IDF 2008: Intel's Classmate PC Returns

During the Spring IDF in Shanghai, Intel unveiled a new design for it’s OLPC low-cost netbook for educational use in developing nations, so will the Fall IDF see yet another appearance from the Classmate PC?

We’re inclined to think no. Over the last year or so, Intel has gone from spectator, to OLPC partner, to rival. The details of the differences between the two are messy and vary depending on who you ask, however the end result of the spat is undoubtedly the same: Intel is pushing its own low-cost netbook to developing markets and no longer has anything to do with the OLPC project.

Claims from Intel that the OLPC organization requested it cease support for all other low-cost netbooks including the company’s own Classmate PC and accusations from OLPC that Intel was pushing its own model in countries that had already expressed interest in the XO laptop aside, the last few months have seen the XO laptop flounder and the Classmate thrive.

In Shanghai, Intel detailed the second generation Classmate PC, built on an Intel Celeron processor with 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and mesh network capabilities. Andrew Chien, Intel vice president, Corporate Technology Group and director of Intel Research delivered the news as part of his keynote speech, telling us that the more expensive models would include a 9” LCD, 512 MB of RAM, 30 GB of space, a built in webcam and a 6-cell battery life.

While it may seem like Intel has exhausted all of its Classmate PC talk at IDF China, one can’t ignore the fact that even though most of the attention has been focused on the company’s new GPU, Larrabee or the i7/Nehalem processor, Intel’s push into the cheap and cheerful netbook market has been somewhat of a success. Lately it seems like any news regarding the Classmate is good news while the same cannot be said for the OLPC project.

An omission of the Classmate from this year’s IDF probably wouldn’t cause a stir. However in the time passed since Intel introduced the second generation model of the Classmate, the company has signed a deal with Portugal to provide 500,000 machines to Portuguese school children. This was not only the biggest Classmate deal for Intel but it also put the company nearly neck and neck with the number of XO laptops sold by the OLPC project. Taking into account that Intel managed to match OLPCs shipments in a single deal, it’ll be interesting to see whether IDF San Francisco will see the company sing the praises of the Classmate PC in case it slipped our mind in light of all the Nehalem talk, or if Intel will hold off ’til the new year.