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A $25 PC On a USB Stick 352

KPexEA writes with this excerpt from "[Game developer David] Braben has developed a tiny USB stick PC that has an HDMI port on one end and a USB port on the other. You plug it into an HDMI socket and then connect a keyboard via the USB port, giving you a fully functioning machine running a version of Linux. The cost? $25. The hardware being offered is no slouch either. It uses a 700MHz ARM11 processor coupled with 128MB of RAM and runs OpenGL ES 2.0, allowing for decent graphics performance with 1080p output confirmed. ... We can expect it to run a range of Linux distributions, but it looks like Ubuntu may be the distro it ships with. That means it will handle web browsing, run office applications, and give the user a fully functional computer to play with as soon as it's plugged in. All that and it can be carried in your pocket or on a key chain."

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A $25 PC On a USB Stick

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  • OLPC Owned (Score:5, Funny)

    by LordStormes ( 1749242 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @08:58AM (#36046446) Homepage Journal

    Eat your heart out, OLPC. This is 10 PC's per pocket.

    • by Arlet ( 29997 )

      Except it doesn't come with keyboard, screen or power supply. And I'm not sure a case is included either.

  • Power? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @08:58AM (#36046452)
    If the HDMI is on one end, and the USB is on the other, is this thing battery powered?
    • It runs on EM radiation from your panel.

    • Re:Power? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @09:09AM (#36046568)
      I seems to have five extra wires, that could be the power supply connection. Also it looks like it goes to a hub, so that might be where it will get it's power in the production version.
    • by bcmm ( 768152 )
      The photo on the website looks a little like it's rigged to a powered hub with a modified USB cable (it's technically possible, if supposedly forbidded, to power a host from USB's +5v wire).
      • It might be that it is implementing something described in the "On-The-Go and Embedded Host Supplement to the USB 2.0 Specification", which includes the ability for devices to switch between master and slave roles(which would suit the use of a slave-device type connector on the board alongside the fact that the board is driving a hub loaded with slave devices...) My reading of that spec suggests that the OTG device shouldn't be using that particular plug(they are supposed to use microA/B sockets only); but
    • Re:Power? (Score:5, Informative)

      by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @09:16AM (#36046628) Journal
      Both USB and HDMI standards carry some power across. The HDMI port on a TV is likely (though not guaranteed) to have power, whereas most USB peripherals are unpowered. On the other hand, if you plug a powered USB port into the thing to be able to have multiple peripherals, then you could likely get power from the hub.
    • Supplied by HDMI (Score:3, Informative)

      by Vario ( 120611 )

      The HDMI spec requires a 55mA supply at 5V. This seems to be enough to power this little computer.
      It might not work with a lot of usb devices without a hub that has external power but a keyboard should be possible.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 )
      From the look of the picture in the article, you plug the device into a powered USB hub and it would draw power from there. The USB connector is male A type, so plugging a keyboard into it is out of the question.

      It looks like there is a third connector from the "top" of the device (in the picture) which is at the end of 6 soldered wires in what looks like a ribbon arrangement... A second USB input? From the running shot it ends in a small black device. Either way the hub is necessary as it looks like the m
    • Look at the picture, see the wire leads on the top, that is the power. I assume this can be adjusted to a simple cable when it is finally out in production. Its still going to require a special wall wart.

  • by Arlet ( 29997 )

    If the idea is to plug in a keyboard, then why does it have a male USB plug, and not a female ?

    • Re:USB (Score:5, Informative)

      by Fnord666 ( 889225 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @09:05AM (#36046524) Journal

      If the idea is to plug in a keyboard, then why does it have a male USB plug, and not a female ?

      Actually the article says something slightly different.

      You plug it into a HDMI socket and then connect a keyboard via the USB port giving you a fully functioning machine running a version of Linux.

      The writer specifically distinguishes between the HDMI port, which is plugged in, and the USB port, which is connected.
      In the picture it looks like the device is connected to some sort of powered hub. The keyboard is also connected to the same hub. This is also likely where the device gets its power. What I can't tell from the picture is whether that is a simple powered hub or something more complex.

      • by Arlet ( 29997 )

        It still is confusing. It seems to be plugged into the hub using some weird cable.

        With a regular USB hub, the type A clients cannot talk to each other, so if you plug this in a hub directly (in a type A connector), it can't see the keyboard. And if it's meant to be plugged into the type B connector on the hub (which it looks like from the picture), then it should have a standard type A female connector on the device, so you could use a standard type-A/type-B cable.

      • by sootman ( 158191 )

        The power supply is an $85 option. ;-)

    • It appears to be plugged into a hub, from which you can add a mouse and keyboard. Networking may also come across the USB port. There are 5 extra wires that supply power I imagine.
      • i don't see anything that looks like network chips on the board. it would be nice though wouldn't it?

    • by necro81 ( 917438 )
      cheaper and lower profile?

      The likely use case is to have a USB hub plugging into the thing, rather than a single peripheral. And while USB hubs are not found with Type-A female to Type-B male cables, you would only have to do one gender change to get many peripherals plugged in.

      I agree, though, a female connector would have been more appropriate.
  • Neat idea but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by loftwyr ( 36717 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @08:59AM (#36046464)

    I'd love one of these if it had networking as well. It would be a great thing to have a portable computer that could fill in for a emergency terminal, not just a dedicated machine with no connectivity, I guess I could carry a hub and such too but then the usefulness of having it on my keychain is gone.

    • Indeed. The summary mentioned "That means it will handle web browsing..." and the pic FTA showed Firefox on the screen. Unless it has a tiny wifi receiver in it, I don't know how it's connecting.
      • Re:Neat idea but... (Score:5, Informative)

        by pspahn ( 1175617 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @10:07AM (#36047140)
        Look at the photo. There's a little USB/Ethernet bridge with a red/orange cable running to the left.
      • I would like Ethernet as well, but can't you do networking over USB? You could connect to a USB dsl modem or something.

    • The Trim-Slice [] has Ethernet and is small enough to carry around, but it's about as big as a smartphone.
      • This device is $25, the Trim-Slice device starts at $199. At $25, I'm willing to forgive a lot. At $200, I can get a fully functioning laptop (used).
  • It looks freaking awesome :D
    If you connect it to a PC's USB port, will the PC recognise it? If so, will it piggyback the network connection?
    Or can just connect it to a USB phone charger or USB hub?

  • If it only has a HDMI and USB connection for keyboard/mouse, how do you power the thing?
  • Interesting. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @09:04AM (#36046506) Journal
    Not quite as capable, in certain respects, as the Gumstix [] line of similarly sized ARM boards; but, on the other hand, you'll be lucky to walk away with change from $200 after getting your main board and an I/O expander if needed if you go that route. I wonder where the cost delta comes from?

    One minor nit, this system doesn't appear to have any onboard networking(aside from the USB port which, from the picture of it connected to the B port of a hub, would appear to be one of those 'OTG' master or slave jobbies, which could easily enough act as a USB CDC or RNDIS connection to a host PC(which is kind of a waste for a single user; but a basic cheapy desktop loaded with USB cards could easily act as a gateway/fileserver/host for CPU intensive or x86 only programs over an X tunnel for a classroom full of the things)). I have to wonder if a "Flash drive sized" computer that basically doesn't work unless connected to a powered USB hub and a USB network adapter or CDC host PC might be rather less useful than would be a "pack of playing cards sized" computer that actually has a NIC and at least enough USB ports to support a mouse and keyboard(and ideally one extra for miscellaneous purposes)...
    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      ...sounds like a smart phone without all of the proprietary lock down nonsense.

    • by codegen ( 103601 )
      It also has a general IO port in the middle, several other pictures [] show a small wireless module plugged into the io port.
    • by jrumney ( 197329 )
      I'm guessing the price delta comes from the fact that Gumstix are an actual product you can buy, so the manufacturer has had to face the reality that their volume is too low to get the sort of pricing this article is using, and there are a lot of overheads to amortize if you don't want to lose money on the venture.
  • by polle404 ( 727386 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @09:05AM (#36046522)

    throw in a network interface, and I'll buy enough for a beowulf cluster.

  • by CharlyFoxtrot ( 1607527 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @09:07AM (#36046544)

    Stop procrastinating and gives us our damn Elite 4 already.

  • Put OSX on it to debug when plugged into a Mac when OSX goes poof.

    • by ianare ( 1132971 )

      That would be illegal. That's the advantage of Open Source, and why it runs Linux.

      • That would be illegal. That's the advantage of Open Source, and why it runs Linux.

        Only if you believe EULA's are enforceable. I wouldn't try selling the thing with OSX but for personal use, why not.

  • by MROD ( 101561 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @09:17AM (#36046642) Homepage
    Maybe he developed this hardware so everyone can play Elite 4 when it comes out? (Elite 4 is proving to be the next Duke Nukem....)
  • Since 2 years ago you can already get those media player box like Patriot Box Office for around $50 that run Linux and can play many 1080p media, with network port, HDMI (cable included)+composite video, multiple USB port, IR remote and power brick.
    • by EdZ ( 755139 )
      Except that looking at the specs [] It can decode h.264 high profile, something that most ultra-cheap players cannot handle. And as it runs linux, it can probably do so from a lot more container formats than vanilla .mp4 (finally, s standalone mkv player that can handle soft subtitles, ordered chapters and multiple audio tracks reasonably).
      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        If it can decode h.264 then I see a product idea based on it.
        A new type of portable media player. put some flash on it just drag your media to it over the USB while it charges. Take it to your TV and plug it into your HDMI and hit play.

  • fully-featured computers would be a bit more useful to system integrators...

    I'm /still/ waiting for someone to build an nVidia ION as small as their (not for sale) pico-ITX reference platform that came out years ago: []

    The fit PC2 is pretty neat, but they still need binary blob drivers for Intel's crappy PowerVR GPU, which severely limits Linux distribution... if they had that form factor with an ION chipset I'd be sticking those little buggers all over the place :-P

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      The new Lano? Fusion from AMD would be nice.

    • []

      1.6GHz dual-core, HD6310, no moving parts. Sure its Industrial-design, so it won't be as cheap as a bare board; but it should last a good long time. Add your choice of SSD or moving-parts 2.5" HDD, RAM, and 2 optional Mini Card PCI-E cards, and you're done. I'm hoping multiple companies come out with these, and I can pick one up for under $150 myself...

    • I was thinking they may cut into the robotics market. The Basic stamp was killed by high price and the Arduino. The computer on a USB stck may add much more power to robotics at low cost. The Arduino may become a programmable IO for this. This is much smaller than using an iPhone or other computer in robotics.

    • How about nVidia ION plus Penryn in 180 x 166 x 61 mm (7.1 x 6.5 x 2.4 in) including 8 GB DDR3, 2.5" HD, and slim optical? Screw that Atom crap and the designs that just can't cool themselves adequately. This has no oddball hardware and runs any distro you can name. Mine idles at 21 W AC input to the power brick. Here you go []

  • Hopefully it will include a C64 emulator and Elite

  • by zmooc ( 33175 )

    The USB-port seems to be an USB A plug, not a USB A Receptacle (port). A keyboard cannot be directly connected to it. Either it uses rather odd off-spec USB cabling, or it is not an USB host but an USB client device.

    It appears to have a third connector for power. In the picture this appears to be connected to another USB cable.

    • by zmooc ( 33175 )

      I hate to reply to myself, but anyways: in the picture it also seems as if the USB cable that connects to the device is held together with a piece of tape. I guess this means it's actually a proper USB-port indeed and it's connected to a hub using a provisionary USB-cable with two identical plugs on it.

      The keyboard and mouse are connected to this hub and the hub probably also provides (USB) power via the flatcable that can be seen on the picture. Probably the final version will have either a seperate power

      • by zmooc ( 33175 )

        I still hate to reply to myself but I keep doing it anyway:P In other (non-english) news-sources there's some more info about how it's powered: for now by a 9 volt battery.

  • Most people already carry around this much computing power with them in their smart phone. You can get adaptors for the USB perhipheral interface on most smart phones to turn it into a USB host with a hub, which can then be used to connect a keyboard. And I'm sure I've seen someone do a video-over-usb off one of those as well.

    Why not just add a USB host port and an HDMI out to an existing smart phone? The incremental cost over the existing smart phone would be less than $25, they generally already have netw

    • This is for poor kids to get computer access. Poor people aren't going to have smart phones (hell, I don't even have one). Nor will you find a smart phone for $25.

  • by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @10:08AM (#36047156)

    By the time you've added a keyboard, mouse, display, a decent sized SD card for storage and/or WiFi connectivity so you can actually get data in or out you're probably closer to the cost of a netbook or OLPC, but have lost the benefit of portability.

    I guess that a school could provide fixed monitors/keyboards in classrooms, so kids could sit down and plug in their £25 dongle, rather than entrust them with a £150 netbook (and suffer the inevitable loss and damage) - but then (a) the computers could only be used in suitably equipped classrooms and (b) you might as well fix the computers and give kids an even cheaper USB drive to carry around.

    Yes, the kids could use their dongle computers at home but its going to be a while before you can assume that everybody has an HDMI TV, and unless kids have a HDMI-equipped TV in their own room (If they do, its good odds that they already have a PC anyway) they'd still have to persuade the rest of the family to miss The X Factor so that they could work on their project.

    Nothing wrong with cheap-as-chips single board PCs, but I do wonder why people are so obsessed with building them into wall-warts and USB dongles, when t something slightly bigger (with more room for connectors and space for a couple internal USB devices or a micro HD) would be far more flexible and portable.

    Also from TFA:

    Braben argues that education since we entered the 2000s has turned towards ICT which teaches useful skills such as writing documents in a word processor, how to create presentations, and basic computer use skills. But that has replaced more computer science-like skills such as basic programming and understanding the architecture and hardware contained in a computer.

    Strongly agree - but there's a second string to that, in that ICT has not only supplanted "proper" computer science (which did, once upon a time, exist as an optional high school subject in the UK) but has also tended to pull computers out of maths and science. I've encountered maths teachers who thought, for example, that kids "did" spreadsheets in ICT (they did, but only to turn out pie charts for the annual cat & dog survey - when faced with a fairly trivial modelling exercise they used calculators to fill in the spreadsheet). "ICT" was responsible for many BBC micros being ripped out of subject classrooms and thrown into skips to be replaced by the new ICT (PC) suites. Heck, I'm not advocating it, but even today you could make good use of a good old Beeb (bristling with inputs and outputs and easy to program) in a science classroom!

    Overall, I'd welcome the demise of "ICT*" as a curriculum subject (about as sensible as having "handwriting" as a separate subject) on the two conditions that the other subjects were given the necessary time and support to teach IT skills in context, and there was a CS option at age 16-18 (with some sort of "teaser" in the compulsory maths curriculum).

    Seems to me that these micro-PCs would be good for the latter, but effectively tied to the computer lab.

    (*Note - the 'C' stands for "Communications" and was mandated by the UK Department of Redundancy Department in the UK, who, presumably, didn't think that 'Communication' had anything to do with 'Information' . Figures.)

  • Where can one buy it that cheap?
  • I have been looking to build something similar. The closest thing to what I'd like to see is the ISEE IGEP MODULE [] If this had a Standard USB Type A plug rather than the miniAB it could plug directly into a computer, connect to Wifi (for Internet access), and then Enumerate a Ethernet device over USB. This would provide a basic USB Wifi module as well as providing a powerful Linux computer in-line.

    It's sad that ther

  • by steak ( 145650 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @10:18AM (#36047274) Homepage Journal

    lose the webcam and add a nic. then tape that thing to the back of a monitor, boom, thin client.

  • ... I have a new favorite thin client! 1000 kiosk machines for $25,000 is a great deal. The problem is locking the damn things down to keep employees from walking out with a handful in their pockets.

  • I'd really like that thing if it had some kind of networking instead of HDMI. I'm currently in the market for a cheap, low-power computer I can use as a low-traffic Jabber server. Unfortunately "cheap" and "low-power" don't seem to go well together.
  • More Info (Score:5, Informative)

    by Shadow_139 ( 707786 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @10:32AM (#36047430)
    Here is some more info I got from a mail list I follow:

    > > 1) How long do you think it will be before the boards become
    > > available?

    > I'd say three or four months. As you can see from the screenshots, we
    > have usable Linux, but we're waiting to get final versions of the the
    > chip from our supplier.

    > > 2) Are there any plans for a version with onboard ethernet?
    > I don't think we're likely to do onboard Ethernet; we will have an
    > onboard 3-port USB hub so people can add an external adapter.

    > > 3) Are there any plans for a version with onboard wifi?
    > Yes. The final version (though maybe not the first distributables)
    > will have onboard WiFi (probably 802.11n) in the price point.

    > > 4) What are the power requirements, both under load and at rest?
    > At rest I'd say 50mW (we could trim this if it was really important,
    > but it gets a bit fiddly below this point), under serious load
    > (original XBox class graphics or 1080p30 H.264), 700mW.

    • by klui ( 457783 )

      What's the rationale behind having onboard WiFi but not ethernet? Is it that much cheaper?

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @11:52AM (#36048354) Journal

    I told people years ago that some day we'd walk into a drugstore and buy PCs next to the cigarette lighters and cheapo fans.

    It just seems like a logical conclusion to the "cheaper, faster" trend. I started thinking this way in the late 90s. Prior to that, it was always $2000 for a PC. They just kept getting faster. Once they got fast enough to do video it seemed like there was not much more need for speed. It seems like price competition really heated up after that.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday May 06, 2011 @01:18PM (#36049422) Homepage

    There are many little [] ARM [] boards [], some of which are priced as low as $39 in quantity 1. These are useful for applications where the ATMega in an Arduno is too limiting.

    The choice of peripherals these guys made is unusual. With a USB port and an HDMI port, you can build a game machine, which is probably what they had in mind. Most such boards are more suited to embedded applications, and have I/O - digital TTL ports, Ethernet, LCD drive, etc.

    A problem with these minimal machines is deciding what to put on them. The lowest-price devices tend to have too little of some resource and too much of something you don't need. This leads to a proliferation of little embedded boards with slightly different options, which runs the cost back up.

    For hobbyists, the Leaflands Maple [] may be interesting. It's an ARM board in the Arduno form factor. It's compatible with Arduno daughter boards ("shields"), and has some commonality with the Arduno development environment. Not enough memory to run Linux, though.

    The $25 price is a vaporware price - they're not actually shipping. NXP is shipping LPCExpresso [] for "under $30", and that includes the entire tool chain (Eclipse, GCC, JTAG debugger, etc.)

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel