I got a chance to play with the Emtec Gdium for a few minutes last night at the ShowStoppers event in Vegas. And I have to say, it’s a nice looking little netbook with a unique design and a unique operating system. It’s launching first in Europe, and should be available in the US sometime around the second quarter of 2009.

I’ve discussed the Gdium before, but here’s a recap of the things that make this netbook unique.

  1. It has no hard drive or SSD. Instead, the operating system, program files, and any documents or other user data are all stored on a removable USB flash drive called a G-Key. They come in 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB sizes, and the idea is that you can have one computer and multiple G-keys, which makes this netbook ideal for schools, businesses, or any institution that may want to allow multiple people to use the same computer.
  2. The netbook uses a 900MHz MIPS-based Loongson processor, which means it ain’t going to run Windows anytime soon.
  3. The Gdium runs a custom version of Mandriva Linux which includes user-customizable widgets that can draw data from the internet including weather forecasts, email notifications, and RSS news feeds.

I learned a few new things tonight. For example, there’s nothing particularly special about the G-key. You can install the operating system on any USB flash drive and plug it into the USB port. The G-Key is designed to fit snugly into the case so it doesn’t stick out like an off-the-shelf USB drive might. But if you already have a few USB sticks lying around and want to save a few bucks, you can use those instead of ordering additional G-Keys.

I also spoke with Bahram Nabet, one of the folks who helped design the system and asked him if the machine takes a performance hit because of the fact that the OS is running off a flash drive instead of internal memory. He said it’s hard to say, but it’s possible that the system would run about 7% faster if the OS was installed on an internal SSD or hard drive. But he says most users probably wouldn’t notice the difference, and the benefits outweigh any performance issues.

The Gdium will be available to retail customers at launch. But it’s really designed for multi-user environments, where a teacher or school could perhaps buy 10 netbooks and 50 G-keys and let students take turns on the machines. That’s something you could do with an OS installed on the hard drive, but Emtec’s solution allows each student to store their own settings and files. If you ask me, I still think this concept makes more sense for desktop PCs than netbooks, but as a colleague pointed out, the Gdium could appeal to corporations that frequently sign notebook computers out to staff as loaners. This way you wouldn’t have to ensure that each computer has the appropriate software for each user before signing out the computer, because each employee could have their own G-Key.

The internet connection last night was kind of wonky, so I wasn’t able to seee the Gdium pull in data for the user customizable widgets, and I couldn’t load any web pages. But while it seemed to take a few seconds to launch any program (even the file manager or the “about” window), once apps were up and running they seemed pretty responsive.

You can judge for yourself by checking out this short video I shoot:

I also filmed a short interview with Bahram Nabet:

Here’s the link to the One Laptop Per Hacker program Nabet mentions in the video.

And you can check out a few more images of the Gdium, Mandriva, and the G-Key in the gallery below:

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7 replies on “Emtec Gdium coming to the US in Q2 of 2009 – Video”

  1. Will this netbook be 100% free hardware including the bios, like the Lemote Yeeloong which uses the same CPU?

  2. Theyve sold the Mandriva Flash USB key on their site for a few years now and the concept makes total sense for workplace environments in more than one way.

    But for school kids I think it makes much more sense to have thin clients (we installed some using Edubuntu w. LTSP at my friends sunday school. 1 server for the 10 kids who each have their own station.) instead than the wasteful way we are doing it now in most schools.

    Is the custom version of Mandriva the Mandriva Mini that they anouncedin the fall?
    Mandriva 2009 is an awesome KDE distro and works well on the netbooks I tried it on but the Mini was their official remixed version for the form factor. Unfortunately I think they havent released it to the public.

    I wish Mandriva the best of luck.
    They were along with the old Suse the first distros to cater to consumers and ease of use and not just enterprise. They are a publicly traded company which showed that it is possible to be a Linux distro, be easy and make money. (Well, until Canonical came around and decided that there is no market all and the only business model worth following is the ‘find a sugar daddy who is willing to invest”.)
    For Linux to work on the desktop, we need many more distros like Mandriva who have found a business plan selling Linux that is sustainable. Handouts to financial sinkholes might be a short term victory in terms of popularity but its not a workable business plan.

    1. It depends on what you call ‘school kids’ – – –
      If you include the post-doc crowd in with the elementary school kids. . .

      There are entire countries that are following the thin-client model
      on a national basis – for a limited range of ‘school kids’. 😉

      At other levels of education, ‘classroom hours’ (or ‘lab hours’) are
      a small part of the ‘education time’ the student is involved in.
      Think of the one hour lecture that takes a week’s work to complete
      the resulting assignment.
      That student’s machine has to travel along with their class
      materials, not remain behind in the lecture hall.

  3. I may have mislead the reader with my “small community college” comment.
    The Ventura Community College is one of 109 community colleges in
    California’s system.
    They claim to be the largest Community College system in the world.

    Industry analysts had project 8 million Net-Book sales for 2008;
    more recent reports make the number look closer to 10 million.
    Sounds like a lot. 😉

    But the California Community College system has millions of students;
    the manufacturer that caters to the needs of the education
    market will change their own sales figures in 2009.

    Most Net-Book OEM’s would smile at anyone wanting to order 100,000
    units under their own brand name – – –
    But that is hardly even a ‘sample’ order for some organization the size
    of the California College system. 😉

    Even at $200 each, we are talking a noticeable amount of money here.

  4. For folks who missed the link; as part of the user community:

    The early production machines are scheduled to begin shipping
    to developers today.

    The developers’ portion of the web-site is scheduled to go up 1/19.
    (Summarized from the Gdium developer news release.)

  5. 4) The project is 110% Open Source, including the “in-house” software.

    This is an important point in the Educational Market place – –
    Even a small community college can easily be spending Millions of dollars
    in MS-tax – – It is a big deal to be able to drop the MS-tax for them.

    Having machines that are cheap enough for the college to loan out also
    reduces the direct cost to the student.
    Plus the ability to replace printed textbooks with electronic textbooks – –
    This is indeed a “big deal” and it looks like Gdium is in the lead.

    I know that Dr. Lew is watching and reading along with all of this news,
    he is running a grant funded study of just these use cases.

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