One more from the dust bin

At one point, I had counted 8 ‘computers’ in the house.  That was a few years ago.  Recently, I looked at the logs of the home router and saw 21 connected devices.  That’s cell phones, tablets, printer, desktops, laptops, rokus, apple TV, experimental boards, etc.  Things sure add up.

Going through the various boxed up electronics, I came across one that was fairly interesting when I purchased it.  The Via Embedded ARTiGO line started a few years back.  I have one of the earliest (doesn’t even have a name on the front).  This thing probably originally ran either Windows XP or a form of Linux.  When I booted it, I had Ubuntu running on it.  Well, an Ubuntu desktop is not particularly snappy on such a small device, but it was running.  When I purchased it around 2009, I was exploring different forms of home entertainment system.  In the end, it couldn’t really deliver the goods, so it languished since then.  Turns out the Roku box has been the best all-rounder for the past few years.

But here it is, this hunk of metal in one of those “don’t I look cute as a giant heat sink” cases.  It speaks “Industrial installation”, although there are no mounting holes on the case itself.  What to do with it now?

It has 10/100 ethernet and wifi, vga output, 3 USB 2.0 ports, audio in/out, and that’s about it.  It’s fairly warm to the touch, even when it’s not actually doing anything but displaying the terminal screen, and not actually running anything.  The size is that of a thick paperback novel.

I’m thinking hard about what I want to do with this thing.  Should I hook it up to some cameras and let it do security work around the house?  Can it be a web server?  Can it run XBMC?  Maybe it’s a better proxy server?  All very interesting questions.  I don’t know for sure right now, but if I had to guess, I am imagining some application where it finds itself in the garage, attached to some machine or another.  Possibly doing work to automated moving something every once in a while.  Perhaps operating a conveyor belt or equipment lift.  It’s not fast or robust enough to serve up media.  It doesn’t have fast enough connectivity to really do the proxy thing for the whole house, and I decided home routers are better at that anyway.  It consumes too much electricity (although less than a desktop) to be constantly on.  So, some occasional use scenario.

How does it compare to today’s crop of contenders?  The closest thing in my mind would be the cubitruck metal case with battery (cubieboard 3).  This is the cubieboard, based on AllWinner A20.  It has vga, hdmi, audio, SPDIF, IR, micro SD, gigabit ethernet, b/g/n wifi, OTG, 2x USB 2.0.  The metal case kit includes a 5300mAh battery, and 128Gb SSD.  All this for $169.  These days, all these ARM boards run various forms of Linux from tinyCore, to Arch, to Lubuntu and full blown server Ubuntu.  They don’t typically run Windows, but I’m sure future versions will run a form of Windows as well.

The box is the size of a packet of cigarettes, and runs off a 5v 2A power supply.  The case design itself is the same “hey look, I’m a giant heat sink” as the Via machine that I am purposing, and it even has mounting holes.  But darn, what a difference a few years makes!  This machine could easily be left on all the time.  It’s silent (no fans), and it has its own internal battery backup.  I guess that makes it more like a laptop, but without screen and keyboard.

I think one of these could do nicely in the garage for a couple of uses.  One might be running the giant CNC machine I’m currently planning.  That’s an “occasionally on” usage, which would not leverage the “always on” capabilities of the device, but it’s so small it could almost be hidden within the framing of the machine.

Another usage could be as the XBMC host for the garage audio system.  That should always be on, and the fact that the device has an IR built in would make it that much easier to use in some situations.

I like the direction things are headed in tech.  Smaller, less power consumed, more capable.  The machines can be purpose built, at relatively low costs.  The machine choices aren’t so much about operating systems any more for me either.  What’s important is what piece of software it’s going to run.  If it’s going to be an XBMC box, then the OS must be the one that runs XBMC best on this particular device.  I’m not going to lock into a vendor ecosystem just for the sake of it.  So, vendors need to think the same way.  It’s all about value, and that means the ecosystem must provide value to developers so they’ll target and create awesome applications.

At any rate, I’ve found another device that might find usage in a targeted application in the workshop.  At the same time, I have decided I must have the modern day equivalent (possibly more than one) to use for various other applications.

Life is good in computing these days.


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