It’s been a while since anyone referred to the OLPC XO Laptop as the $100 laptop. You know, unless they were joking. But once upon a time, that was Nicholas Negroponte’s dream: to produce a notebook for under $100. Now, the OLPC project never planned to make a profit off of these notebooks, but a lot of folks swooned at the idea of a low cost computer. When Asus first announced the Eee PC, the company promised a $200 computer. By the time the Eee PC 4G came to market, Asus was charging $400, but you can pick up a 2G model for $300. Not exactly a hundred bills, but we’re getting closer.
Consulting and analysis firm Gartner is predicting that it’ll be 3 years before we see an actual $100 laptop. Here’s the argument: While there’s an increasing demand for cheap laptops and parts, which will help drive down the cost of components, software, assembly, and distribution costs aren’t going down anytime soon.
There’s another thing that will likely keep us from hitting the $100 price point. Computer makers are already seeing slimmer profit margins on cheap computers like the Eee PC or Acer Aspire One. They have a financial incentive not to let the costs drop too far. If people are willing to pay $200 to $600 for a cheap, ultraportable computer, why offer one for under $100 when the profit margins will be slimmer?
Of course, it is possible to slap together a PC with really crappy parts and sell it for a low, low price. Even if you have to place a minimum order of 50, Alibaba is selling a rebranded Alpha 400 laptop for $130. But you get what you pay for, and in this case, it’s a PC with a 400MHz CPU, practically no RAM, and a proprietary version of Linux. Given the choice between the “world’s cheapest laptop” and a model that costs twice the price but lets me choose my operating system, includes built-in WiFi, and has a CPU that runs faster than my Dell Axim PDA, I’m going to go with the pricier model.