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Laptops at Rs 420 may be a reality!
Shivani Shinde in Mumbai
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May 15, 2007 14:07 IST

The Human Resources Ministry is seriously attempting to manufacture laptops at almost half the price of the cheapest mobile -$10 or just Rs 420.

If the target  is achieved, it plans to churn out close to a million laptops, catering to e-governance initiatives and school children.

The ministry is working with a group of people from institutes like the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT).

The ministry has also approached the Chandigarh Semiconductor Complex Ltd (SCL) for the manufacturing of chips. The aim is to at least get the manufacturing cost as there will be no marketing cost involved.

An official from SCL, who did not wish to be quoted, told Business Standard: "The ministry has approached us. Since we do have the capability to manufacture, and assemble pre-designed printed circuit design (PCB). Whether $10 price point is possible is not the question but it is a credible project to work on."

Diptarup Chakraborti, principal research analyst, Gartner Client Computing Group India, opines the $10 laptop sounds good till it is in the R&D phase but he's "very skeptical" whether mass production of these laptops is possible.

"Even the $100 laptop initiative is crossing the desired price point. Low-cost PCs/laptops can be successful only if they have huge volumes. And from the past experience that is something that a lot of projects have not be able to achieve," he adds.

In terms of the technology the laptops will certainly be the scaled-down versions of what is available in the market. Instead of a hard disc for storage, these laptops might use flash memory of approximate 2GB. The motherboard will be one-fourth the size of what is available in the market.

Due to this, the cost will come down considerably. Flash memory is quite popular in devices like USB drives. It is popular as it does not need power to maintain the information stored in the chip, it is durable and resistant and most importantly cheaper than the storage used in computers.

The laptop will have an operating system (most probably Linux) and support all Word-related applications, a web browser and MP3 capability. Currently, testing of boards have started and people involved in the project are certain that in the next month or two they would also finalise on the components of the laptop and the layout of the motherboard.

Professor N Balakrishnan, assistant director, IISc said: "I know it is going to be a tough attempt nevertheless an attempt that needs to be taken. The ministry is very supportive of the project and we have set a time-line of nine months to a year for the release of the same." He feels the price of these laptops, if not $10, will not exceed $100.

While the government in working on this model, Chennai-based Novatium has come up with a PC solution that cost about $100 (Rs 4,100).

The computer is thin-client based, that means a small box is used to connect to a remote server, which has all the applications such as word, excel and can be accessed. The user will have a screen, keyboard, mouse and a box slightly bigger than a modem for the connectivity speed of 512 Kbps.

After a pilot run in Chennai, the company is now launching it on a commercial basis in Delhi and Chandigarh. Alok Singh, CEO Novatium said: "The monthly charges can be as low as $10 per month."

Past attempts have yet to make a dent

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