Hackers have been turning Wifi routers into minimalist servers for nearly a decade now and this week Intel has gotten into the game.
The tech giant has launched a new wifi router for the educational market which doubles as a content server. It 's called Intel Education Content Access Point, and in addition to the usual Wifi routing abilities, the IECAP also packs in 8GB of storage which can be accessed from computers on the same Wifi network.
The IECAP runs Ubuntu 12.04 on a 1.46GHz Intel Atom E3815 CPU with 2GB RAM and 8GB Flash storage. In addition to the ability to act as a host for a Wifi network, it also has a USB port and an ethernet port (probably for the incoming internet connection).
Teachers or anyone with admin access can save files to the internal storage, and up to 50 users can connect and access the files from their own devices - even if there’s no internet signal.
There's also a mention in the specs of an optional 500GB hard disk (via the USB port?) and a 4Ah battery which should keep the IECAP up and running for up to 5 hours.
That is darned powerful Wifi router, but aside from the high end specs (and the battery) there's really not much that is new to this idea.
As I pointed out when I wrote about the Library Box 2.0 last March, hackers have been modding routers to fill similar needs since at least 2007. Other similar products include things like the PogoPlug, which first appeared in late 2009.
And of course there have been several open source projects like the PirateBox and the LibraryBox which were intended to take commercially available Wifi routers and repurpose them to serve as file servers.
But TBH, I can't say for sure whether those projects were intended to also serve the original purpose of a router, which is to connect to the internet. And most did not have battery backups, which Intel's product does. I also wonder if they can match Intel's promise that up to 50 users can connect at a single time.
So while there's a chance that Intel's product is worth its higher price tag, a savvy shopper should look at the alternatives.