Hardware Upgrade Available for One Laptop Per Child Devices

In a TED talk we shared yesterday, Neil D’Souza spoke about the challenge of reaching “the last mile,” and spreading 21st century learning techniques to third world and underprivileged communities. Today I learned about the XO Laptop that D’Souza mentioned in his talk, and how a new upgrade aims to breathe new life into the 5-year-old machines still making a difference in global education.

Behold, the tough and reliable XO-1.75 with grid membrane (left) and mechanical keyboard (right). Photo by Sandra Barragan.

The device was invented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2007. It uses a Linux operating system and includes 36 applications to enable a number of basic faculties in children including speaking, writing, reading and calculating. The devices have a hundred different e-books installed on them, access to Wikipedia and an application that teaches pronunciations in over 50 languages.

The device is rugged and long lasting, with a shock-proof exterior shell and external covers for USB ports. The screen pivots and folds back to suit a number of different configurations, and it and can last for up to eight hours on a fully-charged battery using one-megawatt electricity

“The XO has features that make it suitable for children to use. It consumes power frugally, can withstand rough use and be used in hot and dusty environments,” said Walter Bender, co-founder of the One Laptop per Child initative.

OLPC is now offering upgrade kits to current XO Laptop users. In tech speak, you can purchase an upgrade that turns an XO-1 or XO-1.5 into an XO-1.75. You’ll need to swap out the motherboards, but OLPC points out that this method is a lot cheaper than purchasing a whole new set of machines. You can also choose to install a new grid membrane keyboard if you wish.

On OLPC’s blog, they wrote:

“With this upgrade you get a modern ARM CPU, much lower power consumption (it runs long hours on each battery charge, and performs fantastically well on solar panels). Depending on options, you can get larger RAM and storage.”

They also asked a pretty amusing question:

“Do you know of any laptop manufacturer that supports upgrading 5-year-old models to the latest and greatest with a motherboard change, and at a fraction of the cost?”

It’s a pretty good point. Can you imagine a Best Buy or an Apple store upgrading your 5-year-old laptop for a low cost? That kind of thing isn’t exactly reasonable in the Western world, is it?