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Marvell Introduces Tiny SMILE Plug Classroom Server at CES

Not content to help students only through its partnership with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), Marvell is rolling out a new product designed to revolutionize the classroom learning experience. Not much bigger than a walwart, the tiny SMILE Plug is a Linux-based, wireless learning server that can provide unique educational content to up to 60 students at a time. 

One issue many educators face when serving content to students is the lack of reliable Internet connectivity. Imagine a classroom filled with students, each equipped with a notebook or a tablet. The teacher needs to serve educational content -- videos, text books, interactive games, maybe even quizzes -- to the students, but if that content is stored on a web site, a flaky Internet connection could ruin the whole lesson. A school could wire up an internal server and put wireless access points in every classroom, but that could be difficult and costly, particularly for schools in developing countries or those with tight budgets.

Built to enable what Marvell calls "Classroom 3.0," the SMILE Plug simply attaches to an available power outlet and sends its own local content out to other Wi-Fi-enabled devices in its vicinity. Inside, the SMILE is powered by a Marvell Armada 300 CPU that can run at up to 2G-Hz, 512MB of DDR3 RAM, and 512MB of Flash memory. An SD card slot allows for additional storage up to 32GB.

While 32GB of storage that may not seem like a huge amount of space, it should provide enough storage for the Arch Linux operating system it runs and educational apps built on the NODE.js platform and Stanford's SMILE environment for educational software. Together these apps create what Marvell calls a "Micro Cloud," a local server that can provide content to a classroom.

In addition to its powerful CPU, the SMILE Plug comes equipped with a Marvell Avastar 88W8764 Wi-Fi chip for broadcasting 802.11n signals to clients.  It also has Gigabit Ethernet and a USB 2.0 port for connecting to other networks and peripherals.

Marvell has not announced pricing or precise availability for the SMILE Plug, but we'll be meeting with the company at CES this week to go hands-on with this intriguing device and learn more details.