$99 'Plug Computer' Vendors Begin Taking Orders
Santa Clara, California
(August 12, 2009) –
PCMag.com, August 12, 2009
By Mark Hachman
Several of Marvell's partners have either announced or begun shipping "plug computers" based on the company's Sheeva ARM CPU, for as little as $89.
On Wednesday, GlobalScale Technologies, Tonido, and WebTView are expected to formally announce their own takes on the plug computer, each harnessing the low-cost Marvell CPU for its own purposes. Marvell began selling the SheevaPlug reference design in February for $99.
That, however coincidentally, appears to be the price Marvell's partners will sell their plugs at, direct to consumers. Seagate, Buffalo, D-Link, and LaCie have also been named as OEM partners, although Seagate previously denied a formal relationship between itself and Marvell.
"It's more of a sign of the ecosystem and the momentum behind it," Simon Milner, vice president and general manager of the Enterprise Business Unit, Consumer and Communications Business Group at Marvell Semiconductor, said in an interview. Products should ship in between 4 and 8 weeks, he said.
One of the more interesting uses of the SheevaPlug is by Israel's WebTView, which uses the SheevaPlug as a hardware platform for Internet television. The $99 WebTView will automatically scan the Internet to "build a normalized and unified Internet video catalog," of streams and other videos, according to the company. Users can select their preferences, and the software will search out video that matches it, according to the company. Moreover, the software will automatically transcode the video into a format that the end device, such as a television, can use.
The SheevaPlug concept is built around a 1.2GHz Marvell Sheeva ARM-compatible CPU equipped with 512 Mbytes of flash memory and 512 Mbytes of DRAM. The small computer talks to the network via an embedded Ethernet port, and connects to peripherals via a USB 2.0 connector. The operating system is built on Linux, and is customizable, Milner said. The plugs operate at just 3 watts, dropping into the tens of milliwatts when in sleep mode.
Likewise, Tonido has developed what it calls the TonidoPlug, a version of the SheevaPlug concept with specific applications built for the device: Torrent, Jukebox, Webshare, Workspace, Thots, Explorer, Photos, and Search, according to the company. The company is taking preorders on its Web site for the plug computers,, which will cost $89 for a limited time, the company said.
GlobalScale Technologies, likewise, is launching its concept in the U.K. Normally, the plug computer includes a somewhat limited array of connectivity options. But GlobalScale is making the technology a bit more modular, adding options like dual Ethernet ports, eSATA, four USB ports, Wi-Fi, and extra memory banks targeting shared storage, IP STB, and remote data logging.
Developers can purchase the SheevaPlug for €75 or £63 each plus any additional applicable shipping costs at GlobalScaleTechnologies.com, the company said.
Although the initial price for the plug computers are $99, Milner said he envisions final retail costs could come in as low as $49. "We're a silicon partner; we sell silicon and a software architecture framework to be truly plug and play," Milner said. "It is the simplest basic use case possible."
On the surface, the plug computers have one weak spot: as computers get cheaper and cheaper, consumers also want to take them on a road. Will a computer tethered to a power plug sell? Yes, if a consumer doesn't think of the plug computer as a computer, and more of a low-cost home server, Milner said.
"As devices become mobile, there's still one big challenge: the storage cost," Milner said. "Distributing content in the home is still a big problem."
It's also possible, Milner acknowledged, that future set-top box gateways could integrate SheevaPlug functionality and become something more than just a filter for external entertainment. "All are possibilities," he said.