Agency Tests Laptop Ruggedness by Walking on Them

Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (Elcot) uses an unusual way to test laptop computers that it plans to deliver to students in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. It places them on a hard floor and asks people weighing over 80 kilograms to walk all over them to ensure that the computers are rugged and durable.

The computers are then booted up and checked to see if they work properly. Only the laptop brands that clear this test without any damage are allowed to participate in the price bid, Elcot said. The government-owned company delivers IT services to Tamil Nadu.

In a video of what the company calls the "fire walk test," a man weighing 92 kilograms (or 202.8 pounds) and another weighing 85 kilograms walked over laptop computers from Acer and Dell.

Elcot has initiated a program to offer low-cost laptops to students in Tamil Nadu, taking advantage of being a volume purchasing agency for the local government.

The demand that the laptops from its suppliers be rugged enough to be walked on is linked to the company's expectation that these laptops will be used in very rough environments and have to be scratch proof. The laptops come with a three-year international warranty, including components. Batteries, however, carry a one-year warranty.

"We subject any laptop we purchase, even for our internal use, to the same fire-walk test," said C. Umashankar, managing director of Elcot. "You do have vendors delivering plastics that are very poor quality."

The company's objective is to provide thousands of full-featured, low-cost laptops to students and colleges in Tamil Nadu. Elcot expects to have orders for 100,000 laptops in the next 15 days, Umashankar said.

By offering laptop vendors higher volumes in return for lower prices, and offering breaks in local taxes, the company had hoped to get the laptops to users at less than 21,000 Indian rupees (about US$490), Umashankar said. But Elcot had to raise prices as its current multinational laptop vendor asked for an increase, citing the appreciation of the dollar against the rupee and the impact of rising oil prices on overall costs.

The company now quotes a price on its Web site of about 30,000 rupees for a laptop running an Intel Core 2 Duo Processor at 1.8GHz, a 320G-byte hard-disk drive and 2G bytes of RAM.

"That is still a lot cheaper than the market price for a similar product with a multinational brand," Umashankar said.

Elcot, which migrated its IT infrastructure to Linux last year, is shipping the laptops with Suse Linux Enterprise Edition 10.1, with plans to offer Ubuntu as a dual-boot option down the line, Umashankar said. It has tested the laptops for compatibility with a variety of Linux distributions, he added.

Elcot and Microsoft were not able to cut a deal for the student laptops, because the software company has not responded to Elcot's offer of $12 per copy of Windows. "If they come back, we will offer their product as an option to our customers," Umashankar said.

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