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ASUS Motherboard Ships With Embedded Linux 216

Posted by Zonk
from the lightweight-wins-every-time dept.
Michael writes "ASUSTek has introduced the P5E3 Deluxe motherboard, which in addition to using Intel's new X38 Chipset also features a soon-to-be-announced technology by DeviceVM. SplashTop is an instant-on Linux desktop environment that is embedded onto this motherboard. Within seconds of turning on the P5E3 Deluxe motherboard, you can boot into this Linux environment that currently features a Mozilla-based web browser and the Skype VoIP client. Browser and VoIP settings can be saved and there are plans for the device to provide new features and support via updates. At Phoronix is a review of this $360 motherboard embedded with Linux and a web browser."
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ASUS Motherboard Ships With Embedded Linux

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  • by Eco-Mono (978899) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @02:22AM (#20885637) Homepage
    YES, IT DOES RUN LINUX.
  • by DavidRawling (864446) <hulk_.yahoo@com> on Sunday October 07, 2007 @02:25AM (#20885659)
    All it's missing is iSCSI support for it to be a diskless yet completely functional desktop. Central storage (and upgrade) of apps, documents and settings, just by mounting the appropriate partitions from a large, fast shared disk array.
  • by SpectreBlofeld (886224) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @02:26AM (#20885661)
    ...Whoa. That is wicked cool. Now, make a lower-end one with cheaper hardware.
    • And switch to LinuxBIOS or OpenBIOS, instead of that 5-minute boot time mandating collection of Phoenix and AMI hackery that is most modern BIOS's. Simply improving the boot time of low end and high end machines will save power and improve uptime noticeably, and make it one heck of a lot easier to tell the BIOS "do not use PXE boot in my secure environment".
  • Use? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kawahee (901497) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @02:27AM (#20885665) Homepage Journal
    What's the point? All it can do is surf the internet and make phone calls. You can't save anything from the internet and you can't mount external media, making it's backup/restore functionality near zip. The author also laments the lack of media playback.

    To me it would be much more logical for a user just to have Linux installed on their hard drive with full functionality. Where's the use in a crippled OS on a motherboard?
    • Re:Use? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @02:44AM (#20885757)
      I'm building a HTPC and I want it to be diskless, or at least no spinning disks. it has 1 fan for the whole pc, so far and if I can eliminate a spindle in the drive and make it solid state, that's ideal.

      even more ideal is instant boot TO linux.

      ultimate: being able to mount samba shares and playback HD content (normal .mpg is fine with me, in HD size) and send to dvi and spdif locally. if you can be 100% fanless and instant on and do all that, I'll pay MORE than its worth. the synergy of all that would be worth it.

      I will look at all solutions that offer a way to avoid a spinning disk drive. for a bedroom or quiet room HTPC, yup, I sure will.

      • Re:Use? (Score:5, Informative)

        by dch24 (904899) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @03:31AM (#20885955) Journal
        Just brainstorming some possibilities for a diskless HTPC:
        • I googled "diskless htpc". This looks promising [viitalat.net]. It doesn't have details, though.
        • Boot from a linux install on a USB thumb drive.
        • Boot from a "Persistent Live USB [ubuntu.com]" (or google for things like "casper" and "casper-rw")
        • Netboot (PXE boot), and set up an NFS root [tldp.org] or SMB root (not sure if SMB root has been done before)
        • Netboot or boot from USB, and run from a ramdrive root. Then even if network goes down, system still has basic functionality (net being down is more of an issue on a home network and an always-on HTPC)
        The other issue is the instant-on behavior. I looked at this a while ago when I was installing a uATX motherboard in my car. I'd say the biggest problem is the time it takes for the BIOS to POST. I timed it at 7 sec. Even when I had my kernel booting in 2 sec. and a GUI loaded in 2 sec. (initng, not loading X, small root partition), the BIOS was taking way too long.

        I'm waiting for better LinuxBIOS and kexec support.
        • I'd assume this motherboard would have something similar to LinuxBIOS to speed it up.
        • My Asus M2N SLI Deluxe motherboard posts in under 2 seconds.

          When I was still using a CRT, the first thing I saw after turning the pc on was grub, halfway through the 10s countdown. Even with my new 22" TFT it's rare for me to even catch a glimpse of the motherboard's POST (or the splash screen covering it anyway). I can be in Windows or Ubuntu within 30s of pressing the power button.

          This is much better than a few years ago when my win2k install broke and started taking half an hour to load.
        • by geschild (43455)
          There are Mobos with an on-board CF-slot, especially in the smaller boards geared towards embedded use. Most of them have shortcomings that make them unsuitable.

          I think the ideal motherboard for a front-end would have:
          - 2D Onboard graphics good enough for HD playback on Linux (Intel G35 chipset might do, with HDCP)
          - wireless (although, now that 'n' seems further and further away I'm unsure...) and gigabit eth.
          - optical out for sound to an external amp.
          - firewire, USB2.0 and if at all possible bluetooth on b
        • by couchslug (175151)
          A CF/IDE or CF/SATA adapter with the Linux distro of your choice is easy to setup, easy to upgrade, and easy to just swap out if you have a second CF card. Works in any recent mobo without spending much cash. You can do Poor Man's Installs of Knoppix or other live CD.

          Damn Small Linux can be installed to CF in a USB cardholder using the install to USB option and then all ya do is toss the card into the the IDE header adapter.(Worked nicely on my PII266 Portege) SATA adapters are available.

          Example: http://www [newegg.com]
      • by datajack (17285)
        You really want to be checking out ITX motherboards then. Running low-powered CPUs with a small form-factor means they doin't look too out of place alongside the TV :)
        Slap mythtv on a server and net-boot minimyth to the ITX box and you are onto a winner. I run that here and love it.
      • by wikinerd (809585)

        I'm building a HTPC and I want it to be diskless

        There are available solid state disks and standard memory drives at 1.8", 2.5", 3.5", and 5.25" sizes, as well as detachable ones (eg ExpressCard) and SSDs on PCI and PCIe cards.

        Smart server admins use em to speed up their databases.

    • by jamesh (87723)
      well... if it had xfs_repair on it, it could save me a lot of mucking around trying to repair the filesystem on an unbootable system (at home), like I did this morning.

      The same result could be achieved with a bootable Disk on Chip though.
    • Re:Use? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @03:27AM (#20885939)

      What's the point? All it can do is surf the internet and make phone calls.
      Surf the internet from a read-only OS. No worries about trojans or key-loggers. Seems like it would be an ideal way to do online-banking and other sensitive types of activities without worry that your system was compromised.
      • by gr8dude (832945)
        I wouldn't promote this as THE most secure way to do online stuff. After all, besides keyloggers and spyware we still have sniffers that can be running elsewhere in the network and monitor the traffic; there is potential for man-in-the-middle attacks (if weak protocols are used), etc.
        • First, at least this takes care of some of the problems (local spyware, etc) - freed from that, you could then easier go focus on what might be sniffing the data on your local network. Second, for the home user that is savvy enough and would pay for this sort of thing for the potential security benefits, they're at _home_ where they might have 2 or 3 other machines on the network, which should be decently easy enough to manage and make sure that they aren't totally compromised...
      • by couchslug (175151)
        "Surf the internet from a read-only OS."

        That's easy to do with a "poor man's install" of Knoppix or other live CD/DVD image.
        Only use "persistent home" if you want to, or choose not to set one up.

        http://www.knoppix.net/wiki/Poor_Mans_Install [knoppix.net]

        SATA/CF adapters as well as the more common IDE/CF adapters let you use a CF card instead of a hard disk. This has been around for a while and there is plenty of info for the Googling.
    • Presumably its good for web applications like those Google Apps or whatever they're called so if you use them to work then you've got all the functionality you need.
    • Re:Use? (Score:5, Funny)

      by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @03:57AM (#20886027) Homepage Journal
      ``What's the point? All it can do is surf the internet and make phone calls.''

      Yeah, that's completely useless.
      • by Joce640k (829181)
        All you need now is a copy of aMSN and you've got a complete system for cybercafes. If you could squeeze in OpenOffice as well you'd have a PC which does everything that a decent percentage of PC owners use their PCs for - and it's instant-on.

        It's amazing what $5 of flash memory can do.

        If this becomes a trend then Microsoft should be very scared.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        This is incredibly useful for hardware that's having installation problems, so you can boot one machine with the Linux and check the console messages on the other with the support staff on the phone, or probe your hardware or network from the Linux to see why your normal boot system isn't working.
    • Where does it say no external media? Unless I'm overlooking something USB is fine for storage for some things, for others you could store things on the network. For example a home theater pc would be fine with loading movies from any machine on your lan and then displaying them on the no moving parts machine out in the living room thats running quiet and lean.

      FWIW, I run linux on my linksys router using USB for storage, it does plenty of useful tasks without ide/scsi/traditional external storage.

      I also have
    • This is obviously intended to allow you to quickly make a phone call or look something up on the net. It is not supposed to be a replacement for your entire operating system. If you want to save files, watch DVDs or run your business software then boot your hard drive!

      I couldn't count how many times I have booted up my computer just to look up a bus timetable, or the TV guide or just check my mail. And how handy would it be to be able to quickly look at the slashdot headlines while your wife goes back to

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)
        Maybe I've been in laptop-land for too long (last desktop I owned was three years ago), but do people really still regularly reboot? I close the lid on my laptop, it goes to sleep. I open the lid, it wakes up and I can start doing things with it as soon as I've entered my password. The only time I reboot is to install updates. Surely desktops can do this by now?
        • Well, desktops have no lid, obviously. But aside from that, you can of course put a desktop to sleep, or even hibernate it - the latter is what I usually do, but it's not enabled in WinXP by default, so you have to fiddle with power management settings to get it running.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DingerX (847589)
      Err... Use?

      This is one of them '38 Mobos. Top-of-the-line. It has all kinds of other fancy bits that can't be used yet either. But think of it:

      A $360 motherboard targets two groups: 1. the price-insensitive freaks who think they'll be getting the best of everything if they shell out a ton of cash, and 2. serious overclockers/hardware hackers/tech geeks.

      Most people in both groups will find it completely useless, right up there with the fourth SATA channel. But some of group (1) will show it off as part of
    • Re:Use? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cabazorro (601004) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @08:02AM (#20886983) Homepage Journal
      Let me explain to you:
      Motherboard A: Out-of-the box -> A splash screen and a message saying: "No Boot Device Found"
      Motherboard B: Out-of-the box -> Browse the web for SPECS, pin-outs, etc or connect to your IS for support.
      Now you get it? It makes more functional. It is not replacing your OS.
    • by hey! (33014)
      I suppose the idea is for a machine that spends most of the time being turned off. If you just wanted to make a skype call or a hit a web page, it'd be convenient. I'd certainly like to see this in a laptop.

      What I'd really like though is to have ClamAV installed on this, with the ability to download the latest database to a USB stick. That would be wicked useful.
  • int 18h (Score:2, Insightful)

    by iamacat (583406)
    This is similar to countless computers that had BASIC in ROM and has the same problems. Sure it's convenient, but what people want to do with computers changes every year while ROMs stay the same. Will this thing support IPV6? Browsing the web over corporate VPN? External network adapter/monitor/scroll mouse? Silverlight?

    Modern hard drives just take a second to read 4GB, a reasonable size for a quckstart Linux partition. And a PC builder can easily include an internal flash drive with hardware write protect
    • Re:int 18h (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mark-t (151149) <`markt' `at' `lynx.bc.ca'> on Sunday October 07, 2007 @02:34AM (#20885711) Journal
      Ideally, it is installed in flash rom, that can be updated under application control, and only requiring a reboot to complete.
      • by Dunbal (464142)
        flash rom

              Flash ROM? Lol. When I was a kid I used to think that ROM meant "Read Only Memory". But does ROM still apply if you can write to it? Flash ROM is an oxymoron if I ever saw one.
        • by Nazlfrag (1035012)
          Write once Read Only Memory - you need to enter a specific flash atate to rewrite it, it normal operation it is ROM first and foremost. Sure, malware authours can hijack the architecture, but really why bother with dozens of winboxen to fulfill your needs.
        • by mark-t (151149)
          Flash RAM, then... are you happy? Man, it's not like it was unobvious what I was talking about.
    • Modern hard drives just take a second to read 4GB

      Look here [wdc.com]: My Raptor 10kRPM SATA drive has a buffer-to-disk sustained theoretical transfer rate of 84 MB/s. Furthermore, this embedded OS is not in true ROM, it's flashable.

  • by Xenna (37238) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @02:37AM (#20885733)
    Considering the name of the company and the (limited) text on their homepage. Wouldn't it be cool to have a motherboard with built in (ROM) virtualization software like Xen? Isn't that what they're really aiming for?

    X.
    • It would, and this is one of the more benign potential uses for a TPM chip; you could configure it to verify the integrity of your hypervisor partition before allowing you to boot; if someone's compromised the hypervisor, don't boot. If each VM image is encrypted with a key stored in the TPM and only released to a non-corrupted hypervisor, you've got a fairly secure system (at least, until someone cracks the TPM).
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Russell Coker (125579)
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NetTop [wikipedia.org]

      I'd like to see something like NetTop (see above URL) implemented in the hardware. Imagine if you could have a Windows session running under VMWare (or similar) and when (not if) it gets rooted use Linux to recover it. NetTop allows doing this now (at moderate expense and some difficulty), if there was a cheap version of the same thing implemented in flash on the motherboard (so it didn't even add to the boot time) then it would significantly increase the security of the
  • Gotcha (Score:5, Informative)

    by DrJimbo (594231) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @02:58AM (#20885817)
    On page 3, TFA says:

    To update Express Gate though you will need to be running Windows on the hard drive in order to run the ASUS utility.
  • Updating the system (Score:5, Informative)

    by ctid (449118) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @02:59AM (#20885823) Homepage
    Sadly, you will have to be running Windows if you want to update the internal environment. From the Phoronix article:

    This SplashTop Browser also includes Adobe's Linux Flash plug-in, so web-sites depending upon Flash will work out of the box. ASUS intends to issue free updates to Express Gate for the P5E3 Deluxe from their website in order to update the browser and enable any additional functionality or new programs. To update Express Gate though you will need to be running Windows on the hard drive in order to run the ASUS utility. The SplashTop Browser we were running was their Community Preview v0.9.0.1 edition.


    I think this is a shame (to put it mildly). Hopefully the specifications for the update process will be published so that a Linux solution can be produced.

    • by Dunbal (464142) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @03:28AM (#20885945)
      Sadly, you will have to be running Windows if you want to update the internal environment.

            (Hunts around for his Windows "live CD"...)
      • I refuse to run Microsoft software. The reasons are many and not worth going into. I won't pirate it, because I'm a software developer whose pay comes from paid-for software, and I won't engage in conduct that I would not tolerate from others. I was intrigued by this motherboard until I saw the Windows requirement. ASUS, you have a potential sale here if you make it usable without Windows, I am tired of waiting for Linux to boot up. I like your stuff, I'm typing on an ASUS system right now.
  • Oh the irony (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Barnoid (263111) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @02:59AM (#20885827)
    This could be very useful for backup/recovery or testing purposes, eliminating the need for a live CD. However, the intended purpose seems to be a completely different one: "With a fast boot-up speed of only 5 seconds, the ASUS Express Gate offers an optional Linux OS boot-up that allows you to enjoy instant access to commonly used functions like accessing the Internet, VoIP, and Web emailing without entering the OS."

    Who would want to boot into a crippled Linux where you cannot mount external drives just to browse the internet or make Skype calls?

    At least it can be updated, so ASUS might provide more functional versions in the future. However,
    from TFA: "To update Express Gate [the embedded linux] though you will need to be running Windows on the hard drive in order to run the ASUS utility."

    Now, that's just great...
    • Re:Oh the irony (Score:5, Informative)

      by houstonbofh (602064) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @03:04AM (#20885843)
      According to the GPL, they will have to release the source code and the tool set. That means a Linux updater, and a custom firmware fairly quickly. Unless they they decide to play fast and loose with the GPL... Or if it is just a pig.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jd (1658)
        Well, a 5 second boot time and a Flash image of Linux matches the specs and description of LinuxBIOS. If that is what they are using, then there is really nothing much for them to release other than maybe some minor patches. I would consider them entirely in compliance with the GPL if they provide their own additions (in full) and how those additions are added, along with a comprehensive set of package names, versions, URLs of master sources, and so on. Actually hosting more than they wrote would seem to be
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by evilviper (135110)

        According to the GPL, they will have to release the source code and the tool set. That means a Linux updater, and a custom firmware fairly quickly.

        Well, you're half right.

        They need to release any modifications they made to the GPL'd free software, but they most certainly don't have to release an "updater" or anything of the sort. In fact they can easily pull a Tivo and use a signature to prevent you from upgrading the firmware at all.
  • How much? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @03:25AM (#20885927) Homepage
    $360? OUCH!!!!

    Because of the price, this mobo will be a total flop. Unless you're an overclocker, most PC builders want a simple board that still provides the latest in North/South bridge technologies. No WiFi, no super mega 7.1 audio, no dual nics, no on-board video. None of that crap matters in our market. If we really wanted all of those features, we would purchase a thin client PC from Dell which includes a nice warranty should any of those on-board features fail.
    • Re:How much? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FranTaylor (164577) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @03:57AM (#20886031)
      You really demonstrate your ignorance of the market. There are a lot of motherboards out there that cost this much and more. If they were flops they wouldn't keep selling them. The market is splintered all over the place, which is why we have cheeseball motherboards for duffers like you and fancy ones for people who want fancy features without using up all the internal slots. "our" market is really "your" market. And last I checked, motherboards come with warranties, too.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DigiShaman (671371)
        There's a market for them because they obviously sell. But when I'm talking about "our" market, I'm talking about the Slashdot crowd. I will almost guarantee that most people here do NOT want an "all-in-one" board.

        These all-in-one boards are for two types of people. The first type are for overclockers that want all those extra tweaking features found only with these type of boards. The second type is for entry-level PC builders. No serious enthusiast will DARE build one with the idea of actually using these
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Hey, I'm a 3-or-4 mobo a year kinda guy myself, and I like all-in-ones because when they get demoted from my primary system, they get stripped of all the cool gear. The more built-in crap they have, the closer they are to finding a new (albeit lesser) role in my computing world.

          There! Now you've learned a new idea! Chill the fuck out!!
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by notthe9 (800486)
            You don't frequently buy your other cool gear? Why do you need to replace your motherboard every three months? You are happy using last year's sound card and video card on your cutting-edge motherboard?

            As for chilling, I think we could all use a little bit.
        • by Aladrin (926209)
          I'll bite: You don't know what the fuck you're talking about.

          This may be an all-in-one board, but it's got something that no other all-in-one board has ever had: Linux on the chip. Geeks everywhere are already trying to figure out how to get one of these so they can tinker with the onboard Linux and build that little dream system they've been contemplating for years. The very fact that people have been posting (on THIS website) their hopes that this would happen is proof enough that price of the first v
        • Oh, I think you're mistaken. Vendor supported fast boot times are a big deal, and "all-in-one" boards are useful for educational markets or corporate markets where desktop systems wind up running as servers.
      • the boards that cost more are sever boards and $360 + DDR3 ram will kill it also they can drop the USB based wifi on it.
    • Sounds great for Internet cafes though. No need to look down the computer using software (that can be circumvented, often by simply installing Firefox >:D), it comes preinstalled. Although there'd need to be some timer or something for it to be truly useful in such instances.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      a thin client PC from Dell which includes a nice warranty when any of those on-board features fail.

      There, I fixed it for you.
    • by LuSiDe (755770)

      $360? OUCH!!!!

      Agreed.

      Because of the price, this mobo will be a total flop. Unless you're an overclocker, most PC builders want a simple board that still provides the latest in North/South bridge technologies. No WiFi, no super mega 7.1 audio, no dual nics, no on-board video. None of that crap matters in our market. If we really wanted all of those features, we would purchase a thin client PC from Dell which includes a nice warranty should any of those on-board features fail.

      I disagree. WiFi could be very us

      • That's list price. I can't even remember the last time I paid even close to list price for computer gear. I shop carefully and usually pay about half of list. Half of $360 is quite reasonable for this board.
    • As a guy who is working on web based applications I can say this is a great thing. It has a browser on bootup? I wonder if it has SSL support, a PDF viewer and print drivers installed also?

      If I were selling (POS) web deployed canned solution, these would make great guts for the terminals to connect to the server, one dies, you replace the MB and re-configure the settings - back in business.

      I don't think it may appeal to the power user crowd as a their primary computer but as a disk less or at least a pret
  • two possibilities (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Verte (1053342) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @03:28AM (#20885947)
    I wonder if the ability to mount other media is restricted in the BIOS or the actual system.

    If it is the latter, and since the system can be updated from a running OS, it should be possible to put your kernel, servers and window manager in the flash and have most of your operating system boot instantly. And I have no doubt that if that is the case, some very clever person who was given one of these will work out how to do just that. Given that this does use a Linux kernel, it shouldn't be too hard to get source for any hardware specific issues you might find in booting from this.

    Otherwise, this is pretty boring. There has been software available to, say, play media without booting into your operating system for ages.
    • by BrookHarty (9119)
      Kinda nice idea, go grab the latest drivers or read a forum if you have an issue with a driver.

      No driver bootup with instant web access, wish I had that in the past myself... Wonder if the stripped down firefox runs java apps, for web based ssh terminal.

      Sounds cool to me, wouldnt use it much, but nice feature when you need it.
  • LinuxBIOS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Sunday October 07, 2007 @04:03AM (#20886061) Homepage Journal
    So how does this compare to LinuxBIOS?

    I'll start:

    LinuxBIOS:

      - More capabilities, freedom to tinker
      - Less expensive hardware
      - Usually not supported by vendor, doesn't work with lots of motherboards
  • In a way it is sad to see a motherboard which is so close to offering built-in system rescue and system installation help.

    If the onboard OS could write to the harddrive or at least a USB stick, this would be perfect for downloading latest drivers prior to performing a Windows installation. Especially network drivers which always seem to create a Catch 22 on newer motherboards (you have to have network drivers installed in Windows if you want to download network drivers). A direct link to the drivers for thi
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mok000 (668612)
      I agree... so close, but no cigar.

      I would like to see a bunch of Linux disk utilities like parted, fsck, dd, etc., hardware diagnosis programs like memtest86, benchmarking software, security auditing, etc. All the stuff we usually have on a Live-CD Linux system.

      I guess the webbrowser is useful, and so is Skype in case you need to make a call to a support hotline.

      And finally, why not LinuxBIOS instead of Megatrends?
  • I bought an IBM (server) motherboard last year which has a Linux kernel (and even an X window manager) in the BIOS. The downside is that if I plug in a PCIe video card instead of using the on-board graphics controller, the X gui fails to start and I have no way to check or change the settings.

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