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Intel joins AMD-backed $100 laptop bid

One Laptop Per Child gets key new backer

Intel has joined the rival One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative - the nonprofit project which aims to provide children in developing countries with specially designed low-cost notebooks powered by chips from Intel's rival AMD.

Previously, Intel's efforts in the education market appeared at odds with those of OLPC. While OLPC expects to finally begin delayed volume shipments of its XO laptop in September, priced at $175 (£85), Intel has been selling its Classmate PC laptop in bulk since March. Classmate currently costs around $225 (£115), but Intel hopes to lower that price to $200 (£100) by the end of 2007.

Intel has been selling Classmate primarily in Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan, while OLPC has beta copies of its laptops in use by schoolchildren in Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand and Uruguay. The governments of those seven nations have pledged to purchase the XO laptops in bulk when volume shipments begin.

(To find out more about the OLPC project - see: Building the $100 laptop)

Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of OLPC, has previously said publicly that Intel's Classmate efforts have been adversely affecting his project, given the well-funded nature of the chipmaker's initiative.

Intel and OLPC had engaged in conversations on and off for a while, but nailed down an agreement to work together in the last month, according to Will Swope, vice president and director of corporate affairs at Intel.

"Our role here is one of how do we have the biggest impact on education and on children around the world?" he said. The chip maker has spent over $1 billion in education initiatives since its founding and over the last five to six years has been investing annually around $100 million on such projects. "How could we make that more impactful and reach more children?" Swope asked. The answer, he said, was to join OLPC.

"Collaboration with Intel means that the maximum number of laptops will reach children," Negroponte agreed in a statement.

There wasn't a single catalyst that led to the agreement, it was more a case of Intel and OLPC "coming to a collective realisation that we'd be better working together than working apart," said Walter Bender, OLPC president, software and content.

"The very first thing is that the agreement broadens our software base to include resources from Intel in the open-source and learning spaces," he added. "We're really getting a broader set of opportunities for children across all platforms."

Under the agreement, Intel and OLPC will look into collaborating on both the technology and educational fronts. Intel will also join the OLPC board. While Intel didn't name its representative on the OLPC board, Bender said it will initially be Swope.

In the short term, Intel will effectively be supporting two different laptop programmes - OLPC and Classmate - which will sometimes overlap, while retaining some unique capabilities, according to Swope. It will be up to governments to decide which machine they want to buy for their schools. Over time, the two lines will become "more complementary" and Intel and OLPC will partner a lot more, he said. As yet, it's too early for Intel to provide specifics on that area of the relationship between the two organisations and product lines, Swope added.


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