by January 31, 2013 0 comments

Smartphones, tablets, phablets, and the new convertible laptops are hogging all the limelight in the mobile computing world. This is understandable due to the onslaught of so many different devices. But while we’re busy figuring out which device to buy and how to use them, the world of IT is already gearing up for the next wave of mobile computing-PC on a Stick.

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These are devices that pack a PC into a USB sized box, complete with a multi-Core CPU, its own OS, storage, and ports to connect it to external devices. Most PC on a Stick models out there are based on different ARM based SoCs (System on a Chip), while some vendors are also contemplating using Intel’s Atom processor for the same job.

Being a new area, most PC on a Chip models that are currently available are in the development stage, and are therefore being sold as kits for less than $200. The credit-card sized Raspberry Pi for instance, retails for as low as $25. The MK802, which is produced by a Chinese company called Rikomagic retails for around $75. Likewise, there are models from Gumstix, Zero Devices, and a whole bunch of other manufacturers.

Some manufacturers are even retailing PC on a Chip products. A case in point being Cotton Candy from Norway based FXI Tech. It’s a micro-computer that can be connected and used on any screen, be it your desktop or laptop, or HDMI and TV displays. Organizations can use it to give a secure and ready to use PC to their employees. The device provides secure access to your personal cloud services and apps, and retails for around $200. It therefore becomes a lightweight PC with Internet access for your office.

There are many benefits of these devices. For one, they consume miniscule amount of power. The Raspberry Pi for instance requires about 5V to operate. They’re extremely lightweight. The Cotton Candy weighs about 21 gms. They have all the required ports to connect them to the external world-HDMI to connect them to a TV unit, USB to connect mouse and keyboard, WiFi/Ethernet/Bluetooth to connect them to a network, and microSD card slot for storage. In fact, the microSD cards can be loaded with various Linux variants (Debian, Ubuntu, etc), allowing you a choice of OS to use them with. Some of these devices, like MK802 based Mini PC runs Android. You could connect it to a TV and run Android Apps!

The applications that these tiny PCs can be put to are mind-boggling. A developer friend of mine purchased one of these devices, loaded Ubuntu on it, and is currently using it to remotely operate his home geyser! We’ve carried five other innovative applications of Raspberry Pi in this issue under Tech and Trends. The university of Southampton in UK has built a super computer using the Raspberry Pi and Lego blocks, which cost them less than 2500 pounds. Similarly, we’ve already described the use of Cotton Candy!

The pace of development in this space has increased considerably, with kits being available for online order at very reasonable prices, and the fact that they can run Linux allows people to freely create and distribute fully-functional Linux ISOs for others to use.
If you’ve done some work in this area, then we’d be interested in hearing from you. So do write back to me.

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