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IceWhale Unveils the ZimaCube, a Powerful "Personal Cloud" Box with "Private GPT" Capabilities

Company's boxy multi-role NAS design comes with the promise of the computing power required to run large language models (LLMs) on device.

UPDAT (11/6/2023): IceWhale Technology's crowdfunding campaign for the ZimaCube "personal cloud" NAS server has opened, and at the time of writing had already reached nearly $700,000 — far in excess of the company's modest funding goal for production.

The company's finalized pricing puts the entry-level ZimaCube at $499 for "early bird" backers then $599, against a claimed recommended retail price of $699; the more powerful ZimaCube Pro is priced at $899 for "early bird" backers then $999, against a claimed retail price of $1,199.

All hardware is expected to be delivered in March 2024, IceWhale has claimed, with more information available on the Kickstarter campaign page.

Original article continues below.

IceWhale Technology is looking to scale up from its compact ZimaBoard single-board computer (SBC) design, unveiling a six-bay network attached storage (NAS) device dubbed the ZimaCube — and promising a "personal cloud" including the ability to run large language networks (LLMs) on device.

"We've designed ZimaCube for those who value their data and put in long hours," the company claims of its latest design. "Securely store, organize, and access your files from any device, anywhere with a 6-bay HDD, quad M.2 SSD, and quad 2.5GbE design; enjoy lightning-fast data transfers across multiple devices while our PCIe expansion ensures the endless potential for leveling up your system to another norm."

For IceWhale, it's a major departure. Back in 2021 the company launched a crowdfunding campaign for the ZimaBoard, a passively-cooled single-board computer built around an Intel Celeron processor and boasting two SATA ports and a PCI Express slot for expansion. While the heatsink case added a little bulk, the ZimaBoard was undeniably compact for its specifications — and earlier this year the company unveiled its successor, the sleek ZimaBlade.

The ZimaCube, though, is far from compact. Its width is, naturally, constrained by the space required to fit six 3.5" hard drive bays using hot-swap sleds; the height then stretches above that required by the drives to make room for a single-board computer and power hardware. There's also a 256GB SSD as standard, with room for two additional NVMe storage devices — with a ZimaCube Pro model adding in another four.

Precise specifications depend on model chosen: the base ZimaCube users an Intel Processor N100 chip with four cores running at up to 3.4GHz, comes with 8GB of DDR4 RAM and support for up to 32GB, has two 2.5-gig-Ethernet ports, one USB Type-C 3.0 Gen. 1 port, four USB 3.0 Gen. 1 ports, and two USB 2.0 Gen. 1 ports, plus a single PCI Express Gen. 3 slot. The ZimaBoard Pro upgrades to an Intel Core i5-1235U, offering ten cores running at up to 4.4GHz, 16GB of DDR5 memory expandable to 64GB, four 2.5-gig-Ethernet ports, six USB 3.0 Gen. 1 ports, two Thunderbolt 4 ports, and two PCI Express Gen. 4 slots — one x16, one x4.

Those specifications may seem a little overkill for a simple network-attached storage device, and there's a reason for that: IceWhale is positioning the system as a "personal cloud," offering the performance required to run a variety of workloads on device — including, it promises, a "private GPT" large language model system, providing natural-language prompt-and-response like OpenAI's popular but divisive ChatGPT without having to send any data off to remote servers.

As with its previous designs, IceWhale is planning to crowdfund production of the ZimaCube on Kickstarter this week; the company is also offering a $1 "reservation" on its own store, which comes with the promise of a $200 saving on the ZimaCube, a $300 saving on the ZimaCube Pro, or a $400 saving on a bundle it calls the "Creator Pack." Crucially, though, the company has yet to confirm the pricing of any model, with details not expected until the crowdfunding campaign's launch.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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