XO laptop -- a green miracle of energy efficiency: Video

Avi sez, "Mary Lou Jepsen, who invented the sunlight readable display for the two-watt XO laptop, gives the numbers that set the bar for ALL future gadgets."

This is a hell of a video clip -- Jepsen just lays down the cold, hard numbers about her marvellous invention and compares it to the disposable power-guzzlers the rest of us use and the comparison speaks for itself. Damn, I wish that they'd made this for sale in Britain last Christmas. Link (Thanks, Avi!)


  1. An almost-useless, underpowered laptop with a tiny, dim screen is also a low-power laptop??? No way!

  2. The plastics used for the XO laptop, including the hand-crank charger, are all petroleum based. That’s oil.

  3. The XO Laptop is a genius idea, mainly for the intent. We all don’t need super-powerful uber-geek computers to accomplish our day to day tasks, although the trends in software development tend to emphasize this.

    Many of our technologies are intentionally wasteful in order to procure more power, but as the price of oil increases and the supply dwindles we are rethinking this.

    Of course this is something that digs underneath people’s skins and causes angry comments because nobody wants to think that their technolust is really causing harm, but there are a lot of computers ending up in landfills everyday.

    If you want to do something about it I suggest getting involved with your local Freegeek.org or starting your own.

    I just think that a mesh-based low-power internet tablet that has very low toxicity that is orientated towards kids is pretty rad.

  4. I notice that the laptop on the podium in front of her isn’t an XO. This is the one that’s actually being used – not just waved around.

  5. You incredible, perspectivist fools. An underpowered laptop with a dim screen is a miracle to a child who has never seen one. And it just might change his life, giving him opportunities that he never would have seen otherwise.

  6. I applaud the XO and its goals; I do wish the thing was widely available as I know many who would prefer such a device over the usual laptop fare. The endstate of providing computers to low-income areas is admirable …

    Also, however, I would not like to run SolidWorks/COSMOS or similar on it like I do my current ‘power-guzzling’ laptop (which is essentially a desktop in a 15.4″ case -.-). Mayhaps using the ‘all’ modifier was going a bit far ;)

    Lastly, you can drop your elitist holier-than-thou routine ElSmiley. Yes, we all know about how it helps children worldwide. Does that preclude commentary on how it should affect us, given that this interaction with us is the point of the post?

  7. I have an XO, and it ROCKS!
    I did the Give-one-get-one program; ~$400 to buy two, I got one and one was donated to the distribution pool.

    I love it. It gives me ~8 to 10 hours of text editing time on a charge – thats total typing time, if I stop to think or chat with someone it powers down and the battery stops draining. It’s fully functional as a Linux system – as long as you don’t expect it to perform beyond its capabilities. As a web browser, simple image editor, text editor, camera (yes, the built in camera is pretty good), and e reader there is NOTHING on the market better. And once you learn how to launch apps from the terminal, bypassing the GUI altogether, it runs even faster.

    I’ve sat down with people that bought eee pc’s, and some of the other ‘ultra portables’ and by the time we’ve finished comparing functionality vs actual use vs cost everyone agrees that the XO is the best bang-for-the-buck they’ve ever seen.

  8. PVC is actually good for the environment, and all of industrial synthetics, probably one of the best around.

    Why? Because PVC is made out of chlorine industrial waste products that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. The reason PVC pipe and so forth is so cheap is that it is literally made from industrial waste.

    The PVC traps these harmful gases and degrades slowly over hundreds of years, releasing them at a rate the planet can then deal with safely. It’s also one of the easiest vinyls to recycle.

  9. I’ve heard lots of people slag the XO laptop, but none of them have ever used one. Everyone who’s had a chance to use an XO for a week or so has nothing but good things to say about it.

    I’m not sure if that’s sour grapes, or just a misunderstanding of what the device is about…

  10. Since you think the screen is dim, you’ve obviously never used one. The bright sunlight mode is amazing, a brilliant concept, and the regular mode is not dim. Its got plenty of power to do what it needs to, which is be used in education in third world countries – not replace laptops for geeks in developed countries. That being said, it has made an awful lot of geeks (and children too!) in developed countries who have one quite happy.

  11. This is brilliant. Completely useless to me, except maybe as an ultra-portable, but a wonderful example of the money to made on greener products. Also a good lesson on how the rest of the world is going to get all the tech we have without comparable per-person impact on the environment.

    One thing I found striking was the “revelation” that greener is cheaper, after manufacturers told them it would cost more to use fewer resources.

  12. Hey Striped Pants, last time I checked, all computers were made out of plastic, metal, chemicals, etc.

    What you might not have understood is that the OLPC XO is designed to last a lot longer than the typical laptop, and to be user-repairable.

    Mary Lou mentioned the replaceable backlight on the display, for example. It takes a trained tech an hour (really!) to replace the screen on a typical laptop. And that means replacing the entire top-half of the computer, and throwing away all the bits that didn’t break!

    Longer lasting = greener. User-fixable = unprecedented.

    Could they have made the XO out of metal or wood instead of plastic? Maybe, but it would be heavier, more fragile, and more expensive.

  13. What I love is the point she mentions at the start– that you *don’t* have to think of “green” as an add-on feature with add-on cost. You just make design choices that result in lower power, lower cost, lower pollution, and longer lifetime.

  14. @1: “Underpowered” is relative to the goal of the machine. If it was billed as a machine to play Unreal 2010 on, then yes, it’s underpowered.

    But seeing as how it’s designed to be an ebook, calculator, web browser, word processor, analog measurement device, audio/video player, run simple educational games, etc. I’d say it’s actually overpowered – they anticipated heavier uses than it’s being used for currently.

    I’ve gotten Doom and Quake running fine on mine, for example – I still remember the days not long ago when computers which could run those really were considered “overpowered”.

    Also, I haven’t had any problems with the screen being too dim. At night, I can turn down the brightness very low to save battery life and still see the screen fine. During the day the backlight provides more than enough light indoors. Outdoors or in direct lamplight I can turn the backlight off completely and enjoy the high-res sunlight-readable mode, which really is awesome, especially for reading books. Unlike a conventional LCD, where bright light overwhelms the screen and makes it unreadable, the OLPC’s screen actually becomes /sharper/, looking more like a printed page when hit with bright or direct light.

  15. I visited my parents in Florida last week. I booked a frequent flyer program flight with a stopover and lots of waiting.

    So, I brought my XO laptop (“One Laptop Per Child”) with me, to check email and use as an ebook reader. I loaded it up with classic books from Project Gutenberg, and looked up how to turn off the WiFi so I could use it on the plane as well.

    It was great. The screen, with the back lighting on, was brilliant and crisp. With the back lighting turned off, the text was perfectly clear and readable under the light of the planes’ reading lamps. I read E.E. Doc Smith’s Triplanetary and most of Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus with it in that mode.

    The no-brainer network searcher found and connected the Orlando, Las Vegas, and Portland airports’ free WiFi. I was able to check my AOL and Comcast email accounts. (The browser had trouble with my work email.) The keyboard is a bit too small for touch typing, but I knocked off three or four email messages as well.

    And . . . folks . . . the thing attracts geeks like a cute baby in a stroller attracts cheek-pinching old ladies. I was approached by at least six people, on the plane and in the terminals, who were utterly entranced by the thing. I demonstrated it, let them fondle it, and explained the OLPC project. (One couple not only liked the computer, but photographed my home-made case.)

    They all wanted one.

    I’m considering stenciling LAPTOP.ORG on the case, so I can tell people where to find out more about the project and the XO.

  16. #2:

    Nat’l Geo’s “Toxic Computer” interactive graphic contains an awesome heap of BS, which I would not have expected from such a prestigious publication.

    * Mercury in switches and relays? Nope. Mercury wetted relays are used in specialist applications only. And the only relay in the average computer is the line relay on the analogue modem card if you still have one (it is the part that produces the audible “clunk” when you start dialing in).
    Mercury is still used these days but only in fluorescent lamps, in very small amounts.

    * Beryllium in the motherboard? Nope. Beryllium Oxide (BeO) is a ceramic which is both an excellent electrical insulator and a very good thermal conductor, which is a very useful combination in high power electronic components such as transmitting tubes and magnetrons. It is highly toxic, and as such has been phased out of any consumer products a long time ago – but you may bump into the odd microwave oven with a BeO-containing magnetron. Professional components that still contain BeO are required to have warning labels.

    * Cadmium and hexavalent chromium are being agressively phased out of electronics under ROHS. As are lead and mercury. Cadmium, hexavalent chromium and lead are still present (the latter in very significant quantities) in most older kit though. Phasing out of mercury has been underway from the mid-eighties since it has been recognized as especially dangerous due to its volatility.

    That is not to say that e-waste is not a (huge) problem. It is, mostly because:
    a) Only a low percentage is being recycled properly. According to current estimates, up to 80% of e-waste – even, in some instances, the stuff you may have paid for in order to be recycled properly! – ends up being dumped in Africa or China.
    b) The lifetime of most electronics is increasingly expressed in months rather than years, which means that the production of e-waste is indeed increasing very sharply.

    I wonder what pollutes more: A product which contains some toxic materials but is built for eternity, or ten products (replacing the former) which contain very little toxic materials…

    That said, I warmly welcome no-nonsense, low power, low cost computing hardware. But I am of course in a state of sin as I’m currently looking at the screen of my power-guzzling HP-Panasonic 21″ (the Humvee of displays, bought second hand for a mere €50) and I’m not letting go of it anytime soon… Haven’t yet seen a reasonably priced LCD display that can match its color rendering and sheer screen real estate.

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