The folks at NorhTec just sent me an interesting netbook to play with. You can check out my unboxing and hands-on video after the break, as well as a peek beneath the hood. But first, here’s a bit of info about why the NorhTec Gecko Edubook isn’t like other netbooks.

I mean sure, it has an 8.9 inch 1024 x 600 pixel display and can run Windows or Linux. But that’s about it for the similarities. Here’s a brief list of things that makes the Edubook stand out from the crowd:

  • It can run on rechargeable NiMH AA batteries.
  • It uses a 1GHz Xcore86 CPU that uses 1.2 watts of power and is x86-compatible.
  • The whole laptop uses just 6.5 watts of power.
  • There’s an internal SD card slot for storage plus room for a 2.5 inch hard drive.
  • Individual units go for just $199.95. It’s even cheaper if you order in bulk (100,000 units will get you a price of $99.95 each, while $10,000 units cost $145 each).

The Edubook is also fanless and can be used in high temperature environments without cooling.

The netbook is designed for educational purposes, although NorhTec says there’s been a lot of interest from open source enthusiasts and Linux hackers. The entire system is designed to be modular. You can even pop out the CPU and replace it easily, and the idea is that NorhTec can either sell you assembled units or a batch of barebones units that you can assemble on-site. For instance, you might be able to pick up some of the components such as SD cards cheaper in your own country.

The unit I’m reviewing has 512MB of RAM, an 8GB SD card, an 8.9 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel display, a 1GHz Xcore86 system-on-a-chip, 8 NiMH AA batteries, 3 USB ports, WiFi, Ethernet, and mic and headphone jacks. The Edubook is also available with Lithium Polymer battery packs which can provide more run time than the NiMH AA batteries.

The RAM is on the same module as the CPU. So you’ll be able to buy a new chip with an upgraded processor and/or more memory when they become available without replacing the entire computer.

There’s no power brick. Instead you plug the power cable directly into the back of the computer.

The notebook isn’t designed to be a speed demon and I don’t expect it to outperform similarly sized laptops in its class. Instead, it’s designed as a durable, customizable, and low cost machine for use in educational settings, developing nations, and other places where price is more important than the ability to play Call of Duty 4.

It’s a little thicker than I would expect from a typical 9 inch netbook, and the keyboard and touchpad are uncomfortably small for adult hands. But they’re designed for school children, not for me.

You can check out two hands-on videos with the Edubook after the break.

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38 replies on “NorhTec Gecko Edubook first look: Netbook that runs on AA batteries”

  1. Surprised they didn’t use lithium ion batteries there. They do have some that is the same size as an AA battery. But I think its pretty impressive the whole thing can run on 6.5 watts.

    1. Well done Norhtec!
      How do I get one in Canada without paying $50+ shipping??

  2. You are right!I cannot understand why manufacturers refuse AA cells for their low cost laptops!

    The Radio Shack TRS100 also used batteries to power it. I am glad they are using this idea again. Instead of being frustrated that the battery has gone dead and having no where to charge it, one can just pop in some readily available batteries that can be bought any where; not just the rechargeable kind

  4. If they ever move to a 10.1 inch model, then CES (Jan 7-9 or so) would be the place to show it off. If these folks are in the Education market then do they have the power savings, mesh networking, same screen, like what OLPC XO-1 has?

    With OLPC moving to ARM at 1.75 version, then how will they all (those who are selling into the education market) compare side-by-side? That would be a good thing for the bloggers to take a look at and write about. Instead of looking at them one at a time for the eduction space, have them all lined up and make a chart. Taking a look as well at what would be best for 3rd world schools that don’t have a power grid to run their netbooks?

    1. No matter what the specs. The AA battery design WINS on many fronts as it removes you from that “proprietary battery hell” when in time as your device grows old… you can’t find batteries anymore, OR the ones you find on 3rd party warehouse shelves are so old and stale that they don’t work very long. And every device there is will meet this future. It is bad for the environment to have to throw away something that works JUST because you can’t find a battery that works for it (this is true of all mobile devices)!

      Also with AA you get away from the inflated cost of proprietary replacement batteries.

      1. but build quality of the laptop may mean your batteries last longer than the laptop ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. If they the AA battery last longer than the device it is used in means you can still use it in other devices and not be totally useless.

  5. I’ve got one of Norhtec’s Microclient JR dx computers, it uses almost no power – 6 watts when booting from a CF card. The CPU is a previous version of this computer’s Xcore86, lacks the MMX instruction set. It also was unable to use ultraDMA through the IDE interface (I’m told this has been fixed).
    I notice in your second video, where the module is shown, that the CPU is silkscreened with writing. I can make out the company name “MSTI”, but not what is under it. My old CPU has “MSTI” and the next line is “PDX-600”. What’s printed on this one?
    I am curious about the output from cat /proc/cpuinfo My older model CPU says (the first few lines):
    processor : 0
    vendor_id : Vortex86 SoC
    cpu family : 5
    model : 2
    model name : 05/02
    stepping : 2
    cpu MHz : 999.996

    Once I worked out the kinks, my little box has performed admirably, seems stable (up for a couple of weeks now), running Slackware 12.2 off a Toshiba 1.8″ IDE drive, it’d be great to be able to run my favourite distro on this little device.

  6. “…places where price is more important than the ability to play Call of Duty 4.”

    Yes but what about CoD 1? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. i have been pondering ordering one, if i can figure out the cost to have it shipped to norway ๐Ÿ˜‰

    also, they recently announced a keyboard version of this. Yep, a competitor to the eee-keyboard, and a concept that really brings back memories of my amiga 500 days ๐Ÿ˜€

    seriously, i would love to get my hands on a version of both, if possible ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. Hi,
      Did you buy this kind of unit?
      I ordered both of them some days ago.
      These are pretty cool, even keyboard pc.
      PuppyLinux and turnkeycore linux are really quick on these units, really nice for children. And the older children can give the edubook to the younger ๐Ÿ™‚

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