By Ari Allyn-Feuer | Published: July 31, 2008 - 11:11AM CT
Laptops and subnotebooks compete on weight and power consumption, but desktops join that fray only rarely, and pretty much never come out on top. A new, tiny desktop computer from a startup company will do exactly that. The CherryPal company's only product is the CherryPal desktop, a tiny device with a Freescale embedded processor that runs a stripped-down linux variant, including a variety of common apps, at a very appealing price.
Hardware-wise, the CherryPal is nothing short of remarkable, in a weird sort of way. It packs a tri-core Freescale processor, 4GB of NAND Flash, 256 MB of DRAM, and all its other operating components into a ten-ounce package the size of a disappointing sandwich. The tiny device has the horsepower to display films, play music, word process, and browse the internet, and purportedly can handle flash applications like YouTube. According to CherryPal, all this hardware consumes only two watts of electrical power. On the back of this tiny device are two USB ports, VGA, NIC, and stereo ports. All this goodness can be had for a mere $250.
The CherryPal boots in twenty seconds, but its linux variant has none of the usual controls or settings—instead, it boots directly into Firefox and is controlled entirely through the browser. Indeed, this is cloud computing in a very real sense. The device itself has only 4GB of storage locally, but it comes with 50GB more in an assigned cloud storage account with lifetime access provided by CherryPal. Apps and software are updated automatically.
The tiny computer idea is an interesting one, but it's not clear the CherryPal meets the need. Its FreeScale processor, however rugged and capable, is not x86 compatible, so the device can never run a mainstream linux distro or any variant of Windows. This makes it utterly unsuitable for HTPC and other such applications. Also, while the device itself is tiny and can be carried around, it needs to be hooked to the Internet, monitor, keyboard, and mouse, which are not available together in very many places. Because of this, it seems unlikely it will actually be moved that often, in which case the purpose of making its hardware so tiny is not really clear.
CherryPal feels that environmental concerns and advertising can overcome these problems. The firm touts its device as a "green" computing solution, consuming less power and material than other computers, and lasting a considerably longer period of time, up to ten years. That's pretty doubtful, but then some of the firm's other reasoning is dubious. Since the 2W figure is small compared to the power needed by any conceivable display, the difference between this solution and one powered by Intel's more muscular Atom processor is insignificant. And, if CherryPal really wanted to save materials, they probably should have gone the subnotebook route and thrown their hat into that ring. Marketing based on sheer price runs into the sad reality of the $99 linux box special Fry's does on some black Fridays and the thriving market in used computers.
The device has some problems, and many users will prefer usability on the go, more muscular processors, and x86 compatibility when laying out money for compact computers. But, if CherryPal is right, consumers interested in simple, minimal, cheap, and green computing in the home may latch onto this new device. Users who want to pop their cherries will have to wait some time, though; CherryPal doesn't even plan to release the full details of its plans until the third quarter of this year.