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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 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?


"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes














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