Portugal plans to buy 500,000 Intel Classmate PC computers during the upcoming school year as part of a programme to expand computer and internet usage among schoolchildren. The deal is the biggest yet announced for the low-cost laptops.

Classmate PC was developed by Intel as a low-cost computer, primarily for school children in developing countries although the machines are also available in developed countries. The Portuguese deal is the first large-scale project Intel has signed for the rugged little laptops. Current deployments of the machines are on a smaller scale, primarily as pilot projects to test how the computers can be integrated into lessons.

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Classmate PC is available in several versions, with different designs and specifications. A modified version of the Classmate PC - called the JumPC - was launched in the UK two weeks ago, and is available for £239.

The JumPC is aimed at children between the ages of 6 and 10 and combines Windows XP with EasyBits' Magic Desktop user interface, which includes a number of features designed to keep children safe online.

The distribution of Classmate PCs to Portuguese elementary school children, called the Magellan Initiative after the famous Portuguese explorer, was announced during a meeting between Intel Chairman Craig Barrett and Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates on Wednesday.

Intel did not say which version Portugal planned to offer through the Magellan Initiative. Financial terms of the deal were also not disclosed.

With additional reporting from Oliver Garnham