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$250 Freescale-Based "Green" "Cloud" Computer 371

Posted by kdawson
from the fully-buzzword-compliant dept.
An anonymous reader sends word of the CherryPal, a tiny desktop computer that its maker says will consume just 2 watts. It uses a Freescale processor that runs Linux and has no moving parts. The CherryPal has integrated software and an embedded Linux (based on Debian) that has been stripped down to support Open Office, Firefox, iTunes, instant messaging, and multimedia access locally. More applications are available in the cloud, and 50 GB of cloud storage is included. It comes without keyboard or mouse but with ports for VGA, USB, Ethernet, and built-in Wi-Fi. It's claimed that the CherryPal will boot up in 20 seconds from 4 GB of flash. They've buried Linux so that the end user doesn't see it; the entire UI is presented through Firefox. The CherryPal site says: "There's no software or upgrades to install, no risk of viruses, and no operating system to deal with and free 24/7 support."
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$250 Freescale-Based "Green" "Cloud" Computer

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  • by thrillseeker (518224) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:14PM (#24292495)
    so buying a throw-away brick is now considered green?
  • by mattMad (1271832) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:15PM (#24292513)
    How? The article is more confusing than informative on this aspect...
  • by 4D6963 (933028) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:17PM (#24292551)

    so buying a throw-away brick is now considered green?

    Yeah, because the parts you replace when upgrading are notoriously biodegradable!

  • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:17PM (#24292567) Homepage Journal
    And why exactly would you throw it away?
  • Digital Cameras? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:21PM (#24292623)

    If this works with digital cameras and has even basic photo support I may have found a computer for mom. Every time I come home there's a camera that hasn't been offloaded since last time I was home.

  • by bestinshow (985111) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:22PM (#24292649)

    The problem with this device is that it isn't that much cheaper than a full budget PC that will whack this into the ground.

    $250 for what is essentially a DTV receiver (my ex had a £25 Sagem Freeview receiver that had an integrated 250MHz PowerPC) with 4GB flash... sure it comes with 50GB of online storage, but they haven't reduced the affordability.

  • by pschmied (5648) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:26PM (#24292727) Homepage

    I've never thrown a PC away. I've been upgrading my trusty Radio Shack TRS-80 CoCo2 all this time. . . component by component. I've even kept the circuit boards.

    Seriously, the ecologically worst parts of the computer are the circuit boards and the LCDs if I recall correctly. I don't see how swapping a big-ass motherboard in and out of your relatively benign metal case is that green.

    This, on the other hand, is small and does consume very little power. I bet its footprint isn't much bigger than the average video card. If you want to be green it probably means not buying a computer, or making due with old / slow shit.

    Reduce, reuse, recycle. IN THAT ORDER! How many geeks here follow the first and most ecologically beneficial part of that triad?

  • by Nymz (905908) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:31PM (#24292799) Journal
    Having 'someone else' responsible for configuring, upgrading, and maintaining my personal computer would have some nice benefits, but I still prefer the ability to be responsible for myself. I wonder if there's a correlation between this, and political beliefs (free republic government vs central controled regime).
  • Re:What's missing: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:37PM (#24292901)

    * no extra usb jack, so no uploading pictures, printing, scanning, using a thumb drive, or loading your ipod

    Or you could spend the extra couple of dollars and buy a decent USB keyboard with a couple of ports built in and use those ports. USB is chainable.

  • by EriktheGreen (660160) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:38PM (#24292911) Journal
    Questions:
    1. Is the $250 the real price, or a loss leader?
    2. Put another way, can the company make money selling just the hardware, or do they make money by selling "cloud" services that people may not want?
    3. Will the device be open enough to be hackable, or will it go the way of i-opener, punishing those who open the hood?
    4. Will the company likewise open the "cloud" for development? Can ordinary non-corporate hacker types write and sell software for it?
    5. Is the company hoping to sell the devices, lock in users to their cloud long term, and control the market that way, ala Microsoft?

    Erik

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:46PM (#24293027)

    Standards on slashdot seem to be decreasing these days. If you're too lazy to RTFA, at least RTFT, or at least RTFFWT (read the fine first word of the title). $250 Freescale-based "green" "cloud" computer

  • by OrangeTide (124937) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:49PM (#24293081) Homepage Journal

    That analogy means the opposite what you think it does. You really might as well throw away the whole puzzle if you already are missing a piece.

  • USB does it all (Score:2, Insightful)

    by davidwr (791652) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:54PM (#24293135) Homepage Journal

    With a powered USB hub and a USB sound port, and custom firmware, you should be good to go for VoIP and the rest.

    Let's hope they left open some way to flash the kernel.

  • by WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) <sexwithanimals@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @02:58PM (#24293181) Homepage
    Better to throw away a piece than the entire pie.

    Happy?
  • Re:iTunes? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TroubleMagnet (529417) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @03:10PM (#24293335) Homepage
    I'll bet they run iTunes on their server and stream it. You will want to keep your music on the 50GB of network storage anyhow.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @03:20PM (#24293497)

    You really might as well throw away the whole puzzle if you already are missing a piece.

    Not when they sell the pieces individually.

  • by sm62704 (957197) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @03:20PM (#24293515) Journal

    For the same price you could easily build the identical machine with a real OS

    I think you might want to clarify what you said, as many here will take that as a cheap shot at Linux, which is a far better OS than XP. I have no experience with OSX and can't judge between it and Linux, but Linux is indeed a real OS and far, far superior to anything Microsoft produces.

    Linux will run on anything from a wristwatch to a supercomputer. In fact, the world's third fastest computer runs Linux.

    I think what you meant was "For the same price you could easily build the identical machine with the real OS.

  • by Bishop Rook (1281208) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @03:25PM (#24293597)
    You must be new to subscription-based services. Charging $5 a month in perpetuity for subscription access to a software tool that lives server-side is a lot more money than charging $50 one-shot for software that you install on your own hard drive. It's especially a lot more money than the $0 they'd get when (not if) you pirate it.
  • marketplace chaos (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @04:13PM (#24294401) Homepage

    I think we're currently in a period of marketplace chaos, and when the dust settles we'll find that a $1000 PC in a tower case seems about as archaic as a radio in a wooden case the size of a washing machine.

    The biggest computer manufacturers are still selling machines in the $1000 price range. If you look inside, you'll see that these machines are typically mostly air inside. They could have been put in a package the size of a hardcover book, but consumers associate the big case with a powerful machine. Part of the reason these machines cost so much is profit-taking by the manufacturers, and part of it is the artificial impetus to get insanely powerful hardware, because software like Vista and OOo is coded so inefficiently. This whole setup is a house of cards, though. People don't need the equivalent of a 1990 supercomputer in order to send email and do their word-processing.

    The trouble is that although a lot of small manufacturers have been testing the waters with lower-priced machines, the big ones haven't been interested. This is partly analogous to compact cars versus SUVs -- the profit margin on an SUV can be as much as $15,000, whereas the profit margin on a Ford Focus might be under $1000. Even if there's demand for the Focus, Ford has been more interested in pushing the SUV, because that's where the profit was. Then you have Apple selling a tightly integrated package of hardware and software, which people are willing to pay big premiums for. There's also the Windows tax, which hides the vast differences in hardware cost between a bleeding edge machine and something with lower specs.

    For a long time, the only low-cost PCs I was ever able to find in retail outlets were the Great Quality PCs sold at Fry's, which came with Linux preinstalled. They were wonderful machines, and I still have a bunch of them in a lab at school, working great. They sold for about $200. However, Fry's stopped carrying them about a year ago. Apparently the high rate of returns was eliminating their profit margin. A lot of users were buying them to put pirated copies of Windows on, and then if they had a problem with the install, they'd return the machine.

    There's also the Everex gPC. I own one, and reviewed it [lightandmatter.com]. Perfectly reasonable hardware, although the linux distro they put on it was junk. Judging from the customer feedback on WalMart's site, they've been some of the same problems as Great Quality with keeping their gPC customers satisfied -- a lot of people buying them apparently don't understand that the machine they're buying doesn't do Microsoft.

    It's great to see something like the CherryPal come out. One interesting thing about it is that they're exploring the low end of the hardware specs that are necessary to run a web browser. This is conceivably a way for them to get around the low profit margins that have so far crippled investment in this end of the market. Here's a comparison of the specs of three cheap consumer linux boxes:

    Linksys WRT54G 4.0 router -- 200 MHz, 16 MB ram, 4 MB SSD
    CherryPal -- 400 MHz, 256 MB ram, 4 GB SSD
    gPC -- 1500 MHz, 512 MB ram, 80 GB HD

    The Linksys v. 4 router cost something like $50 when it was available. (Later versions downgraded the specs and used a different OS instead of Linux.) Let's estimate what it would have cost today to upgrade its specs to something more like a desktop system (assuming it had been an upgradable system, which it wasn't). Paying retail today it would cost me $45 for a 1.8 GHz celeron cpu, $23 for 512 MB of ram, and $15 for a 4 GB keychain drive. Adding that on to the $50 retail price of the router, you get $133. Of course a computer manufacturer wouldn't be paying anything like these retail prices for the parts, so this is really a vast overestimate of what it would cost to manufacture a system like the CherryPal. I suspect their manufacturing price is more like $50.

  • by rueger (210566) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @05:30PM (#24295637) Homepage
    Yeah, because the parts you replace when upgrading are notoriously biodegradable!

    Well, technically everything is biodegradeable if you wait long enough.... lead... computers... dioxin... granite.... barbie dolls...

    It may not be quick, and may not degrade into something you like, but it will degrade...
  • Re:What's missing: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shaitand (626655) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @06:53PM (#24296589) Journal

    While having it included would be nice, you are pretending that bus powered hubs are the only usb hubs there aren't. USB hubs with an outside power source aren't even more expensive than the bus powered hubs and can run pretty much any usb device without the complications that arise from using passive hubs.

  • by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @06:55PM (#24296615) Homepage Journal

    Minimal computers with limited expandability have already replaced beige boxes on many desktops and in many homes. I don't know the numbers, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were approaching a majority of sales. Corporate buyers just don't need all those expansion slots — if the computer isn't powerful enough, they'll just buy a more powerful computer. Home users mostly take a similar attitude. Only hardware geeks worry about expandibility.

    And 1 Ghz computers haven't taken over because people want them. They've taken over because that's all you can buy.

    I have a sister who bought an eMachine a long time ago with a half-dozen PCI slots. Never used more than one. It came with a modem pre-installed in one slot. A couple years ago, I replaced the modem with an ethernet card so she could use DSL. But the machine was slowly dying, so I found her an off-lease Dell on eBay.

    No need for an ethernet card, there's a port on the motherboard, which also has a 64MB onboard VGA adapter. That's enough to run some pretty powerful graphics. So there's no need for expansion. And that's a good thing, because this beast has zero PCI slots.

    That's a green thing too, because powering PCI slots means a big, internal power supply. This thing doesn't have one, there's just one of those black, passively cooled wall warts. There's an internal fan, but with no power supply to cool, it doesn't make much noise. Which is actually why I got this particular model — she has a thing about noise.

    My sister's absolutely besotted with this machine, because it's drastically more powerful than anything she's owned before. (Even though it's a used, low-end machine!) She'll probably have it for years. Is this a "disposable brick"? She wouldn't agree.

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @08:19PM (#24297397) Homepage

    Yeah... have you ever tried working in one of the smaller cases?

    I agree that for a machine I want to work on myself, a tower is great. Heck, even with a tower there are times when I'm scraping my knucles and cussing and swearing. But when's the last time you upgraded your transistor radio? We're headed into an era when PCs will sell for $50, and will be disposable.

    But for other applications, "big" and "overpowered" is exactly what I want.

    Sure, but that's only for those applications. You could compare it to a TV. A lot of affluent families these days own four TVs, but only one of those is the giant home-theater one. The rest are cheap consumer stuff from Costco, which they'll throw in a dumpster in 5 years.

  • Same old, same old (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Coward Anonymous (110649) on Tuesday July 22, 2008 @09:11PM (#24297871)

    This same old tired idea keeps popping up over and over again with a change of buzzwords. Now it's the cloud, before it was the network (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_computer) and there was the Audrey in between.
    However, the latency is always there and _your_ data is always elsewhere. Two very problematic issues that will always doom these efforts.

  • by rigorist (176416) on Wednesday July 23, 2008 @12:15AM (#24299115) Homepage

    I would love to see a citation for the claim that taconite tailings are "highly toxic".

  • Re:What's missing: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by binford2k (142561) on Wednesday July 23, 2008 @12:26AM (#24299189) Homepage Journal

    Oh yeah, it'll be a pain to replace the "all firefox" interface with a more familiar linux desktop as you'll have to do the installation over the wire.

    Because that's *exactly* what their target market wants to do.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 23, 2008 @10:30AM (#24304101)

    The issue here is that the machine can do *most* if not all of what your average joe wants in a computer.
    Email, IM, web browsing, music, all in a low-powered device.
    2-5W versus 100W+.

    "Just Enough" computing was the motto of a similar project I worked on a year or so ago. Unfortunately there were some hardware limitations that really screwed that over. Fortunately all I'd invested was time.
    The CherryPal, while being essentially the same hardware I worked with before, has eliminated most if not all the bottlenecks we had before (judging by the system specs).
    I'm wary of the whole "cloud" aspect of it, but we'll see how well that works once their "brand angels" start filling the blogosphere. I've spoken to some actually, and I know that they have rather unrealistic expectation of the device. It'll be interesting to hear what they say when they're trying to push it WAY beyond what it was intended to do, and then fail because they don't understand what they're working with.

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