Old tech could deliver $12 computer

The MIT team plans to use technology behind older machines like this Apple II to create ultra-low-cost computers.


Kai Ryssdal: You can go online and get yourself a decent computer for maybe $500 or $600, but if you don't already have a computer it's tough to get online and if you don't have $500 or $600, then forget the whole thing.

Today, a team at MIT's annual design competition announced plans for a computer that'll go for somewhere between $10 and $20, in part because it'll use Nintendo technology from the 1980s.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: Super Mario is back. The star of the 80s computer game will be doing some traveling -- to countries like Ghana and India.

The team at MIT is building its computer around a Nintendo-style console, like the ones we used 20 years ago. Hopefully they'll lose the music.

These consoles would plug into a computer keyboard which would then plug into a TV. The international team creating the computer is at MIT for its annual design summit. Their adviser is Olin College engineer Ben Linder. He says this 80s technology could spawn new economic opportunities for people who've never even heard of Super Mario.

Ben Linder: Instead of $2 a day, they could go to $2 an hour by doing office work that involves computers. That's a major change.

Linder says the consoles would be loaded with educational programs. These computers are for learning, not for working. Linder says old games could be modified for new users.

Linder: They're going to play a game, but in the process they're going to gain a bunch of typing skills and basic computing skills and familiarity with technology.

But it would be old technology. Jupiter research computer industry analyst Michael Gartenberg:

Michael Gartenberg: Training people on obsolete systems doesn't necessarily help them going forward.

Professor Linder says the team's just at the idea stage right now. It hopes to update its computers, maybe taking Super Mario to another new place: the Internet.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.


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