Marvell unveils $99 wall-wart Linux PC

If you thought nettops were cheap, wait until you get a load of this: Marvell has announced the SheevaPlug, a $99 reference design based on the company’s own "plug computer" concept. In short, this system plugs directly into a power socket, much like a glorified wall wart with Ethernet and USB ports.

Marvell says the SheevaPlug reference design includes a 1.2GHz, ARM-based Sheeva embedded processor, 512MB of DDR2 memory, 512MB of flash memory, Gigabit Ethernet, and USB 2.0. If you were wondering, yes—Marvell does design processors. As a matter of fact, it acquired Intel’s XScale business back in 2006, and the former XScale team seems to have contributed to the Sheeva design.

On the software side of things, Marvell notes that the SheevaPlug supports "multiple standard Linux 2.6 kernel distributions." That should make running and developing software for the platform pretty straightforward.

Speaking which, developers can get a SheevaPlug development kit for $99 right now by heading to Marvell’s website. Other folks will probably want to wait for actual products based on the design—and there are several in the pipeline, including the $79 CloudEngines Pogoplug and the CTERA CloudPlug. According to the Wall Street Journal, Marvell expects prices to go down to $49 eventually.

Check out the image gallery below for some photos of the SheevaPlug reference system and a diagram showing a possible usage scenario. As Marvell points out, this hardware should be a nice way to turn an external hard drive into a network-attached-storage solution. A tiny, ultra-cheap Linux network PC can probably serve many other purposes, though.

Comments closed
    • AMDisDEC
    • 10 years ago

    Although these units are meant as reference devices, it came to mind that in quantity, you may be able to get them to a cost of around $70. They could be used as is, interfaced with other stand-alone networked sensors to integrate a neat little home or business security system.
    Loaded with Ubuntu, a few motion detectors, and entry detectors, this device could use the linux SIP package to call security (police) once a security breach was detected, and even send an email alert to your cell or PDA. If you include camera’s you could even be sent photos or video of the breach.

      • DrCR
      • 10 years ago

      I think I would just spend the money on ammo instead, and strategically place spent brass around the premises. 😉

        • AMDisDEC
        • 10 years ago

        That could be an attractor if say the person used the same caliber. 😉

          • DrCR
          • 10 years ago

          haha, +1 for reloading. 🙂

    • AMDisDEC
    • 10 years ago

    The unit is really meant as a reference platform. It has minimal functionality, and who would want to base a cluster on ARM.

    I’ll wait for the next version which will probably break out another ethernet port, another USB, and Audio. Then it could be used to connect to a projector for carrying to customer sites and giving presentations.
    A Flash device could hold Ubuntu, office, and your foils. It could probably be easily run off a battery also.

    This version, as is, could be used as an easy network interface/server for your HP USB printer/scanner/fax.

    • quarantined
    • 10 years ago

    But cahn it wrun krisus?

    I must admit that I skimmed the title and stupidly misread it as Wal-Mart.

      • Rakhmaninov3
      • 10 years ago

      lol! me too

    • bdwilcox
    • 10 years ago

    I read the title of the post as: “Marvell unveils $99 *[

      • UberGerbil
      • 10 years ago

      I read it that way too.

      Though now I’m tempted to call the stores “Wall Wart” if I ever have a reason to talk about them.

    • BobbinThreadbare
    • 10 years ago

    If this had 2 ethernet ports, it would be so much more useful. Then it could function as a router in addition to whatever else you are doing. A 2nd USB port, eSATA and firewire would also be nice, in that order.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 10 years ago

      It does have two USB ports – one regular and one mini.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 10 years ago

        I didn’t see that. Now it just needs a 2nd ethernet cable.

        • wayhigh
        • 10 years ago

        READ THE DOCS – mini USB is serial port and JTAG and NOT USB.

      • shank15217
      • 10 years ago

      It doesn’t have to have 2 ports to function as a router.

        • Hattig
        • 10 years ago

        The chip it is based on has two GigE controllers … it just needs another PHY.

        The chip also has two SATA controllers … hopefully someone someday will make a standalone box with two SATA bays, two GigE ports and the chip.

          • Anonymous Coward
          • 10 years ago

          What, it has all that in silicon but without ports? The slackers!

    • Hattig
    • 10 years ago

    I just thought that this device really really should be able to make use of Power over Ethernet.

      • UberGerbil
      • 10 years ago

      Or ethernet over powerlines.

        • Tamale
        • 10 years ago

        ding ding ding.

        I like the idea of ethernet over powerlines a lot.. when will we finally see that readily available to consumers though?

          • UberGerbil
          • 10 years ago

          It /[http://www.google.com/products?q=powerline+ethernet+adapter<]§ It just has tons of problems. For certain applications it works great, but there are so many other variables that it's rarely the best answer (especially with WiFi already being so ubiquitous).

            • Tamale
            • 10 years ago

            sweet! thanks.. I didn’t know this stuff was already widely available 🙂

            • Pettytheft
            • 10 years ago

            It’s more reliable than wireless but it runs nowhere near the rated speeds.

    • swish
    • 10 years ago

    Look at the diagram in the gallery to see what the “intended usage” is envisioned as: They attach an external USB hard drive to the wall-wart for storage, and then connect the wall-wart to your home LAN. The sorts of things you can do with it are:

    * Serve content to all your home computers
    ** Have your own webserver, FTP server, media streaming server
    * Share files/photos/whatever between home computers and laptops

    I think when you try to do more cool stuff (like hook it to a USB TV Tuner) you’re going to run into a lot of issues unless Marvel has already designed for this. Well, at least you can run your IRC bot on it! 🙂

    /me corners the market on all the permutations of cool bot names with “wart” in them :>

    EDIT:
    I had another thought: You could connect it to a USB cablemodem on one end and your Ethernet LAN on the other end and make a great firewall box that draws only 5W.

    What other low-power uses can you think of? That’s really where this thing could shine for enthusiasts. Low power + no noise + powerful enough to be an offline/idle-content server. So I’ve already got it running my IRC bot, my local Intranet wiki, my firewall, and I’ve connected it to an external on-demand-spinup USB hard drive. What else am I missing? Automated nightly backup? WINS/DNS server, streaming media server, pretty much everything the Netgear/Infrant ReadyNAS is, without the RAID?

    The low price would make it marketable to end-users *if* great _usable_ software was out there for it.

      • Tamale
      • 10 years ago

      I’d consider anything that works with ubuntu pretty darn usable 🙂

    • MadManOriginal
    • 10 years ago

    USB 3.0 will make this a lot sweeter as a cheapo NAS.

    • cygnus1
    • 10 years ago

    meant as a reply…..

    • ludi
    • 10 years ago

    For a DIY home automation or security system, these might be perfect. Say, USB webcams for a few camera modules, a USB hard disk for the DVR module, a keypad entry module at each door…

    Wouldn’t be any cheaper than a commercial security system but you could really customize the dickens out of it.

      • UberGerbil
      • 10 years ago

      As long as you’re already wired for ethernet. I guess you could hang a WiFi adapter off each one (perhaps that’s something that could have been built in — or an option).

      • wayhigh
      • 10 years ago

      Uhh.. the unit does have an SDIO slot on it too..

    • flip-mode
    • 10 years ago

    This is the sweetest geekiest! I want one!

    • UberGerbil
    • 10 years ago

    So what this needs is a pass-through power socket, and a provision for powerline ethernet. Then you could put one of these on every wall socket in your house — instant distributed cluster.

    Yeah, I don’t know why either.

      • Meadows
      • 10 years ago

      You could buy a bunch of power strips, hook them up to several wall plugs, place them in the same room, saturate them with Linux-warts, and there you have your personal Room of Folding. What a noble goal.

        • UberGerbil
        • 10 years ago

        If you did that, the effect would be much better if there were some LEDs on the warts so you’d get that wall-of-blinkenlights effect (and they could double as christmas decorations). Though I guess you could always plug a light into each of the USB ports.

          • Meadows
          • 10 years ago

          I’m sure there are some options far better suited to that purpose on geeky sites. First I’d check Thinkgeek to see if they have any exotic USB ornaments.

          The actual tough part is the LAN.

    • ReAp3r-G
    • 10 years ago

    is that thing connected to the net via the router or is it connected to some Cloud based application? i like some others are failing to see the point of such a device…what does it do really?

    • eitje
    • 10 years ago

    USB TV Tuner + software could deliver something equivalent to a slingbox.

      • eitje
      • 10 years ago

      another idea: homebrew security system or dog/cat watcher, with a USB webcam.

      • eitje
      • 10 years ago

      Samba PDC!

    • cygnus1
    • 10 years ago

    i’m failing to see the point/application of this. it’s not powerful enough to do very much and doesn’t have much in the way of I/O interfaces. i see some USB and a flash card reader. the diagram shows a little box of some sort connected, any idea what that might be? hard drive maybe?

      • Anonymous Coward
      • 10 years ago

      Its a wall-wart, what sort of performance are you expecting? In any case 1.2ghz of ARM is plenty for a small server.

        • cygnus1
        • 10 years ago

        what kind of small server? storage server?

        and who the hell trusts their power company enough to plug it straight in the wall, i sure as hell wouldn’t. that makes the form factor kind of stupid, as most people i know, and myself, would never actually plug in to the wall.

        there are better solutions out there than this.

          • Corrado
          • 10 years ago

          OK then mr. picky pants, plug it into a UPS, and it works just the same?

            • cygnus1
            • 10 years ago

            I don’t think I’m being picky, it just looks bigger than the average wall wart, and there’s only so much space on a UPS.

            it just seems like a silly form factor, considering in most areas only idiots plug sensitive electronics directly into their power outlets.

            • wesley96
            • 10 years ago

            Wow, is the electricity quality in United States that bad?

            • UberGerbil
            • 10 years ago

            Are the drivers in your country so good no one ever wears seat belts?

            • ludi
            • 10 years ago

            We get this thing called “lightning”, and a lot of it. It doesn’t have to actually hit the line, either — one really hefty strike near a service line or house can produce, via magnetic inductance, momentary surges as high as 6kV at the wall outlet.

            Even a heavy electric motor for a pump, air compressor, or some other large appliance can cause a destructive waveform distortion on the mains when it starts up, especially if its running from 120V service rather than 240V, or is overburdening the main service transformer. (My folks had this problem after the neighbors installed a heat pump. They logged a complaint, the electric company looked into it, and then decided that the 10kVA transformer serving the two houses — adequate in 1976 — needed to be replaced with a 25kVA unit).

            Also, the US was already building houses /[

            • Meadows
            • 10 years ago

            So lightning is almost as dangerous as neighbours. I’d better watch out.

            • Scrotos
            • 10 years ago

            I also hear bad things about power coming from hydroelectric and computer equipment. Something about brownouts and bad quality.

            You should at least always get a surge protector as it’s cheap and should save you from any big nastiness. Other than that, yeah, I was using a bunch of UPSs until the batteries died after 7 years (really good life) and I got too lazy to pony up for the new batteries ($220 for one of my 1000VA units, ouch). I was getting periodic brownouts and surges here in Denver which isn’t the highest population density or has rolling blackout problems like California.

            • cygnus1
            • 10 years ago

            Yeah, in Florida, I don’t have a single piece of electronics plugged directly in the wall. It seems in this area a good gust of wind comes along and you get dips and spikes in power. I’ve been told it’s from trees blowing over and momentarily touching the power lines, but who knows.

            I guess it just sucks having pretty much all your utilities on poles.

            • Usacomp2k3
            • 10 years ago

            I don’t have anything that’s plugged into a surge-protector for surge-protection purposes. Just lots of outlet strips due to large amounts of electronics 😉

            Of course, that will probably come back to bite me at some point.

            • cygnus1
            • 10 years ago

            Lol, as long as you don’t overload the circuit and don’t let any wires get frayed, you’ll be fine.

            • Usacomp2k3
            • 10 years ago

            I was more commenting on your comment that Florida’s power was unreliable. Other than during hurricanes, I’ve never had problems *shrug*

            • indeego
            • 10 years ago

            “I also hear bad things about power coming from hydroelectric and computer equipment. Something about brownouts and bad quality.”

            In Portland and the NW we get the majority of our power from Hydro, and we sell excess to states like Cali, and the quality is excellent, at least downtown. In the 15 years I’ve been an admin we’ve never had an outage more than a few seconds at a time, maybe 1-2 times a year. Thunderstorms are rare here. We are due for a 7.0 quake any day now, given historical geological quakes in Oregon. 🙁

            All my machines are on APC UPS’s 500VA and up. Don’t ever, ever, buy a Belkin UPSg{<.<}g

            • Voldenuit
            • 10 years ago

            Brownouts are usually a symptom of poor load prediction. When peak loads are expected, electricity is usually generated by spooling up backup natural gas generators (which are horribly ineffficient) to meet excess demand.

            You can’t spool up a coal power plant or nuclear plant to meet peak loads any more easily than you can do for hydro, so they usually use the same gas turbine system.

            The real issue with Hydro is the environmental and ecological damage from damming up rivers (not to mention the energy that must be invested in building it), so it is not automatically “green” – just look at the impact of the Three Gorges Dam in China if you want an example of a damaging hydro solution.

            Bottom line: all technologies are polluting in some way or another. It behooves us to pick the most economically and ecologically sustainable solution for a given situation.

            • Saber Cherry
            • 10 years ago

            Natural gas generators are highly efficient. Your source of confusion is that natural gas is usually more expensive than coal. Natural gas plants are cheaper to construct in miniature, and easy to idle. It is, therefore, ideal for quickly and cheaply expanding a power grid’s capacity to accommodate peak use periods.

            The output of nuclear, (modern) coal, and hydro plants can quickly and easily be varied, just like natural gas. You simply can’t start and stop coal or nuclear quickly. As long as there is excess capacity, any of these plant types is sufficient to efficiently power a system with demand that varies with the degree and speed of a region’s average demand, and an entirely nuclear or coal system would work fine, just cost more up front to construct than coal/nuclear base plus gas for peak.

            Hydro, of course, is by far the easiest to adjust for high load, low load, to turn completely off, and to store excess power.

            Your bottom line is correct, of course. Though in virtually all cases, from a perspective of minimizing environmental damage, in countries with sufficient technology and resources, the ideal base power source is nuclear supplemented by unpredictable ones like solar, or windfalls like geothermal (e.g. Iceland).

            • MadManOriginal
            • 10 years ago

            If you make comments to your neighbors like you do here they should be i[

            • Imperor
            • 10 years ago

            So you don’t think that that “thing called lightning” occurs in the rest of the world? just face it, your electricity sucks!
            a serious provider has the hardware installed to deliver a good, stable current without the consumers themselves having to buy it. it’s called service!

            • d2brothe
            • 10 years ago

            What, do your surge protectors have some special plug on the other side. I plug all of my wall-warts into surge protectors. I don’t see a problem. Furthermore, this is a 50 dollar piece of hardware…I pay more for a surge protector…so no, I don’t think I’d be an idiot to plug it right into the wall.

            • cygnus1
            • 10 years ago

            You’re right, it is only $50 to $100. But it’s also something I can’t pick up at Wal Mart to replace if some bad electricity hits it. And I try to avoid buying things with wal warts all together, as my power strips tend not to have an abundance of the outlets with lots of space around them, 2 or 4 tops.

            All I was trying to say is that, for ME, the form factor doesn’t make sense. The innards, yes, sound very useful. I could see them being integrated into a lot of different things in the house. But on there own, and especially in this form factor, don’t seem to serve much purpose.

            • Hattig
            • 10 years ago

            I think that this exists for hackers, and to get the price down cheap enough for the product that other companies just licence the overall design (ARM SoC + 512MB RAM + 512MB Flash + Power Supply + Ethernet, etc) for integration into their products for cheap, or to add a hard drive, ethernet switch and wireless to make a next generation home router. It even has PCIe (the SoC does anyway) for specific functionalities.

            The product basically gets people hacking, and some of those people will come up with compelling new products that Marvell wouldn’t have thought of, and these new products may as well use Marvell’s CPU and Marvell thus sell many more CPUs.

          • Anonymous Coward
          • 10 years ago

          Yeah it would make a fine storage server… except of course that connecting actual storage devices to it is possible only via USB. It could really use two eSATA ports.

          As for the rest of your complaints, this thing costs $99.

      • eitje
      • 10 years ago

      yeah, definitely a USB HDD.

      • Saber Cherry
      • 10 years ago

      I’m with you. It’s a cute device that seems completely purposeless – like wearing CPUs as earrings and calling your ears computers.

      • Tamale
      • 10 years ago

      just get a 6″ power extension cord, big deal 🙂

    • Anonymous Coward
    • 10 years ago

    Wow thats awesome. It does have a problem with storage space though. I think two eSATA ports would make it into a damned awesome little home web/file server.

    • Dposcorp
    • 10 years ago

    Insert Obligatory “folding” comment here_______

      • yokem55
      • 10 years ago

      Is there even an ARM Fah client?

    • elpresidente
    • 10 years ago

    So… no pictures of the other side? Does this thing even have video output?

      • Hattig
      • 10 years ago

      I think this is meant to be like an always-on home server-lite thing. It has a USB port to attach a hard drive for file serving.

      I’d just prefer a programmable/configurable file server including a hard drive in a box, with a lead to the plug socket myself. However for $99 I imagine a lot of people will be tempted just to play with it. 512MB RAM and 512MB flash could fit a lot of custom server software – if only it had an SD slot!

      The Shiva SoC looks quite neat however. 1.2GHz XScale and lots of other features. Not an ARM Cortex A8 though.

        • cygnus1
        • 10 years ago

        i’m pretty sure the slot next to the mini-usb port on the side in the second pic is a flash card slot, probly SD.

          • Hattig
          • 10 years ago

          Yeah, I think you’re right there.

          I dunno. For $49 I’d pick one up to hack around with it, assuming it has SSH on it and a means of compiling server applications. I can see a home SQLite database with various web front ends for different tasks, I could export the sites external to my home network to access them on the go from my phone, work, etc.

          But as a general consumer device? No, not really. A cheap interface that controls other devices that are connected – maybe. Someone will have to make the general hardware ‘disappear’ for general consumer use…

            • UberGerbil
            • 10 years ago

            Yeah, the way to look at this is as a “platform” for developers rather than a device for end-users. Cheap, easily-configurable hardware usually finds a purpose, even if it’s one its inventors never thought of.

            • cygnus1
            • 10 years ago

            Yeah, I’m thinking the innards of this little guy could be used in all sorts of things.

            I guess you’re right, only a developer for this platform would want something like this.

    • Prototyped
    • 10 years ago

    No serial. The user had better not end up rendering the thing unbootable — I’d expect once that happened it’d be particularly painful to get it up and running again without being able to access the firmware interface.

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