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Netbook runs on AA batteries

May 12, 2009 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 54 views

NorhTec announced a netbook that operates on eight AA batteries, has an internal power supply, and runs Linux on a 1GHz x86-based SoC (system on chip). The “Gecko EduBook” has an 8.9-inch display, has an easily reconfigurable modular design, and will cost under $200, says NorhTec.

(Click here for a larger view of NorhTec's Gecko EduBook)

With its 8.9-inch, 1024 x 600 keyboard, NorhTec's Gecko EduBook looks like any number of netbooks. But, unlike any netbook we've encountered, the EduBook is claimed to be capable of running for four hours on eight, off-the-shelf NiMH (nickel metal hydride) AA batteries. In addition, the device has an internal power supply, capable of recharging the system via a simple, easily replaced AC line cord, according to the company.

NorhTec says that while the device may also be configured with lithium-ion battery packs — which can extend battery life by up to 50 percent — the use of AA batteries provides 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. (In addition, in many poor, remote, or rural areas of the world, AA's are the only battery to be consistently found.)

NorhTec's Gecko accepts AA batteries (top) and has a removable CPU/RAM module
(Click to enlarge)

The EduBook's modular construction, pictured above, also places the netbook's processor and RAM on a removable module, provides an internal SD slot 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.

The Gecko EduBook appears to be the next generation of Norhtec's Gecko Laptop netbook, which was similarly aimed at students. The previous model ran on a Via C7M ULV CPU clocked at 1GHz, and ran Linpus Linux, whereas the EduBook runs Ubuntu Linux, and is also said to support Windows XP and Windows CE.

The XCore 86 SoC

The EduBook's processor module, partially visible above and shown at right, will include 256MB, 512MB, or 1MB or 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 introduced by Taiwan-based DMP Electronics last December. The Vortex86MX is related to DMP's earlier Vortex86DX, but adds integrated graphics and audio. (The EduBook processor module pictured is apparently pre-production, since it appears to use a Vortex86DX with its markings partially obscured, adding a separate XGI Volari chip to provide graphics.)

Norhtec bills the Xcore86 as a “light-duty” processor that runs fanlessly, and has the power-saving advantages of an ARM CPU while preserving x86 compatibility. For mass storage, the EduBook can use either its internal SD card, housed beneath the easily-removable processor module, or a hard disk drive connected to an internal IDE connector. WiFi and Bluetooth are not standard, but may be added economically by placing a relevant USB dongle inside the netbook, NorhTec says.

Externally, the EduBook has three USB ports, a 10/100 Ethernet port, a VGA output, plus jacks for line-level audio I/O. The device also has an internal microphone, stereo speakers, and an external SD slot, according to NorhTec.

Features and specifications listed by NorhTec for the EduBook include:

  • Processor — Xcore 86 (Vortex86MX SoC) clocked at 1.0GHz
  • Memory — 256MB, 512MB, or 1Gb of DDR2 RAM, soldered on CPU module
  • Display — 8.9-inch LED backlit display with 1024 x 600 resolution
  • Storage — Internal SD card or IDE HDD (hard disk drive)
  • Networking — 10/100 Ethernet port
  • Other I/O:
    • 4 x USB 2.0 (3 external, 1 internal)
    • VGA
    • Audio — line in and line out

  • Expansion — SD slot
  • Battery — Accepts 8 NiMH AA cells, or lithium-ion battery packs, with run times approximately four or six hours, respectively
  • Dimensions/weight — n/s


According to NorhTec, the Gecko EduBook will be available in July for an end-user price of approximately $200, including a WiFi module and an 8GB SD card. Depending on quantities, the device will be available in barebones format for between $110 to $130, the company adds. These prices assume the installation of Ubuntu Linux as the operating system but the EduBook will also support Windows XP, NorhTec says.

More information on the Gecko EduBook may be found on the NorhTec website, here.

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