[LINK] plugpack computers
stephen at melbpc.org.au
stephen at melbpc.org.au
Sat May 23 04:23:00 EST 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
Marvell Technology Group is counting on an army of computer engineers and
hackers to answer that question.
It has created a "plug computer."
Its a tiny plastic box that you plug into an electric outlet. Theres 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
"Theres not a lot in there," said Sehat Sutardja, Marvells 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, youve 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 Technologys 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 wont
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 Intels 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 ARMs 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. Sutardjas 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.
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.
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