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$300 tablet runs Ubuntu Linux on AA batteries

Sep 22, 2009 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 48 views

NorhTec has announced a tablet computer that will cost just $300, run Ubuntu Linux on a 1GHz SoC (system-on-chip), and operate via eight AA batteries. The “Gecko Info Pad” will include an 8.9-inch touchscreen display, 8GB of solid state storage, and needs no external power brick, the company says.

NorhTec's Gecko Info Pad — touted as "the least expensive tablet PC that's ever been built" — is an interesting follow-on to the Gecko EduBook, a $200 netbook announced by the company in May. Key features of the EduBook, carried over to the Info Pad include the ability to run for three to four hours on eight, off-the-shelf NiMH (nickel metal hydride) AA batteries, plus an internal power supply that allows recharging the system via a simple, easily replaced AC line cord, the company says.

NorhTec's Gecko Info Pad
(Click to enlarge)

According to NorhTec, the Info Pad (above) may also be configured with lithium-ion battery packs — which can extend battery life by up to 50 percent — if a customer wishes. However, the use of AA batteries is claimed to provide a substantial cost savings. In quantity, eight NiMH batteries may be sourced for approximately $10 per device, the company says, in contrast to proprietary li-ion batteries that can cost up to $100 per pack.

NorhTec says the low-cost Gecko Info Pad includes an 8.9-inch touchscreen display with 1024 x 600 resolution, 512MB or 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of solid-state storage. Like the EduBook, whose innards are pictured below, the device sports processor and RAM on a removable module, provides internal SD slots for low-cost mass storage, and includes an internal bay with room for WiFi or WiFi/Bluetooth dongles. As a result, NohrTec says, the unit is simple to assemble or repair, and will cut costs in countries that provide tax breaks for products imported in SDK (semi knock down) component form.

Like the Gecko EduBook (pictured), the Gecko Info Pad accepts AA batteries and uses a removable CPU/RAM module
(Click to enlarge)

The XCore 86 SoC

The Info Pad's's processor module, pictured below, will include the system's 512MB or 1GB of RAM, plus a "Xcore86" SoC, according to NorhTec. Claimed to use just 1.2 Watts while running at 1GHz, the Xcore86 is a rebranded version of the Vortex86MX (also marketed as the MSTI PMX-1000) introduced by Taiwan-based DMP Electronics last December. The Vortex86MX is related to DMP's earlier Vortex86DX, but adds integrated graphics and audio.

While characterizing the Xcore86 as a "light-duty" processor, NorhTec claims the Info Pad will have enough power to run Linux, Windows XP, and Windows CE. The SoC runs fanlessly, and has the power-saving advantages of an ARM CPU while preserving x86 compatibility, claims NorhTec.

NorhTec's Xcore86 processor module
(Click to enlarge)

According to NorhTec, the Gecko Info Pad includes two SD slots (one already occupied by an 8GB card), three USB ports, a 10/100 Ethernet port, VGA output, a microphone and stereo speakers, plus jacks for line-level audio I/O. Integrated 802.11b/g is standard, while Bluetooth can be added as an option, the company says.

The Info Pad's novel internal power supply may be connected directly to AC power sources ranging between 110 and 220 Volts, says NorhTec. In the future, the device will be offered as an AC-only panel PC — presumably lowering cost by omitting battery charging circuitry — and as a vehicle computer that works on DC power ranging from 9 to 16 Volts, the company adds.

Features and specifications listed by NorhTec for the Info Pad include:

  • Processor — Xcore 86 (Vortex86MX SoC) clocked at 1.0GHz
  • Memory — 512MB or 1GB of DDR2 RAM, soldered on CPU module
  • Display — 8.9-inch touchscreen display with 1024 x 600 resolution
  • Storage — 8GB of flash storage (via SD card)
  • Networking — 10/100 Ethernet port
  • Other I/O:
    • 3 x USB 2.0
    • VGA
    • Audio — line in and line out
  • Expansion — 2 x internal SD slots
  • Battery — Accepts 8 NiMH AA cells, or lithium-ion battery packs, with run times approximately four or six hours, respectively
  • Dimensions/weight — n/s

The Gecko Info Pad

Source: NorhTec
(click to play)


According to NorhTec, the Gecko Info Pad will ship in November for approximately $300, including WiFi and the 8GB SD card. This price apparently assumes the installation of Ubuntu Linux as the operating system, but the tablet will also support Windows XP, the company says.

The NorhTec website does not yet offer further information on the InfoPad, but details of the related Gecko EduBook may be found here.

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