Pixel Qi Out to Bring Principles of Inexpensive Laptop Design to Consumer Market: Former One Laptop CTO Mary Lou Jepsen On Her New Startup

1/15/08Follow @wroush

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the screen. If you think of the screen as a separate component, not integrated with the CPU, then there is no way to lower the power consumption. But in the XO, the screen stays on, while most of the motherboard momentarily turns off while you are reading an e-mail or browsing a Web page or just pausing and reflecting on your writing. It starts up again with a key press. That is the basis of the power management architecture. That would never happen if you divorced the screen design from the laptop design.

I can’t help but think as a screen designer. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest feature of a CPU is how fast you can turn it on and off. People talk about low-power CPUs—well, you can get to zero milliwatts of power consumption if you turn it off.

X: Why did you decide to leave OLPC?

MLJ: I want to concentrate on the next-generation stuff, because that’s where my expertise lays. As much as I’d like to be an expert on education in the developing world, I’m not. I should be using my skills to the best of my ability to serve the cause. And the primary efforts of OLPC have to be on deployment and education and software right now. I’m happy to support those, but I just feel that I can help more by leveraging these economies of scale, not just with the XO but with many different products.

X: So forget about the $175 laptop, or the $100 laptop—you’ve talked about making a laptop for $75.

MLJ: Or less. I this that less is absolutely possible. I want to do it. I think that can be on the market by the end of 2009, with much lower power consumption than even the XO. And I think that lots of people would want such a thing. So the volume is there, but we have to bring the cost down. Not just by “putting a Dell on a diet,” as has been said, but by rethinking the design. For years, all of the component makers have marched to a drumbeat; every 18 months they have delivered the new components, and they snap together, and it’s worked incredibly well. But we’re at the end of that. It’s not about more megahertz anymore. The vast majority of people who have computers just need something to surf the Web and write letters and look at videos, and to do that you don’t need a gazallion megahertz.

There should be a dozen low-cost laptops on the market by the second half of 2008. But they’re all more expensive than the XO. Over time they should become less expensive, but I just don’t see anybody else working on that.

X:
The news came out a couple of weeks ago about a pretty messy split between OLPC and Intel, with Intel leaving the OLPC board—they said—in protest over OLPC director Nicholas Negroponte’s alleged demand the company stop marketing its $299 Classmate laptop as an alternative to the XO. From inside OLPC, what was it like working with Intel?

MLJ: I was in Shanghai as recently as three weeks ago, working with Intel on their machine. And Nicholas … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • Stefan Gustavson

    Finally someone decided to take the path less travelled and design for usability, not for raw horsepower. I have been longing for a low power, less-than-stellar performance laptop that doesn’t need recharging every couple of hours and has a screen I can read in sunlight. MLJ, if you pull this off (as I have no doubt you will), you will be my hero!

    As a side note, I don’t think that $100 price tag needs to be a primary goal. If there was someting like an adult-sized XO running a standard Linux distro I would gladly buy it even for $500.

  • http://www.xalaska.com Ramon Gandia

    It will be like the man that invented the 100 mpg
    carburator, or the car that runs on water …
    some *big* company will buy MaryLou’s outfit and
    submerge the inventions, and we will see nothing
    this year.

  • Michael McNeil

    Great stuff.

    All you really need in a bare bones lap top is an enlarged Blackberry isn’t it?

    A motherboard, chip, memory screen and battery.

    Is a graphics card needed?
    No.

    Is a hard drive needed?
    No, nor a sound card. Maybe not even a separate OS?

    How about the owners supplying their own peripherals such as the keyboard? I hate laptop keyboards. That’s the worst thing about them.

    Well done, that maaaah.. errr.. woman.
    More please!

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  • Nick Alcock

    Ramon, that’s crazy. Why wouldn’t some *big* company buy MaryLou’s outfit, sell huge numbers of really cool low-power laptops and eat their competitor’s lunch? Profit matters more than conspiracy to most of these guys.

    (btw, there are pretty fundamental reasons why, absent very compact and cheap nuclear fusion, a car that runs on water is energetically impossible. Even then it’s unlikely: would *you* want a multibillion-degree plasma under the hood? Cars that run on batteries, now *those* are practical.)

  • http://www.omne-fi-networks.com Bob Raiano

    This is an idea that is so long overdue. As a home computer network configurator, I have seen many times what the high cost of computing can do to limit the adoption of technology applications within the home environment. It is much easier to sell notebook products into businesses because they can swallow the high cost of computing a little easier during good times. Expensive computing platforms are preventing people from bringing the technolgy from the corporate office into the home.

  • Bob Pianka

    This is great! Not more Ghz and bigger OS, design what we need and bring the price down. I agree we don’t need to get to $ 100 as a primary goal.

    Let’s focus on the sunlight readability (I live in Florida and nothing works in direct sunlight).

    Boot up times under 15 seconds (my old Palm was almost instant on and constantly amazed me).

    Super long battery life (and I don’t mean 3 or 4 hours)how about 6 hours.

    You do this and not only will you be my personal hero, but you will sell millions of these. Heck, I’d probably buy them and give them as gifts.

    Keep up the good work!

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  • http://PixelQiOuttobringprinciplesoflnexpenseivelaptopdesign morgana

    Ms. Jepsen,

    I was wondering when would the public be able to buy your laptops.

    Thanks,

    Morgana