Intel Classmate PCs Head to Portugal

Intel's Classmate PC notebook, which competes with the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) XO laptop, is getting a big boost after Portugal contracts to purchase 500,000 of these Intel laptops for students.

Intel is poised to announce an agreement with Portugal that will bring 500,000 of the Intel-designed Classmate PC notebooks into the hands of thousands of elementary school children.

Intel Chairman Craig Barrett and Portuguese Prime Minister Jos??« S??crates are expected to announce the agreement July 30 in Lisbon. The Classmate PC laptops will be distributed as part of Portugal's Magellan Initiative, which looks to bring more technology into the classroom.

For Intel, the agreement with the Portuguese government represents one of the largest deployments of its Classmate PC design. The notebooks destined for Portugal are manufactured by ECS, which is based in Taiwan, and also by JP S??¡ Couto, a local Portuguese manufacturer.

The Classmate PC is Intel's own version of the low-cost laptop. Since the start of 2008, OEMs from Hewlett-Packard to Acer have been trying to duplicate the marketing success that Asus has enjoyed with the launch of its low-cost Eee PC, which is designed for children and adults in emerging markets. In addition to the Classmate, Intel has also designed a version of its new Atom processor to specifically work with this new category of low-cost laptops that the chip maker has called "netbooks."

The fact that Intel is rushing into the education market means that the company is also looking to square off against the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child project and its laptop called the XO. Earlier this year, Intel broke with the OLPC project after a series of disagreements and forged ahead with its Classmate design, which costs between $250 and $300.

"Intel broke with OLPC. They have made it pretty clear that they are going after the same market, and it looks as if they are using some of the same tactics, and I think it's purely competitive," said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

Since the Classmate is more of a design than an actual product, it provides both a way to supply low-cost PCs and give local manufacturers, as well as Intel, a way to make a profit. Intel did not disclose what each Classmate PC laptop cost for the deployment in Portugal.

"Intel, on the other hand, is reliably businesslike," said Kay. "They want to sell processors. It's clear what their motive is, and they are really good at it."

The first round of the Classmate PC laptops for Portugal will use Intel's older Celeron processor before switching to a new batch manufactured with the newer Atom chip, said Lila Ibrahim, general manager of the Intel's Emerging Markets Platform Group.

The newer Classmate PC design also allows for a number of extras that were unavailable in the older designs, such as hard disk drives with a 30GB capacity. Other features include more RAM-512MB compared with the previous 256MB in the older models-and it will support Microsoft Windows, as well as the Metasys and Ubuntu Linux operating systems.

The Classmate also now offers a 9-inch display, compared with the older 7-inch display model.