World's tiniest Web server?

Summary:At about one square inch, and $39, NetMedia's SitePlayer is a real Ethernet Web server geared to work in home appliances

NetMedia has announced "the world's smallest Ethernet Webserver." It's implemented as a tiny 1.1" x 0.9" PC board, and only requires the addition of +5V DC power and an Ethernet connector to function as a standalone Webserver. Now, get this: the tiny plug-and-play Webserver will be priced at just $39 (£27) for a single unit, $30 each for 100, $20 for 100,000 -- and, it's just $12 each, if you happen to need a million of them!

Even at $39, if it's really a functioning Webserver, there must be a catch. Right? Well, sort of yes -- but sort of no. Let's delve a level deeper into the details.

SitePlayer contains just four substantial components: two integrated circuits, an oscillator crystal, and a connector. The two chips are a Philips integrated 8051-based microprocessor and a Realtek Ethernet controller.

If that was the first thought that crossed your mind, you were absolutely right. In order to achieve both its miniscule size and miniscule price tag, the SitePlayer is extremely stingy in its use of resources. So stingy, in fact, that it doesn't contain a conventional operating system at all. Instead, NetMedia created a small system control program that fits within just 5K bytes of memory, which supports the device's internal functions and implements the supported Internet protocols (which currently include ARP, ICMP, BOOTP, UDP, TCP/IP, and HTTP).

As you might have noticed, this little gem is a classic example of another well-known four-letter engineering protocol: KISS (for "Keep it simple, stupid!").

From a hardware perspective, the heart of the tiny SitePlayer is a new Philips spin on an old Intel theme -- the latest Philips 8051 variant. That processor (a P89C51RD2) includes 64KB of built-in nonvolatile Flash storage memory, plus 1KB of built-in static RAM memory. There's also a built-in serial port and some digital I/O. According Jack Schoof, NetMedia's founder and CEO, the P89C51RD2 is so new that there are not more than fifteen of them in the US, right now. (That's probably why he wouldn't lend me his prototype SitePlayer to play with!)

All of the SitePlayer's interface connections are via a single 11-pin connector. The signals on those pins are: Ethernet Tx+, Ethernet Tx-, Ethernet Rx+, Ethernet Rx-, serial TxD, serial RxD, Ethernet Link status LED, +5VDC power, and ground. There's also a 2-pin utility connector which carries a pair of signals, which can be asserted to reset the system or to restore factory default settings in case the system gets into an unrecoverable state.

You may have noticed that there's no onboard RJ45 Ethernet connector. NetMedia left off that connector because adding it to the tiny module would have nearly doubled its size, and because they believe most users of the SitePlayer will want to provide their own RJ45 connectors on an outside edge of their products' enclosure. NetMedia also omitted the Ethernet interface magnetics, because it has become easy to obtain inexpensive RJ45 connectors with built-in magnetics.

For customers wanting to use the SitePlayer without rolling their own companion board, or for evaluation purposes, NetMedia sells an optional RJ45 adapter board that forms a tiny stack with the SitePlayer.

What do you think? Tell the Mailroom. And read what others have said.

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Topics: Tech Industry

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