The rise of plug computers?

A while ago I invited an old classmate over to give a talk on campus. He is working on a new project called Amahi. It is a Linux-based server software. But instead of aiming at the regular PC --maybe the old computer you might have at home-- they are focussing a relatively new breed of computer that some have called "plug computer". But ... what is a plug computer? They are small low-power headless computers that are built inside a power supply. Usual connections are USB ports (to enable external storage or other peripherals) and Ethernet network. These computers do not have a hard-disk drive but a small flash-based storage on board.

What these plug-in computers really shine for is as home servers. They need a really small amount of power, usually less than 10 watts, so keeping them on 24/7 is not going to have an impact on your utilities bill. The compact size and silent operation open up many interesting applications (ie. media server, download server, personal website server, etc).

The unit I am testing is called guruplug and it includes Wifi and Bluetooth wireless connections. It is powered by a 1Ghz Marvell's ARM CPU and it uses 3.5 watts while streaming flash content over wifi. A JTAG interface can be used to write a new system image on the guruplug.

I'd say the future format of the entertainment system around the TV set is not clear (at least not at my home). Some modern TV sets do have an Ethernet socket enabling media streaming (ie. DLNA) and others may also handle YouTube or Netflix without additional hardware. Other manufacturers are selling Blu-Ray players that include plenty of streaming features (ie. LG BD570) to be connected to a [dumber] TV set using HDMI socket. Streaming companies operate only on certain countries (ie. Netflix is not available in Spain), so they are not always a choice. And both Apple and Google have their own offerings (ie. Apple TV and Google TV). It is going to be interesting to see how this market develops.


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