MIT's $100 Laptop


The MIT Media Lab is working on a research initiative to develop a $100 laptop. This will be distributed through governments to schools to help the education of the world's students. These are my notes from a talk Michail Bletsas, Director of Computing at the MIT Media Lab gave on the subject, at an event organized by the Netmode Laboratory .

Michail Bletsas during the talk

  • In a laptop today the cost of sales marketing and distribution take up 50% of its retail cost; the display takes up another 25%; the hardware to support the requirements of MS-Windows 25%.
  • 50% of a display’s cost is the backlight device.
  • The laptop should have an e-ink display, but the technology has currently a slow display rate, which is unsuitable for showing video. Therefore now it will use a display with the following features:
    • Dual mode 7" display
    • 800*600 B&W readable in sunlight
    • color backlit (with LEDs) 470*350
  • The laptop should be in production 4Q 2006 (6 million units).
  • The technical characteristics of the first generation will be as follows:
    • 3W power consumption
    • 500MHz AMD (Cyrix design) 0.5W consumption; supports 500Kbit video decoding.
    • Crankable charger: 1 min charge 6 min operation
    • 0.5-1GB Flash
    • 128MB RAM
    • 4USB ports
    • WiFi
    • Speaker/Mic
  • the $100 laptop The laptop's design should be distinctive in order to avoid the development of a gray market.
  • The hinge takes inside it C batteries and contains the cranking mechanism. Its large size makes it cheaper (existing hinges cost $5 minimum).
  • Two joysticks on the left and right side of the display.
  • In total the physical design allows 6 different modes of use (laptop, handheld, tablet, theater, ...).
  • Current cost for a 10,000 unit production run $135.
  • Interference between radio waves is a myth: the problem is simply at the receiver end. With multiple antennas and digital signal processing one can get around the problem. Therefore the current fixed spectrum allocation is outdated.
  • Bandwidth is a perishable commodity: use it or loose it.
  • 3G networks are the most useless technological effort in history. Yield management could allocate some of the unused capacity for networking the educational laptops
  • As an aside, SMS messages are bit for bit the most expensive communications technology on the planet.
  • Laptops will network in a mesh topology.
  • Microsoft's platform for the educational market is a $400 tablet.
  • Aspects of the design are patented, to avoid having a company selling the device on the market for $110. (The device will only get distributed to schools through governments.) There is a chance for a $200 retail-version of the laptop; the profits will subsidize the educational effort. Again, the retail version will have a different look, to avoid the risk of educational laptops getting resold for profit.
  • More information on the project can be found in the corresponding Wikipedia article.

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Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2005 11:34 pm

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