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Linux Wall Warts Small On Size, Big On Possibilities 316

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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  • oh man (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:50PM (#33280006) Homepage

    Firewalls, Torrent Slaves, Front end for a "remote desktop" style connection, small traveling computer for a hotel that has a flat screen, etc.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Kepesk ( 1093871 )
      I'd like to see one with MythTV [] built into it. Plug it into the wall, give it a coax cable in, HDMI and USB out for monitor and keyboard, and off you go. Take your DVR anywhere.

      Sure, the technology isn't quite there to do that cheaply, but it certainly wouldn't be expensive currently to build one that just connects to a wireless network and outputs Hulu.
      • by tepples ( 727027 )

        Plug it into the wall, give it a coax cable in

        And get only local channels. Everything else needs a CableCARD.

        • "And get only local channels. Everything else needs a CableCARD."

          Well...I can scan the cable, and find all the local channels on HD. But for analog, I still get all of the expanded basic channels...and I've heard tale, that some people can do this with only paying for a cable internet connection, and just tap in and get all these 'free' tv channels.

          So, you get local programming this way...and for special shows, well, that's what DVD's are for, and I've also heard tale that many things like this can be do

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Alamais ( 4180 )
            Not for long. As predicted, the Cablecos have already started nixing analog 'expanded basic'. As soon as the OTA digital switch was over (and thus their opportunity to claim that "you won't need to switch anything with cable!!!!!!"), they start dropping analog asap. My mom just switched to satellite, since now the only thing she could pick up from Comcast on her (old, non-HD) tv was local channels, and the cost to upgrade to digital made satellite a much better deal.
    • Re:oh man (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:26PM (#33280522) Homepage Journal

      Torrent Slaves

      I wonder ... if somebody made an image with a self-registering Tor relay* that looked at the TCP congestion control state and throttled dynamically ... and then people started dropping $100 on these and plugging them in to random office buildings where a free data jack and power outlet were available - how many of them would still be operating after a couple years?

      * I know you said 'torrent slave', but it gave me the idea

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        And I wonder, if you went into random office buildings and plugged some of these in, programmed to connect out to your master server (through their NAT, etc) sniff traffic, scour the local intranet and file shares and generally do some spying and acting as a jump point for your hacking, how many of them would still be operating after a couple years?

        * I know you said 'tor relay', but it gave me the idea

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by JWSmythe ( 446288 )

          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 secu

      • by cynyr ( 703126 )

        places have ports enabled that are not is use/conspicuous?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      >>>Torrent Slaves

      Ooops read my mind! It would save a lot of money to have a 5 watt Torrent-downloading plug to download my favorite TV shows,* versus leaving my ~150 watt computer running all the time. Some quick math: 0.140 kilowatt * 24 * 365 * 12 cents per KWh == about 140 dollars saved.

      Okay maybe not a lot of money. In fact: Never mind. I'll just use my laptop to save electricity. ;-)

      * Trivia - 5 watt is the US-enforced maximum wattage allowed on Digital TV converter boxes.

      • by SQLGuru ( 980662 )

        That $140 saved is enough to pay for itself in 1 year. And that lets you keep your laptop as a laptop.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by SethJohnson ( 112166 )
        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 [] 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 perm
    • by drsmithy ( 35869 )

      Firewalls, Torrent Slaves, Front end for a "remote desktop" style connection, small traveling computer for a hotel that has a flat screen, etc.

      Firewalling with only a single NIC is difficult when most consumer level switches don't support vlan tagging.
      You're not going to be torrenting much with that little computing power and especially that little storage.
      Not sure what a "remote desktop" style connection is that can't be done just as easily with a port forward or something like TeamViewer.

  • Two Words (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 0racle ( 667029 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:52PM (#33280026)
    Hidden Cameras.
  • 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. []
    • 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).

      • by skids ( 119237 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:20PM (#33280456) Homepage

        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.

        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          a reflashed OpenWRT wifi access point you can fish out of a dumpster for free

          How? I tried a Google search for how to dumpster dive for access points but it didn't help

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ncc74656 ( 45571 ) *

          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 sorak ( 246725 )

        For someone who does not have an interest in such devices, it has little information either.

        Yes, it can do any Linux server task, in a way that is slightly more green than repurposing an old pc, and, yes, it is smaller as well.

        There's your article. Tack some technical specs on the end.

      • by SQLGuru ( 980662 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:39PM (#33281512) Journal

        My best ideas are to pair them with some old LCD screens and do something like this: []

  • Wall warts? (Score:2, Informative)

    by joeflies ( 529536 )

    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.

    • by Maarx ( 1794262 )

      Everything is wrong about this article. I love /. and Linux as much as the next guy, but this article starts out defining it's own terminology, then reads like an advertisement for SheevaPlug, and then wraps up with... not much.

      I hate to be this guy, but I don't understand why this is on /.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SnarfQuest ( 469614 )

      these devices are the same size and shape as many of the transformers used to power such things as laptops and video games. If you didn't know they were a complete computer, you'd be looking for the device that it was powering. The only difference you can see is that instead of a power cable going to some device, you have a network cable going into a router.

      Since they look like a "wall wart", it isn't that surprising that they get called by the same name. These things are SMALL.

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

      by iceperson ( 582205 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:01PM (#33280168)
      My google-fu > than yours apparently... []
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Wall warts are just any unattractive thing that takes up space on you power outlets (ala warts). Big AC adapters are the usual, but I think these will fit the bill if they hang off the wall.
    • Not a particularly attractive name overall, but I decided to search the web to see if it's in common usage

      The wall wart conjures up something that is hot, bulky, won't fit on my UPS or power strip - or takes up a socket I need for something else.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Musicians(well, electric instrumentalists) know the term from the AC adapters [] used to power their effects pedals.
    • 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 []

      +4 Informative? More like Uninformative.
  • No wireless? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by slaxative ( 1867220 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:53PM (#33280056)
    After reading the article I am rather surprised there is no wireless interface. They could have saved one more cable.
    • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )

      It does have WiFi, but some people want to use it as a wireless gateway/AP/provide more throughput than WiFi can provide.

  • by IICV ( 652597 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:56PM (#33280098)

    Isn't this like the billionth Slashvertizement for SheevaPlugs? They're neat and all, but I think at this point everyone here knows about those things. I'll probably get one if I can ever think of a use for it.

    • by CdBee ( 742846 )
      Prior commenters on an earlier discussion suggested that a sheevaplug is best used as a room heater as they have a surprising capacity for overheating. Who'd have thought that putting a modern PC architecture into something the size of a power adapter might cause issues.....
    • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

      Yeah, seriously. Enough!

      OK, they're cool devices. But they've been around for, what, a year+ now? They promised they'd be coming down to the $50 price range "real soon now"; likewise with newer versions. I'm not seeing them, are you?

      Meh. $100, is it? I think I'll pick up oh, any number of low-end components for that price which will still do the job.

      $100 with eSATA or two NICs? Then we'll talk. ARM manufacturers really need to get on the ball if they don't want to have their lunch eaten by the Atom z6xx SoC

  • SheevaPlug (Score:5, Funny)

    by codepunk ( 167897 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:57PM (#33280110)

    SheevaPlug, I don't know about the rest of you but that name brings visions to my mind that has nothing to do with computers.

  • by Maddog Batty ( 112434 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @03:59PM (#33280142) Homepage

    Does anybody know of a similar device that includes Homeplug so you can do away with the ethernet connection as well?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      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 "

  • by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:00PM (#33280150)

    First, I misread this as "linux walmart" and thought it was some sort of "app store" deal. Closer inspection reveals the truth is far more disturbing. They should probably pick a new name... or dress them up like 'Shrek' and market them towards kids or something.

    • Not only for the lulz, but I seriously just spent about 20 minutes googling around and using amazon/froogle, and because "Wall Wart" and "Plug Computer" are both common phrases for things like - you know - ac adapters, these things are insanely hard to nail down an actual vendor or two in order to purchase one or two or five.

      Need a new name like "wall computer" or "power pc".

      Maybe not so much that last one.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:02PM (#33280194)

    I'll wait for Apple to release the iPlug.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Abstrackt ( 609015 )

      I'll wait for Apple to release the iPlug.

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anaerin ( 905998 )
        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 pspahn ( 1175617 )
      Already done [].
  • 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 [] with 1TB of storage that can be reflashed [] to do whatever you want.

    • 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 [] with 1TB of storage that can be reflashed [] 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 [] or DD-WRT, then you can install optware []. 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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

        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.

      • 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 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 [], a capability that Cisco/Linksys doesn't include in the box.

      • 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: []

        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.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          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

          • 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 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.

    • by Zerth ( 26112 )

      Oh, and if you plan to install a different distribution, you NEED the jtag adapter to get a console. It doesn't come with the Guruplug, but one is built in to the Sheevaplug.

    • Yeah, I'm still waiting on my "Early June" delivery of a GuruPlug+ from an order in May. It's spec'ed great. Too bad you can only use the Gigabit Ethernet at 10/100.

      They think they're going to sell me a "professional upgrade kit" to make it meet the spec they advertized when they billed my card. Bullshit.

      So let's say you want to do something you need to rely on: home music server, 24/7 monitoring applications, security. If you haven't laid in a spare, are you going to wait over 3 months for a replacement wh

    • by Sancho ( 17056 ) *

      I ordered several Guruplug+, received them, and have had no end of problems with them. I second your opinion, but I'll go a bit further--I'll never order from Globalscale again. To sell a device with two gigabit NICs, but without the capability to use both is simply false advertising.

  • 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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bhima ( 46039 ) *

      I don't think there is an ARM port for puppy. So you'd be setting yourself up for a fair bit of work.

  • by GMFTatsujin ( 239569 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:07PM (#33280280) Homepage

    I'm in the design phase of opening a consulting business (non-IT related) to run out of my home. Marvell's plugs look very attractive to me as a right-sized server for my modest needs. Email, web, file storage (especially with a RAID NAS or via DropBox) -- the wall wart looks just right for that kind of workload. I've worked in IT with big, fancy servers, and I just don't need them.

    The alternative is to lease something like a Linode. I like the way Linode does business, but five months of their low-power service would buy a SheevaPlug. All I'm missing then is a static IP and the always-up cloudiness that Linode provides. The choices are tempting.

    • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:23PM (#33280486)

      Sheeva plug as a server? Is this a joke? No raid or redundancy and these things are infamous for blowing caps, overheating, and other hardware issues tells me you need to start doing testing before publicly proclaiming your business plan.

      Oh and those "big ol fancy servers" no one needs? You're paying for raid, hardware warranty, same/next day parts, dual power supplies, support, proper engineering, etc. If your company came to me with one of those toys as a "solution" you'd be walking out of my office with that sheeva plug shoved in your own "plug."

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

        Totally agree..

        Not saying a small business (especially if not IT based) needs an "enterprise" level server.. but running web and email off one of these things sounds very dubious.

        Probably better off with a hosted solution.. most ISPs won't let you run a server on a standard plan .. and though you tend to get away with it.. I wouldn't have "hope my ISP ignores this" in my business plan. As soon as you start paying for a business ISP account you may as well pay the excess and get all the redundancy and proper

    • You should be able to do everything on that NAS alone. I run a Gentoo server on a Buffalo Linkstation Live, with the only difference that its Marvell ARM CPU is a little slower and there is a little less RAM, compared to the Sheevaplug.

      For my purposes, the Sheevaplug has the problem that any sizeable storage needs its own power supply. Thus it negates all of the size and power consumption arguments. Linkstations and similar devices come with a hard drive or two on the same power supply. If you actually n

  • If you plugged one of these into a serio [] you couldn't get any closer to analog input/output for your crappy bash scripts :)

  • Wuh oh! (Score:3, Funny)

    by decipher_saint ( 72686 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:09PM (#33280308)

    You got wall warts from using a SheevaPlug, you better get some cream for that right away...

    Gah, I grossed myself out... pleh!

  • What indeed? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zouden ( 232738 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:16PM (#33280406)

    "What can you actually do with them? Plenty, it seems!"

    Not really. The article spent 3 pages to say that you could use it as a file server with an external hard drive or... a web server. That's it?

    This reads more like a slashvertisement for a product with no real purpose. Yes, it's great that it's cheap and runs linux, but if you need an external hard drive to get any real use out of it, what's the point in making it so small? Just make it the size of a caddy.

  • by proxima ( 165692 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @04:20PM (#33280446)

    The article mentions internet router, file storage, and print server. Really? That's the best you can do?

    A decent dd-wrt compatible router is pretty inexpensive, and will give you a few port switch and a decent set of wireless antennas. Most people aren't so constrained on space that they can't tuck one away somewhere. They often include the capability of handling USB hard drives as well for file or print sharing. Many printers these days have built in ethernet or wireless to handle their own print serving capability.

    Devices of this size do have possibilities, but the article doesn't mention anything really interesting. Apple has had its airport express base station for a while, and while it's mostly an ordinary wireless N router, it does provide music sharing via airtunes which works well if you happen to use the Apple/iTunes ecosystem for music.

    So what do you do with a tiny Linux box? mpd or a squeezebox client would provide music sharing (though you can get Logitech's own radio for $100-$150, and it comes complete with a screen and controls). It would either need a good quality sound chip on it (unlikely) or a decent USB sound card (added expense, though).

    What would be really neat is if they had an HDMI port for a thin client. Maybe an install of Android and its browser to turn a smaller LCD monitor into a little internet browsing box in otherwise cramped spaces (e.g. kitchen). Or have something powered off 12V and use it as the basis for a car computer.

    Even with the current offerings, I'm sure there are much more interesting ideas that people could come up with (probably involving more significant hacking) than a file or print server.

  • by qoncept ( 599709 )
    Can we count the reasons this article sucks?

    Of course, you can even run your own web site using Apache on a plug computer.

    Great. Now my website is dependent on my internet connection and power. Geeks that want this so bad that they'll do it even though its completely pointless have a PC already running that could do this job much better.

    or run a site to monitor other sites!

    Yeah. More often than not, if your site is reported as "down," it's probably your wall wart. Nevermind the fact that, again, this might as well be running on your already-running PC.

    could be a media server, a file server or print server for your network.

    Fair enough, but there already a number of cheaper dedicated options

  • 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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jabjoe ( 1042100 )
      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: [] 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
  • I think we need to stop making small things and make everything really big. Then when aliens come to destroy us they will be like.. omg everything is gigantic, lets get outta here!
  • Buy a couple dozen of them. Hook them up to the cheapest router that will handle that many. Set them up with Yafray or similar. Instant, low-power render farm. Might not be high-performance, but I bet the frames per watt are better than most.

    Or set one of them up as a Quake server. Old-school FTW.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by hufman ( 1670590 )
      I have a Sheevaplug, and the problem I've encountered is the lack of hardware FPU. The article even recommends using them as an SSH server, and from my experience, it makes a poor fit in that role. You can SSH into it decently fast, but the lack of a hardware math unit adds around 5-10 seconds of delay when sshing from it to another computer. Your renderfarm idea would fail miserably, since 3D rendering is all about math, especially with angles and other floating-point usages. Maaaybe I could see a Quake se
      • Ah, forgot ARM doesn't have a built-in FPU as standard. Which would make almost any game server too slow anyways. Actually, it would make almost anything slow.

        Is there a reason for no FPU? Is it some extreme power-saving measure?

  • I'd love to replace my old server with one of these, but I wonder if they can keep up. I've seen ones with USB for use as file servers, but I haven't read good things about the first gen hardware...
  • If there's some simple GPIO/parallel/etc. interface (could always rig up something USB based...), it'd be great for controlling lights and other appliances [] via SMS, IRC, etc.
  • Something like that has industrial embedded applications, but they need to get past "UL approval - pending" and a peak external operating temp of 104F. You don't want something that's marginal on temp specs in an application where it's controlling something. They talk about putting them side by side on an outlet strip, but that's going to make the cooling problem tougher. Fanless devices should not push the temperature ratings of the components. That never ends well.

    Solidly reliable little compute br

  • nt. Guruplug and sheevaplug have availability problems. Pogoplug seems to be barely existant, with no technical data on their web page and nothing that indicates it is linux-friendly or hacker-friendly. This 'plug-computer' industry needs to mature in order to replace the mini-servers I am using.

  • by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Tuesday August 17, 2010 @05:13PM (#33281144)
    Plug in the USB cable that came with your phone and use it to charge up your phone.
  • 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 ( - 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, 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.

  • and it's not even a decent article. No I didn't RTFA

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI