Chip maker PMC-Sierra says the time is right for network computing. The company has launched a Linux-based reference design that systems builders and OEMs can use to develop thin clients for the enterprise, government, retail and digital-home markets.
PMC-Sierra, a MIPS licensee that manufacturers the CPUs for use in networking devices and printers, said its design offers system builders a low-power unit that will initially cost about $150 or less to build. The development unit includes a PMC-Sierra 64-bit MIPs CPU, 128 Mbytes of memory, ATI Rage XL graphics controller with 8 Mbytes of memory, and traditional computer connectors such as Ethernet, USB and parallel ports. PMC-Sierra executives said the system uses 90 percent less power than a typical Wintel configuration and requires no fan and no heat sink for the CPU.
The company is marketing the thin-client system under the name Xiao Hu, a Chinese word meaning "little tiger." The device was co-developed with China's Tsinghau University. PMC-Sierra is hoping the device will attract attention of manufacturers of smart displays, interactive TVs and kiosks, as well as those serving the traditional corporate, government and educational organizations.
Though the idea of network computing has been bandied about for years, it's a technology that has gained little acceptance. Doug Bownridge, vice president of corporate marketing for Burnaby, British Columbia-based PMC-Sierra, acknowledged past failures of the format but said the market is better prepared to accept these units now.
"Network computing in 1997 was too simplistic and didn't meet the needs of its users, but now the technology is more advanced and can meet those needs," he said.