Quick guide: Low-cost computing devices and initiatives for the developing world
Quick guide: Low-cost computing devices and initiatives for the developing world
Update In July 2010, infoDev published an updated list of low-cost ICT devices used in education.
The projects and products included in this idiosyncratic list run the gamut from small research projects at universities to field-based experiments run by NGOs to commercial products from small start-ups and large multinationals. Products are in various stages of development; while most are still in the prototyping and/or beta-testing stages, some are already in the market (and some, it should be noted, have been discontinued).
The products listed here come in many form factors: Some look like conventional PCs or laptops, others look more like PDAs or phones, and some are somewhere in between. The lines are blurring between many categories of device. We have deliberately excluded from this list devices that most people would call a 'PDA' or a 'phone', even though mobile phones are perhaps the 'low-cost ICT device' in widest use. We have also not included various examples of 'probeware' (purpose-built data collection devices), even though this category of low-cost 'computing device' is increasingly being found in many educational settings, nor various types of 'e-book readers' (with one exception).
Please note that this list is for informational purposes only; inclusion here does not suggest any endorsement by infoDev of the value or viability of any project, program or organization. The list is meant to be representational, and is by no means comprehensive. In many instances, specific countries of deployment are linked to specific initiatives; this information comes from published press reports and has not been independently verified by infoDev. In some instances, products listed here are currently only available in developed country markets; the inclusion of such products here is meant to draw attention to various types of low-cost devices that might be relevant to or available in developing country markets in the future.
Additional information about all of these projects can be found in infoDev's collection of News items: information devices for the developing world.
Related briefing sheets:
- Quick guide to some alternative models to provide connectivity in low- and no-bandwidth environments
- Quick guide to prominent initiatives promoting the development of low-cost computing devices for developing countries
- Quick guide to government-sponsored "Cheap PC" Programs
A List of Some Known Organizations and Products (not exhaustive)
- Aleutia E1
Low-power, ruggedized desktop running Linux, meant to be designed/optimized for use in rural Africa.
- Alphasmart (Neo, Dana)
AlphaSmart makes two portable, battery-powered keyboarding devices. The Neo is essentially a word-processor and was designed for use in schools. The Dana can run Palm OS applications and can be connected via wi-fi.
- AMD Personal Internet Communicator
Commercial [Mexico, other countries] (discontinued, assets sold in 2007 to Data Evolution, maker of the Cathena and Clio, successor device known as decTOP)
AMD's Personal Internet Communicator (PIC) was the first product to emerge out of its "50x15" initiative (50% of the world connected by 2015). The PIC was meant to provide managed Internet access for consumers to access e-mail, browse web sites, etc. , running a version of Microsoft Windows.
- Chang Feng
A ruggedized 'rural PC' from Beijing Science and Technology Commission utilizing Red Flax Linux that links farmers to agricultural information networks; it also ships with educational, health and karaoke software. (Chang Feng means 'Strong Wind').
- Computador Popular (Popular PC)
Status unknown [Brazil]
Computador Popular was an Internet appliance without a floppy, hard disk or CD-ROM drive primarily meant for Internet access in Brazil. Also known as the Popular PC (PPC) and the 'Volkscomputer', it was supported by the government's Fund for the Universalization of Communication.
Code name for an "ultra-portable" computing device (between a PC and a PDA) running a modified version of Windows CE being developed by Brazil's Unesp (State University of São Paulo "Julio de Mesquita Filho") with a price-point of US$250.
Successor to AMD's PIC, Data Evolution's decTOP is a rugged, low-cost computing device runing Linux or Windows CE.
- Desert PC
NGO, pilot [Mali] (operational)
From GeekCorps Mali, a computer built using using locally-available, off-shelf hardware components and free, open source software able to operate in high heat, high dust environments with low electricity and provide affordable Internet access, based on VIA's Mini-ITX.
- Digital Textbook
Commercial [South Korea] (currently pilot, plans for national roll-out by 2011)
The Korean Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development has announced that all Korean students will use a 'digital textbook' from Fujitsu (Stylistic ST5030) utilizing the Windows XP Tablet PC. The estimated cost is approximately US$100.
Series of fanless, very low-power PCs from Taiwan's DMP Electronics.
- E-DUC Projeto Caderno Digital ("digital notebook")
Linux-based, low-cost PC project for the education sector in the Brazilian state of Paraná.
- Eee PC
Low-priced, Linux-based laptop from Asus with no moving parts.
- EELS (EduVision E-Learning System)
EELS is an end-to-end content management system utilizing open source software to distribute digital educational content to an 'eSlate', tablet device into which data is input via a stylus or buttons. The eSlate is connected wirelessly to a base station which receives content via satellite radio.
- Elonex ONE
A sub-£100, Linux-based laptop out of the UK aimed at the education sector.
Research prototype/concept, commercial
From Microsoft Research, a prototype mobile phone-based computer to be connected to a television display and a keyboard, for use in emerging markets.
- Fulong Mini-PC (also known as "Longmeng", "Lemote Box", "Loongson Box")
Commercial, prototypes shipped [China]
An inexpensive, light-weight, Linux-based laptop utilizing a Godson-2 (Loongson) processor developed at an institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), designed for use in remote areas of China. Marketed by Jiangsu Lemote Technology Corporation Limited, a joint venture between Jiangsu Menglan Group Corporation and the Institute of Computing Technology at CAS. (note: ‘Longmeng’ means ‘dragon dream’.)
Low-cost, low-power PC from Everex sold through Walmart (sometimes incorrectly, and misleadingly, referred to as the 'Google PC').
- HP 441
The Linux-based HP 441 desktop solution allowed for four independent users to simultaneously use a single PC. This product, which has been discontinued, was born from HP experiences in a pilot project in Mogalakwena, South Africa.
- InkMedia Computer
Commercial (availability unknown)
Low cost laptop with no moving parts meant to sell for under $300.
- Ink PC
Commercial, not yet available
A ROM-based laptop computer utilizing open source software.
- Intel Classmate (Eduwise)
Intel's low-cost laptops for the education market; utilize flash memory instead of a hard drive and run Microsoft Windows XP.
- Intel Community PC
Commercial [India, China]
The umbrella term for products and initiatives related to 'ruggedized' PC from Intel and others designed to operate in remote communities with challenging environmental conditions (weather, unreliable power). Many of these computers are expected to be used in Internet “kiosk” centers in villages in India. Wipro's ''SuperGenius Bharat PC'' is one example. In China, this has a few incarnations, from the "Happy Family" PC (JiaJiaLe), produced by Intel and Haier to the Chang Feng (see separate entry above), to the Shandong Rural Worker’s PC, in which Microsoft is also involved.
Pilot [Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana, Mali and Guinea-Bissau]
The Inveneo Communications System is meant to provide computing, Internet Access and VoIP telephony for places with little or no access to electricity or affordable communications. The Inveneo System, which utilizes open source software and solar power, is specifically designed to meet the needs of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), local governments, private entities and the communities they serve.
- iT (ATM1088(L))
Compact portable device from Aisatotal.net running Windows CE meant to be distributed free of charge to end users, through the support of sponsors (who 'own' various hotkeys on the device that directly connect users to specific web sites).
Commercial [Spanish/Portuguese language education markets]
Portable 'everything in one' (todo en uno) touchscreen PC device running Windows.
- IQ PC
Low-cost education PC from Microsoft and AMD for the Indian market, in partnership with Zenith and Wipro.
- Janata PC
Low-cost computing device from Wipro, HCL and India's Manufacturers Association of Information Technology (MAIT) running Linux.
- Jhai PC
Pilot [Laos, Navajo Nation (USA)]
A low-power, ruggedized PC utilizing localized open source software applications, designed for use in remote villages and other challenging environments.
The Amazon Kindle (from Amazon.com) is a wireless e-book reader currently only available in the UNited States, where it retails for $399.
- Leapfrog Clickstart
Labelled by many an 'educational toy', the 'ClickStart My First Computer' was designed especially for learners between ages 3-6. Connected to a TV, it is meant to introduce computer and preschool skills.
A nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower children and adults with tools for knowledge sharing and literacy learning as an effective means towards advancing education, health, economic development, democracy, and human rights. Their Talking Book Device is a low cost audio computer, and children and adults in developing countries will use the device for literacy learning and knowledge sharing within their communities.
- Mecer Education PC
Commercial [South Africa]
Low-cost education PC for the South African market running a Via processor.
- Mobilis and SofComp
Commercial [India, Brazil]
Low-cost, Linux-based devices from Encore Software with no hard drives. Originally sponsored by a grant from India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
Commercial, not yet available [China]
An inexpensive Linux-based computer from YellowSheepRiver China, designed for Chinese markets utilizing the Godson-2 (Loongson) CPU.
- Norhtec MicroClient JrSX & New MicroClient, Gecko
Norhtec's small, low-power, low-noise MicroClient JrSX retails for US$85, uses flash memory and features a low-end AMD processor. The more expensive New MicroClient contains a 40 GB hard drive and twice as much RAM (256MB). The sub-$300 Gecko laptop is meant to run a flavor of Linux and utilize a Via processor.
- Nokia N770 Internet Tablet
A small palmtop wireless Internet appliance operated with a stylus running Linux for wireless Internet browsing and e-mail with 64MB of RAM and 128MB of Flash.
- Nova Net PC & Nova Net TV
Novatium produces the Nova Net PC, a low-cost network computer, and the Nova Net TV, a low-cost home entertainment computing device.
Pilot [South Africa]
An ultra-thin-client computing solution utilizing open source software developed in Cambridge (UK). (note: ‘Ndiyo’ is the Swahili word for ‘yes’).
- OfficeStation (PC Expanion)
Low-cost thin client solution from nComputing of Malaysia.
- One Laptop Per Child ($100 laptop, Children's Machine 1, CM1, XO) (OLPC wiki)
Not yet available [Argentina, Brazil, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uruguay]
The most famous of the initiatives seeking to provide low cost computing devices for the developing world, a Linux-based, low-power laptop meant to connect wirelessly to broadband using mesh networks and featuring an innovative display mechanism.
- Open Book project
Hardware specification (proposed)
An initiative to develop an open source hardware and software specification for future products.
Pilot, discontinued [India]
A low-cost, wirelessly networked personal computer developed at Carnegie Mellon University. (note: PCtvt stands for "PC, TV, Video and Telephone.)
The first high profile initiative to provide low cost computing devices for the developing world, the Simputer is a small handheld computer utilizing the Linux operating system. (note: 'Simputer' stands for 'Simple, Inexpensive and Multilingual People's compUTER’). Versions manufactured by Encore and Amida (PicoPeta).
Commercial not yet available [China]
Based on the Godson-1 (Loongson) processor, this series of low cost laptop is from Sichuan Guoxin Technology. The Tianhua GX-1C and GX-1C sub-notebooks are meant for Chinese schools; the Tian Yan GX-2 will use a Tv for display and is meant for rural farmers.
A low-cost handheld computer between the size of a PDA and a sub-notebook, the battery-powered Sirius uses the AlephOS and features zero moving parts, a full QWERTY keyboard and can interface with ohter peripherals Iincluding mobile phones and PCs).
- SolarLite PC
Based on Open Hardware concept, SolarLite PC designs are meant to be provided royalty free so that individual countries or large organizations can manufacture low-cost computers for themselves in perpetuity.
Commercial, not yet available [Nigeria]
The Solo is meant to be an ultra-low power, transportable computer designed to operate from a number of different power sources, including solar panels and lead-acid vehicle batteries.
Commercial [USA: Chicago schools]
A handheld computer designed for pupils in the first years of primary school.
Commercial, not yet available [India]
The Terra/PHD systems designed by the Taiwanese firm Via are meant to be low-cost, energy-efficient computing appliances (some meant to run on car batteries). (note: PHD stands for "Power Heat & Dust"). These systems are part of Via's PC-1 Initiative.
- VillagePDA (link courtesy of the Internet Archive)
Commercial pilot, discontinued [Kenya, Sri Lanka]
The sub-US$25 VillagePDA was meant to offer wireless access to villagers and fisherman in rural Kenya and Sri Lanka.
Low cost, energy efficient laptop from Everex running Linux; initial price is subsidized if user purchases a monthly maintenance subscription plan. (Lower cost desktop version also available.)
- Recyled PCs are another low-cost option. Prominent organizations providing used PCs internationally include Computer Aid, Digital Links and World Computer Exchange.
- For the most part, 'e-book readers' (purpose-built devices for the display of so-called 'e-books') are not included on this list. A useful list of some of the major e-book readers can be found on Wikipedia.
- You may also be interested in a new resource from the Inter-american Development Bank (IDB), which seeks to centralize specialized information on skill and knowledge development related to one-to-one and ubiquitous computing models that are relevant to education in Latin America and the Caribbean: One-to-One Computing Models for Children in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- Laptop Magazine maintains a 'low-cost laptop cheat cheet'.
- ZDNet published a very useful article in early 2008 on "Low-power computing: a tech guide" that examines eight products.
- Perhaps the most comprehensive listing of 'low cost ultra portables' available in developed markets can be found at the useful Liliputing blog.
Links change! Given the constantly changing nature of the Internet, we suggest that you copy the organization, product or web site title (as appropriate) into your favorite search engine to locate the current home of a given site on the Internet.
Trucano, Michael. 2008. Quick guide to low-cost computing devices and initiatives for the developing world. An infoDev briefing sheet. Washington, DC: infoDev / World Bank.