African researchers rank Asus Eee over OLPC's XO

Computing

Though the XO laptop from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project is aimed directly at children in developing nations, research by African universities and Computer Aid International ranks the Asus Eee PC netbook as a better choice for emerging economies -- at least, on the African continent.

Research teams in Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe studied five PCs and analyzed which one was best-equipped for use in developing countries. They were ranked, in order: the Asus Eee; the Intel Classmate; OLPC's XO laptop; the Inveneo Computing Station; and Ncomputing's X300.

Asus has the best solution for an average individual owner and user in rural Africa who needs a low-power PC, while Ncomputing proved to be the more viable choice for many people in the educational field, said the research team from Kenyatta University in Nairobi.

The study found that though the XO is better overall in terms of power consumption, the Asus Eee netbook is, overall, better suited for Africa, a continent still grappling with issues of erratic power supply, dusty conditions, heat, low income and illiteracy, among other challenges.

"Many communities in Africa have no reliable access to mains electricity and are forced to rely on expensive alternatives like solar panels or diesel generators," said Tony Roberts, founder, Computer Aid International. "The teams set out to find a low-power, low-cost solution that will facilitate the availability and use of information technology in the region."

OLPC has met with some success recently. India, for example, has ordered 250,000 XO laptops, while the Human Rights Respect Awareness Raising Campaigners, a human rights organization, will supply 5,000 OLPC machines to Sierra Leone.

However, though the OLPC XO has been touted by some as the solution to Africa's technology problems, and the quantitative and qualitative tests ranked it best in terms of power consumption, it was the slowest of all the systems in the performance tests.

Computer Aid collaborated with teams at Kenyatta University; Jos University, Nigeria; and the National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe.

The research started by considering several low-power PCs and laptops. Eight were assessed under lab conditions by ZDNet in London. The top five were shortlisted and shipped for testing at the three universities.

The Asus Eee PC was the solution preferred unanimously by all the testing teams, offering the ideal compromise between power consumption, performance and portability.

The Ncomputing X300 was also highlighted for its suitability for computer labs. The Intel Classmate performed very well, but was not the most preferred solution due to its higher power consumption and low battery life, while the cost of the Inveneo Computing Station was deemed restrictive for use in the developing world.

OLPC is a project aimed at providing children in developing countries with laptops at a cost of $200 or less. The XO laptop tested by the researchers -- incorporating the Sugar interface running on Linux -- did not include a spreadsheet, and none of the universities could complete the spreadsheet test on the OLPC.

The famed American software programmer and entrepreneur Dan Bricklin has come out with a version of the open-source SocialCalc for the XO. But the inability of the researchers to run their spreadsheet test highlighted one weakness of the XO that technologists have been pointing out -- namely, that the XO is mainly for children and not for teachers interested in computerizing all aspects of a school's operations.

Computerworld Kenya