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Even though we're all walking around with computers in our pockets (a.k.a. smartphones) there's still lots of uses for even more and even smaller computers.
Even though we're all walking around with computers in our pockets (a.k.a. smartphones) there's still lots of uses for even more and even smaller computers. Whether they come as tiny cuboids (see inside the WiMM One and the TonidoPlug), bare boards (the Raspberry Pi, the Arduino, Netduino and the APC), or thumb drive-style devices (the MK802 and the Cotton Candy), the power and connectivity packed into these products at crazy low prices is amazing. And they are also way cool. Let's take a look at eight of the hottest TTCs (Teeny Tiny Computers) available ...
WiMM One: A Kitchen Sink on Your Wrist
The diminutive and elegant WiMM One measures just 1.26 by 1.42 by 0.49 inches with a 1-inch-square, 160-by-160-pixel, bi-modal (monochrome reflective and visible in sunlight or full color and backlit), capacitative touch screen, that is splash-resistant and weighs just 0.78 ounces. It has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an accelerometer, a magnetometer, audible and tactile alerts, 256MB RAM, 2GB of storage, a 667MHz ARM11 processor, and runs a custom branch of Google's Android with support for multiple simultaneous apps. All that for $199. But wait! There's more: The WiMM One comes with a watch strap that the module fits into, there's a dedicated app store, and SDKs and HDKs are available. Outstanding! See my Gearhead review for more detail.
Raspberry Pi: Take a Byte!
The Raspberry Pi is a Linux machine based on the Broadcom BCM2835 system on a chip and is about the size of a credit card. This platform includes an ARM 1176JZF-S 700MHz processor with a VideoCore IV GPU, and 256MB of RAM; storage is via an SD card slot. The Model A has one USB port and no Ethernet while the Model B has two USB ports as well as Ethernet. The Raspberry Pi Foundation developed the device for education with open source hardware and software. It can run Debian GNU/Linux, Fedora or Arch Linux ARM, and Python support is planned. The Foundation claims performance is something like a 300MHz Pentium 2. The Model A is only $25 and the Model B $35!
TonidoPlug: A Tiny Computer and a Cloud of Your Own
This is really cool: a tiny, low power, wired and wireless, Linux-based Web, application, and NAS server that can be accessed from your network or from anywhere on the 'Net ... all for $100! The TonidoPlug provides network content sharing services and you can add applications from the Tonido app store. You can also upgrade the device by adding internal storage with a 2.5-inch SATA drive, and use remote access applications specifically designed for the Tonido on any of the major mobile platforms. See my Gearhead review of this way cool device.
Arduino: The VW of Tiny Computers
The Arduino board was developed in Italy in 2005 as an open source hardware and software educational platform but succeeded wildly and way beyond its original goals. As of May 2011 more than 300,000 units had been shipped. The original design consists of an 8-bit Atmel AVR microcontroller. In fact the Arduino has become a family of products that range from minimalistic "Lilypad" running at 8MHz through to the forthcoming "Due," which will use the 32-bit Atmel SAM3U processor running at 96MHz. A large number of expansion boards are available that support Ethernet, serial I/O, and sensors of all kinds. With a starting price of around $26, the Arduino is also insanely cheap.
Netduino: An Arduino with .NET "Fu"
If you like the idea of the Arduino platform but you'd like to program in the Microsoft .NET Micro Framework (therapists are available if you can admit your problem), the Netduino is the product you've been looking for. Built on a 2.1-by-2.8-inch board, the open source Netduino has an 48MHz 32-bit Atmel ARM microcontroller with 128KB of Flash code storage and 60KB of RAM. All of the expansion boards (called "shields") that are available for the Arduino family are pin compatible with the Netduino, however not all drivers may be available for the Netduino (of course, you could write your own if you really needed to). Priced at an incredibly reasonable $34.95 this is a a cool way to recycle your .NET "fu."
APC 8750: A Bicycle for Your Mind
The Android PC (APC) system was designed, as its name implies, to be a personal computer that runs Android and, as the developers would have, it's so simple and elegant it's like "A Bicycle for Your Mind." The first version, the APC 8750, runs Android 2.3 on a VIA 800MHz processor with 512MB of RAM and 2GB of Flash storage on a 6.89-by-3.15-inch board and includes 10/100 Ethernet and 2D/3D graphics support at up to 720P with 2 channel stereo via the HDMI port. What is really impressive is that the naked board is priced at only $49! The APC 8750 is currently on preorder and is expected to ship in July 2012.
MK802: Thumb Drive Computing
Developed by a Chinese company, rikomagic, the MK802 runs Google's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich on a 1.5GHz AllWinner A10 processor with 512MB of RAM, two USB ports, an HDMI port supporting 1080P, and Wi-Fi 802.11b/g. It has 4GB of Flash storage on board which can be added to by up to 32GB via a microSD card slot. The price? $74! Insane! Available from AliExpress.
Cotton Candy: A Sweet Computing Treat
Another computer in thumb drive format, the Cotton Candy by FXI, a Norwegian developer, is a beast. Sporting an ARM Cortex-A9 running at 1.2GHz and a Quad Core ARM Mali-400MP Graphics Processing Unit with 1GB RAM and up to 64GB memory local storage via a microSD, the Cotton Candy can run Android or Ubuntu Linux and includes an embedded virtualization client for Windows, Linux and Mac. Connectivity is via Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1. Ports include USB 2.0, HDMI with audio at 1080P, and a micro USB 2.0. Somewhat delayed over its original shipping date, preorders began shipping in late May. Priced at $200 it's going to have some stiff competition, but if you want performance, this device should be a market leader.