With so much negative news lately about low-cost manufacturing in China, here’s a bit of good news: Mass production of the XO laptop computer-the so-called $100 laptop designed by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC, Cambridge, MA)-began last month at Quanta Computer Inc.’s factory in Changshu, China.

OLPC is a nonprofit organization launched in 2005 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte, Ph.D., to design, manufacture and distribute affordable laptop computers to children around the world.

Quanta Computer is a contract manufacturer of notebook computers, enterprise network systems, home entertainment systems, mobile communication devices, automotive electronics and other electronic products. It’s customers include Hewlett-Packard and Dell. Besides the Changshu facility and its headquarters in Taiwan, the company has factories in Taipei and Shanghai, China.

The XO is housed in a dirt- and moisture-resistant enclosure 242 millimeters wide, 228 millimeters long, and 32 millimeters tall. The Linux-based laptop has a 500-megahertz processor, 256 megabytes of DRAM, and 1 gigabyte of flash memory. It does not have a hard disk, but it does have three USB ports and SD-card slot for expansion.

The laptop’s pivoting, LCD display has two modes of operation: a full-color, transmissive DVD mode for viewing indoors and a high-resolution black-and-white mode for viewing outdoors in sunlight. Integrated peripherals include a keyboard, game pad, touch pad, stereo speakers and a color video camera. With a nickel-metal-hydride battery, it weighs just under 3.5 pounds.

Connecting to the Internet will be possible through mesh networking, and each XO will be able to talk with nearby XOs in an ad hoc local area network.

The machine was designed to be very energy-efficient, and it can be powered by solar energy, hand crank or foot pedals.

The OLPC created the XO laptop as a children’s machine designed for “learning learning.” The organization sees the computer as the tool with which to unlock the enormous potential of children. Put this ultra-low-cost, powerful, rugged and versatile laptop in their hands, says Negroponte, and the kids will do the rest.

The first 5 million to 15 million units will be shipped to China, Brazil, India, Argentina, Egypt, Nigeria and Thailand.
The XO is the product of some very talented and forward-thinking design, manufacturing and software engineers from around the world, and I applaud their efforts.

For more information about the One Laptop Per Child project-and to learn how you can send an XO laptop to a needy child-click here or here.