With Tablets & Clouds, Plug PC will Take Off

Plug Computers are tiny embedded server PCs built within an AC power adapter. The entire PC (CPU, power supply, memory, and networking) are contained in the plastic cube that you plug into an electrical outlet. Some models even include wireless networks or miniature hard drives. And get this: The device uses only 5 watts – about the same as a Christmas tree light, or about 80¢/month.

What these tiny PCs don’t have is local input or output. That is, they have no keyboard, screen, microphone, mouse or camera. Most models don’t have a disk drive either, but you can attach an external drive or thumb drive.

What can you do with a PC that has no input or output peripherals? More than you might think! As with any server, you interact from another connected device over your local network, the internet, or even from a mobile phone. In fact, these devices are embedded with a web server which makes it feel like you are interacting with a Facebook page or a big online merchant. They are tiny, personal cloud servers. Models from various vendors are typically preinstalled with Linux and contain popular web applications such as document collaboration, torrents, phone/PBX, blogs, bulletin boards, home security, photo sharing, and personal media distribution. They are terrific as an iTunes hub, a photo sharing community, or simply a repository of your movies, music and work documents.

Imagine traveling around the world with the simplest of tablets (for example, the new Amazon Kindle Fire), and accessing data, media and apps from your own home server. Just attach one of these babies into your router, add a disk drive. Then, roam about the earth! You are A 21st century netizen, using your own personal cloud server.

What about back up? Most vendors include software to back up your Plug Computer to the cloud or to other Plug Computers.

Name brand companies offer plug computers, including PC industry stalwarts like PogoPlug, Seagate (GoFlex Net) and Iomega. Since popular applications for this computing platform are relatively new, you may not have heard about other companies. They cater to geeks and bleeding edge users. That’s because, their offerings are intended for coders, hackers and hobbyists who love to experiment. Models by Shiva, Tonido, Guru and Ionics are closer to the nuts & bolts architecture.

(Note to self: Buy stock in Marvell Technology. They own the Plug Computer
market. Every brand and model mentioned here uses their ARM processor!)

You can find a lot of information by searching the web, but what prompted me to comment on these miniature marvels was a naïve statement in a Nettop Review. The blogger described the pros & cons of a new Plug Computer called DreamPlug. He pointed to the lack of a display port as a drawback.

Ellery’s response…

Wow! I try hard to avoid criticizing other reviewers or journalists. But the author (or perhaps an editor at Nettop or Dvice) erred in pointing to the absence of a display port as a “flaw”.

This is a Plug Computer. It is not intended to be a really tiny PC. Nothing like that! It is an embedded CPU with connectivity. Principal applications are as a cloud server, phone PBX, shared photo archive, video and music server, personal online backup, or even a stand-alone support desk & BBS.

You plug it in and access it from a network attached PC, phone, television, torrent client, etc. Think of a PC as having two basic components: a storage server and a terminal component. This is the storage server part and not the access terminal. Simple, very low power, and very powerful. Lots of bang for the buck! The popular plug computer vendors have created aps with incredible functionality. These include vendors and re-packagers like Sheeva, PogoPlug, Tonido, Guru, Ionics, Seagate etc.


Dreamplug PC plugs right into the wall, but has one fatal flaw

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 | Dreamplug Nettops

dreamplug nettop pc

Dreamplug Nettop

The DreamPlug is a nettop so small that it doesn’t even need a power adapter the entire nettop is an oversized plug that goes straight into your wall jack. The Dreamplug is powered by a 1.2 GHz Marvell Sheeva ARM-based processor, 512MB of DDR2 memory, 1GB of storage, and Ethernet, USB, and eSATA connectors, 802.11b/g/ WiFi, Bluetooth, a headphone jack and an SD card slot.

There’s one major thing lacking on the Dreamplug however. There’s no VGA, DVI, or HDMI output and that’s because there’s no graphics processor on board. While it’d be kind of neat to plug a keyboard, monitor, and mouse into the DreamPlug and run a light-weight desktop Linux distribution, the little guy is really designed for simpler tasks such as network storage, managing a security system, or home automation.

The DreamPlug measures just 4.3×2.7×1.9″ and uses just 5W of power. It’s based on the Plug Computer platform.

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