Intel Corp.’s low-cost laptop initiative is set to get a boost from Portugal’s government, which is pledging to buy 500,000 computers based on the chipmaker’s Classmate PC design for that nation’s elementary school students.

The announcement brings Intel’s rivalry with the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative into the spotlight once again.

In May, OLPC said its green-and-white XO laptop computers would work with Microsoft Corp.’s Windows in addition to a homegrown Linux-based operating system.

The move was seen as a way to make the so-called "$100 laptop," which presently costs about $188, more palatable to education ministers in developing countries who might have balked at an open-source system.

But in a single deal for half a million of its Classmate PCs, Intel nearly matched OLPC’s total orders to date (600,000 units as of May)–calling into question whether OLPC’s adoption of Windows has made much of a difference.

Representatives for Cambridge, Mass.-based OLPC did not immediately return telephone calls or eMail messages from an Associated Press reporter seeking comment and an updated order total.

As part of its biggest deal for the Classmate PC to date, Intel said it would serve as technology adviser to Portugal’s Ministry of Public Works, Transportation, and Communications, which is coordinating the laptop program.

Intel spokeswoman Agnes Kwan said parents of young schoolchildren will be able to choose between computers running Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system and ones with an open-source Linux operating system. The government will distribute the machines to Portugal’s elementary school students over the course of the 2008-2009 school year, she added.

As of the middle of this year, "hundreds of thousands" of the Classmate PCs had already shipped to customers in more than 30 countries, according to Kwan.

The spokeswoman declined to disclose how much the laptops would cost Portuguese parents or other financial terms of the deal. She said Portugal’s Ministry of Education is working out pricing details.

Classmate PCs are based on Intel’s design and include its processors, but they are built by other manufacturers and sold under a variety of brand names. The first generation went on sale in March 2007; a heftier version with a faster processor and a bigger screen hit the market in April 2008.

Intel’s Classmate PC and OLPC’s XO laptop are just two of a growing field of small, low-cost computers aimed at the millions of students in developing countries who are just gaining access to technology and the internet–although the devices also are proving popular among schools in the United States (see "Mini laptops a hit with schools").

The relationship between Intel and OLPC, whose XO machine uses microprocessors made by Intel competitor Advanced Micro Devices Inc., has been notoriously rocky. The two declared a truce last summer, but earlier this year relations turned frosty again when Intel abruptly pulled out from OLPC’s board of directors (see "Intel quits One Laptop Per Child program").

Links:

One Laptop Per Child

Intel Classmate PC