Aleutia's mission has always been to distribute computers to as many families and businesses as possible in emerging economies and particularly in Africa. Getting useful computers into rural schools, and especially secondary schools, is the real key here because that's where we see the most impact. The barriers are three fold: upfront cost, electricity access (ongoing cost), and reliability.
The industry worship of Moore's Law means we can't do much on cost because the silicon remains expensive (see above post) but we've built up a lot of expertise on passively cooling PCs which means we can produce a really reliable fanless PC at a reasonable price point. And we can get rid of hard drives by using SSDs (still expensive) or, in a classroom, by going diskless and keeping everything on a fanless DRBL server (we run all the Ubuntu sessions off an SSD).
Our T1 has been used in schools all over the world with some particular challenges from the Amazon jungle in Ecuador (humidity, lots of insects that try to get into the PC) to Afghanistan (heat, and zero access to spare parts).
Frequently we ship our T1s and monitors out and rely on a local company to put together the solar side of things but this tends to push up costs and is contingent on a good local supplier being present. In response we've put together a solution that will initially roll out in Nigeria.
It's completely solid state and the whole classroom consumes just 15 Amps or 180 Watts. It's compact enough so that we can ship it anywhere in the world with DHL and comes with everything you need to run 7 PCs and server indefinitely - all you have to do is add batteries. (Deep cycle lead acid batteries are a hazardous material and can't be shipped by air - we can always advise which ones to buy).
The explanation is below and we'll be providing updates (and videos) soon. Should be available to order on the site starting in December.
Unlike Intel, AMD still produces 45W Processors. These are much easier to cool (with a huge heatsink you can go passive) and of course use less power than a 65W, 95W, or 125W processor. We've taken their newest Athlon II X2 240e which is 2 x 2.8GHz (2MB L2 cache) and put in a really small mATX case with an energy efficient Gigabyte motherboard and a whopping 8 (or 16 or 4) Gigabytes of super high-speed DDR3 RAM. This memory is clocked at 1300MHz!
Whole idea is a lot of server applications just need a basic processor (ideally dual core) but need lots and lots for RAM. This way we keep the power footprint down (about 50W) and the price is low: £499 ex VAT for the 8GB version.
As it is a server, we've added an extra Gb lan port via a PCI card slot and there's an optional DVD-RW drive (though this adds to the power consumption). Only 3.7" tall so practically fits in a 2U space.
I am extremely excited about this even though my sample doesn't arrive for another two weeks (full review and action shots to follow). As I've mentioned before, 12V monitors are a real thorn for us. We usually end up shipping dozens of inexpensive Hannspree 17" (1440x900) AC monitors and packaging them up with inverters, which though inexpensive are rather wasteful of the (very expensive) solar power.
Samsung has released what's basically a USB-powered photo frame (with marketing focused on this being a peripheral display), but it's perfect for us because it
a) uses just 4.5 Watts
b) reduces the need for another plug (DC or otherwise)
c) is an acceptable 800x480 resolution (the same as the Nokia N810). Not great for two students sharing a screen but fine for single use.
Thus any of our 12V PCs (the F5, P1, B2, and U5) could power this monitor and so you'd need just one solar panel, one battery, and one (or a few) 12V PCs. Nice and simple.
And though Samsung only offers Windows drivers, it's already been used with Linux in this fantastic example: an Asus WLAN router running OpenWRT and using a U70 since there's obviously no VGA port.
My colleague Stuart started me in this direction and Wednesday we worked late, and then Cheta and I continued the thread on Thursday, speeding up Firefox by having the cache stored in RAM and not on the CF card, tweaking the ext3 filesystem, and altering the fstab file so that temporary files and logs are written to RAM and not the CF card in order to extend the life of the card (Compact Flash cards have a write limit of 500,000 and so can "burn out", essentially dying in the field).
Ubuntulite offers the venerable OS with the LXDE windows manager instead of the heavy Gnome manager normally used (or equally heavy KDE found in Kubuntu). Like Xfce-based Xubuntu, it includes simple apps like Abiword and Gnumeric (which we'll replace with OpenOffice 3.0 this week).
Performance was much zippier. Before installing Flash and Java, Firefox opened in 2 seconds, faster than on my dual core Macbook. Adding them slows Firefox start time to 6 seconds but switching between programs is faster. And YouTube mostly worked.
Our aim this week is to create seperate images (using the fantastic Self Image 1.2, ironically only for Windows) for our 4GB Adata cards, and 8GB Transcend CF cards, as well as for Western Digital 80GB IDE hard drives, as well as .iso so that people can try out the operating system. In the next 10 days, a total of 50 systems will be shipping out with this OS.
It will come with following preloaded software:
- Firefox 3 (possibly Chrome as well), with Flash and Java pre-installed
- Medibuntu drivers installed
- MPlayer (lightweight video player)
- GTK Pod (for connecting iPod)
- Pidgin Instant Messaging
- Games: Pingus, maybe Tux Racer
- Kstars, Kalzium
- Ability to connect to Windows Terminal Services, RDP
With key apps loaded in an OS X like Taskbar at the bottom.