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'Plugtop PCs' draw very little power

Posted: 26 Feb 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:embedded home computers  Plugtop PCs  plug computing  mobile systems 

Marvell Technology Group Ltd has announced a so-called Plug Computing initiative and a Rs.4,922.20 ($99) developer's kit using its 1.2GHz ARM-based processor to drive it. Marvell envisions a variety of "wall-warts" that build in its Sheeva CPU and act like embedded home computers.

The Plugtop PCs might be the size of a pack of cigarettes and let users remotely access content on their home net while drawing a fraction of the power of a full Windows PC.

"With the move to more mobile systems, it's becoming less common for there to be an always-on computer in the home, yet people are creating their own content like videos that they want to have available anywhere and anytime," said Raja Mukhopadhyay, product manager for the new developer's kit.

"Marvell's goal is to accelerate the development and availability of innovative software and services in the home." added Simon Milner, general manager of Marvell's enterprise business unit, speaking in a prepared statement.

The SheevaPlug kit includes Marvell's Kirkwood SoC, a 1.2GHz ARM5-complaint CPU with 512MB each of flash and DRAM memory. It supports four Linux 2.6 distributions—Debian, Unbutu, Fedora, Gentoo—as well as links to Gbit Ethernet and USB 2.0.

"Plug computing is a logical evolution for the digital home in the same way enterprise applications moved from servers to network appliances," said Hajime Nakai, director and member of the board at Buffalo Inc., a gateway maker quoted in the press statement.

So far, one company has shipped a product based on the Marvell chip and concept. Cloud Engines Inc. released the Pogoplug at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The Rs.4,922.20 ($99) device connects an external hard drive to the Internet so users can remotely access its files.

"You can get a Sling Box sort of connectivity out of these devices," said Mukhopadhyay. "Eventually we hope these plugs retail at about $50 (Rs.2,485.96)," he added.

Three other companies are developing Linux-based applications that could be used on plugtop devices.

Axentra's HipServ is a home server applications suite for storing, managing and playing digital media in the home or remotely. Eyecon Technologies Inc. is developing software to link mobile devices such as cell phones to a home net. CTera's CloudPlug can convert a USB drive into a network-attached storage device with offsite backup.

"There are different models we and partners are exploring," said Mukhopadhyay. "For example, CTera wants to partner with service providers looking for new revenue streams but not able or willing to tap into an existing set-top box or gateway," he added.

Marvell has released its so-called Raindrop API for the plugtop device as part of its developer's kit. It also plans to support a Java virtual machine and OSGi stack so existing third-party Java apps can run on its processor.

The company is not planning an online applications store for the initiative, but it is open to working with partners on such a service.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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