While there is no shortage of low-power, inexpensive, Linux-based desktop PCs on the market today, few seem to offer a compelling enough solution to make the modest investment worth it. Either the processing power is too little, storage capacity is too meager, or the operating system is too onerous for newbies. New kid on the block, CherryPal, however, might have figured out how to make the low-cost PC actually work right with its $249 CherryPal C100 Desktop "cloud computer."
As PC form factors go, it doesn't get much smaller than the C100's 1.3x5.8x4.2-inch (HxWxD) dimensions and 10-ounce weight. The unit is powered by a Freescale Semiconductor 400MHz mobileGT MPC5121e processor. (The MPC5121e uses the same Power Architecture that powered Apple computers before they switched over to the Intel platform.) The C100 includes 256MB of DDR2 memory, 4GB of NAND flash-based storage, integrated 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, 10/100 Ethernet, VGA out, two USB 2.0 ports, and audio out.
CherryPal claims that the C100 doesn't have any moving parts. The device's unique configuration seems to bear this out, but we wonder then how the device powers on? (These days, most power switches are still mechanical.) CherryPal also states that the unit uses 80-percent fewer components than typical desktop systems. Perhaps most remarkable, however, is that the C100 supposedly only consumes two watts of power.
Taking a gander at the C100's rudimentary hardware configuration--especially that it only has 4GB of storage--might make you wonder what the system can possibly do? The answer to that question is in the clouds. The C100 is essentially a thin client, with the apps and storage existing online (or in the cloud). The C100 is based on a modified version of the Debian/GNU Linux operating system (OS) and uses a customized version of the Firefox browser. Other than the plug-ins for the browser (such as Adobe Flash 9), the rest of the applications are actually hosted online in the "CherryPalCloud." The online apps initially available will be OpenOffice, iTunes, a "CherryPal-brand media player that supports all common file formats," and a "CherryPal-branded instant messenger that supports all common IM programs." CharryPal intends to add more applications in the future. Files are stored online as well--CherryPal currently allows up to 50GB of online storage, but states that "the limit will likely be increased in the future."
CherryPal has designed to the C100 to be easy to use. The company states that the unit boots up in 20 seconds and all the user need do is enter a username and password. All OS and security updates are done automatically without any user action needed.
"CherryPal is the only company that provides a patent-pending combination of both hardware and software encryption, making it highly secure. The CherryPal also offers a patent-pending single software layer technology. This collapses the operating system and browser into one layer, where there had traditionally been three separate layers. It makes the computer exponentially faster and virtually eliminates any risk of bugs or viruses for the user."
CherryPal is taking orders now for the C100 on its site, with payment via PayPal. The units are scheduled to start shipping by the end of the month. Electronista reports that the C100 will also be available from Amazon starting in September. The $249 price does not include keyboard, mouse, display, or broadband connection. The $249 price does, however, include access to the CherryPalCloud. There is no subscription fee because CherryPal's business model is actually based on advertising. Wired reports that ads will appear on screen while programs are loading. Wired also reports that CherryPal founder, Max Seybold says the unit it so tough that "you could play tennis with it." Wired plans on doing just that when they get their review unit. Perhaps when we get our review unit, we'll challenge the Wired folks to a game of CherryPal tennis.
CherryPal definitely seems to have latched onto a compelling business model that just might make inexpensive, Linux-based desktop PCs a success. We see a few potential downsides, however. The device is still ridiculously underpowered. The CPU and memory are probably robust enough for simple word processing or light Web surfing; but we're not so sure the unit is up to the task when trying to view certain types of streaming media, such as high-definition video. Also, we doubt you'll be able to run more than one application at the same time without seeing a significant, overall system performance slowdown. Storing apps and files in the cloud is an innovative concept, but doesn't help you if you temporarily lose access to the Internet. Lastly, the C100 will only give you access to the apps and your files as long as CherryPal stays in business. If CherryPal goes the way of so many other startups, your data is forever lost in the cloud, and you'll have a lovely $249 paperweight.