mm247: One Laptop Per Child — reviews are coming in

January 9, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings


My son, an education professional, pointed me toward an interesting review of the XO, the inexpensive laptop designed for use by children in the developing world.

As faithful reader will recall without prompting, One Laptop Per Child has been a frequent topic in this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© over the past eight months.

mm088: Meet the XO
mm089: Amateur mapmaking…
mm099: A $99 Desktop…
mm149: India’s take…
mm153: By a Laptop, Get one…
mm162: Laptop with a Mission
mm170: Technology and Ed …
mm179: OLPC for India after all?
mm189: OLPC cranks up!
mm203: OLPC: News; discouraging word
mm212: Cheap computing…
mm219: OLPC — Harvard speaks
mm232: Little green laptops a hit in Peru
mm247: OLPC — reviews are coming in

Before we get to the inside-out analysis, let’s start with a review from Peter Glaskowsky’s technology review blog at, a mainstream PC oriented site:


Unboxing OLPC’s XO-1 laptop

Posted by Peter Glaskowsky| December 29, 2007 2:05 PM PST

… If you get an XO-1, don’t throw away the box! You’ll need it for the free year of Internet access through T-Mobile WiFi hot spots. The box has the reference number for account activation.

In keeping with the low-cost nature of the XO-1, its packaging is minimal but adequate.

XO-1 documentation

The OLPC XO-1 comes with only a few sheets of basic “Getting Started” documentation. Credit: Peter N. Glaskowsky)

The XO-1 comes with no manual, just two sheets of paper: one showing the hardware and software features of the unit plus some warning icons, and one with a thank-you note from OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte….

XO-1 open

Open, the XO-1 shows its most distinctive feature: the antenna “ears”. (Credit: Peter N. Glaskowsky)

The XO-1’s ears contain 2.4 GHz antennas shared between the WiFi and proprietary mesh networks. They’re also the locks that hold the machine closed. They engage with spring-loaded pins so the top will snap closed even if the ears are stowed first.

Glaskowsky is critical of the keyboard (lighten up, it was designed for children, after all) and battery life, but is generally impressed.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Unboxing OLPC’s XO-1 laptop | Speeds and feeds – Technology analysis by Peter N. Glaskowsky – CNET Blogs

The next reviewer, bunnie at bunnie’s blog, literally took the XO apart, and has some fascinating insights into its innovative technology.


bunnie’s blog: OLPC XO-1

… We like hardware, and the OLPC XO-1 is an interesting piece of hardware. There are plenty of teardowns for the OLPC XO-1 (including one on the OLPC wiki itself), so I won’t repeat the tedium of what screw comes out of where and just cut to what I thought were interesting highlights.

If I were to make one general comment about the OLPC XO-1, it’s that its mechanical design is brilliant. It’s a fairly clean-sheet redesign of traditional notebook PC mechanics around the goal of survivability, serviceability, and robustness (then again, I’ve never taken apart any of the ruggedized notebooks out there). When closed up for “travel”, all the ports are covered, and the cooling system is extremely simple so it should survive in dusty and dirty environments. Significantly, the port coverings aren’t done with rubberized end caps that you can lose or forget to put on–they are done using the wifi antennae, and the basic design causes the user to swivel them back to cover the ports when they are packing up the laptop to go. That’s thoughtful design.

The full review is rather esoteric (and yr (justifiably) humble svt can be as much a geek as anyone, but these Linux guys are a breed apart!), but there are some interesting photographs of the components…

Here’s a photo of the motherboard with the heat spreader on:

And here’s a hi-res photo of it with the heat spreader off (click on the image to access the hi-res version):

Notice how both of the large BGA chips are underfilled to provide better shock and vibration robustness. I actually have never seen an underfill like this before–it seems to be oozing out of the edges–and it also doesn’t seem to be very uniform (some spots seem to have a little underfill missing). Most underfills I’m familiar with to attempt to cover every gap and void underneath a chip (which is actually a very hard process problem); maybe this is some new kind of underfilling technique that expands a little bit upon cure to help cover voids and its robust to a few missing spots. If a reader is familiar with this type of underfill technique, I’d appreciate a link to it.

… and useful observations regarding the suitability of the design for its intended application: education of developing world children aged 6-12.

And the extensive comments to the blog at the end add a great deal more information.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

bunnie’s blog » Blog Archive » OLPC XO-1

There is no doubt that OLPC XO-1 is a technological tour de force. Nicholas Negroponte’s designers and manufacturers made thoughtful and innovative choices that enhanced both the hardiness and the daily practicality of the hardware for its intended use in the developing world.

One example: the brightness of the backlight as seen in bunnie’s photo, in the context of the comparatively lengthy life of the XO’s battery charge that is not yet fully to its design target, is remarkable.

The early report from Peru we published recently certainly was a positive endorsement of this innovative program in the field.

Now, we can hope that the early successes will have two outcomes.

  1. Persuade wait-and-see developing nations to revolutionize their children’s education by acquiring these world-changing devices.
  2. The novel designs and technologies developed for XO is adopted by the industry at large so that all PC users can benefit.

Okay, mainstream business laptop manufacturers, how soon can you make us a useful business PC that will run coast to coast plus terminal waiting time on a single charge? The pieces of that puzzle seem to be in place.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


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