back to article Best and the Rest: ARM Mini PCs

The Best... RH Numbers Reg Hardware PC Week The Raspberry Pi – if you can get your hands on one – isn't the only small, inexpensive ARM computer around these days. There are quite a few options with varying speeds and price points. So here we take up ARMs with a full review of the ARMini – uniquely British offering that is …

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  1. Nights_are_Long
    Thumb Up

    So much possibility so far till payday :(

  2. David Hicks

    Been eyeing up the slice for a while

    But there were various graphics or video decoding related issues, IIRC. Despite the power, it can't yet do 1080p video due to the driver for the hardware decoder not being functional at present. Maybe this has been addressed recently.

    Also yes, not cheap.

    1. robsy

      Re: Been eyeing up the slice for a while

      Check it out with Android. Its KICK ass !

      And cheap is relative. its so much more than most of the other computers here

  3. DrXym Silver badge

    Overlooking a lot of devices

    There are a lot of cheap android tablets from £60 up running ARM processors many root enabled. What's to stop someone flashing one of them and using it as a device. Some of them have HDMI out and USB ports so I assume you could hook them up to a screen and keyboard. Even some phones have mini HDMI or USB master support so I assume you could even get something working there perhaps.

    There are lots of videos on YouTube who have already accomplished this to one degree or another demonstrating it's perfectly feasible.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Overlooking a lot of devices

      Forget tablets. Many Android phones would compete with this lot. Especially ebay'd second hand with damaged screens.

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: Overlooking a lot of devices

        Ubuntu have a nice demo of a Motorola Atrix running Ubuntu and Android concurrently with the Ubuntu desktop coming up when you dock the device. The Atrix and dock is pretty expensive though. I think a homebrewer who just wanted to root and flash the phone could probably do something on the cheap with a broken phone like you suggest or a cheaper model which perhaps forgoes USB or HDMI and runs through a remote desktop.

        <p>

        I suggested a tablet since in theory you would have a desktop you could take around with you, assuming Linux ever supports touch in a usable fashion rather than as a pseudo mouse.

        1. Ru
          Headmaster

          Re: "assuming Linux ever supports touch in a usable fashion"

          I hear that "Android" linux distro supports touch reasonably well these days.

          1. DrXym Silver badge

            Re: "assuming Linux ever supports touch in a usable fashion"

            I wasn't talking of Android. I was talking of a standard desktop Linux distribution and I'm not aware that any of them support touch in an acceptable manner. Most just simulate a mouse cursor with touch and do little else.

    2. Gordan

      Re: Overlooking a lot of devices

      I'm more surprised the line-up completely ommits the most popular of such devices, such as the SheevaPlug, DreamPlug and Toshiba AC100.

      1. David Hicks

        Re: Overlooking a lot of devices

        Re sheevaplug - I'm assuming they leave it out because it has no display capability, unless you add-on a USB graphics adaptor, which people have varying amounts of luck with. The sheevaplug is a great little machine, but it's made for headless operation really.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      IT Angle

      Re: Overlooking a lot of devices

      I need a dual ethernet version to work as a personal linux based firewall/router/proxy. Has anyone seen a solution?

  4. Puffin

    No bone?

    You mention BeagleBoard multiple times, but ignored the BeagleBone. Bizarre.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No bone?

      Yup. The BeagleBone is only about £60! And it comes with an integrated JTAG debugger for low-level work.

  5. Tim Walker
    Linux

    My RasPi should arrive this week...

    Looking forward to it - at the very least, the Pi will make a decent cheap Linux machine to experiment with, and hopefully more. (I'm holding out for a "TV PC", though I realise this is basically a development board, often with alpha-level drivers to match, so I'm managing my expectations.)

    Just wanted to mention another distro for the Pi: Arch Linux/ARM, which I understand is pretty mature as ARM Linuxes go - it's been running on machines like the SheevaPlug for some time now. I'm planning to use Arch with the Pi, as I have some experience from running Arch/x86 on my Eee 701SD netbook.

    That said, I wouldn't mind giving the open RISC OS a spin :-)

    1. Spasch
      Linux

      Re: My RasPi should arrive this week...

      'I'm holding out for a "TV PC"'

      This is the main reason I want one, along with RaspBMC, it should be a great little video streamer..

      1. Oolons
        Thumb Up

        Re: My RasPi should arrive this week...

        Get Openelec RPi XBMC - been trying it out on the RPi this week and its pretty good. 1080p and 720p H264 works fine. SD Xvids etc are fine but sometimes a bit choppy - overclocking the CPU to 1Ghz was dead easy and seems to have fixed some of the speed issues on XBMC. There are bugs however but it boots pretty fast on a class 10 SD card so the odd lockup can be fixed with a quick on and off... They are working hard to produce a finished version.

  6. Arrrggghh-otron

    Got Pi...

    My Pi turned up last week. I've got nothing more to add. Just rubbing it in :)

    Only kidding, I wanted to say that I am loving the R-pi. It constantly amazes at how capable it is for the price and size, but then goes and locks up for a while as the CPU is maxed out. Then again it is still early days for the software and there are better x drivers in the works.

    For ~ £30* I will be buying more for various different projects when the full production comes on stream.

    *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

    1. LinkOfHyrule
      Thumb Up

      *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

      I spend more than that a week on fags! And this little gizmo would probably fit in a fag packet!

      When I give up smoking I'm guna buy Raspberries instead!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

        "When I give up smoking I'm guna buy Raspberries instead!"

        IF you live that long !

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

          It seems impossible these days to mention smoking without some smug arse having to chip in about the healthiness of the activity. The health warnings are huge, it's not as if smokers don't know what they're doing.

          I wonder if you go down the pub on Friday evenings and point out to everybody there that drinking is bad for their health. Or maybe you don't because it'd make you look like a twat.

          1. Vic

            Re: *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

            > some smug arse having to chip in about the healthiness of the activity.

            I'd interpreted it as some smug arse poking fun at the availability of the Raspberry Pi...

            Vic.

            [Still waiting eagerly for a board...]

          2. steogede
            Coat

            Re: *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

            "It seems impossible these days to mention smoking without some smug arse having to chip in about the healthiness of the activity."

            One day you will give up smoking and become that smug arse.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: steogede

              I gave up smoking 3 years ago. If other people want to smoke I don't see why I need to constantly remind them it's unhealthy, I'm not their mother. Those 'smug arses' are almost as bad as the vegans that bang on about the unhealthiness of my lifestyle if I give them even the slightest hint that I eat meat.

        2. LinkOfHyrule
          Paris Hilton

          Re: *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

          Matey, honestly, if anyone knows about the health problems smoking causes its us smokers trust me!

          There is no need to lecture us, you should see the stuff I cough up of a morning, I think they use similar things for the slime effects in horror movies!

          Anyway, I was trying to make a light hearted point about how you can buy a fully fledged capable computer for the price of weeks fags - back in the late 70s a comparatively similar computer would have cost half a Transit van's worth of duty-frees!

          Paris because I mentioned coughing up slime and it reminds me of the episode of South Park featuring her!

    2. Richard 22
      Alert

      Re: Lockup when maxed out

      Have you got a decent power supply for it. I had exactly the same thing in XBMC until I tried with an iPad power supply and Nokia USB->micro USB charger cable (ie a nice, thick cable).

      The requirements for the device are 700mA - I'd make sure your power supply is up to the job. RS and Farnell both sell ones which should be suitable (not tried either though).

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RISC OS Licenses...

    .... are more like 3 quid from Castle if you promise to send back your source changes.

  8. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Development costs

    > "It’s not entirely clear to me why the Beagleboard is so expensive ... "

    We are told the Pi took 6 years to develop. I'm guessing that during the time the developers had proper jobs and regarded the Pi as a sort of altruistic hobby. It definitely wasn't going to be a source of income during those years.

    Consequently all the time and resources used for the development process are a sunk cost and don't have to be recouped from the unit-price of the eventual product. That's what makes the Pi different from commercial offerings. In these cases the years (or more likely: months, for time is money) of developer time has to be paid for - in salaries, equipment and facilities.

    We also know that given a large enough production run (say for a mobile phone) these costs don't add a great deal to each board when you're producing a million of them. Even less if all you have to do is add new features/power to an existing design. However for a low-sales, niche market that only produces one-hundreth the number of units, those same costs will contribute 100 times as much to the price of each board made.

    Maybe the longest lasting legacy of the Pi won't be introducing children to little motherboards, but will be the creation of a low-cost, open sourced basis for future embedded hardware.

    1. Andrew James

      Re: Development costs

      The Raspberry Pi is a not for profit venture. So of course its going to be cheaper than the others that are adding a fat margin on the top of the bill of materials.

      1. Asgard
        Boffin

        Re: Development costs

        @Andrew James: "The Raspberry Pi is a not for profit venture. So of course its going to be cheaper than the others that are adding a fat margin on the top of the bill of materials."

        Its not fat margins, its money needed to run a viable business.

        Buying components in smaller quantities costs more per component than mass market quantities. Making PCBs in smaller quantities costs more per board than mass market product.

        The Raspberry Pi is great news for programmers and a lot of electronics engineers as well. However the Raspberry Pi signals the end of the line for small electronic start up companies designing and selling their own ARM boards, as none of them will be able to compete on cost, as their start up development costs plus running costs means they cannot start a company. There is no way they can sell boards for as low as a Raspberry Pi. So this is the end of electronics engineers starting up their own ARM board based companies and I can see this also driving existing small companies like gumstix.com slowly out of business which would be a real shame.

        So sure people can argue survival in niches like the Gumstix boards are a bit smaller, but for the majority of their customers a Raspberry Pi would do just as well, so with the loss of many sales to Raspberry Pi, Gumstix will struggle to survive and I would say Gumstix are one of the very strongest contenders out there. Many other smaller companies than Gumstix are going to be wiped out of business by Raspberry Pi.

        So its not fat margins, its simply money needed to run a viable business.

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge
          Windows

          Re: money needed to run a viable business

          Sounds just like the way that the availability of a free OS has basically driven all the paid-for stuff out of the market.

          1. Asgard
            Boffin

            Re: money needed to run a viable business

            @Ken Hagan. The OS market is a very poor example. The OS market is established. Also its big enough to provide corporate support contracts. Also Microsoft have effectively "First mover advantage" as their OS grew to desktop dominance during the 1980s. None of which applies to or helps a new hardware start up company now. e.g.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_mover_advantage

            Also look at how so many people talk about the pricing of the Raspberry Pi. Its a key decider for many users and understandably so, as they can have a few Raspberry Pi boards for the price of one other ARM board. The Raspberry Pi will effect the financial viability of competitor companies and many won't survive.

      2. paulc
        FAIL

        Rubbish...

        "The Raspberry Pi is a not for profit venture. So of course its going to be cheaper than the others that are adding a fat margin on the top of the bill of materials."

        it's the economics of scale... component costs and productions costs are far lower when the quantities are higher...

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: Rubbish...

          Plus I bet there are othe Pi in the pipeline, maybe ones with beefier CPUs and more RAM. Imagine a suitably clocked Armv7 Pi with 1Ghz RAM. That would be a beast of a barebones HTPC.

  9. Gordan

    Devices and OSes

    I am somewhat disappointed that the most popular devices have not even been mentioned, specifically the Kirkwood based SheevaPlug and DreamPlug (omitting the now deprecated and noisy GuruPlug is understandable, I guess), not to mention the increasingly popular Toshiba AC100 (Tegra2 based) laptops (which I might add are one of the primary support targets and test machines for RedSleeve Linux, for those that prefer distro flavours that aren't Debiany). AC100 also has one of the most active support communities, with even a number of hardware upgrade modifications that have been very well documented (screen, storage, cooling/clocking - you'll find the relevant information if you google it).

  10. Quentin North
    Gimp

    SheevaPlug/DreamPlug

    Surprised you didnt mention the 1.2Ghz ARM based SheevaPlug and DreamPlug computers. I use these as servers running debian or ubuntu mostly, but they can make great little desktops too.

  11. David Given
    Thumb Up

    Allwinner A10

    I have a Mele A1000, an A10-based set-top-box what I ordered from China; it's being used by Rhombus Tech as an A10 sample device while they work on the EOMA68 device. I'm going to use mine as the house server, replacing my current elderly SheevaPlug.

    It's got some nice features: the big one for me is that it has real SATA, which a lot of these devices don't (the TrimSlice, for example, has its SATA connection hooked up via an internal USB bus which makes it slow and CPU heavy). Plus the A10 will autonomously boot off the SD card, which makes the device unbrickable, and is therefore ideal for hacking purposes. The internal flash is 4GB, which is big enough to get a real OS on, too.

    Best of all the whole thing was under $70. Plus, I got a free World's Worst Infrared Remote Control. I might be able to get some use out of it as a door wedge.

  12. cdilla
    Meh

    Sheevaplug Dreamplug

    As others have already pointed out the great Sheeva and Dreamplug machines should not have been left out. They are cheaper than some of those cited here and the Dreamplug especially offers a lot of connectivity (2xLAN, wifi, bluetooth,2xusb,sdcard,jtag, sata, optical, audio, mic).

    My sheeva and dream plugs are used for a variaty of linux based server and monitoring duties.

    I have a R-Pi too, though am spending more time on making a case for it than actually using it :-)

  13. Giles Jones Gold badge

    >The ARMini is considerably quicker than the Raspberry Pi, which despite a powerful GPU has >only 256MB of Ram and a 700MHz ARMv6 core

    Which is only a problem if you run today's software where everything has to be portable, virtualised or abstracted.

    There's people doing amazing things with 20Mhz ATMega chips with 64kb flash.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RISC OS wasn't first

    "designed to run the ARM chip's original operating system, RISC OS"

    That would be Arthur. Or maybe it doesn't count because it was 'alf an operating system.

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: RISC OS wasn't first

      I'm not aware of a RISC OS 1, and the first version of RISC OS released was RISC OS 2 - not too long after the Archimedes was brought out with Arthur.

      I've always assumed, therefore, that (although it's never been said anywhere, AFAIK) Arthur was, in effect, RISC OS 1, but just wasn't called that at the time.

      And having said that, even if my assumption was correct, it still might not have been the first: Wasn't there a ARM processor for the BBC using the tube interface? If so, what ran on that? (Or was it just an internal thing, when they were developing the ARM?)

      1. nemo20000
        Headmaster

        Re: RISC OS wasn't first

        @VinceH “Wasn't there a ARM processor for the BBC using the tube interface? If so, what ran on that? (Or was it just an internal thing, when they were developing the ARM?)”

        It was semi-commercial, in that I remember Acorn sending me a photocopied “brochure” for it in 1986 which bore the £4000 price tag. I don’t think they made many! Pictures here: http://www.stumpie.com/armeval/

        Like the 6502 second processor it ran a tiny veneer that could hardly be called a kernel, never mind an OS. It just mapped a few SWIs to the host’s equivalents over the Tube. It didn’t support modules.

        The full list of SWIs it implemented was (OS_ prefix omitted): WriteC, WriteS, Write0, WriteI+, NewLine, ReadC, CLI, Byte, Word, File, Args, BGet, BPut, Open, ReadLine (all mapped to the Beeb’s OS routines), GetEnv, Exit, SetEnv, IntOn, IntOff, CallBack, EnterOS, Control, BreakPT, BreakCT, SetCallB, SetMEMC (all familiar from Arthur and RISC OS) and the mysterious UnUsed and Multiple.

        It came with Twin (a dual-buffer text editor I was still using in RO2 days), BASIC, ObjAsm and AAsm (still used in RO), Lisp, Prolog and Fortran77.

    2. ByeLaw101
      Meh

      Re: RISC OS wasn't first

      Author 2.0 was renamed RISC OS, so maybe RISC OS was the first?

  15. James Hughes 1

    Of interest to overclockers, and those who don't mind void waranty

    Raspberry Pi can be overclocked very easily to 1GHz. Will reduce life of SoC slightly, but have had devices running for a few months at this speed no problem. Will void warranty (and doing it sets an OTP bit, so it will be known it's been overclocked)

    1. Oolons
      Thumb Up

      Re: Of interest to overclockers, and those who don't mind void waranty

      Its only 25 quid - I got mine going at 1Ghz straight off with over_voltage at 6 ... 1.35V I think? Need to try overclocking the GPU and memory next. Makes Openelec XBMC work better...

  16. Norm DePlume

    Acorn etc.

    Brazil was the ARM1 co-pro OS, I believe.

    For some projects, a STR9-comStick might do the trick. Not a full PC (and therefore not eligible for inclusion in the main article), but has many of the capabilities.

  17. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face

    Couple of thoughts...

    Like anything, it depends on what you're going to use it for. Some of these little boxes are great, but if you're going to need any storage, you just end up with more boxes, cables and usb hubs behind your TV. Unless you can maybe use NFS with a DD-WRT router sporting its own USB hard drive, but that sounds like a lot of work...

    I'm looking for something small to run as a home server and media / TV PC, and I'm drawn towards the Aleutia Tango. It's small, fanless, VESA mountable, and the disk is on the inside. It has a Dual-core Atom chip, rather than ARM, but it will take a 1TB laptop disk, unlike the Trim Slice H, which struggles with the fatter form factor of some larger laptop disks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Couple of thoughts...

      I want something else - a small cheap box I can do my internet banking and other security-concious activities off without cluttering up the house. Then no matter what mistakes I/we might make on the general purpose box (on which all kinds of s/w might get installed, and all kinds of websites visited) the important stuff happens somewhere else.

  18. Liam Proven

    Why not ShivaPlug etc

    The reason for omitting the likes of the ShivaPlug is that they're *servers* and this roundup was for desktop-type devices, capable of running a general-purpose OS with a GUI. Sure, there are various plug servers, and HardReg has covered some of them before...

    http://www.reghardware.com/2010/02/12/review_storage_cloud_engines_pogoplug_2/

    http://www.reghardware.com/2010/11/11/review_peripherals_cloud_engines_pogoplug_pro/

    http://www.reghardware.com/2011/10/20/review_storage_network_lacie_laplug/

    ... But none of them have any way to attach a display.

    And yes, there are other ultracheap devices out there, such as Arduino or MiniEMBWiFi, but they are so low-spec they can't run a graphical desktop. Great for hardware hobbyists, but not much use for WIMP merchants.

    1. Gordan

      Re: Why not ShivaPlug etc

      Actually, you are quite wrong. *Plug machines have been used with displays for a while, using MIMO USB screends. The performance is perfectly acceptable for normal desktop tasks (web browsing, email, etc.)

      It also doesn't explain why it didn't include the likes of Efika MX (smartbook or desktop) which is very cheap compared to the machines mentioned, or the Toshiba AC100 smartbook, which is incredibly good value for a Tegra2 laptop.

      1. Liam Proven

        @Gordan - Re: Why not ShivaPlug etc

        Yes, I am sure you can attach a USB display controller to a plug-server, but that is still not coming with a built-in display adapter. Secondarily, the MIMO USB screens you cite are quite a lot more expensive than the entire plug computer, which makes a mockery of the "inexpensive" part.

        You can use almost any kind of computer for almost any kind of role, but it's not a great idea to use a server as a desktop - it's expensive & performance is poor. Similarly, something like a RasPi or BeagleBoard is not a great server, as it has no native Ethernet (it's running over USB) or SATA.

        It is generally best to use the right device for the job.

        I'd be happy to do a roundup of inexpensive plug servers, but the cited devices are mostly a couple of years old now so it's no longer news. Part of the point of this article was to highlight that the RasPi was not the only device of its type, but equally to highlight how it is dramatically cheaper than the alternatives. A ShivaPlug is not an alternative to a RasPi and nor is a 2010 Tosh kinda-sorta-netbook.

        And thirdly, there are limits to the length of this sort of piece. There isn't room to include every even-vaguely-comparable device that is aimed at a different role but happens to use the same CPU. This was about *desktop computers*. Not notebooks, netbooks, servers, tablets or phones. Desktops. *Just* desktops. No battery, no built-in screen, no onboard keyboard and trackpad, but display & sound ports. Desktops.

        OK? :¬)

    2. Leona A
      Trollface

      Re: Why not ShivaPlug etc

      The Guru Plug Does

      https://www.globalscaletechnologies.com/t-guruplugdisplaydetails.aspx#component

  19. Irongut

    hella expensive

    Some of these little ARM comupters are hella expensive. I built an Atom based media center recently with a dual core chip, 4GB RAM, 1TB HDD, BlueRay, Win7, WiFi, TV Recording, remote control, wireless keyboard & mouse and a much nicer case than that ARMini all for under £300. So why pay double that for something with much lower capabilities?

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      Re: hella expensive

      agreed. If you cut corners you can get an almost like for like fusion board + ram + case + storage for less than £150. Use an open-elec XBMC and you have a decent fusion (or ion) media center.

  20. Liam Proven

    Toshiba AC100

    HardReg has also covered the Toshiba AC100 before:

    http://www.reghardware.com/2010/11/03/review_netbook_toshiba_ac100/

    ... And whereas it /is/ possible to put another OS on it, not all the hardware is supported, there are significant caveats and it is *not* easy:

    https://wiki.ubuntu.com/ARM/TEGRA/AC100

    So I would not rate it as a suitable device for someone wanting to just play.

    Furthermore, it's a 2+ year old device; I am not sure if they are even available new any more.

    1. Britt Johnston
      Facepalm

      Re: Toshiba AC100 fate

      I loved the case, but never heard of anyone who configured it into something useful.

      I was wondering if it is possible to replace the mainboard with a RasPi?

      1. Gordan

        Re: Toshiba AC100 fate

        Dude, google the AC100 upgrades (screen, SSD, cooling/OC-ing). All the hardware is supported and the community support for most ARM distros is excellent.

    2. Gordan

      Re: Toshiba AC100

      Sorry, Liam, but all the hardware IS supported, and has been for a year or so. I have everything working on mine.

      There are plenty of AC100 available on eBay and Amazon. The age of it is irrelevant - it is still among the highest spec ARM machines you can get, and undoubtedly the best value one by far.

      1. Ramazan
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: Toshiba AC100 on ebay

        Toshiba AC100: Buy It Now EUR 306.12 -- $711.89 (3 items, the 306.12 one is the cheapest)

        Raspberry Pi: Buy It Now EUR 140.00 -- GBP 145 (2 items plus 3 auctions).

        I wouldn't dare to say that "there are plenty of AC100 available" but maybe if you are ready to spend several years on ebay waiting for occasional AC100 bargain this would look different...

        1. Gordan

          Re: Toshiba AC100 on ebay

          You aren't looking hard enough, or you're looking in the wrong country. On eBay.co.uk, they are readily available for £160 new, usually about £100-£110 used.

  21. Liam Proven

    @Irongut

    No, today, ARM cannot compete against x86 kit on price. But it hands x86 its backside on a plate when it comes to performance/Watt.

    I am hoping that Raspberry Pi will catalyse a new generation of very-low-cost ARM systems.

    Once a suitably low-power display is available, say from Pixel Qi or using e-ink, this enables the possibility of capable, flexible solar-powered ARM computers running FOSS OSs which could transform the lives of billions in the developing world.

    Me, personally, I want an open, flexible ARM-powered netbook or ultralight laptop with a Pixel Qi display & a honking great battery - something that can run for a long weekend on a single charge. Tablet, schmablet.

    1. P. Lee Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: @Irongut

      > Me, personally, I want an open, flexible ARM-powered netbook or ultralight laptop with a Pixel Qi display & a honking great battery - something that can run for a long weekend on a single charge. Tablet, schmablet.

      Except a honking great battery means lots of weight, which doesn't fly well with most consumers.

      However, a Transformer-style setup would be great, with extra battery in the keyboard.

      I'd like to see more "add to your x86 setup" systems. Pop them inside your x86 case and hook up your disks to them for always-on file serving via ethernet and run thunderbolt for native disk-speed access for the local x86 host. Could the RPi graphics system be re-purposed for RAID operations?

      A cotton-candy style setup would be fun. AMD could build it into their graphics cards and sell them to intel customers... "Do you really need to power up your i7 PC?"

      It seems that the PCIe format could provide power supply, negate the need for a case, provide SATA cable-length access to mass storage etc.

      It's hard to dislodge incumbants such as intel, I suspect the way to succeed is to offer extra services rather than compete head-on.

  22. Matt Bucknall

    "It’s not entirely clear to me why the Beagleboard is so expensive. Somebody in that Beagleboard value chain has got to be making a pile of money – I mean, $175 for a Pandaboard or $100 for a Beagleboard? Somebody’s got to be amassing a pile of cash there, because that’s a $10 chip in that device. I don’t know why they’re so expensive."

    Someone's been reading too much Dr. Seuss.

  23. Phil Endecott Silver badge

    Three more:

    1. I don' think you mentioned the "PandaBoard", which is a newer T.I. OMAP board similar in most ways to the various BeagleBoards but significantly faster.

    2. The Freescale i.MX53 "Quick Start" board is physically similar to the Panda and Beagle, based on a single-core Coretex A8; its main differentiating feature is that it has SATA.

    3. The "OpenRD Ultimate" is based on a Marvell chip, similar to the various "plug" computers, but does have a VGA output.

  24. robsy

    TrimSLICE - my favourirt

    Been using this for 6 months and think the comments here under play it.

    High performance ARM with Nvidia Tegra2, industrial grade and so small when you consider its power. We ve been developing a digital signage application on a 22" multitouch TFT with TrimSLICE and Android 4.0. Really cool piece of kit

    Oh and i notice you said its from the guys who made the linuxtop. Actually its not. its by the guys who make the equally cool FitPC family whose IntensePC i'm about to buy (i7 ivybridge, fanless, really small). We buy though their UK partner at www.fit-pc.co.uk

    1. Gordan

      Re: TrimSLICE - my favourirt

      TrimSlice is, indeed, quite nice, but no way is it worth 2.5x more than an AC100.

  25. wayward4now
    Linux

    Great read, Liam! And most of them will fit in an Xmas stocking! :) Ric

  26. Blitterbug
    Devil

    Filthy Pictures!!

    Erm... Don't mean to be a moaning minnie but why do you go to the trub of including nice detailed pics with your article, but can't be bothered to actually *clean* the kit first? Do you think the manufacturers will be super chuffed at seeing their product offered up to the public looking like some ancient 1980s-era artifact freshly dragged out of the attic?

  27. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    MKV player ?

    The Sumvision's Cyclone Micro 2 MKV player which is available for under £30 is a cheap alternative box if you can replace the builtin firmware.

  28. Anonymous Noel Coward
    Unhappy

    Some of these pique my interest...

    ...but I watch a lot of anime, and what with the recent transition to Hi10P from h.264 by fansubbers (since they like to use new things), the whole purpose of me buying one of these is pointless since they can't handle it.

  29. thefutureboy

    Minecraft

    So, how many of these can run Minecraft?

  30. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    256MB RAM is not much for running a modern graphical Linux desktop

    I keep seeing this comment here on the Reg. It kind of bugs me to read that given that the PS3 only has 256Mb of main memory and it's completely capable of running Linux + X/Windows. OK, so there is a slight proviso in that large compile tasks sometimes need just a little bit more swap space, often borrowed from unused video memory, but you could just allocate an equivalent amount of disk-based swap and everything's copacetic.

    So--256Mb--it may not be enough for everybody, but it's definitely enough for Linux + X/Windows.

    1. Ramazan

      Re: 256MB RAM

      256MB and even 512MB is not enough if you run WinXP in kvm (1GB and x86 with VME are necessary for smooth run). Without virtualization the main RAM consumer typically is firefox -- 380MB with 20 tabs open...

      1. Gordan

        Re: 256MB RAM

        WinXP? What on earth are you talking about? You do realize this is ARM machines we are talking about, right? You can't run x86 code in KVM on ARM. You'd have to emulate x86 using qemu, which is too slow for any real purpose (it is too slow the other way around, too, i.e. if you are emulating ARM on x86).

        510MB of usable RAM is reasonably comfortable on my AC100 for Firefox and other usual desktop applications. 256MB definitely wouldn't be. Midori tends to use a little less memory than FF to begin with but it seems to be more leaky and eventually it gets worse the FF, plus it's JS support still breaks on a few websites. Chromium is probably the way forward for stability and memory footprint.

        1. Ramazan

          Re: 256MB RAM

          Yes I know about kvm/qemu/bochs and x86/ARM. But I need virtualization for my job, and have some knowledge about its memory requirements. Regarding the virtualizing x86 on ARM, I didn't try that yet, but it _may_ still be faster than constantly-swapping-WinXP-with-10-minutes-to-lauch-HPOVSD on 512MB x86 Linux system.

    2. Gordan

      Re: 256MB RAM is not much for running a modern graphical Linux desktop

      Yes, but is it sufficient for Linux + Xorg + Firefox? Firefox 10 takes 110MB of RAM to load to a blank page on my AC100. On the R-Pi, 64MB gets eaten by the frame buffer, so you have 192MB in total to play with, which means that you have 82MB for the kernel + Xorg + desktop/window manager. That is somewhat on the ambitions side these days.

      Sadly, the days when we could comfortably run X, OpenLook and Mosaic in 16MB of RAM (I was doing so on my Sun 3 series machines, which, I might add, ran in higher screen resolutions than most machines sold today) are long gone.

  31. Testy McTester
    Meh

    No competition.

    The article starts with:

    "The Raspberry Pi – if you can get your hands on one – isn't the only small, inexpensive ARM computer around these days."

    Pity the article didn't mention any ARM computers remotely as cheap as the raspberry pi.

  32. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Now the main problem here is incompatibility

    Each one of those boxes needs a custom prepared Version of Linux. You can't just install Debian or Gentoo on any of those unless the distributions are modified for that particular box.

    What the PC has done right in that respect is to be operating system neutral. Your BIOS includes a tiny piece of code loading the bootloader from disk, as well as routines to access and enumerate what hardware you have. This way you can have any operating system you want on your PC, and it'll simply work. If it doesn't have special drivers for your hardware, it can simply use the routines provided in the BIOS. If it doesn't know what hardware you have, it can simply look it up.

    This is what's missing in the ARM world. A standard "firmware", perhaps based on OpenFirmware or something. Or perhaps something rather more minimalistic. A table of the hardware in ROM, and some primitive routines to access the most important hardware (network, display, input) in its most primitive way as well as a routine to load the bootloader from the mass storage device.

    1. Gordan

      Re: Now the main problem here is incompatibility

      Not true. You only need a machine specific kernel (which will come with the machine anyway). The standard userspace will work fine. For example if you want to run RedSleeve or Fedora, just extract the rootfs to your media with the kernel that came with the board, and it should just work. Once your kernel is booting, everything else is very much generic and interchangeable.

      1. Christian Berger Silver badge

        Re: Now the main problem here is incompatibility

        Yes, but what if I need special feature X like special DVB-drivers? Or what if my userland requires special kernel features?

        1. Gordan

          Re: Now the main problem here is incompatibility

          Same as you would do on any other distro - you rebuild the kernel to include them. Most ARM board vendors will provide a kernel that has most features compiled as modules, similar to what x86 distro vendors do.

          1. Ramazan

            Re: you rebuild the kernel to include them

            DD-WRT, anyone? Some kernels build, some doesn't (OpenWRT even builds on MacOS X, if you mount buildroot on case-sensitive FS). You are at mercy of Some Vendor here. My advice is to only use H/W which has kernel genuinely packaged by Debian or demand complete source and build environment from The Vendor.

  33. Alistair Silver badge
    Linux

    missing hardware

    I want one. Any one of these, but when they toss a second G/e port in there.

    Household firewall is currently a 17 year old "slim" desktop running on a usb stick. It was painful enough getting the old carp to boot off USB but now its down to a stick of ram, a cpu, a dual port nic and a usb key.

    I could happily replace it tomorrow with one of these.

    1. Gordan

      Re: missing hardware

      DreamPlug, GuruPlug and Compulab's SBC-A510 (u-ATX form factor!) all have dual gigabit ethernet ports.

  34. This post has been deleted by its author

  35. HBT

    Ras Pii

    The Raspberry Pi is often touted as the basis of a great, cheap media player. It has a puny CPU, but it's good enough for a UI, and its GPU has hardware decode acceleration for most common video formats.

    Unfortunately they only provide (blob) drivers for accelerating H264. So if you want to play live terrestrial DVB (still mainly MEPG2) via a USB tuner, a physical DVD (MPEG2) via a USB DVD drive, or one of your old XVid/Divx (MPEG4) movies or ISOs (MPEG2) then you're stuffed. The GPU can't do it without the drivers being supplied, and the CPU isn't fast enough for software decode.

    The Foundation *really* needs to get that sorted out. There needs to be a "plus pack" of drivers that allow access to the GPUs ability to decode all of these things in hardware.

    1. Oolons
      Stop

      Re: Ras Pi

      MPEG2 you are correct as there are no drivers since paying for a licence was too expensive-- Xvid defintely not as I've happily played some XVids on it with little problem. XviD is MPEG-4 ASP / MPEG-4 part 2 (H263) so it is hardware accelerated on the Pi. Same goes for DivX but I've not tried it so cannot say for sure. WMV, MPEG2, MPEG1, AVS, VP6, VP7 and RealVideo are not supported - but who cares I always encode into H264 anyway.

      The foundation have spoken about releasing a 'more powerful' version in the future - who knows they may see that a media streamer is a good market and pay for the MPEG2 licence for that bit of hardware.

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