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Linux Wall Warts Small On Size, Big On Possibilities 316

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the yes-have-some dept.
davidmwilliams writes "Every geek and technology lover will undoubtedly have stumbled across online adverts for tiny headless Linux-powered devices that are barely larger than the power point they plug into. What can you actually do with them? Plenty, it seems!"
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Linux Wall Warts Small On Size, Big On Possibilities

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  • 3 pages? (Score:5, Informative)

    by RevRagnarok (583910) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:52PM (#33280032) Homepage Journal
    Did it really need 3 pages? Nope. [itwire.com]
  • Wall warts? (Score:2, Informative)

    by joeflies (529536) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:53PM (#33280046)

    Not a particularly attractive name overall, but I decided to search the web to see if it's in common usage. Turns out that it's only used in reference to AC adapters, not as all-in-one computers. In fact, the first reference to the term as it relates to a mini computer is this very article. So it looks like they're making up their own lingo.

  • Re:Wall warts? (Score:4, Informative)

    by iceperson (582205) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:01PM (#33280168)
    My google-fu > than yours apparently...
    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=linux+wall+wart [lmgtfy.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:02PM (#33280200)

    Plug computers are widely overrated. For the same price you can get a cheap home oriented NAS box like http://www.lacie.com/us/products/product.htm?pid=11384 [lacie.com] with 1TB of storage that can be reflashed http://lacie.nas-central.org/wiki/Main_Page [nas-central.org] to do whatever you want.

  • by Zerth (26112) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:06PM (#33280254)

    They're still working out the bugs and they take months to ship(bill your credit card right away though). They said 2-3 months to go for a hardware fix for the Guruplug+'s overheating problem when using GigE, other than "use them at 10/100".

    Sheevaplugs have gotten better though, the capacitors don't pop anymore, but both of them benefit from removing the 5v power and putting it in it's own box. Which doesn't entirely defeat the point, but it is a little aggravating. Still, unless you like paying now for flaky hardware from a company that has zero customer support and enjoy resoldering your power supply, buy one of the more commercial ones.

    PS, I rather like mine, I'm just lowering your expectations so you might like what you get, if you still buy from Globalscale.

  • Don't forget Puppy (Score:2, Informative)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:06PM (#33280264) Journal

    From the article:

    Linux does the job admirably, with even the most full-featured distro like Debian being able to slot into the flash memory provided you're economical with what you install (scrap Gnome and KDE for starters!). Or Damn Small Linux and other distros of its ilk will do the job just fine too.

    They always forget Puppy, which is a heck of a lot easier to use than DSL. Puppy can fit in as little as 32 megabytes with a full desktop even a kid could use.

    .....and 512Mb DDR2 RAM.

    Woah. I feel like I stepped into the Nintendo and Sega wars. 512 megabits == 64 megabytes in normal human parlance. i.e Twice as much as I have in my old Windows98 laptop and equal to what was in my OS 9 mac.

  • by Abstrackt (609015) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:09PM (#33280304)

    I'll wait for Apple to release the iPlug.

    I swear I saw one of those at a sex shop once.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:13PM (#33280360)

    I actually RTFA because I'm interested in these things... And found it a total waste of time. Let me summarize everything in it:

    The small and cheap, low-power computer that you plug directly into the wall is actually a small and cheap, low-power computer. It has USB 2.0 (as can be clearly seen in all pictures of the device). You can install linux on it and do stuff that such a linux computer could obviously be used at: File storage, run FTP server, run apache, use it as SSH gateway... That's about the list of ideas mentioned in TFA.

    Did anyone here actually find new information (okay, 3rd page has a bit of technical specs. Nothing unexpected, nothing that would have taken more than 2 minutes to google) or ideas in the article? If so, what were they? If I missed something essential, my bad... But this seems to contain zero information. Especially to someone who already has interest to such devices (obviously, if you've never heard of these "wall warts" ((Okay, I hadn't heard that name being used for these devices before)) before, everything there was new. Though I still believe that running ftp server or ssh gateway would have been about the first things you would have thought of yourself, too).

  • Re:Wall warts? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:14PM (#33280364) Homepage Journal
    Musicians(well, electric instrumentalists) know the term from the AC adapters [ebay.com] used to power their effects pedals.
  • by Anaerin (905998) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:16PM (#33280400)
    You're probably thinking of the OhMiBod. Really. OhMiBod. I swear you can't make this stuff up. (And thanks to Engadget for informing me of this particular device's existence, before you ask how I know about it).
  • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:20PM (#33280452)

    Plug computers are widely overrated. For the same price you can get a cheap home oriented NAS box like http://www.lacie.com/us/products/product.htm?pid=11384 [lacie.com] with 1TB of storage that can be reflashed http://lacie.nas-central.org/wiki/Main_Page [nas-central.org] to do whatever you want.

    If you don't need the storage as much as you need the always-on/low power processing, you can get a WRT54-based router that can be relfashed with Tomato [polarcloud.com] or DD-WRT, then you can install optware [nslu2-linux.org]. The Asus WL-500G has enough guts to run Asterisk while still doing its primary purpose. Or maybe a cvs, svn or other repository. All for maybe half the price of the Sheevaplug. And much more available. Of course, it doesn't have the wall wart form factor, for good or bad. And it's not quite as discreet, if that's a requirement.

  • by bored (40072) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:29PM (#33280574)

    I own a few of these devices. My first one has a eSATA port that I connected to a 5 bay sata port expander. That has been my network DHCP/DDNS/fileserver/printspooler/VPN endpoint/etc for a while now. The problem is that its hard to justify when compared with the recent firewall/wireless devices that have USB ports for exactly this reason. Sure I can get ~60MB/sec, absolutely outrunning anything attached via USB, but it cost about 3x as much to get there compared with just purchasing a $70 netgear and plugging in a dual drive USB raid array.

    Plus, these things _REQUIRE_ hacking to get them to do a lot of stuff. I wasted days of my life trying to figure out why the JTAG interfaces didn't work as documented, or trying to boot kernels that didn't come with the devices. Or even consistently boot off USB instead of internal flash. This would be fine, except they are hardly open devices. Much of the time wasted turns out to be endless reverse engineering closed portions of the device. Marvell publishes a fair amount of the documentation for them, but I quickly found, time and time again, that the information I needed wasn't available.

    So, In the end, for low level stuff things. The AVR butterfly an similar devices are far better hacking platforms, and on the higher end its hard to ignore the atom nettops or dozens of very nice single board computers that are far more powerful for not much more money.

  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:31PM (#33280588) Homepage Journal

    Not really.

    The biggest advantage these have over cheap NAS boxes is bang for the buck in terms of horsepower. The Lacie NAS appliances you mention come with 400 Mhz processors at 16 MB of RAM.

    The SheevaPlug and GuruPlug each come with a 512 MB of RAM and 1.2Ghz processor. Also, GuruPlug has 802.11g WiFi capability in addition to the wired Ethernet connectivity.

    And I say this as an owner of a reflashed Linksys NAS 200, which not only serves files, but also serves as a print server for my network [blogspot.com], a capability that Cisco/Linksys doesn't include in the box.

  • by Anon E. Muss (808473) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:57PM (#33280938)

    Does anybody know of a similar device that includes Homeplug?

    No, unfortunately. There also aren't any plug computers that can run off POE (Power Over Ethernet).

    Being small and cheap is a key part of plug computers appeal. There are many technologies that would go well with a plug (e.g. WiFi, Homeplug, POE, USB, ESATA, RS232, RS422, I2C, etc.), but including them all would be size/cost prohibitive. The manufacturers have to make a judgment call about where the "sweet spot" lies. The result is often a "one size fits nobody" situation, where the plug is 90% right for your application, but the missing 10% is a deal killer. Building a custom plug is impractical at low volumes.

    P.S. I bought a Shevaplug last year. I had no idea what I'd do with it, but it sounded cool. Honestly, I still don't know what to do with it. Luckily I can afford to blow ~$100.

  • by Sancho (17056) * on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:58PM (#33280952) Homepage

    Stay away from Guruplug. They're sold with two gigabit NICs, but if you use them both at gig speeds, the Guruplugs overheat. Heck, mine exhibits the same syptoms (gets very hot and reboots) using one NIC at gig speeds while also maxing out the eSATA connection.

    Originally, Globalscale had this to say:
    http://plugcomputer.org/plugforum/index.php?topic=1735.msg12392#msg12392 [plugcomputer.org]

    Now, they say that the plugs aren't designed for this kind of use, and that they will sell "Professional Upgrade Kits" to let you use the devices in this way. Worse, to me, they're essentially rewriting history here. The forum post accurately quotes the original announcement dated 7/17/2010. The page now only shows an announcement 7/5/2010 mentioning what they are "designed" for and about the sale of the upgrade kits.

    Frankly, I'm shocked that the units were sold with 2x1Gb NICs, but weren't tested using them and that they're considered "not designed to be used together." It's asinine that they would pull this crap.

  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:14PM (#33281152) Homepage Journal

    That's the GuruPlug Plus. The standard GuruPlug includes only 1 Gb NIC.

    The "professional upgrade kits" are just a microfan and a wiring harness. You could just as easily mod the GuruPlug Plus with a 3rd party fan and drilling a few holes in the case, etc.

    Or just lock one of the NICs at 100 Mb, as the announcement suggests, if you need 2 NICs and don't need them both to be GigE, as in the case of building a router. Or if you're building an iSCSI target and need the 2 GigE ports for speed by using channel bonding, then just add the fan.

    I don't really see the big deal except that I do find Globalscale's announcement change to be a bit deceptive, as the original announcement promised that they would be adding the professional upgrade kit to all future GuruPlug Plus units that started shipping as of August and now they've reneged on that deal and covertly altered the notice.

  • by Sancho (17056) * on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:22PM (#33281270) Homepage

    That's the GuruPlug Plus. The standard GuruPlug includes only 1 Gb NIC.

    I'm standing by my statement to stay away--actually, from anything they produce. How much testing could they have done if they didn't notice this issue? What's the point of having a "plus" version that upgrades the slower NIC to Gb if you can't use them both together?

    I'm not much of a hardware hacker or maker--I'm a software guy. So I'm not really excited about modding it myself with a third-party fan. I'd much rather have the professional upgrade kit--which is 3-4 months away according to the "new" press release. Worse, I'm outside of the return period, so I can't even wash my hands of this and send them back.

    I know I'm grousing a lot, but I really see this as highly deceptive. They sell a "plus" version that doesn't work, promise a fix, then sell you a fix long after the return period has elapsed for a big chunk of your customers.

  • by Andrew Ford (664799) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:26PM (#33281328)
    I have had 4 SheevaPlugs. Two died on me, one was replaced and the other I had to buy a replacement PSU. They are touted as plugging into a wall socket, but if you do that they are pretty precarious, and if you plug them in via a power cable, then they don't stack nicely. I prefer the PC Engines Alix boards (http://pcengines.ch/alix.htm) - based on the AMD Georde with 255MB of memory they seem to be as fast as a SheevaPlug (I read somewhere that the Kirkwood processor only has a 16-bit data bus whereas the Geode has a 32-bit data bus). The Alix systems have a nice Aluminium case and run cool and sweetly - a German company nrg-systems.de, sells cases that will take a 2.5" hard disk, which draws an extra 2 Watts above the 8-10 Watts that the base system uses. I have 3 Alix systems: one as my firewall, one running my Asterisk PBX and the other running Exim, Dovecot, NFS, Samba, etc. The three systems together draw less than 30 Watts, replacing a pair of 150 Watt tower systems that ran 24x7 saving enough on my electricity bill to pay for themselves in just over a year.
  • Using these now (Score:4, Informative)

    by jimmyswimmy (749153) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:28PM (#33281356)

    I'm using these devices now for R&D work. We started with the Sheeva plug, now the Guru plug. The devices are okay. If you are looking for a COTS general purpose computer, the price, size and capability cannot be beaten. If you have more specific needs, particularly consumer needs where you can give up size as a constraint, there are many other cheaper alternatives.

    That said, if you open up one of these devices, the thickness of the "wall wart" is half power supply, and a lot of the space is allocated to thermal design (heat sink, space for airflow). If you don't need their (crappy) power supply, replace it with a 5 V DC-DC converter and you can run it in your car or in your custom R&D device like we are. Very few low cost (small, low power) GigE devices exist now. These are just about the only ones. Downside is that there is NO support (oh, I'm sorry, "community support"... not okay for corporate use). You have to go it alone if you want to do something that nobody else has done.

    Globalscale (makers of the Sheeva/Guru plugs) are supposed to be releasing a GuruPlug "Display" device which has an HDMI port. It sounds cool, but based on my experiences buying the "Server" version on spec, wait until it is not just vaporware. They said that the "Server" version would include some things that aren't actually pinned out (so if you want, say, an I2C interface, you have to be prepared to go digging around on the circuit board, then you might have to deal with building a custom kernel, then you might have to pray on your knees before the dark god of fab, etc.).

    And forget about using this as a portable device. Power draw is low but it still sucks down the juice if you're using it do actually do anything. And the ARM5 core does not, as I recall, support floating point operations, so they're emulated (at reduced speed). And last but not least you're going to be cross-compiling everything, or hooking up a hard drive so you can install a precompiled gcc and making less-common things from source.

    All in all, are these show-stoppers? No. I'm still using a few of these for various jobs, like one which is going to go get pelted around in the ocean, and they're great if you can withstand the negatives. I have $200 worth of batteries to run it and a custom kernel build (and a separate board for the I2C interface, thanks a lot you jerks at Globalscale)... took a while to get going but it mostly does the job.

  • Re:oh man (Score:3, Informative)

    by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmytheNO@SPAMjwsmythe.com> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:31PM (#33281402) Homepage Journal

    Don't forget your fingerprints on the box, both the virtual ones (like coding practices, notes, and hostnames) and real ones like physical fingerprints on the outside of the box.

        You may have a hard time sniffing for traffic on a good switched network. All you may see is broadcast traffic. If you can gain access to the switch itself, you could set up a monitor port and listen to various things. Open file shares are a bit obvious, but not always useful if they have anything resembling security practices (i.e., password protected shares). A bit of brute force may work wonders, even with just a dictionary file.

        It could result in a waste of a little spy box, or a goldmine for stolen data. Of course, if you use the stolen data, it may (and likely will) come back to haunt you. Best case, you'll end up in civil court. Worse case would be you end up in criminal court with a serious conviction, jail time, and more fines than you'll ever be able to pay. Worst case, you stole from the wrong folks, and your mutilated body is found years later. The coroner's report may read something like "The victim died peacefully, after all his minor extremities were removed with common hand tools, every rib was broken through blunt force trauma, skull fractures were caused by what appeared to be a baseball bat, and then he drowned while wearing cement shoes."

        Hacking is all fun and games, until you end up dead. Those are the cases we rarely hear about, but I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss them as impossible.

  • Re:oh man (Score:3, Informative)

    by SethJohnson (112166) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:40PM (#33281518) Homepage Journal
    I know you're probably aware of this solution, but I'll throw it out there anyway. Several vendors are selling low-power set-top boxes that support torrent downloads to attached or internal media. These run linux and can also deliver 1080p media to your TV from a wide array of file formats.

    I recently purchased the Patriot Box Office [anandtech.com] for $65 (with rebate) off NewEgg's site. It's not without it's problems, but it performs most of its responsibilities reliably. It also works as a NAS, though without many permissions options.

    I'd get three more of these before I'd waste any money on a walwart linux box. These settop boxes are just as hackable, plus they have hardware video chipsets.
  • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:51PM (#33281680) Homepage Journal

    To clarify, the Standard only has 1 NIC, not one 1 Gb NIC + 1 100 MB NIC.

    I still wouldn't hold Globalscale's (who is a retailer/distributor for the devices, they are not the device's manufacturer) against the hardware device itself. I'd certainly say that the manufacturer didn't do adequate testing, but do understand that at around $100, these are the cheapest things available with this much horsepower. I know, I've been researching small embedded general-purpose Linux devices for about 3 months now, because I think the GuruPlug would be an ideal candidate for mesh networking.

  • by Fjandr (66656) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @06:07PM (#33281886) Homepage Journal

    You've got a router that has 512MB of flash and 512MB RAM for $20? Almost all consumer-grade routers choke on anything more than the most non-demanding tasks. Hell, a good portion of them choke if you actually try to run full-speed traffic on all of their ports in more than small bursts.

  • by ncc74656 (45571) * <scott@alfter.us> on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @06:08PM (#33281896) Homepage Journal

    Not to mention half the applications for something of this size are equally well filled by a reflashed OpenWRT wifi access point you can fish out of a dumpster for free. You don't need 512M of flash/ram to run an ssh gateway.

    I'm kinda wishing I had more than the 16 MB (IIRC) that's in my WRT54GL, though...blocklists implemented as iptables rules need a bit more RAM than that. The model with a couple of GigE ports looks like it'd make a decent router.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @06:24PM (#33282090)

    I got a sheeva plug ($100) (running ubuntu) connected to 2 ($115x2) Iomega Prestige 1.5 TB USB in RAID0 on EXT4 via Belkin USB 2.0 4-Port Ultra Mini Hub ($7) in the home office
    on the room i got a Western Digital WD TV ($100) which connects wireless to the sheeva plug on the office via 2 Linksys WRT54GL ($60x2)
    this 2 routers are connected as WDS nodes so i have coverage all around the house, pretty close to $560 the setup but they are pretty low on energy consumption

    use wtorrent to download torrents and files can be accessed via samba from the computers or wdtv

  • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @06:57PM (#33282374) Homepage

    You could also get an ALIX board... they're comparable in cost and offer a lot more networking functionality; they're x86 boards and have much more processor and RAM than anything near the WRT54 stuff. They'll run a small to medium network's gateway device (running pfSense) with several VPNs, even - no problem.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @07:01PM (#33282396) Homepage Journal

    In conjunction with some powered USB hubs, some cheap A/D->USB devices ($50 per 8 channels) [dataq.com], and some hacked-together AC current probes [cappels.org], a power monitoring system for every line into your breaker box.

  • by skids (119237) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @08:28PM (#33283160) Homepage

    Well, OK, since there's so much interest: hit a dormitory or college-catering apartment complex dumpster when the kids are moving out for the summer. Thar's gold in them thar hills!

    Seriously, though, you folks have a hard time coming by old APs for free? I've accumulated 3 without even trying.

  • by White Flame (1074973) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @09:54PM (#33283828)

    My N800 only draws 5W max at the plug. IIRC my "ancient" Jornada 720 does as well. I've been planning to repurpose my N800 as an always-on wireless server once I get a replacement handheld. You can get last-gen handhelds in a similar price range as these plug computers.

  • by jabjoe (1042100) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @04:29AM (#33285498)
    They don't require hacking, it's optional. Unless you count sshing into a Ubuntu box to configure it as hacking...... I moved mine from Ubuntu to Debian, and the guide for doing so is pretty clear: http://www.cyrius.com/debian/kirkwood/sheevaplug/ [cyrius.com] I had a small issue, probably of my own making, but I solved it and learnt more about uBoot in the process. I don't what problems you had with the mini USB JTAG, again it's clearly documented. It is much much much more powerful then the 8bit AVR butterfly. A much better hack project to point people at is BeagleBoard (which now can run XBMC).
  • Re:Wall warts? (Score:4, Informative)

    by hellop2 (1271166) on Wednesday August 18, 2010 @05:27AM (#33285768)
    This has been covered on slashdot before. 1.5 years ago.

    $100 Linux Wall-Wart Now Available [slashdot.org]

    +4 Informative? More like Uninformative.

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