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$50, 5w, SoC in a plug

Rick describes an interesting computer in Marvell’s Plug Computer: A tiny, discrete, fully functional 5 watt Linux server at TG Daily. His first thought was probably typical: “what a silly concept.” But think.

This wal-wart runs at 1.2 GHz with 512MB flash and 512MB DRAM – compare that to a P3 server I have that runs at 3/4 the speed with the same RAM. The USB and ethernet provide a somewhat limited access to external devices but should be just fine for security or monitoring needs. That means this device is a very convenient central module for building all sorts of nifty smart things.

It could be setup as a remote print server, or a web server. It could run as a proxy re-directing traffic from outside locations to forward IP addresses. …

When used on an intranet, such a device could serve as a media server for the home or office network, allowing extremely low-power storage and immediate retrieval without having to have a dedicated PC-like machine sitting somewhere. Since it is IP address based, media file sharing among an entire office or home would be possible. Connect to a Wi-Fi enabled router and the ability to broadcast media at Wi-Fi speeds is suddenly possible.

The Plug Computer would also be capable of receiving new data, accessed through the LAN connection as though it were simply a remote hard drive. And if connected through a router to a broadband Internet connection of some kind, remote access would be possible over the Internet. And all for a five watt power consumption.

This is a Kirkwood system-on-chip (SoC) that only needs power conditioning on one end and interface conditioning on the other so parts count is low as is the cost. Using a Debian based system means that there is a well established development system and broad support for many devices and protocols.

TG Daily rates this “While the concept is absolutely brilliant, rating a 5 out of 5 for potential usefulness in a wide array of emerging enterprise-level applications, TG Daily must give Marvell a very low score (0.1 out of 5) for the “easier to use” factor” and thinks the $50 to $100 price tag is going to be a barrier. That may be but that price is in the ‘toy’ category for serious geeks whose other choices have been things like the Stamp Computer. The Marvell thing doesn’t cost that much more and is a complete, ready to go box that does not restrict you in matters of programming language and can be plugged into an existing network and accessed and used like any other server.

The basics are already there. See, for instance The Linux Insteon support page or for the Mac. For the more generic interface whatever to USB, see companies such as USBmicro.

When this and ZigBee get together, watch out!

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