The Famous $20 Laptop Debate

February 6th, 2009

With the world in a credit crisis and cultures all over are seeing the gap between rich and poor getting wider and wider, cheap solutions to common problems have been all the rage in recent months. India may have raised the bar on everybody, by announcing a laptop that will retail for $20 in its country. While very few details have been released thus far (there isn’t even a public image of the final product as of this writing, I’ll try to remember to update the site with another post about it when it does), what we do know is that it has 2 gigabits (not gigabytes…let’s not get ahead of ourselves here) of RAM, Wi-Fi, an Ethernet Connection, and a low-powered battery. Even if the laptop was incredibly tiny and didn’t include basic functions (mouse control, keyboard, screen, efficient OS), this is still quite an amazing feat for a country that is well-known for its treatment of  lower-classe, with quite a debate raging on how it could be done.

John Morris of ZDNet has a few ideas, including that it would very likely use a freeware OS such as Ubuntu, that it would possibly be more of a netbook or e-book reader–the former in which have become all the rage in recent times in America–and the idea that rather than have a screen, it would be something more of a projector…which seems incredibly inneficient in a classroom setting.

What a lot of these debaters seem to be neglecting is the idea of bulk manufacturing; India is the second-most populated country in the planet, not at all far from China. While 256 MB of Laptop RAM isn’t available in America, or at least extremely difficult to find since there’s virtually no use for it any more, 512 MB of Laptop RAM currently sells on Newegg for $6.99. Being very liberal with these assumptions, after massively manufacturing these, it’s likely that the RAM could only cost maybe $3  a piece, an essential part of the bold claim.

And honestly, does anyone expect fast processors, bright screens, or even durable cases? These laptops are supposed to cost $20, and anyone who has owned a product made in China knows that there are plenty of manufacturers who will cut corners to keep the costs down and the profits up, India will not hesitate to do the same if it saves them from having to subsidize these laptops.

So really, the big enigma comes from the Wi-Fi connection, which can once again be explained by recent developments in Wi-Fi Technology. As a gamer who owns a Nintendo DS, it certainly has come a long way to be to get decent wireless connection in a small package. It’s no T1 network, but definitely serviceable enough to do the job. And assuming that all users would be sending would be text and the occasional image with these $20 laptops, setting up a speedy broadband connection will not be a priority.

So is the $20 Laptop a reality or pure Science Fiction? After all, the Tata Nano retails for around $2,000 and it re-revolutionized the way the world is starting to think about cars. Hopefully India will let us know soon, because American companies will most certainly jump on this bandwagon if it turns out to be a marketable endeavour.

Entry Filed under: Device Drivers

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