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The original NES sold 62 million units.  (Source: Nintendo)

One of the $12 "TV computers" -- basically an NES clone -- plugged into graduate student Derek Lomas' TV. He plans to use the design to create an internet-ready OLPC competitor.  (Source: Derek Lomas)

An Indian retailer proudly displays the NES knockoff.  (Source: Derek Lomas )
Students are convinced they can beat the OLPC product with a modified version of the original Nintendo console that is internet ready

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has yielded a mix of success and failure.  On the positive side, it has managed to put together a relatively low cost, fully functional laptop; the XO.  On the downside many features were left out, including the sometimes criticized, sometimes praised idea of crank power generation.  Also on the not-so-good front, the laptop, which was supposed to be a $100 laptop, ballooned to a cost of $188.  Other bad news came when chipmaker Intel pulled out of the project, launching a potential competitor -- a second generation Classmate notebook.

Now a group of MIT students look to add to OLPC's woes by offering up a functional computer at a far lower price -- around $15 to $20 USD.  American graduate student Derek Lomas was inspired on how to design the device when he came across a "TV" computer selling for $12 USD in India.  The computer was nothing more than a clone/rip-off of the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), with more functionality added.  The device was so similar it accepted NES cartridges.

The computer features the same technology as the NES -- a muscular 1.78-MHz 8-bit processor, a gargantuan 2k of video memory and the ability to display 256-by-240 pixels in 25 colors.  Originally launching in 1985 in the U.S., the console went on to sell 62 million units worldwide, and was a runaway success that remained a culture icon into the 1990s.  Its games still sell through the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console legacy system.

The popularity led to many knockoff models, such as the Victor-70 that Mr. Lomas encountered.  Many of these models were unlicensed machines manufactured in China.  Mr. Lomas states, "A lot of the Srishti Design students who saw me playing with this used to have one themselves, several years ago. Back then, this cost nearly 3,000 rupees [$75 U.S.]."

Unlike the NES, though, all the hardware including the memory, processor and cartridge case are not contained in a plastic housing, but rather inside a large keyboard.  Game controllers and a mouse can also attach to the keyboard, which plugs directly into the television.  Online retailers in India sell the Victor-70 for a slightly higher price of $23.99.  The product may actually be legal as in the U.S. patents expire after 20 years. 

One potential benefit of a modified Victor-70 is it would feature the Basic programming language, to make programming easy for new users.  At the Development Design Summit held at MIT yearly, Mr. Lomas plans on presenting his findings.  He and a group of other international graduate students and designers hope to transform the Victor-70 into a modern computer.  They are confident they can add internet access and other perks while keeping the price low.

Another alternative to the Victor-70 is a laptop Mr. Lomas encountered in Indian markets which retails for $15 USD, and comes with a blank and white LCD screen.

Whichever the team chooses, if they are able to keep costs beneath $20, they may have a hit on their hands.  Despite the lower capabilities and the inability to use a modern OS, you could buy 9-10 units of their device for the cost of one OLPC, given these prices.  The OLPC may be more powerful, but the MIT team's computer may prove more practical.

The OLPC project was actually founded at MIT, in a slight irony of history.



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RE: Misguided?
By AnnihilatorX on 8/8/2008 10:50:58 AM , Rating: 5
You are missing the big picture here. It's not about priorities.

OLPC is meant for education purpose. In the third world printed textbooks are simply out of reach to most children. We all understand how education is important in improving living standard. Feeding a child for life until they reach adulthood is not a solution, as it is a cycle that repeats. Their next generations would not have their living standard improved and thereafter. That's why even thrid world parents are sending kids to school whenever they can afford them. I believe OLPC can make education more accessable.


RE: Misguided?
By therealnickdanger on 8/8/08, Rating: 0
RE: Misguided?
By lightfoot on 8/8/2008 1:02:33 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
So what is little Zubunta to do...

At a $20 price you can have the PC and the AK-47, it's no longer a choice between survival or education - now you can have both.

Starvation in the modern age is mostly related to war, not due to lack of food.


RE: Misguided?
By taber on 8/8/2008 1:36:29 PM , Rating: 2
I agree that there are some areas where this wouldn't make sense, but I could see OLPC having some worthwhile markets. If you're just sending text a 14.4k modem for a village would provide a wealth of information. With ad-hoc networks they turn in their paper by emailing it to their local instructor (or elsewhere if they have that 14.4k connection). Computers from 20 years ago were useful to us, it's not like everybody needs to start with a modern computer.

There's no guarantee that giving an individual knowledge to solve their problems will help, but I think it would help occasionally. What's wrong with giving them an opportunity to leave their village and work abroad? If someone is successful elsewhere there's always a chance they'll try to bring that success home or at least send part of their earnings home.


RE: Misguided?
By mabright on 8/8/2008 11:16:10 AM , Rating: 3
If the point is to supply paperless textbooks to third world children, then why aren't we sending them Amazon Kindles?


RE: Misguided?
By joemoedee on 8/8/2008 11:32:44 AM , Rating: 2
It's to get them the vast information, mostly misinformation, available on the Internet.

Personally, I don't see the worth in the project.

However, if one was to do it, I don't see limiting it to NES power. There's plenty of more powerful CPUs out there with similar or lower pricing.


RE: Misguided?
By StevoLincolnite on 8/8/2008 1:07:13 PM , Rating: 2
Why doesn't Commodore re-release the Commodore 64 in mass production for these places but significantly souped up?
Would be a better way for them to regain there foot hold once again in the tech arena by giving them the necessary funds.

Plus you can also code in Basic (Beginners All Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) - Heck I learnt how to code in Basic when I was a kid on that machine.
Plus there is also an already large established software base also.


RE: Misguided?
By mabright on 8/8/2008 1:26:55 PM , Rating: 2
I started with the TI 99-4a...Literally a keyboard computer with no storage that had Basic and hooked to the TV. It was $200 in the early '80s, how much could it possibly cost now?


RE: Misguided?
By StevoLincolnite on 8/8/2008 4:06:17 PM , Rating: 2
Possibly classed as an Antique in this Day and Age, but the thing this system they are showing though is a lack of a printer, where the Commodore 64's had the Dot Matrix Printer. (WHOA!)

Personally, I see so many Pentium 166's to Pentium 3's 1.4ghz thrown out at the dump it's not funny, Perhaps the "Recycling" programs that companies like Dell runs could be repaired and given to the less fortunate?


RE: Misguided?
By drebo on 8/8/2008 4:13:11 PM , Rating: 5
It used to be that when a corporation was replacing its computers, it would give the old computers to public schools. Now-adays, public schools won't accept anything that's not brand new.

Remember the old saying that "beggars can't be choosers"? It seems that our society has thrown it out the window. I heard an advertisement on the radio for a Salvation Army clothing drive. They explicitly stated that any donations had to be brand new, with receipt. In my mind, someone who doesn't have the wherewithall to purchase their own brand new clothes should be happy to get anything that fits and isn't falling apart, whether it's new or used. Same thing should apply to electronic donations.

Unfortunately, our society, in the mighty image of Karl Marx, believes that everyone is entitled to the same standard of living as everyone else, regardless of effort put in.


RE: Misguided?
By Penti on 8/9/2008 1:54:11 AM , Rating: 2
There are plenty of newer computers being thrown away (think P4).

However because software licensing problems it's not really a matter of just refurbish the hardware. You won't have the original OEM media, so you can't reinstall windows and it would be in the wrong language anyway, what you're saying works in North Korea, where they just pirate an english Windows version. But not any where else really, countries where piracy is legal (Iran for example) wouldn't even buy those refurbished computers with pirated software. They are those who sell refurbished computers in say latin america anyway, but it's really just an expensive way of getting a used computer there. It would really need to be run with cooperation from Microsoft and with no cost to the recipient. But both the refurbers and microsoft wants money. Even stone poor North Korea pays for there used computers without windows licenses.

I don't think it's really worth it selling those systems. It should be done on an all volunteer basis, but that means pirated software in todays world. It doesn't really matter if the OEMs do it them selfs they would still need to license software for a second time. Schools would need more then just Windows anyway. Microsoft do have licensing models for refurbished computers but it still costs money. It's not worth it buying used refurbished computers, they are overpriced, and they could have bought like atom-laptops instead, or for stationary computers those cheap mini ITX-boards with Atom and Celeron 220 (Conroe-L based 1.2GHz singlecore). The Atom 230-boards should even be able to do x86-64 and they just cost $80 US dollars, (i know dollars has lost it value, it looks much cheaper here). Pop in a DDR2 stick, get a case and powersupply and some storage and your good to go. Of course a normal m-ATX board with integrated graphics and a cpu wouldn't cost much more. A problem though is that the license cost almost as much as the computer. Effectively almost doubling the price. Of course they need all the peripherals too.


RE: Misguided?
By Alexstarfire on 8/10/2008 7:33:58 AM , Rating: 3
Ummmm, and what about using Linux?


RE: Misguided?
By DASQ on 8/11/2008 11:35:21 AM , Rating: 2
Shipping hundreds of thousands of kilograms of old junky computers overseas is NOT worth the cost. Even if those computers were FREE, the shipping cost if a gigantic AT tower with a 14" CRT is probably approaching the cost of many of these 'OLPC' programs. They might as well just give them a semi-modern system.


RE: Misguided?
By FITCamaro on 8/8/2008 11:49:51 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
In the third world printed textbooks are simply out of reach to most children.


But a laptop which requires power is within reach? Or this new device that not only requires power but also a working television?

Last I checked, laptops can break and aren't that durable. A book doesn't break.


RE: Misguided?
By tastyratz on 8/8/2008 1:07:16 PM , Rating: 2
A book doesn't break?
Please show me to the rip proof, stain proof, book you have that is not comprised of fragile paper only thousandths of an inch thick. I am sure I will need guidance getting through the mansion of the guy who invested it.

An electronic device can last many years if built properly - even longer without moving parts. How many Nintendo's still function after production so many years ago? How many school books are still in circulation from then? How many of those books are still accurate?

Information is always changing. If their schools could afford to buy them books they wouldn't be able to afford to keep up with them. The amount of information available through 1 internet connection far surpasses all the books any of those schools could ever afford in their lifetime. The information they could reach is endless - not just a few hundred pages.

I think this is an important project for all the areas - war torn or not. If they don't educate their children with the tools they may need to survive there is nothing stopping them from growing up to being a guerrilla. That situation is self perpetuating and to break it they need education.

Look at all the outsourcing being done in other countries. They may not have a word processor and printer available in all areas- but foreign countries do. This will give them the potential workforce to develop an economy and drag them out of poverty even if only a little.


RE: Misguided?
By lightfoot on 8/8/2008 1:11:46 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Last I checked, laptops can break and aren't that durable. A book doesn't break.

But a laptop can provide thousands of books worth of information for the price of a few textbooks. Memory and bandwidth are a fair amount cheaper than paper, printing and shipping. Also if you generate your own power (say by winding it up or using a pullstring) you don't need a larger power grid.


RE: Misguided?
By freaqie on 8/11/2008 5:31:36 AM , Rating: 2
true but if it breaks after let say 5 years...
books can last foor 20 years easily.
and math etc does not cheange that much over the years...
so that should be in a book.
geography and language however...


RE: Misguided?
By drebo on 8/8/2008 12:05:04 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
Feeding a child for life until they reach adulthood is not a solution


Isn't that what my parents, what your parents, did to us until we were old enough to feed ourselves?

The internet has spoiled us. I never had the internet in school (until way later). My text books still had the USSR on the map in the mid-to-late 90's. If 10-year-old, outdated text books are good enough for our own people, why aren't they good enough for the third world?

The only people who can improve their standard of living are themselves. A computer is a luxury item, not a necessity. The internet is not a necessity. It seems to me that primary needs should be taken care of (food, shelter, water) before we go wasting all kinds of our own money on something they can't even really use and probably don't care about.

I'm all for developing the third world and improving quality of life, but giving them a computer isn't going to do that any better than giving them a luxury SUV. We need to start at the bottom. Build better dwelling units, improve infrastructure, modernize their farming, and democratize their governments. Do this, give them an exportable resource, and the rest of the problems will fix themselves.


RE: Misguided?
By BZDTemp on 8/8/2008 2:01:41 PM , Rating: 2
I think you have misunderstood the OLPC program.

The OLPC project is of course not about bringing computers to those with no food it is about bringing computers to those which have just what they need. They idea is that education makes people smart and more education make people ever smarter. Those smart people may perhaps see ways to improve there life and the life of those around them. OLPC is perhaps a way to let some people go quickly from a situation where they may just be able to write their name to a situation that let them do so much more.

My favorite charity is UNICEF. Not because they bring food and vaccinations to children but because they also bring pencils and paper and books to children. It's third world aid not only for the hand-to-mouth problems but also for the long run. In a sense helping those children having a better chance of aiding them self someday AND perhaps also helping the people around them.


RE: Misguided?
By drebo on 8/8/2008 4:07:26 PM , Rating: 4
If it's true that this is only about education, then we should be shipping all of our old text books to them. Solve the disposal problem as well as further their educations.

A computer and the internet are not needs. One can get just as good an education without a computer as one could with a computer. Some people might even argue that the education is better.

To me, this entire initiative is nothing more than a big, political, public image-driven circle-jerk. There's no money to be made in it, it serves no greater good or purpose (more than, say, actually going over and teaching or sending food and water and clothing), and it's not even practical.


RE: Misguided?
By Carter642 on 8/8/2008 4:31:51 PM , Rating: 2
The problem with shipping textbooks is printing and more significantly distribution. You can send out as many copies of a text file as you want for the same amount of money rather than paying by the ton to ship them if you can even locate who you're trying to ship it to.

Super cheap computers with network access can take the place of a whole library. Personally though I'd rather see them make an e-ink based device with say a spine with wifi and a very simple interface just for reading books. We need to make libraries easy to access and view, not so much facebook and IM.


RE: Misguided?
By drebo on 8/8/2008 8:07:45 PM , Rating: 1
Computers generally weigh a heck of a lot more than books do. Books are far easier to ship, too. Much less environmentally sensitive. Not as much padding.

In the bulk shipping industry, you pay a LOT more for volume than you do for weight.

Shipping argument doesn't fly. It's no more economical to ship 40 computers than it is to ship a classroom set of books.


RE: Misguided?
By jeff834 on 8/9/2008 11:47:55 PM , Rating: 2
Your mistake is comparing 1 textbook to 1 computer. Where in actuality 1 computer equals 100, 1000, or 10000 textbooks. Both computers and textbooks can make a difference but ultimately a very inexpensive computer is much more cost effective than 100 textbooks.


RE: Misguided?
By BZDTemp on 8/9/2008 8:26:59 AM , Rating: 2
EH - and how much good would your old text books do? It may come as a surprise to you but English is not the language used in every country in the world (far from actually - by example English is my third language).

And why should the developing nations have to settle for old used text books. What good does it to have them learn outdated stuff when there is a way to supply them current knowledge? Plus they surely need to learn other things not covered in western text books.

It seems to me that you have not realized what this is about. It is about bringing the basic education in struggling countries closer to our standard. Maybe it was no so when you was in school or when I was in school but these days kids in our schools get their own laptops. And there are computers all over the place - in fact that is the very infrastructure which lets us have this exchange of views across the globe.

Bringing better education to developing nations mean they will eventually be able to do better. Why is that wrong?


RE: Misguided?
By JustTom on 8/10/2008 12:05:18 AM , Rating: 2
So we ship books written in American English to people speaking Swahili....


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