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Cloud Engines Pogoplug Pro

At a Glance
Product Cloud Engines Pogoplug Video (Pogoplug Video)
Summary Cloud sharing appliance specifically geared towards media streaming
Pros • Quick boot up
• Fastest Pogoplug currently
• New hardware features make for some modding capabilities (see review for more info.)
Cons • Requires a wired connection
• Wall wart power supply
• Fan noise is audible in quiet environments
• Stutters while "optimizing" (aka encoding) videos

6/18/2011 Discontinued. See this.

Cloud Engines' new Pogoplug Video (PPV) slots in at a cool $199 between the business-oriented Pogoplug Biz, and the standard Pogoplug. Interestingly, Cloud Engines has revamped the devices all their devices and removed Wi-Fi connection as an option for connecting the 'Plugs to your network, which I can imagine happened after seeing how poorly they performed.

The Pogoplug Video is a brand new device, both hardware and software, according to Cloud Engines, with some tricks up its sleeve (if NASes can have sleeves...). After all, Pogoplugs have been streaming video, albeit poorly, since the Pogoplug Biz was launched, due mostly to underpowered hardware.

My first clue that something big had changed was that there's now a "wall wart" power supply. One of the accolades given to previous Pogoplugs was that the power supply was built in. So now I really had to take it apart, to see what was in the new design.

This process was actually quite easy and required mininal effort to pry the front off the device, and slide it out of its clear plastic case. After that, squeezing the bottom side (which has the motherboard attached to it) popped the top case right off to yield the photo below.

Pogoplug Video inside

There are a couple of big changes in the above photo that jumped out at me. First is the addition of a fan. This fan takes the spot of the power supply in the other Pogoplugs (look at the next photo for a side-by-side comparison). The fan itself is rather noisy, and is audible when the case is put together. I can attribute this to the plastic shield and the PCB, which are cut to partially shroud the fan opening. Unfortunately, the plastic piece is not attached very well, so it causes some vibration noise.

The next big change is the red port you see below the CPU. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the first Pogoplug with SATA capabilities. I'll come right out and say that yes, it is fully functional, even though it isn't exposed to the user via an external port. This is made possible by the other big change that Pogoplug has made.

Pogoplugs side by side

If you recall, Marvell was the original creator of the whole "Plug Computer" concept, which was meant to create things like Pogoplugs, small network routers, and other low-power devices. Marvell unfortunately hasn't really kept after the idea, and so it would appear Cloud Engines is reaching out to other manfuacturers, as shown by the new chip we see in the photos above.

The new Pogoplug Video has a PLX Technology NAS7820 SoC, which packs a potent dual-core ARM 11 processor, with each core running at 750 MHz. This new SoC also includes integrated USB Host and SATA ports. You can view the full spec sheet on the PLX Technology Website. The Pogoplug Biz, in contrast, uses a Marvell ARM 5 system-on-chip(SoC) controller.

All this new-found power should make for some interesting benchmarks, although the cost of having to add a fan means you'll have some noise now to contend with. In use, I found I could hear the fan in my quiet office if I really listened for it, but otherwise it didn't bother me.

Setup and In Use

Setup worked like all the other Cloud Engines devices: plug the device into your Internet connection; go to the Pogoplug Portal to set up your device and you're done. After walking through the wizard, the device was automatically detected and added to my account. I then plugged in my USB hard drive, and clicked the "Refresh The Page" button in the user interface until the drive showed up.

The Pogoplug Video otherwise acts just like the stock Pogoplug, so I won't be going into the Pogoplug Experience. I will say that Cloud Engines has revised the "look and feel" of the Pogoplug Portal, so take a look in the screenshot gallery to check out the updated look.

Image Gallery

That said, functionality really hasn't changed since I reviewed Pogoplug's Premium Software. We are in the process of reviewing the Pogoplug Premium Software in its final form, and will be posting that soon for your reading pleasure.

Streaming and SATA Performance

The new processor makes its presence known right at boot-time: the PPV is online significantly faster than the Pogoplug Biz and Pro. Going through the process three times, I would say the Pogoplug Video is at least 10 seconds faster to boot up and come online in the web interface.

The new processor also improves transfer speed. I used my standard 2.5" Western Digital USB HD for most of my testing, since the SATA port is not accessible by most users. I did however hook up a 3.5" external 500 GB HD with eSATA and USB, formatted NTFS, to test out the transfer capabilities, and detailed it below.

Disk Transfer Performance
Connection Type Single File Copy Folder Copy
SATA Read 33 MB/s 3 MB/s (avg.)
SATA Write 6 MB/s 900 KB/s (avg.)
USB Read 18 MB/s 3 MB/s (avg.)
USB Write 6 MB/s 350 KB/s (avg.)

The Pogoplug using SATA is clearly superior to same drive over USB, so I'm hoping that Cloud Engines is working on how to restructure the case design to bring the SATA port out.

Streaming media performance was a mixed lot. One of the changes Cloud Engines made in the web interface refresh was a move to Flash to play back video, instead of HTML5. This is both good and bad news. It's good because on desktop machines, Flash is prevalent and much more likely to play videos smoothly than HTML5, along with being compatible with IE8 and older versions of Firefox.

The downside is Flash is a resource hog, easily eating up 100+ MB in any web browser. It also forces iOS and Android users to use the Pogoplug Apps (except for the lucky few Android users who can use Flash and have it work smoothly). I'll get into why this is not a great move in a moment.

Streaming video from the PPV to a browser worked fine for most videos. The Pogoplug had problems, though, with anything not in AVI or MP4 video containers. So all my MKV files wouldn't work correctly. This is somewhat strange as Pogoplug is using FFMPEG to do most of the decoding legwork, and that package supports MKV files encoded using H.264 (which all of my MKV files are using). My guess would be Cloud Engines customized FFMPEG to work better on the ARM processors, so it's probably missing some features.

The browser interface though was a little weird. As you might have seen in the screen shot gallery, I took a screen grab of the indicator bars showing a whole lot of nothing while playing back video. I replicated this across all major browsers, which makes sense since this is a Flash web app. Hopefully this is a simple bug that Cloud Engines can fix, as it makes it impossible to scrub to individual parts of a file.

Streaming video to my iOS devices over Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz 802.11) proved somewhat more annoying, although when it did work it worked remarkably well. Certain videos just outright refused to stream, while with others (usually HD videos), the Pogoplug put up a valiant effort, but usually couldn't keep up. SD videos usually worked quite well, however.

Performance over 3G was similarly sporadic, although it highlighted how much slower Verizon's 3G is compared to AT&T. I recently acquired a Verizon iPhone4 through my new daytime gig, so I took the chance to see just how much slower it was compared to my AT&T iPhone 3GS. I couldn't seem to find a spot where both AT&T and Verizon had full signal, so I settled for AT&T having 4 bars and Verizon having 5 (the max).

AT&T really flexed its GSM/HSDPA muscles here, loading a full 15 seconds before Verizon, and streaming smoothly from start whereas my VZW iPhone4 stuttered a bit at the beginning, allowing my 3GS to get a full 40 seconds ahead before the VZW phone smoothed out.

However, moving to a spot where AT&T had worse coverage (2 bars) and Verizon had 3 bars, the Verizon iPhone4 at least loaded the video and attempted to play, whereas my 3GS just sat there with a black screen and a spinning loading indicator. Depending on your area (NYC comes to mind), the VZW iPhone might be your best bet where AT&T's overloaded network gets notoriously poor data service.

Just to see how much of this was the network versus the PPV, I SSH'd into the Pogoplug and started up top, which is a command line system performance monitor. Running an HD Video over Wi-Fi to my iPad2, the Pogoplug sat at around 60% used, 40% idle, which means that even streaming HD videos isn't a big deal for the new processor, so it's unclear why I occasionally had stuttering on my iOS devices.

Closing Thoughts

The Pogoplug Video is certainly the fastest Pogoplug to date, with transfer speeds easily besting all its stablemates. Users who don't mind modifying their devices a bit will be treated to being able to use SATA drives and get true NAS-like performance from a cloud device. Cloud Engines still has some work to do though on the streaming video side, as both the browser-based and the iOS clients I tested didn't provide a great viewing experience when they worked at all.

Cloud Engines is definetly headed in the right direction though, and I can easily recommend this device for making files cloud-accessible, and streaming music at the very least.

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