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

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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 »

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

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