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Linux Computer in USB Key Form-Factor 149

PMBjornerud writes "A start-up located in the French Alps near Grenoble is readying a tiny ARM-based Linux single-board computer (SBC) in a USB key form-factor. Calao's USB-9260 USB key-sized SBC measures 3.3 x 1.4 inches (85 x 36 mm). It is based on an Atmel AT91SAM9260 processor, an SoC (system-on-chip) powered by an ARM926EJ-S core clocked at 190MHz. The SoC targets "advanced applications such as GPS application processors," according to Atmel. Here is a Spec sheet PDF. With a 10/100 Ethernet port, firewall usage springs to mind. Other interfaces are 2 USB host ports and room for an expansion card. Which should allow some creative uses. "
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Linux Computer in USB Key Form-Factor

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  • imagine (Score:3, Funny)

    by trollercoaster ( 250101 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:06PM (#19664205) Homepage Journal
    a beowulf cluster of these!
  • Should be a bit more useful than the Windows-only USB "firewall" dongle that was posted here a while back.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tigerc ( 628630 )
      I think the only advantage of this particular linux usb key is it's size. Otheriwse, the gumstix are a helluva lot more powerful and almost as small (think size of a gumstick). Anyway, gumstix also has a variety of expansion boards. I'm waiting for the gsm module so I can make something off the OpenMoko platform or a cobbled together iPhone.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The Gumstix may have a higher clock, but they use the XScale microarchitectrue. The 926 is the same architecture, but the microarchitecture has superior performance, particularly with regard to memory access. I'd be interested to see real world benchmarks between the devices.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by owlstead ( 636356 )
          It seems this one is quite a bit smaller as well. Furthermore, it has 256 MB flash instead of max 16 for the gumstix I saw. Then again, you can easily upgrade the memory of the gumstix using SD or compact flash. And the gumstix seem to have more options. Of course, it depends on the price as well. The gumstix seem to be pretty sweetly priced, we'll just have to wait for the prices of these.
      • Um. Cobbled together iPhone? I am not aware that gumstix makes touch screens. Or are you planning to add one on via the expansion capabilities and some sort of custom case? If so that sounds like a very interesting project.
        • I think he might mean that he would like to see if he can integrate a modified iPhone as a front end to this as the back end or develoment server (in relationship.)

          I hope that is what he means. I am really curious to see somebody put BSD or Linux on an iPhone, heck I'd chuck $5 to that project if I could find someone with a good track record. Anybody planning to purchase $500 worth of "pretty" and then replace the OS?

          I think it would be awesome to have a server/client system with a stick like this and a m

      • Re:Firewall (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <{atd7} {at} {}> on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @02:12PM (#19666051) Homepage
        Yeah, except that all gumstix products put Ethernet on a daughterboard using a Hirose connector that's a complete non-starter in a severe high-vibration environment.

        This thing still uses an RJ45 connector which means it still can't be used in such a severe environment in its off-the-shelf form, but it's much easier to desolder a connector and solder a jumper cable to something like a MIL-C-38999 and pot the whole thing in epoxy than try to ruggedize those Hirose connectors (hopeless).
    • Re:Firewall (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ringfinger ( 629332 ) * on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:24PM (#19664445) Homepage
      This seems like the ultimate in upgradable technology -- just unplug an old one and plug in a new one. Put this in a car as the on-board computer, then you could pull it out and plug it into another machine to perform diagnostics or upgrade software. This seems extremely useful to me.
    • This device is very exciting to me. One possible application is to put a web server on the embedded device, store the data on its disk, and let people access their data with more organization than a hierarchical filesystem. More ambitious is to implement common applications via Web 2.0 on this web server and let the owner of the device modify the data without needing to use anything more than a browser on the host side. This is very exciting to me.
  • by mulvane ( 692631 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:08PM (#19664223)
    Run Windows Vista?
    • No, to run Fester you need the slightly larger USB ball and chain form factor.
    • Honestly... (Score:5, Funny)

      by AltGrendel ( 175092 ) <> on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:15PM (#19664305) Homepage
      ...I'm not sure anything could.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by laejoh ( 648921 )

        The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into the human imagination.

        The simple truth is that a computer capable of running Windows Vista will not fit into the human imagination.

        There, I fixed it for you :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Penguinisto ( 415985 )

      Run Windows Vista?

      Sure! You just have to plug it into one of the MSFT-recommended expansion packs []...


    • Never mind what OS it runs. What I want to know is if it will include a bottle opener and corkscrew.

      A man's gotta have his priorities.
    • I'm afraid I don't know much about small form factor computers, so bear with me on this one...

      Does anyone know if I'd be able to connect a USB hard drive and a USB soundcard and run musicpd [] on it? I just had to replace my MPD box with a big, ugly, old, but 10 dollar, dell. I really wouldn't mind a small quiet solution.
      • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) *
        > Does anyone know if I'd be able to connect a USB hard drive and a USB soundcard and run musicpd on it?

        Probabaly not. Yes it has the plugs to connect a USB hdd and a USB sound device, and yes you could get power in through the USB plug fairly easy. But this device is clocked a wee bit slow (and has no FPU) to make OGG or FLAC playback very likely. Don't know about AAC. MP3 would probably be good to go though.

        You need to climb the power curve just a wee bit. Go take a look at what has to
      • Back in the days, before modern machines became quieter, I used to rewire my PC fans to reduce the noise. Google for "fan 7 volt" - basically, if you ground the fan to 5V, the noise is reduced by 80% while airflow is reduced by 20%. I made those numbers up, but you get the idea.

        I also used nflushd (probably kflushd these days) to spin down the hard disk.

        I ended up with a silent P90 in the back of my car.
    • by Skapare ( 16644 )

      Have you ported Windows Vista to the ARM CPU?

  • At last! (Score:1, Redundant)

    by syphax ( 189065 )

    A Beowulf cluster that fits in my pocket!
  • by martyb ( 196687 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:18PM (#19664351)

    Just imagine a beowolf cluster of these... Seriously!

    The SBC had TWO usb host slots into which TWO of these could be plugged (back-to-back) and EACH of these could have TWO more! And so on and so on. Sure there'd be power considerations (duh).

    So, more realistically, plug a multiport USB hub into your PC, and plug one of these into each of the ports... instant cluster!

    Yes, I know, there's probably has no _practical_ use like this (190 MHz; 64MB SDRAM), but just for the geekiness of it, I'd love to see someone DO it!

    • by mabhatter654 ( 561290 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:26PM (#19664469)
      It's like a tidied up Gumstix. For small computers those guys rule the market right now. All the power of a WinCE or Palm in a tiny little board. They are missing USB hosting and video for the complete package. But they have Bluetooth and robot servo control... kinda makes up for it.
      • Gumstix now has a PXA270 based board that has USB host. As far as video, I think the best you could probably do is either a USB video device (assuming you can get a driver working) or the onboard LCD controller (which is picky to say the least because LCDs are evil).
      • All the power of a WinCE or Palm in a tiny little board. They are missing USB hosting and video for the complete package.

        All the power of Palm and then some. With 64MB RAM, you can easily run X and forward your programs to yourself from the device if you want images. It would be better to use the device as a data collector and make graphs on your laptop from the results.

        As for a Beowulf cluster, if the power to flops ratio is good that can work.

    • by fbjon ( 692006 )
      I, for one, welcome our new USB stick fractal overlords.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by iabervon ( 1971 )
      Unfortunately for that idea, it's too wide to plug two into adjacent ports on a hub and too tall to plug into adjacent ports on a computer. They need to offer a version with a mini-USB socket for the device end before you can make a cluster of these.
    • by caseih ( 160668 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @01:07PM (#19665059)
      I disagree. I presume the device can run with only power (ie standalone). If so, and if it was cheap enough, stick one of these inside a Linksys WRT54GL case, attach it to an ethernet port, and you have a very nice parental filter dansguardian box. The Linksys itself isn't powerful enough to run dansguardian (not enough ram), but this device has sufficient ram. Or it could be used to augment the capabilities of linksys itself, like to do a PBX, or something.
      • I'm not all that familiar with dansguardian, but have you tried to mount a remote file system into DD-WRT and install the software in that? I've done this so that I can have the router access data on my computer, but haven't done it yet to run any applications.
        • by caseih ( 160668 )
          nope. Doesn't work. I have enough space on the disk (as it were) for dansguardian, but 32 MB of RAM is not enough. chokes and dies loading Apps run fine from a mounted share, though, other than that.
      • by Casca ( 4032 )
        Or just plug a USB wireless adapter into it and chuck the linksys...
        • by caseih ( 160668 )
          Good idea if the cost was low enough. Up until now, that's the big issue. No USB computer key thing can approach the low cost of the linksys. If only they made a linux-based router for under $100 that had expandable RAM (or hard-wired 256 MB or somethinng), and a bit more flash with USB, we'd all be set.
  • by apodyopsis ( 1048476 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:28PM (#19664495)
    With Ethernet on one end, USB2 on the other and stacks of ARM9 power?

    I bet that security researchers turn it into some kind of network analysis tool before I can say "whippit".

    And then the hackers get their hands on it.....

    I bet your there are waaay more uses for a sexy little gizmo like this then the manufacturers realize.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FauxReal ( 653820 )
      I'd like to see one with ethernet jacks on both ends... then it could be an inline analysis tool.
      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
        It has Two USB host ports so you could add two USB Network adapters to it.
        Or you could put a USB network adapter and a USB wifi adapter.
        Or you could put a USB network adapter and USB bluetooth adapter.
        Or you cuuld put a USB network adapter and a USB drive for logging.
        Yep you could use it as an inline analysis tool with no problem.
      • I'd like to see one with ethernet jacks on both ends... then it could be an inline analysis tool.

        Analysis is better done with a tap than a pass though. Why waste processor time duplicating packets when you could spend time analyzing, storing and reporting the results from a tap? You only need a tap to listen.

      • by chill ( 34294 )
        Gumstix Connex [] with a netDUO-MMC [] and you're in business. 64 Mb RAM, bluetooth, dual-Ethernet, MMC slot for storage, 400 MHz -(Intel XScale® PXA255).
  • but does it run... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by saleenS281 ( 859657 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:29PM (#19664517) Homepage
    Opensolaris? No... seriously, does it?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by zergl ( 841491 )
      Assuming your question was seriously serious:

      I can't see how it does, considering there's no Opensolaris for ARM that I know of.
      • ahh, didn't see the ARM, I thought it was powerPC based. There are rumblings of an ARM port in the future, but you are correct in that it has not been done yet.
  • Coming soon (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pestilence669 ( 823950 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:32PM (#19664551)
    These guys have inherited the old BlackDog & K9 platforms. Rather than ARM, it uses a PowerPC core. New models coming soon: []
    • I rather like my BlackDog box. It took a bit of effort to get it to work reliably on Ubuntu, but it works on Windows like a champ. I still haven't gotten it to work on a Mac though.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:34PM (#19664583)
    There is a right way, and a wrong way to do a beowulf post.

    First of all, you do not put the word "imagine", or "beowulf" in the subject line. Your subject line MUST pertain directly to the subject at hand. In this case, the subject is a USB key computer that runs LINUX. It is also important to use the word "these" instead of the word "those".

    I have taken the opportunity to display a properly formatted beowulf post, conveniently reproduced below:

    Subject: USB Key form factor computer

    Imagine a beowulf cluster of these!

  • by Organic User ( 1103717 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:35PM (#19664587)
    Many Israeli companies have been making computer-on-a-stick for quiet a while now. For example, Yoggie [] has been making some running linux to be used for security applications. I pick up a regular computer-on-a-stick for about $40USD 3 years ago in Tel Aviv.
  • by Wakko Warner ( 324 ) * on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:42PM (#19664685) Homepage Journal
    "With a 10/100 Ethernet port, firewall usage springs to mind."

    Maybe if you're retarded. How effective is a 190 MHz computer with a single 10/100 interface?
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I'd imagine it would be possible to make it at least desktop firewall by using the USB ports to connect the device to a workstation; making the device more of a USB network card with an integrated firewall.
    • If you connect a few together through usb you would have more ethernet ports. Also, you could use it as a usb network adapter with a built-in firewall.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by X0563511 ( 793323 ) *
        You realize that USB is the most CPU-intensive bus around?

        You would be better off assigning two IP addresses to two aliases on the device and using the one ethernet jack.
    • It can be done. Good luck doing rule based routing with tk though.

      Anyhow, I was checking this out when it came out on Linux Devices the other day and it's intriguing but it's still more of an embedded device and they don't give you much access to the IO without an additional module that sort of detracts from the small form factor sexiness. I'd like to see something like a DIY Arduino type board based on the chip though.
    • Assuming your switch supports it, you could use 802.11q packet tagging and vlans.
      • by psmears ( 629712 )

        Assuming your switch supports it, you could use 802.11q packet tagging and vlans.
        Got there before me! Though I think you mean 802.1Q. Someone else suggested connecting this thing to a Linksys WRT54G* router as a "network processor". The switch built into the WRT units supports 802.1Q, so the single ethernet interface would not be a problem.
        • I'm thinking it'd make a fantastic low-power transparent 50Mbit (remember the slow CPU) firewall if not for the lack of memory for state tables.
    • by dave420 ( 699308 )
      You seem to be confusing physical and logical networks...
    • Use Ethernet over USB, so the device is used like a USB network card, sitting between you and the network, perhaps?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      It's already been done: []
    • by phorm ( 591458 )
      We used to do it a fair bit where I used to work. One machine functions as a DHCP server and NAT gateway. Since DHCP tells the computer to connect through the NAT box, all connections go in - and out - the same NIC.
    • cluster up two of them ;)
  • Hardhack? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Telvin_3d ( 855514 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @12:51PM (#19664777)
    After seeing this and a few other things tagged with 'hardhack' I decided to find out just what a 'hardhack' is. Turns out that it's a shrub []. Who knew?
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @01:00PM (#19664931)
    Let's see. A computer that can easily be hidden inside your pocket. With a network interface.

    All you need now is a UPS uniform and a target.
  • what versions of Windows will it run?
  • by suitepotato ( 863945 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @01:36PM (#19665509)
    and all you need to use it is another computer to plug it into. (insert giant rolling eyes emoticon here) The Linux world still isn't getting it... Here's your chance to start working on the other stuff like the projection keyboard, 3D sensor for hand movements and gestures, voice recognition, and heads-up displays. Wait, that's all hardware techie stuff and works with Windows as well as Linux. Which means in the next ten years we'll be getting /. stories about how Windows (Whatever) based pocket computers with all of the above are now being made to run Linux.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by iggymanz ( 596061 )
      Linux is already being used in tons of embedded and monitor/control applications, what are you talking about?
    • "and all you need to use it is another computer to plug it into."

      Or a router with USB, hell, a television set with USB. You could probably also use the USB port just to power the device. So then you would have a mini PC with a network interface.
    • by imroy ( 755 )

      The Linux world still isn't getting it...

      Just what is the Linux world? Are you referring to Linux developers? Users? Supporters?

      This is just a company making a product that just happens to run Linux. Stupid troll.

      • Of course, this will eventually lead us, interestingly enough, full circle, back to a dumb terminal on our desk. You sit down at the LCD screen and plug your computer into the USB/Firewire/etc(whatever they develop next) port. And then take it with you when you are done. They already have software that does this(Mojopac and others), but moving it all to hardware would be much better. The I/O port on it could handle the wireless adaptor to hook into the hotspot, of course.
  • At least, the picture of their office is nice !

    I'd like to be able to see a mountain like that when looking at the window.
  • I've been wanting to buy an SBC for some time now, but they are very high. Why buy and SBC when I can get a microATX for a lot cheaper and still be somewhat small.
  • Is it possible to have a computer on a 2 GB USB key?I move a lot and i dont want to carry a laptop for my personal use. The main reason i want a usb computer is to use the internet and avoid having to carry /remember a load of logins/Passwords and have my browser set just so.I wondered if i could have something like ubuntu's live CD but with my tweaks and modifications.

    So the questions i have are this:

    Do most modern BIOS support USB booting?

    Is it possible to fit one on a key that size?

    Which Linux should i i
    • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Wednesday June 27, 2007 @02:24PM (#19666201) Journal
      Saw one at a trade show a couple years back - using one of the dime-sized disks for memory.

      Appears as a drive to the system and launches a full-screen window displaying its own X server's screen buffer when plugged in (to a Windows, BSD, or Linux box).

      Has enough power storage in a capacitor to automatically save state when suddenly unplugged - so you can just pull it out, take it somewhere else, plug it into another box (perhaps with a different underlying op system), and pick up right where you left off (cursor position, keystroke, and all).

      Was intended to be licensed to manufacturers and to sell for $100 for kids to carry between school, library, and home. I think they eventually got a model to market for $125 with a flash drive.

      Don't recall the name right now (a somewhat simian word) but there have been a number of stories about it on Slashdot.

      The one in THIS article isn't it. Doesn't seem to have any mass storage onboard.
    • Why not just put a VM image on a USB keychain? You can get 8GB USB drives pretty cheaply now, which is enough for a reasonable OS install. Reserve 1GB for suspend state, and just suspend the VM on one machine and resume it on the other.

      Another option is to use something like Knoppix with the union mount stuff, so you boot from the Knoppix DVD and then just store the deltas on the USB drive, although this will save less state between migrations.

    • Just for browsing? A hole OS? What about portable applications []? The only problem with portable Firefox [] is that for some reason you cannot use two instances of Firefox at the same time, but otherwise...
    • check out damnsmalllinux. You can set a single usb memory stick to both boot off the stick or run (in emulation) in either Linux or Windows. You can customize it to run all sorts of packages. Running in emulation isn't speedy, but it gets the job done (eventually).

      It's pretty sweet.
    • I do have this setup [], been tested with a 2 GB USB drive, but requires an older computer that has a USB port, and a small hard drive with MSDOS or Windows 3.1, 95 or 98 on it. Works well with 128 MB of RAM, and a 266 MHZ or better processor. None of those computers can boot directly from a USB drive, so we have to have a MSDOS and loadlin setup with a selection menu that comes up, started from the C:\autoexec.bat file.
      You can carry the USB drive around with you, and plug it into a specially prepared computer
  • A Beowulf cluster! Seriously, set it up to communicate over the USB-2 protocol, then just plug it into a hub with as many of these as you can. Then that's plugged into a hub, that's set up the same way, and so on and so forth. Low cooling costs, and you could hypothetically build one in a standard desktop case with room to spare.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.