Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Marvel of a Marvell

(Note: Clicking the images gives you a better look)

Marvell is the name of a company most people have not heard about - at least non-geek types anyway. Recently (just this first week of April 2009) Marvell, through a company called GlobalScale Enterprise,s released a very interesting computer system. The name of this computer system is a "Plug Computer" for obvious reasons (see picture). Well - the actual name of the computer is "SheevaPlug Development Kit" as the system is designed for applications development - but it still can be used as a computer system! (grin).

Now - the really interesting part - the price:

$99.00 + Shipping (about $12 or so).
It is available here:

You can order from here:

Headless System

Now - there is no keyboard or mouse input, nor is there a video display output - so what good is it you may ask??? The system is designed to run Linux and you access the system using a terminal program by connecting a USB cable (supplied) to the Plug Computer and a PC which is where the terminal program resides. This is CLI (command line interface) stuff and anyone familiar with Linux or Unix is familiar with this interface. Not only is it designed to run linux it also comes with a CD which contains the documentation on the system as well as a development system for use in both Windows and Linux - this allows you to build (actually rebuild) the system with the applications you want on the machine. Given you have 512-megs of Flash you can pack a great deal into this small machine! Heck - you could even install Astrisk (a software PBX system) on this machine and use it for VOIP phones - of course you would need to find a USB interface that will work with telephone lines if you want to use the PBX with normal phone lines but just the fact you can run a VOIP system on this machine is impressive in and of itself!

A Peek Inside the Case:

Inside the case is a lot of compute power for it's size! There is a 1.2-GHz ARM-based processor with 512-Megs of DDR-2 400-MHz (800-MHz by virtue of the method DDR-2 reads memory), 512-Megs of Nand Flash memory, a 1-Gbit Full-Duplex Ethernet interface, a HS USB Version-2 Host interface (host configuration is needed to communicate with devices like external hard drives and such), a SDIO Slot for SD and SDHC cards (micro-SD cards also work with the SD adaptor - same for the micro-SDHC cards), a HS USB Version-2 Console/JTAG Interface which allows access to the machine through a CLI interface and the AC-DC power supply to run all the electronics in the case (whew).

A More Detailed Look:

Now for a little closer look at the actual boards. The Plug Computer contains two distinct boards, the main board contains most of the actual computer system, the Processor, RAM, Flash Memory, Gigabit Ethernet and the USB Host interface. The second board is geared more towards development and testing operations although it also contains the SDIO Interface and the passive heat-sink for the processor (removable so it can stay within the case to serve it's purpose).

Block diagram of the system - The Details

To the right is the block diagram of the system. With the exception of a video display block you have a complete computer system in a small "wall-wart" style case.

What can you do with something like this - glad you asked!!!

There are a number of things people use computers for:

  • File Storage

  • Music Storage

  • Email

  • Web Server

  • Picture Storage

  • Game Server

and the list goes on....

By adding an external USB hard drive you have the makings of a file server that uses very very little power! Most USB external drives draw between 2 - 5 watts of power when they are running (they can be put to "sleep" and only run when needed) and the Plug Computer uses about 5 watts of power total. When you combine the power requirements you end up with a file sharing computer system that uses just a little more power than a night-light! If you are using a wireless setup then you could install a wireless router on the ethernet side of the box and have access from any of your wireless connections.

This only touches on the possiblities of this machine - I plan to post the different projects I am working on for this computer here so check back or RSS the blog to keep track!

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