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One Intel processor per child

Intel joins the One Laptop per Child project.

According to the US Census Bureau, there are over 1.8 billion children in the world under the age of 14.

Intel would like to sell them all a processor. And, ideally, a chipset with graphics, some flash memory, and networking.

If there are going to be 1.8 billion $100 laptops, Intel might be able to earn $25 each, or $45 billion for the chips inside them.

Of course, AMD would also like to earn that revenue. Before this week, it looked like AMD had the inside track. AMD was in the right place at the right time when MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte proposed the idea for the $100 laptop, now known as the XO computer from the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) project.

Intel opposed the project, apparently just because AMD got there first.

But this week, Intel joined the project. Intel has announced plans for low-end x86 processors that should fit the bill, and the company will no doubt help in other ways. Also, Intel will undoubtedly learn a lot about this market, and build important contacts in the developing nations where the XO is expected to be most popular.

But Intel is so large that the OLPC project means only a slight increment in its revenue. To hit that $100 price-- the XO currently costs $175 or so-- the profit margin of the silicon vendors must be cut to the bone, and Intel simply isn't in the business of selling low-margin silicon. The real payoff for Intel will come if it can "sell up" potential XO customers.

But that would undermine the goal of the OLPC project, which is to get useful computers into the hands of the world's children at the lowest possible cost. We'll have to see if Intel is willing to compromise its own profitability for this cause.