Marvell electronics is all set to push what it thinks will be the next big thing in household computing: plug computers. Since we're all generating and storing so much digital content in the form of words, video, and photos from our digital cameras, netbooks and cellphones, traditional storage and management systems are becoming old-hat—and that's where Marvell's plan fits in.
The company is promoting what it's dubbed "plug computers" as a perfect solution. The idea is that you'll have an ultra-small computer plugged into an electrical socket: It'll be about the size of the socket itself, and yet pack in enough processing power and network connectivity to manage and serve media stored on an attached thumb-drive or hard drive. By accessing the plug computer over your home network, you'd be able to get at your files from wherever you needed in your house, or over a Internet connection when you're out and about.
Marvell's contends that we're all storing our personal media in a dispersed style—files on cellphones, desktop PCs, and notebook computers, and this is both inefficient and risky. Losing a laptop PC or phone carries the risk of permanently losing a precious photo, or perhaps a sensitive one.
It's not a new idea—Apple's Time Capsule acts a little like a central repository for data by wirelessly backing up all your connected Macs, HP's MediaSmart Servers are designed to do what it sounds like, and there are a host of "smart" external hard drives that connect to a PC via USB and both store your media longterm, and serve it to connected TVs and audio systems without needing the PC's intervention.
But Marvell's idea is to miniaturize all this tech, and make it small and convenient. And it's also pushing the eco-friendliness of the plan. Plug computers will apparently draw less than 5W of power, that is significantly lower than leaving a PC running to act as a media server.
Marvell, a company that makes communication chipsets for a host of devices, thinks the technology is now achievable on a small and economic-enough scale, and it'll be sourcing the chips while partner companies make the hardware and software. The company's targeting a $50 price point. And that's actually what makes this idea interesting, and differentiates it from other tech solutions. I have a similar set-up at home, using a router and connected hard drives via an iMac which acts as the server—and though it works well, this is an expensive solution. If I could use a suite of $50 plug-in devices instead, I probably would. The tricky part will be selling the idea in an accessible manner to the average home PC consumer.