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Linux tablet emerges from blogosphere

Jan 20, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 3 views

Technology blog site TechCrunch has prototyped a WiFi-enabled tablet PC device that runs Linux. The “Crunchpad” is equipped with a Via Nano processor, 1GB RAM, 4GB flash, and a 12-inch, 1024×768 touchscreen, and appears to be aimed at Web-curious couch potatoes.

(Click for larger view of the CrunchPad Prototype B )

The CrunchPad is the brainchild of TechCrunch editor Michael Arrington, who last summer announced plans to launch an open-source project to build a prototype. Arrington's goal was to find a “dead simple” touchscreen web browsing device that was light enough to sit on one's lap while watching TV. At the time, TechCrunch was targeting a $200 device, but now “$299 is more realistic,” writes Arrington in his most recent post.

CrunchPad Prototype B

Prototype B of the CrunchPad uses Via Technologies's 64-bit, 65nm Nano processor, which Arrington says performs on par with an Intel Atom in their tests. Nano-based netbooks, such as Dr. Mobile's recently announced, Linux ready Freestyle 1300n, have the potential to outperform those based on Intel's ubiquitous Atom N270 — though with a potential sacrifice in battery life. Third-party comparisons of the Atom and the Nano, using desktop versions of the CPUs, have shown the Nano outperforming the Atom by up to 30 percent. But, while both CPUs have similar power consumption at idle, the Nano drinks significantly more juice under load, reports say. TechCrunch did not report which version of the processor was used, but it is likely the mobile-oriented, 1.3GHz Nano U2350.

CrunchPad (side view)

The CrunchPad is further equipped with 1GB RAM and 4GB flash, as well as WiFi, a camera, and accelerometers that can automatically adjust the screen from landscape to portrait. The device also includes Ethernet and USB ports, a speaker connection, and, at least for the prototype version, a monitor port. The 12-inch display provides a 4:3 aspect ratio, and the 1024 x 768 resolution is said to be high enough to handle “the “vast majority” of websites without the need for horizontal scrolling.

The 12.5 x 9.7 x 1.3-inch case is “about twice as thick as it needs to be without further engineering,” writes Arrington. The three-pound weight is said to be two ounces less than an Asus EeePC netbook. This, too, could be reduced, he suggests, by swapping out the prototype capacitive resistance display with a screen that would require fewer than the current set of four batteries. The case was designed and built by David Yarnell and Greg Lalier from Dynacept, says TechCrunch.

The current version of the CrunchPad is said to run a full install of Ubuntu Linux, along with a custom Webkit browser. Developed with the help of Singapore-based Fusion Garage, the system software boots directly to the browser for fast access, and offers a virtual keyboard. Media capabilities are said to include Flash video, as well as video from Hulu, YouTube, and Joost. According to Arrington, the “killer apps” for the CrunchPad include Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Hulu, Wikipedia, Google Docs, and Gmail.


Hardware for Prototype B of the CrunchPad is nearing lockdown, writes Arrington. The next step, he says, is to determine interest from the investment community before deciding whether to spin off a company to move the product into production. Once in production, TechCrunch has said it will open source the software and hardware used in the project. Current costs per CrunchPad, including codecs, are said to run a little over $200, with final pricing expected to be about $300.

TechCrunch has signed on a new team lead for the project in Louis Monier. Formerly the founder/CTO of pioneering Internet search engine AltaVista, Monier was most recently with search engine firm, Cuil.

More information, including two video demos, should be available here.

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