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Marvell Intros $99 'Plug Computer'

They don't get much smaller than this. Marvell, a company best known for semiconductors, introduced its first PC, if you can call it that. The SheevaPlug is a $99 reference design based on the company's "plug computer" concept, which means it's more of a proof of concept than a planned product.

Using a device not much bigger than a salt shaker, Marvell (NASDAQ: MRVL) managed to fit a 1.2GHz, ARM-based Sheeva embedded processor, 512MB of DDR2 memory, 512MB of flash memory, a gigabit Ethernet, and a USB 2.0 port.

It runs a Linux 2.6 Debian kernel derivative for an operating system and supports multiple standard Linux 2.6 kernel distributions and tools on the SheevaPlug development platform.

"There is no doubt that home networks needs to become more intelligent and easier to use by offering value added services for the consumer," said Dr. Simon Milner, vice president and general manager of the Enterprise Business Unit at Marvell in a statement. "We have created an open computing platform for developers in a consumer and eco-friendly form factor. Marvell's goal is to accelerate the development and availability of innovative software and services in the home."

Thanks to its five watt draw, SheevaPlug is much less of a power draw than most PCs. SheevaPlug can be used as a basic server, although the $99 product is meant for developers. The Sheeva processor will be used in forthcoming products that Marvell licensees intend to ship in the coming months.

One of them is the PogoPlug, a $79 attachment for external drives and memory sticks that allows the contents to be accessed via the Internet. Another similar device is Ctera's CloudPlug, which lets you back up a USB-based storage device to the Internet.

Something for enterprising hackers

While SheevaPlug is intended for developers to create new Sheeva products, it will likely find new uses as enterprising hackers (in the good sense of the word) get their hands on it. It connects to a network via its gigabit Ethernet and has one USB 2.0 port. This means it could work as a remote print server, a Web server or even as a proxy server.

It's also possible to use the server to store things, although with 512MB of flash storage, there isn't much room. There is no video processor, so it can only be accessed through remote desktop.

Marvell hopes to have a general consumer device out for $49 in addition to the $99 developer version.