Commentary
2/25/2009
09:18 AM

Marvell's Mini-PC: $99, 5 Watts -- And Big Potential

What could your business do with a tiny, fully-functional Linux server that runs on about five watts of power? One chip-maker has some interesting thoughts on the subject.



What could your business do with a tiny, fully-functional Linux server that runs on about five watts of power? One chip-maker has some interesting thoughts on the subject.TG Daily has the story on Marvell's latest product announcement, which makes a typical netbook PC look like a current-gobbling wild animal by comparison: "It's about the size of an AC to DC converting wall outlet plug, but is really a full SoC with a 1200 MHz CPU, built-in 512 MB Flash, 512 MB DRAM, Gigabit Ethernet and USB 2.0 support. It runs small versions of Linux, consumes about 5 watts max while allowing remote users (presumably those authorized by the owner) to access data stored on the device from remote locations including local intranets or over the Internet. The $99 device opens up a wide array of extremely low-power, low-volume, always on applications." The story includes a photo of Marvell's SheevaPlug, which really does look like a typical DC wall wart with a plug at one end and Ethernet/USB jacks at the other end. It is capable of running any Debian-based Linux distro, including Ubuntu; it is thus capable of running any typical Linux service.

The SheevaPlug currently sells for around $99. According to TG Daily, however, Marvell is aiming for a price of as little as $50 -- a realistic goal, in my opinion.

Some obvious small-business applications for the SheevaPlug include use as a remote print or file server, or as a lightweight Web server. With just 512MB of storage, of course, the device won't be running a database server anytime soon -- although that built-in USB jack certainly could connect a much larger portable storage device.

As the article points out, the SheevaPlug isn't the first device of its type. It is, however, the cheapest device of its type: Computers using this form factor typically retailed for $200 or more in the past. That makes the SheevaPlug a very special competitor in the race to build smaller, faster, cheaper, more flexible computers that require about as much juice as a small appliance bulb.

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