The OLPC XO Laptop was designed for use in developing nations. The computer gets excellent battery life, which makes it ideal for use in locations with limited access to electricity. And it has a unique interface designed to make the laptops simple to use for children that have had little to no exposure to computers. But if you take a bunch of computer savvy users and ask them to perform a simple list of tasks on an XO Laptop and on more conventional laptops like the Asus Eee PC or Intel Classmate PC, the XO is probably going to lose 9 times out of 10.

And that’s exactly what Computer Aid International found when the group decided to conduct a test with a series of computers to determine which machines were best suited for deployment in developing areas of Africa. The group asked the folks at ZDNet UK to run a few tests on a few computers including an Asus Eee PC 900, Intel Classmate PC, and XO Laptop. Then the computers were shipped off to several African universities for field testing. (In one case, the reviewers were looking at an Asus Eee PC 701).

The results? The OLPC got better battery life than any other machine, but it was considered by most to be too slow and it couldn’t easily perform tasks like editing spreadsheets of watching video.  So most reviewers preferred the Eee PC, which scored higher than even the Classmate PC due to better battery life.

But the methodology seems a bit off to me. The OLPC XO Laptop wasn’t designed as a productivity machine for use in a college setting. It’s meant to be an educational tool for young children and it has a unique interface designed to help children learn to use computers, interact with their peers, learn to write programs, and perform other simple tasks. Sure, it doesn’t come with a spreadsheet application or video player, but as an open source computer you could install those if you wanted to. But it seems wrong to test the XO on its ability to perform tasks it wasn’t designed for — and which may not really be required. After all, how many spreadsheets did you fill out when you were 10 years old?

You can download the complete Computer Aid International report as a PDF.

via Tech Radar

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9 replies on “Eee PC trumps OLPC for use in developing nations in slightly biased test”

  1. OLPC management has decided that they next OLPC 2 design will be a reference design that they hope that folks like Asus and others will use to produce netbooks for children.

    Of course, they need to be waterproof, dust proof, no lithium ion batteries that blow up or catch fire (burning down the whole village that has no fire department is not a good idea).

    So – If only the netbook makers would just use the tech of the OLPC, they could have a device that matches the OLPC exactly, and their own designs too (remember that OLPC is not a hardware company but a group that has a focus on education in areas with no power so that the low power screens etc are important, as are the low power CPUs and that is why Intel was mad at OLPC because OLPC would not use their CPUs because in testing the Intel CPUs used way too much power.

    If you go to the videos where the leaders of the OLPC project talk more about constructionist theory of education, you will understand that this is less of a tech race for them, and just an end to a means idea of how to educate children without the infrastructure costs of building school buildings, and getting books into the hands of the billions of children world-wide who have no chance of getting an education at all… so, with the weather proof, sunlight readable screen, low power laptop sitting under a tree in the MESH network’s coverage range, EDUCATION can happen without infrastructure costs and the mind is the focus and not anything else. Really, why do these comparisons boil down to hardware specs vs specs?

    If no power grid in the mountains of Chile, then ASUS with a couple of hours of battery AND NO HAND CRANK charger, and a lithium ion battery with only a year of use vs the battery of the OLPC with 5 years of use… there is no comparison there as the OLPC battery (due to the extremely wise power saving of the CPU, Motherboard, and Mesh Network powersaving feature when not really being used, can out last the Asus any day of the week by a huge margin.

  2. Yeah this test wasn’t far elementary/middle school kids in Africa (Primary School?) would not need to make or edit spreadsheets, so how does this matter? The OLPC units are meant to be used school that might have minimal in facilities…to the point of having no roof or constant power…so the test really isn’t fair.

    However, I do have a few things to say to OPLC people, “You’re unit is going to get picked more because you are all foot draggers.

    Form CEO on down, not one of you did one damn thing ‘at the speed of’ a tech company. From conception to design to production you took twice as long. When people heard of OLPC machines they wanted one, and then 18 months later those buyers had already bought something better. You lost people’s hearts and minds because of foot dragging. The national school systems looking at your device are now being pitched dozens of machine that are in their second generation. These machines might not be as sturdy and have the “dream” behind them but they are hitting the price and they will be computers that these kids will run into later in life. There is a dangerously six of one half dozen of another going on OLPC…watch out.

    1. you made the point …. the olpc business model sucks.
      by the way: personally – by experience – i consider special “kids pc’s” nonsense. the interface and the applications running make a pc a kids or adults one. in this respect the asus beats them all. so the outcome of this survey is not astonishing at all. the little eee’s are sturdy and they can run on solar panels if needed.

  3. This report conclusion also differs slightly from the results that ZDNet published from its own analysis of the data:

    “The easiest choice to make is the mini-desktop, which is the Inveneo Computing Station. This is a genuinely low-power system (~20W average power) that performs reasonably well under both Linux and Windows XP, and is specifically designed for use in developing countries — in particular, it can run off a 12V DC solar power supply if necessary. Inveneo also has a network of partners in various African countries who are certified to provide support.”

    Of course, I’ll freely admit that I’m biased.

    1. No problem there – –
      I have heard a rumor that Bill Gates prefers Microsoft products. 😉
      (Even though his “personal” web-site once ran under freeBSD on a Sun Sparic.)

  4. Your right – the methodology sucks.
    They need to go into a back country village – install Wifi towers – go away – – –
    Later, air-drop a pallet of each type in the village square – –
    Return two months later, see which ones the kids are using, and which
    got burned in the cooking fire rather than hunt up more wood.

    1. Don’t forget that after a few months such kids won’t have much choice than to use XO primarily – simply because (and what many people forget) XO is basically an extremelly cheap “version” of Panasonic Toughbook.

      Not just a small & cheap version of ordinary laptops, carried usually in plush-lined bags.

      1. A good point – most of the Netbooks are designed for a modern, “indoor”, environment.
        Show them a few months of dust and dirt, only a machine designed for that will survive.

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