTER IN HSINCHU

A prototype for a US$100 budget laptop, designed by the MIT Media Lab, is displayed yesterday.

PHOTO: HUNG YU-FANG, TAIPEI TIMES

The Media Laboratory from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is currently in talks with four local original equipment manufacturers to produce laptops under its "One Laptop Per Child" project.

Next month, the lab plans to launch a research initiative to develop US$100 laptops, which the lab says will revolutionize global education for children.

Speaking at a forum organized by the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI, 工研院) yesterday, Nicholas Negroponte, the project director, said there are five companies bidding for the deal, including four Taiwanese vendors and one from South Korea.

He refused to name the bidders, except to say that the results will be announced within the next two weeks, and that only of the five bidding companies will be awarded a contract.

According to Negroponte, since the project was announced, the Media Lab has entered talks with nearly every contract manufacturer of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and laptops.

Negroponte launched the US$100 laptop project at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Targeted at the world's 1 billion kids, the machines will work on a 500-MHz AMD processor, using flash memory instead of a hard drive. No massive data storage options will be offered, but they will come with four USB ports for connectivity and out-of-the-box wireless networking.

The utilization of an open source operating system for these laptops will boost the adoption of such systems, as most computers use Windows or Macintosh operating systems, Negroponte said. He added that the laptops will be bundled with simple software in order to keep costs down.

The rock-bottom price is possible in part through the removal of color filters from the LCD panels, which reduces costs by 35 percent. Economies of scale will be further increased as the machines use panels made by so-called "third-generation" fabs, whose production capacity is low because they are now several generations behind the cutting edge factories.

Negroponte said the inspiration for the project came when he was involved in launching laptop campaigns for primary schools in Cambodia.

The first English word the kids learned was "Google." Their parents were excited to see their kids bring home laptops for many reasons -- including illumination in the home. Many rural areas in Cambodia have no electricity.

"Today's laptops are just too expensive for everybody to own," Negroponte said.

The US$100 laptops are expected to start rolling off production lines by the end of next year, with volumes amounting to 5 million to 10 million units. The pilot projects will cover seven developing countries, including China, India, Egypt, Nigeria, Brazil, Thailand and Argentina.

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