[LINK] plugpack computers

stephen at melbpc.org.au stephen at melbpc.org.au
Sat May 23 04:23:00 AEST 2009

Plugging In $40 Computers

By Saul Hansell May 21, 2009, 7:45 am 

What would you do with a $40 Linux computer the size of a three-prong 
plug adapter? 


Marvell Technology Group is counting on an army of computer engineers and 
hackers to answer that question. 

It has created a "plug computer." 

It’s a tiny plastic box that you plug into an electric outlet. There’s no 
display. But there is an Ethernet jack to connect to a home network and a 
U.S.B. socket for attaching a hard drive, camera or other device. 

Inside is a 1.2 gigahertz Marvell chip, called an application processor, 
running a version of the Linux operating system. 

All this can be yours for $99 today and probably for under $40 in two 

"There’s not a lot in there," said Sehat Sutardja, Marvell’s chief 
executive and co-founder, "just a few chips and the sort of power supply 
used to charge a cellphone battery."

Because this computer uses chips designed for cellphones, it uses far 
less power than chips designed for regular computers. 

In its 13 years of existence, Marvell Technology Group has become a major 
player in semiconductors, with annual sales of more than $2 billion a 
year. It makes more than half of the microprocessors that control hard 
disk drives and is also a supplier of chips that go into cellphones. 

Mr. Sutardja envisions an explosion of innovation about to hit home users 
because of the combination of open-source software and very powerful 
chips that are becoming available at very low costs. 

The first plausible use for the computer is to attach a U.S.B. hard drive.

Voila, you’ve got a network server. 

CloudEngines, a start-up, has in fact built a $99 plug computer called 
Pogoplug, that will let you share the files on your hard drive, not only 
in your home but also anywhere on the Internet. 

“This creates a smart data center for the home,” Mr. Sutardja said. 

Another application might be to connect a security camera to the 
Internet, adding enough intelligence to help analyze images to 
distinguish between a stray dog and a cat burglar. 

Scientific American asked some “alpha geeks” at the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence 
Laboratory what they might do with a plug computer. 

One researcher imagined a system to automatically turn on and off 
appliances as people moved around the house. Another described a “life 
filter” that might weed out boring e-mails before sending them on to his 

Ultimately, these computers may well be used in more mainstream devices, 
especially for home entertainment. 

“We wanted to seed the thinking of people in the market place with what 
you can do with our processors,” Mr. Sutardja said. “Eventually you won’t 
see the plug. We want this device to be in your TV, your stereo system, 
your DVD player.” 

The Marvell chips are based on designs by ARM Holdings, which have 
emerged as the leading rival to Intel’s x86 chip architecture. ARM 
dominates the cellphone market because of its chips’ low power usage. ARM 
licenses its designs to Marvell and many other chip makers. A year ago, 
Warren East, the chief executive of ARM, predicted what would happen when 
the price of ARM’s processors fell from the $10 range to 50 cents. 

At that level, every light switch may well be an Internet-connected 
computer, he said.

The plug computer idea is clearly a step in that direction. And it is 
part of an even broader array of chips designed initially for phones that 
will add features to many other devices. 

Mr. Sutardja talked about the sort of digital photo frame you can now buy 
for about $50. 

Add $2 in chips, and it can display high-definition movies, he said. 

Another $2 adds a camera. And less than a dollar adds several 

“You now have the sort of video conferencing that corporations buy for 
much more money,” he said. 

Not surprisingly, in Mr. Sutardja’s view, it is the sort of brain that 
Marvell makes that will be in the center of all this. 

“The uses of an application processor are endless,” he said. “It is up to 
smart people to imagine what it can do.” 

Update | 1:00 p.m. Several people in the comments have said they actually 
are using these plug computers. Can anyone who does have one explain what 
they actually do, at least so far?  (end NYTimes quote)

>From the above website:

What are typical applications for a plug computer ?        

The application range is bounded only by the imagination of the developer 
community. Here are some typical use cases:

Compact, high performance home file server for home computers.

Multimedia server for DLNA-enabled players, such as the Sony PS3.

Web proxy, enabling fast, cached access to your favorite web sites.

Storage of home video surveillance streams.

Automate downloads and uploads to your favorite photo sharing web site.

And more….
What software runs on the Plug?        

The Plug ships with Linux, which is the most popular open source 
operating system. However, any operating system that is compatible with 
ARM CPUs may potentially run on the platform, such as FreeBSD, NetBSD, 
Windows CE, and more.



More information about the Link mailing list