$99 Linux PC in a keyboard launches

Borrows a few design cues from Amiga

THE ASUS EEE KEYBOARD might be the most desirable computer in a keyboard design, but it’s unlikely to be cheap once it launches considering all the little tweaks Asus had done to it since it was announced. Enter the NorhTec Gecko Surfboard, the $99 PC in a keyboard that runs Linux on a 1GHz x86 SoC. If you found the Eee Keyboard to be way too powerful for your needs, then look no further as the Gecko Surfboard won’t break any performance records.

Okay, so that was a bit mean, but the Vortex86MX CPU core found in the Xcore86 SoC that NorhTec relies on for just about all its products isn’t exactly cutting edge, although it’s very power frugal. The entire Gecko Surfboard draws a mere 5W according to early details, although this seems almost too good to be true. This does of course not include the screen, but it makes you wonder what the big chip guys are up when a little company like NorhTec can come up with a solution that uses this little power.

Feature wise the Gecko Surfboard has a couple of interesting points worth noting. First it has two SDHC card slots of which one can be used to boot the OS. The basic $99 version doesn’t come with a hard drive, but there’s space internally for a 2.5-inch IDE unit. The Gecko Surfboard doesn’t require a computer screen, although it does have a D-sub connector, but it can also be connected to a TV using a composite vide connector. It also comes with a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a serial port, 10/100Mbit Ethernet and two audio jacks for headphones and a mic. Optional extras include an 802.11b/g WiFi module and surprisingly a 3G data module.

Apart from the relatively slow CPU the major downside of the Gecko Surfboard is that it only comes with 512MB of DDR2 RAM and this isn’t user upgradable. The reason for this is that the memory is soldered onto the plug-in module that the CPU is fitted to. However, NorhTec is promising an updated version with 1GB which should help improve overall performance.

The Gecko Surfboard is targeting the developing markets and it’s meant to be a cost efficient, power frugal, easy to use system and in all fairness is seems like NorhTec has hit those targets. The company will also offer it with Windows XP for $150, but we can’t see a lot of potential customers going down this route. The Gecko Surfboard is half the price of NorhTec’s EduBook which was announced earlier this year and the two are based on the same hardware and are targeting a similar audience.S|A

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