25 February 2009

A Little Marvell Plugs Sub-Netbook Gap

As I've been telling anyone who would listen, one of the key recent trends has been the "race to the bottom" in terms of pricing for computer systems. The only real winner here (aside from the end-user) is open source - proprietary systems cannot cut prices enough, and are rarely flexible enough to allow the kind of experimentation that is necessary at this end of the market.

Here's another great example of the kind of thing I have in mind:

Can a computer get any smaller and cheaper than a netbook? Marvell Technology Group Ltd. thinks so.

The Silicon Valley chip maker is trying to create a new category of inexpensive, energy-efficient devices it calls "plug computers," for which it would supply the integrated processors.

Strongly resembling those vacation timers that turn on your lights at night to ward off potential robbers, a plug computer is more of a home networking gadget that transforms external hard drives or USB thumb drives into full network-attached storage (NAS) devices.

Aside from the form-factor, the other thing of note is the expected price for these GNU/Linux-based systems:

Marvell has already announced a handful of other resellers that plan to build plug computers. But it hopes to attract far more, so that it can eventually price its SheevaPlug chips low enough for vendors to profitably sell plug computers for as little as $49, Mukhopadhyay said.

At first sight, it's not clear why anyone would want one of these extremely small computers; but at prices around $50 you can bet all kinds of unexpected uses will start popping up. It's not hard to imagine a day when a house or office is full of dozens of tiny, low-cost and low-energy GNU/Linux-based devices, all talking to each other and other systems across the Net. Juding be the speed at which netbooks have caught on, it's probably closer than we think.


Unknown said...

Why wnt one? One idea springs to mind - easy home automation. Attach webcams, thermometers, motion detectors, other sensors, sirens, etc and have them scattered around the house all reporting to a central website and storing data. At that price they are far cheaper than other security systems.

Glyn Moody said...

There you are: I knew my readers would come up with some good ideas.

Anonymous said...

It was announced, however it doesn't seem to be quite ready yet. I ordered one the day they came out, but my order hasn't even been shipped yet...

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for the update: let's hope things get moving soon.