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Fully functional $5 Laptop?


daniel l.
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The simple truth is that the actual necessities of life in the digital age can be met with far less computing power than is used nowadays, You could connect an Apple II to the internet and write an Email client for it. Voila you have made an ancient computer give you your Email, The same thing could be done for such systems as social media, News, Wikipedia, Maps, Uber, and many other services used nowadays, Simply bypass all the complex media and have the computer fetch the raw data and display it as text, There was never a need for sophisticated formatting and fancy graphics. And with the extremely low price of such hardware as we might have used 20 years ago, It should be more than possible to produce a computer that can handle most aspects of daily online life and cost $5 or less. Obviously the appearance of such a device could look ugly to modern eyes, But that could be remedied by perhaps giving it a retro future appearance as with the computers in Fallout 4. 

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Incidentally, a Raspberry Pi Zero costs $5 and is perfectly capable of browsing the internet and running a GUI. Granted, it still needs a screen, keyboard, mouse, power supply, micro SD and a USB hub, but it's a start.

 

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8 minutes ago, Nibb31 said:

Incidentally, a Raspberry Pi Zero costs $5 and is perfectly capable of browsing the internet and running a GUI. Granted, it still needs a screen, keyboard, mouse, power supply, micro SD and a USB hub, but it's a start.

 

Cheap $40 used screen, $5 Walmart mouse, cheapo keyboard, $5 Micro SD from Amazon, micro USB to USB w/ smartphone wall to USB adapter. Working computer at around $70.

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You could probably pick up a screen from a second hand store for like 10 USD. I've seen them here for 15 Canadian, dollar store mouse and keyboard combos are like 2.50 here and you could really get the cost down.

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5-10 USD is not realistic (screen matrix and so on), all previous attempts to make at least 100 USD notebook have failed (google OLPC, it even had a starting handle, so likeable).

A public library kiosk with several low-price nettops with the only program running on startup: Remote Desktop Protocol Client, with the lowest video settings.
A server with virtual desktops far away from there, in a city.
Anti-vandal touch-screen, virtual keyboard, no mechanics, no mouse.
As unlikely full village would need the internet at once, you can divide its price by an appropriate queue length. Say, 1 nettop per 4 habitants.

Edited by kerbiloid
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7 hours ago, kerbiloid said:

5-10 USD is not realistic (screen matrix and so on), all previous attempts to make at least 100 USD notebook have failed (google OLPC, it even had a starting handle, so likeable).

I'm all but certain that the domestic Chinese/Indian market has plenty of examples of a <$100 laptop.  I know that years ago AMD was designing a low-cost/high integration CPU designed to run WinXP (back when it was being discontinued, but vastly popular in developing countries).

http://www.microcenter.com/product/453347/A741_A33-5G-8-7R   (note this is $25 in stock local to my location).

http://reviews.microcenter.com/3520-en_us/0448361/azpen-innovation-azpen-innovation-a741-tablet-black-16-9-lcd-ips-7-1024x600-display-allwinner-a33-1-2ghz-quad-core-cpu-512mb-ram-8gb-storage-android-4-4-kit-kat-os-expandable-up-to-32gb-via-microsd-card-reviews/reviews.htm (I think this is the same thing.  Hard to tell with Azpen).

Some notes about the tablet.  I have one [a different model: this company seems to be the only to sell a 10" screen without a huge premium], the battery died in under a year (still have to order the thing, I've finally found a more reliable place than alibaba to order from), although that's what I get for buying "refurbished".  While I'm sure you could connect a keyboard to the linked model for less than $75, the one I have has a "real" USB port (not OTG) which means that it connects to a $5 keyboard (no idea if there are $5 keyboards with touchpads to cover for the mouse, that thing is barely capable as a tablet and not for use as a laptop).

So these things *do* exist (for values closer to $5 than $100), but you basically get what you pay for.  Often "cheap computer" is wildly better than "no computer" (and for me, "cheap computer" typically beat "getting up and booting a full power desktop" for such things as surfing and watching Scott Manley explain KSP).

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11 hours ago, legoclone09 said:

Cheap $40 used screen, $5 Walmart mouse, cheapo keyboard, $5 Micro SD from Amazon, micro USB to USB w/ smartphone wall to USB adapter. Working computer at around $70.

What about a commercially sold machine? Manufacturers tend to buy parts from the part manufacturers at very low prices, Meaning that for example the company that made the RAM would get a cut of the profits. Not to mention the screen i was thinking of would be far from being a advanced display, I'm thinking monochromatic LCD. A 3d printed keyboard, And a cheap trackpad. with a 3d printed case and a cheap WIFI system. A single core processor and 64mb of RAM, This might seem tiny but dont forget most modern tasks can easily be squeezed into much smaller amounts of processing power, It is more than possible to do anything you can do on a modern PC with exception of HD video on a computer of this power, And such a laptop could be priced at only $5 which would open up a window of opportunity for everyone seeing as even the poorest of people can afford one. 

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13 hours ago, legoclone09 said:

Cheap $40 used screen, $5 Walmart mouse, cheapo keyboard, $5 Micro SD from Amazon, micro USB to USB w/ smartphone wall to USB adapter. Working computer at around $70.

If used items are acceptable, computers can be had for free. If you do not want the latest and greatest, you can get some still pretty neat hardware for nothing.

 

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4 hours ago, daniel l. said:

What about a commercially sold machine? Manufacturers tend to buy parts from the part manufacturers at very low prices, Meaning that for example the company that made the RAM would get a cut of the profits. Not to mention the screen i was thinking of would be far from being a advanced display, I'm thinking monochromatic LCD. A 3d printed keyboard, And a cheap trackpad. with a 3d printed case and a cheap WIFI system. A single core processor and 64mb of RAM, This might seem tiny but dont forget most modern tasks can easily be squeezed into much smaller amounts of processing power, It is more than possible to do anything you can do on a modern PC with exception of HD video on a computer of this power, And such a laptop could be priced at only $5 which would open up a window of opportunity for everyone seeing as even the poorest of people can afford one. 

3D printing is way more expensive than conventional plastic moulding. It's only useful for prototyping or very small production runs.

You won't get even a monochrome LCD for under $10. In fact, given production volumes and economies of scale, I'm pretty sure that a touch sensitive LED matrix is going to be cheaper.

You also need to factor in the cost of software. A tight RAM allowance means that software needs to be optimized, maybe even written in assembler, which is going to cost more than using a widespread language like Java or C++ running on an operating system that already provides all the basic services that you need.

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4 hours ago, Nibb31 said:

3D printing is way more expensive than conventional plastic moulding. It's only useful for prototyping or very small production runs.

You can hardly beat injection moulding on a large scale. If you make enough units, the price will drop to almost raw material cost. It does not get any better than that.

Edited by Camacha
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"It should be more than possible to produce a computer that can handle most aspects of daily online life and cost $5 or less "

uh, no. Just no.

Just the raw materials cost more than that. Add manufacturing cost (wear and tear on the machinery), failure rates (especially on screens you lose a good percentage due to manufacturing defects even today and probably always), wages for everyone involved, shipping and stocking cost, and you're looking at way more than that.

As someone said, your $5 might buy you a Raspberry Pi in the most basic model, and THAT's sold at cost+, there's barely a profit margin on it.

The current range of low end machines from no-brand names sold in supermarkets and other off-channel sources are about as low as you can go in price. The profit margin on those across the board is only a few percent.
If you want to go cheaper, the only way is to go for unpaid (thus slave) labour, and don't bother to provide those slaves with things like food and medical care (basically work them to death like the Germans and Japanese did in WW2, even the prisoners in the Soviet gulags had some food and medical care).

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58 minutes ago, jwenting said:

"It should be more than possible to produce a computer that can handle most aspects of daily online life and cost $5 or less "

uh, no. Just no.

Just the raw materials cost more than that. Add manufacturing cost (wear and tear on the machinery), failure rates (especially on screens you lose a good percentage due to manufacturing defects even today and probably always), wages for everyone involved, shipping and stocking cost, and you're looking at way more than that.

As someone said, your $5 might buy you a Raspberry Pi in the most basic model, and THAT's sold at cost+, there's barely a profit margin on it.

The current range of low end machines from no-brand names sold in supermarkets and other off-channel sources are about as low as you can go in price. The profit margin on those across the board is only a few percent.
If you want to go cheaper, the only way is to go for unpaid (thus slave) labour, and don't bother to provide those slaves with things like food and medical care (basically work them to death like the Germans and Japanese did in WW2, even the prisoners in the Soviet gulags had some food and medical care).

Dont forget how cheaply things can be made, A basic circuit board with about as much processing power as a late 80's laptop could alone cost about $1 or less with current technology, Then consider a super simple monochrome display, Followed by a 3D printed keyboard, And a basic trackpoint mouse. It could all with a little bit of tweaking be fit into that range.

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As we already told you, 3D printing is super expensive.

PCBs are cheap to manufacture, but expensive to design, and components are expensive. Look at how the Raspberry Pi Zero was designed precisely to fit under $5 by minimizing components and bulk purchasing. It pretty much reaches the limits in terms of what can be done for $5.

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10 minutes ago, Nibb31 said:

As we already told you, 3D printing is super expensive.

PCBs are cheap to manufacture, but expensive to design, and components are expensive. Look at how the Raspberry Pi Zero was designed precisely to fit under $5 by minimizing components and bulk purchasing. It pretty much reaches the limits in terms of what can be done for $5.

And yet it still technically counts as overpowered, The tasks I mention could be done with far less power, Meaning that if it was cut down to 1 or 2mb of ram and a super simple processor like a z80 it could become inexpensive enought to fit it with super cheap peripherals.

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Z80s are out of production and obsolete (it could only address 64KB of RAM anyway, so 2MB would be useless). There is very little to gain in terms of cost by using obsolete specs. Nobody makes Z80 CPUs or 64KB RAM chips any more because modern ARM processors or DDRx RAM chips are so much cheaper to produce in larger volumes and so much more capable. You couldn't produce a Z80 today for less than a cheap ARM processor.

Your claim is like saying that VW could sell old Beetles for cheaper than a modern Golf, or that we could revive the old Atlas II as a cheap orbital booster to compete against Ariane, which are both impossible.

Now, come to think of it, there are such things as $10 mobile phones. They typically have something like a 240x160 color screen, a physical numeric keypad, an email client, 3G, and maybe even a minimalistic web browser. Doesn't that fit your bill ?

Edited by Nibb31
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6 hours ago, daniel l. said:

Dont forget how cheaply things can be made, A basic circuit board with about as much processing power as a late 80's laptop could alone cost about $1 or less with current technology, Then consider a super simple monochrome display, Followed by a 3D printed keyboard, And a basic trackpoint mouse. It could all with a little bit of tweaking be fit into that range.

if you think you can do it, show us. but don't expect me to invest in your venture, because I don't share your belief.

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7 hours ago, daniel l. said:

And yet it still technically counts as overpowered, The tasks I mention could be done with far less power, Meaning that if it was cut down to 1 or 2mb of ram and a super simple processor like a z80 it could become inexpensive enought to fit it with super cheap peripherals.

There comes a point where less power does not equal cheaper. Especially if you "underpower" it so much that you end up in a category where you are the only customer for the components you need to do that, and you lose the economy of scale.

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5 hours ago, pincushionman said:

There comes a point where less power does not equal cheaper. Especially if you "underpower" it so much that you end up in a category where you are the only customer for the components you need to do that, and you lose the economy of scale.

This, most relevant microcontrollers for this is single chip making them cheaper, they are also produced in huge volumes making them cheap. 
Obvious main cost here is screen, you want some of decent size, an cheap phone can use an tiny and crappy screen as its primary for calling and messages. 
You could drop the screen and require an tv or other monitor like the old home computers did, this drops costs to an faction but make it far less less practical. 
Note that its no point of cutting performance too much, if you can run android for a dollar more it would be an good deal. 
Software development is expensive, so is internet over cell networks. 

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Even worse for a Z-80 is that it has a built-in memory controller.  So not only can it only access 64k of memory, it expects to see old-school dram chips (FPM will do if you can find any small enough).  Some better choices.

Atmel jobs: these (and the PICs) are about the cheapest you can buy in a microprocessor.  Most are 8 bit, but they come in 32 bit as well (even the 8 bits address more than 64k, so don't expect a huge jump of power, but porting and compiling might be vastly easier).  Famously used on arduino boards.  I think you could get a CPU that could run an early browser around 2000 for $1 each (assuming you were buying 1000 at a time and were willing to deal with only having 8 pins total.  You would probably pay more buying the components needed to connect to 8 pins than just paying a few dollars more for a "real" CPU).

ARM: basic phone CPU.  Serious power, low price.  Also relatively "open" and produced in every variety imaginable (the $25 item I linked to has 4 1.2GHz ARMs in it.  Note that the cheap stuff is typically in order, which won't be close to GHz to GHz what you are used to in a PC (this is changing, but don't expect to buy it for $5 anytime soon).

Jaguar: an AMD-designed low power AMD86 (x86-64 to some).   Takes up around 3mm on a .28nm process (a process with a great cost/transistor ratio).  Runs KSP on the PS4/XBox1 (with 8 CPUs).  Another one you probably won't see for $5, but only because nobody is willing/expects to make it up in volume (given enough volume, you could easily get the CPU (and plenty of integration) under $5, but getting the rest of the computer would be another story.

All in all, the minimum price is more likely between $15-$25.  The catch is that there is a certain motivation to build a $5 phone (to sell phone calls) that doesn't exist for a $5 laptop.  Basically you would be building the same electronics (less the RF-phone specific parts) plus a keyboard.  Expect a completely cheaped out rubber keyboard that is "carbonized/conductorfied" to short out bits of printed circuit board underneath it (and old trick.  But don't expect to play games like KSP where reading multiple keys at the same time matters).  And don't expect an LCD bigger than the cheapest phone screen.  But you would probably at least have dual >1GHz ARM CPUs (that would be comparable to circa ~2000 PCs, and way cheaper to use than Z-80s).

Edited by wumpus
noted that PS4 has 8 CPUs
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A few years now someone came up with a computer to allow African children achieve status in the digital age... it was a cheap laptop... not for games, but learning... so when they did get the internet, they would be ready for it (but nothing can prepare you for the porn sites etc etc...) ...

The lack of electricity in some places was solved by including a hand worked generator... it fits in your hand and you pump it to generate power... 5 minutes of doing that was good enough for a few minutes of computer use...

not exactly sure what happened to that idea, not even sure if it ever got off the ground.

 

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3 minutes ago, kiwi1960 said:

A few years now someone came up with a computer to allow African children achieve status in the digital age... it was a cheap laptop... not for

Sounds like OLPC (one laptop per child).  Its biggest "success" was in Uruguay (where they managed to get every kid one for about $21/kid).  Unfortunately it really didn't seem to have much of an effect on learning.  Which is rather bizarre, it seems to me that if nothing else, it should make an a mind boggling e-book for such kids.  Perhaps there isn't enough Spanish works in project Gutenberg (although the South American literary scene is rather strong).

The OLPC webpage doesn't seem to have been updated since 2012.  I'm guessing that ~$20 laptops/tablets can be had from purely commercial sources much easier.

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On 7/22/2016 at 0:05 AM, daniel l. said:

The simple truth is that the actual necessities of life in the digital age can be met with far less computing power than is used nowadays, You could connect an Apple II to the internet and write an Email client for it. 

The problem with this is that you are essentially asking for shell access from an ISP.  Shell access was typical in the 80s, dying in the 90s, and dead by 2000.  What you would do is log onto a machine (nearly always UNIX) and run the machine from your Apple (or PC, or whatever).  Later, SLIP was developed (which was like an almost-working PPP), but my school only had one of those and lots of shell dialups.  Eventually PPP was developed (which pretty much meant "real dialup", or full-fledged internet over the phone) and that took over.

I think netcom would sell shell access for dialup into the 90s, but I don't remember it being an option when I was a field engineer traveling all over the US in 94-95.  I used netcom because they had local ppp access available from all but one place I was sent to (Hicory, NC).  About the only way to get shell access nowadays would to buy a general server share that didn't expect you to use specific means to sever webpages (and *of course* they wouldn't provide dialup, you would still need a TCP/IP stack.  You just wouldn't need to parse all the HTML and similar).

So the minimum computing power is likely going to be something that can access a full TCP/IP stack across a Starbuck's WiFi.  And since I've noted that you are going to be able to get two GHz ARM chips at least as cheaply as anything else (they will likely come with an LCD control, not sure about the Atmels), you might as well directly connect with your computer.

Whether it is inventions or "why can't I buy x", the answer is never about the stuff itself.  Technology isn't gadgets, tools, or other parts.  Technology is infrastructure.  We don't have the infrastructure (there might be spotty exceptions, but I'd like to see if the odd dialup ISP still has shell accounts) to do what you are asking.

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If your question is reduced to "could we have a cheap modern computer" then the answer would be it's going to be a few tens of dollars. There exist smartphones on that end. Basically what the others have said - cost does scale with complexity, but having something uncommon increases complexity. Producing a single unique unit is more expensive than producing a few million common units, looking at the end cost of a single unit in the production line. Maybe without the transmitter and batteries it can be reduced by a few dollars, but you're not having it cheaper than that.

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