Chinese retailers have started selling a miniature Linux computer that is housed in a 3.5-inch plastic case slightly larger than a USB thumb drive. Individual units are available online for $74.
The small computer has an AllWinner A10 single-core 1.5GHz ARM CPU, a Mali 400 GPU, and 512MB of RAM. An HDMI port on the exterior allows users to plug the computer into a television. It outputs at 1080p and is said to be capable of playing high-definition video.
The device also has a full-sized USB port with host support for input devices, a conventional micro-USB port, a microSD slot, and an internal 802.11 b/g WiFi antenna. The computer can boot from a microSD card and is capable of running Android 4.0 and other ARM-compatible Linux platforms.
Earlier this year, we reported on the FXI Cotton Candy, a thumb drive computer that can plug directly into the HDMI port on a television. The system, which became available for preorder in February, sells for $199.
The $74 AllWinner system seems like an intriguing, low-cost alternative to the Cotton Candy. Both computers have the same GPU, but the Cotton Candy has a faster dual-core processor and twice as much RAM. Another key difference is that the Cotton Candy has an actual HDMI male plug built in (whereas the AllWinner computer has a socket) and consequently doesn’t require the use of an HDMI cable.
Much like the recently launched $35 Raspberry Pi, these relatively small and inexpensive Linux systems offer enthusiasts a compelling platform for embedded computing projects.