On the XO Laptop

Minimal hardware requirements for XO Laptop Fedora Linux and Microsoft Vista

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[First published as terraputer xo-laptop: Minimal hardware requirements for XO-Linux and Microsoft Vista on November 26, 2007.]

Groklaw’s Pamela “PJ” Jones recently published an excellent article on the OLPC and the XO-Laptop, Some Ideas for Marketing the OLPC.

The title alone carries a key message:

Free and open-source software is now more than “good enough” for many applications, especially to meet the needs of educators and non-profit institutions. The challenge now is marketing, not writing code.

I write this post to expand on a key point in PJ’s post (By way of background, Classmate is Intel’s XO wannabe):

And here’s a question for you: can Classmate run Vista? Ever? Perhaps they are working on that, but surely it can’t now, since Microsoft says you need a 1 Ghz processor and a 20 GB hardrive with 15 GBs available just for Home Basic, the lowest version, so already those kids on a Windows Classmate are behind the times, if you think about it. Well, you get the concept. I don’t know if anyone is ever going to actually use Vista much. But, when it’s time to upgrade, will it be free or will the schools then pay again? Will it be at the special rate then? Did you get that in writing?

The reference to the hardware requirements perked up my ears, so I followed that link, to learn about Microsoft’s “Windows Vista recommended system requirements:”

  • 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 512 MB of system memory
  • 20 GB hard drive with at least 15 GB of available space
  • Support for DirectX 9 graphics and 32 MB of graphics memory
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • Audio Output
  • Internet access (fees may apply)

Here are the requirements for Vista for “Home Premium / Business / Ultimate:”‘

  • 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 GB of system memory
  • 40 GB hard drive with at least 15 GB of available space
  • Support for DirectX 9 graphics,with
    • WDDM Driver
    • 128 MB of graphics memory (minimum)
    • Pixel Shader 2.0 in hardware
    • 32 bits per pixel
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • Audio Output
  • Internet access (fees may apply)

Note especially that to move beyond “Vista Basic” you need 20 more GB of hard drive space, for a total of 40GB! And this is just for the operating system.

We also learn that “While all editions of Windows Vista can support multiple core CPUs, only Windows Vista Business, Ultimate, and Enterprise can support dual processors.”

Note that dual-processor support is now a standard part of Linux. You don’t have to pay for it, or for any of the other features provided by the Linux kernel.

Microsoft says that Internet access is required, and fees may apply. Note that one of the benefits of participating in the Give 1 Get 1 program is that the price includes a free year of Internet access, thanks for the kind folks at Team Mobile USA, Free Wi-Fi:

T-Mobile USA is proud to offer you one-year complimentary access to T-Mobile HotSpot in recognition of your support for the Give One Get One program. As you help children in developing countries stay connected, educated, and enlightened – T-Mobile wants to support you by keeping you connected to those who matter most to you.

T-Mobile HotSpot broadband Internet service is available at more than 8,500 locations throughout the United States. Your complimentary year of service is valued at more than $350! Just use any Wi-Fi-enabled device, such as your laptop computer or a Wi-Fi-enabled mobile phone, and you can connect and communicate your way.

T-Mobile HotSpot locations in the United States include most Starbucks, Borders Books and Music, FedEx Kinko’s Office and Print Centers, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, Red Roof Inn locations, many airports, and various airline clubs of American®, United®, Delta, and US Airways®. Get connected at a nearby T-Mobile HotSpot

Please visit https://selfcare.hotspot.t-mobile.com/accountcreate/ExternalSetPromotionCode.do?promo=TM365SC117
for additional information.

Here are some of the key features of the XO Laptop, as described at their website:

The XO laptop is the size of a textbook and weighs about three pounds. Thanks to its flexible design and “transformer” hinge, it can easily configure from a standard laptop to an e-book reader and a hand-held video game player. Everything is scaled to fit a child, from the integrated handle to the sealed, rubberized keyboard.

The XO laptop has built-in functionality for still and video photography, voice recording, and game playing.

Along with offering superior connective capabilities, the XO laptop can work with a wide range of external devices.

The XO laptop features a sealed, rubberized keyboard that was built specifically for harsh weather conditions, making it resilient to water, dust, and dirt. It’s scaled to accommodate child-sized hands and has a lighter touch than normal keyboards.

Here are some of the key hardware features of the new XO Laptop. Since XO can run LAMP applications such as Sahana on this configuration, they are a good approximation to the minimal requirements to run Linux:

  • CPU: 433 MHz AMD Geode LX-700 at 0.8 Watts, with integrated graphics controller
  • 1200×900 7.5″ diagonal LCD (200 dpi) that uses 0.1 to 1.0 Watts depending on mode
  • 256 MB of Dual (DDR266) 133 MHz DRAM
  • 1024 KB (1 MB) flash ROM with open-source Open Firmware
  • 1024 MB of SLC NAND flash memory
  • Wireless networking using an “Extended Range” 802.11b/g and 802.11s (mesh) Marvell 8388 wireless chip, chosen due to its ability to autonomously forward packets in the mesh even if the CPU is powered off. When connected in a mesh, it is run at a low bitrate (2 Mbit/s) to minimize power consumption. Despite the wireless chip’s minimalism, it supports WPA. [13] An ARM processor is included.
  • Dual adjustable antennas for diversity reception.
  • Touchpad for mouse control and handwriting input
  • Built-in color camera, to the right of the display, VGA resolution (640×480)
  • Built-in stereo speakers
  • Built-in microphone
  • Audio based on the AC97 codec, with jacks for external stereo speakers and microphones, Line-out, and Mic-in
  • 3 external USB 2.0 ports.
  • Power sources:
    • DC input, ±11–18 V, maximum 15W power draw
    • 5-cell rechargeable NiMH battery pack, 3000 mAh minimum 3050 mAh typical 80% usable, charge at 0…45°C
    • 2-cell rechargeable LiFePO4 battery pack, 2800 mAh minimum 2900 mAh typical 100% usable, charge at 0…60°C
    • 4-cell rechargeable LiFePO4 battery pack, 3100 mAh minimum 3150 mAh typical 100% usable, charge at -10…50°C
    • External manual power options include a pull-string generator designed by Potenco

I find the power requirements astounding. The maximum power draw is only 15 watts. A typical laptop or desktop would take at least five times more power.

For comparison purposes, here are — once again — the minimum requirements for Vista Home Basic:

  • 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 512 MB of system memory
  • 20 GB hard drive with at least 15 GB of available space
  • Support for DirectX 9 graphics and 32 MB of graphics memory
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • Audio Output
  • Internet access (fees may apply)

Let’s restate some of the key requirements for the XO as a fraction of the corresponding requirement for Vista Home Basic:

  • 1/2 the required processor speed
  • 1/4 the system memory
  • 1/20 the disk space
  • no requirement to run DirectX 9 graphics on the XO, graphics support built-in for free
  • Vista graphics requires 32MB of memory, the XO none
  • XO needs no DVD/CD drive; the software is pre-installed. This saves at least $30.
  • Audio Output
  • Internet access. No fees for first year for U.S. and Canadian residents who participate in “Give 1 Get 1” XO program

Two key points:

  • The XO has no moving parts. It should thus be much more reliable the current desktops and laptops.
  • The XO requires about a tenth the power of a conventional computer running Vista Home Basic. It is much more friendly to the environment, and has been designed to lessen the impact on the environment when it comes time to dispose of the hardware.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the total cost of an XO, including the software, is just $200, while the cost for just the software alone — Vista and the minimal Office programs — runs close to $200, and then you have to buy a computer to run that software. As I have noted, when using Microsoft software, the software cost is now a significant part of the total cost; see TOC: Total Ownership Of Cost, the Cost of Microsoft Software.

Simply put, using Microsoft software is a Faustian Bargain — a deal with the Devil.

The XO laptop is the real bargain.


Written by daveshields

December 12, 2007 at 3:00 pm

Posted in xo-laptop

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