CherryPal Mini-desktop Consumes 2 Watts of Power

The power-saving properties of CherryPal's new Linux-based mini-desktop may attract cheers out of social conscience, but its performance may lead to some concerns.

The CherryPal "cloud computer," announced on Monday, which looks more like a thin client, uses only 2 watts of power at maximum usage, 97 percent less than typical desktops, the company claimed.

But with low power consumption comes limited performance, said Michael Kanellos, senior analyst with GreenTech Media. It is best used as a secondary home desktop for basic Internet and productivity applications, but other than that, it serves limited purpose, Kanellos said.

Priced at US$249, the system includes a Freescale processor running at 400MHz, 256M bytes of RAM and 4G bytes of internal flash storage. It comes with the OpenOffice suite and the Firefox Web browser. By comparison, Asus Eee PC mini-notebooks have at least an 800GHz Intel Celeron processor, 512M bytes of RAM and 2G bytes of flash storage for about $300.

Users have the option to store data online, a concept known as "cloud" storage, and access it from any device, including mobile phones. Online storage capacity of 50G bytes will be provided at no extra cost, according to the company.

The system weighs 0.66 pounds (0.3 kilograms) and runs an embedded version of Debian Linux. It will not come with Windows, according to the company. It doesn't include a monitor or keyboard.

It is initially targeted at universities and students, but it will also be available for users to buy online, said Max Seybold, CEO of CherryPal. The mini-desktop not only conserves energy but takes up little desk space compared with desktops or laptops of the usual size, Seybold said.

Compared with normal desktops, CherryPal's can save $35 per year in energy costs in the U.S. if used eight hours per day, Kanellos said. It may have an even bigger benefit to users in some developing countries, where average incomes are lower and power is more scarce, Kanellos said.

Many companies, including Samsung, Sun and OQO, have floated plans to sell similar mini-desktops but scrapped their ideas after audiences didn't buy into them. People are used to conventional computers, and CherryPal is trying to sell not just a limited-capability desktop, but a new concept, Kanellos said.

"In the last 15 years, these things have come and gone. It's going to be an uphill climb" for CherryPal, Kanellos said. Even if CherryPal succeeds, nothing will stop PC vendors, and retreads like Samsung could re-enter the market, Kanellos said.

Seybold said the company is trying to educate the market about the concept of low-cost computing, and the success of low-cost, Linux-based laptops such as the Eee PC is helping.

The company is also trying to educate the market on cloud computing, which people haven't warmed up to yet, Seybold said. Users originally didn't like the idea of data residing anywhere else other than on the local hard drive, but that is changing, he said. It took a while for people to latch on to cloud concepts such as Hotmail and Yahoo Mail with e-mail messages stored on external servers, Seybold said.

The system will begin shipping later this month, Seybold said.

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