9 itsy-bitsy, teeny-weenie computers

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There’s a 'tiny' revolution unfolding in the personal computer industry led by the Raspberry Pi, which has become so popular that it’s difficult to buy one right now. The idea of small computers is being driven by hardware hackers and hobbyists. Here are eight products, and a project in development, that are leading the effort to make PCs small enough to slip into your pocket.

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9 itsy-bitsy, teeny-weenie computers

There’s a 'tiny' revolution unfolding in the personal computer industry led by the Raspberry Pi, which has become so popular that it’s difficult to buy one right now. The idea of small computers is being driven by hardware hackers and hobbyists. Here are eight products, and a project in development, that are leading the effort to make PCs small enough to slip into your pocket.

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Product: Mele A1000

At £45 ($70), the base model of the A1000 costs twice as much as a Raspberry Pi, but it comes with a faster processor (1 GHz Allwinner A10 ARM Cortex-A8), and connector slot for a SATA drive. This 6.89 by 4.33 by 1.85-inch (17.5 by 11.0 by 4.7 cm) box is designed to be used as a media center, because it also features composite video and audio, HDMI and VGA ports. In fact, there’s a $100 model that runs Android 2.3 and is primarily sold in the Chinese market for this purpose. But the A1000 is basically a tiny computer, and an open source community has been working with the Chinese company to encourage development for it.

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VIA’s APC

Taiwanese PC motherboard maker VIA is set to release this tiny computer which, like the Raspberry Pi, does not come encased in a housing. The APC is actually meant to be put into standard computer cases, but its board measures just 6.7 by 3.3 inches (17 by 8.38 cm). Like a standard desktop motherboard, it comes packed with a bunch of ports: audio jacks (headphone and microphone), Ethernet, USB (four of them), microSD card slot, video (HDMI and VGA). It runs on an 800 MHz ARM11 processor, with 512MB RAM and 2GB of flash memory. The APC will be released this month, and VIA is taking pre-orders now.

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Cotton Candy by FXI Tech

FXI is positioning its tiny computer to excel at showing high-resolution video, especially on large-sized displays connected to its HDMI port. Cotton Candy runs on an Exynos 4210, a 1.2 GHz system-on-chip processor that can crank out video at 1080p resolution without slowdown, and this whole computer is contained in a form factor measuring only 3.15 by 0.98 inches (80 by 25 mm). FXI has demonstrated the Cotton Candy running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and Ubuntu. The one drawback is that this tiny computer doesn’t come with a tiny price: $199. The company intends to ship to buyers in the US who pre-ordered in February by the end of summer.

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EOMA-68 CPU-on-card

Rhombus Tech is a community interest company working to design and distribute free development tools for the 1.2 GHz Allwinner A10 ARM Cortex-A8 (used in the aforementioned A1000). And they also have a more ambitious goal: Designing a GPL-compliant tiny computer. The form factor will be the Embedded Open Modular Architecture, most commonly referred to as EOMA-68 (the number 68 refers to the number of pins on its interface connector), which is similar in size to the antiquated PCMCIA card format that measures at a range of thinness from 3.5, 5.5 or 8 mm. The Rhombus Tech team is considering three different versions, using either the Allwinner, AMD Series G, or AM3358 processors

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HDMI Android dongle computer

Always Innovating has developed a tiny computer in a dongle form factor. Theirs runs on the TI OMAP 4 system-on-chip processor. You plug it into the HDMI and USB ports of a TV, and it turns your set into a computer running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s not meant for, nor capable of, upgrading your TV into a media center, but, rather, it’s for repurposing it into an Android device. This HDMI Android dongle doesn’t have a formal product name, because Always Innovating is licensing the technology to other companies. The optimistic scenario is that there will be at least one company that will release a product based on this technology by year’s end for a price ranging from...

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Rikomagic Tech’s Model MK802

This tiny computer running Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS measures 3.46 x 1.38 x 0.47 inches (8.8 x 3.5 x 1.2 cm). It uses an Allwinner A10 1.5 GHz processor, and comes with 512MB RAM, HDMI output, two USB ports, and Wi-Fi. We’ve seen it for sale as low as $74. The MK802 is also sold by Zero Devices as the Z802.

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NUC by Intel

This isn’t necessarily a “tiny computer” concept, but is instead Intel’s new form factor for trying to cram as many features you’d find in a base-level desktop or notebook computer into the smallest dimensions that are technologically possible. As reported first by SweClockers.com, the NUC (Next Unit of Computing) form factor packs in HDMI, Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 ports, two memory slots, a CPU socket for a mobile Intel Core i3 or i5 processor, and even room for a fan and heat sink assembly - all on a desktop PC motherboard that measures only 4 by 4 inches (10 by 10 cm). Intel says that NUC boards should be available during the second half of this year. Unofficial guesses peg it starting...

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Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi is actually not that technically impressive, but since it hit the market before anybody else, it’s quickly gained a cult following among device tinkerers and free software developers due to its hackability and, especially, price: $25 for the lower-end 'A' model and $35 for 'B'. For $35, you get a 'naked' PCB (the Raspberry Pi doesn’t even come with a housing) measuring 3.37 by 2.13 by 0.67 inches (85.60 by 53.98 by 17 mm) with a Broadcom BCM2835 system-on-chip; 256MB RAM; Ethernet, HDMI and two USB ports; and SD card slot. The less expensive “A” model is missing the Ethernet and one USB port. A third version with more features is set for release sometime later this year.

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