Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Arm, it's whats for dinner (I mean computing.)

Actually Arm is the newer CPU (Central Processing Unit aka the brain)  on the block to power computers so to speak. Lots of devices use the Arm CPU. One such device is the Cisco Linksys Nslu2. The NSLU2 is  a front end for hard drives so the combination can be used as a NAS (networked addressed storage). Some very talented people have figured out a way to install computer operating systems on it. Now you can actually do this on quite a few units such as the Pogo Plug.

Microsoft who disdained the Arm based units for a long time is now trying to get a foothold. It will be interesting. Linux has been around quite a few years supporting the Arm units. A lot of what is known as embedded  computing for industrial and other applications has used the Arm for years.

We have an NSLU2  and have just reinstalled Debian 6 Linux. We installed Linux on the unit several years back, but reinstalled the original firmware  on the unit so it could still be used as a noobie NAS. After listening to a podcast about installing Linux on the PogoPlug, it raised my awareness again about possibly using the unit as a  light web, media, and etc server again.  After looking at the instructions for the Debian 6 install, I decided that it was quite a bit easier the some of the original setups with earlier versions of Debian Linux for the NSLU2.

 
Since the NSLU2 does not have a monitor, you have to do everything from the network. Being somewhat experienced a SSh (Secure Shell), it should be a piece of cake install. You can get the details at:  http://www.cyrius.com/debian/nslu2/unpack.html or use my instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Give-your-Cisco-Linksys-NSLU2-some-muscle-part-1/.  The author was kind enough to allow his setup to be used. 



Went and grabbed the NSLU2 out of the closet and found a spare usb drive for doing the installation. Went ahead and did the install. Working like a charm albeit the unit is slower than xmas. Also installed the build-essential package to allow for development of software. At this sitting, I just wanted to get it up and running. I will add more software later. The unit can still be used as a NAS!!!! But it also can be used for so much more.


As I said you have to access the unit remotely.  But to add at least one application, I downloaded the free static web server from IBM (International Business Machines) (http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/systems/library/es-nweb/index.html) and compiled it for the NSLU2. Since now the NSLU2 can act as a web server, you can install all kinds of applications just like on a real server (with some limitations of course). Yes, you could even run your own mini cloud on it. (http://www.instructables.com/id/Uses-for-your-own-private-cloud/)




In any case since the NSLU2 only uses a few watts of power, it will be a great little power saving server. Probably only use usb drives on it to keep it energy efficient. Which proves, you do not have to have a big hunk of hardware to do a lot of things.

Update: Nslu2 on steroids. Installed webmin from a tar.gz (a compression technique to take one or more files and compress them into just one) file. Quite a change from the original stock web menu.



Second update: We added an old Palm pda to act as a dumb terminal.


So we experimented with it to do portable computing.

Third update: We added Firefly the music streaming server. The Nslu2 is becoming quite a little workhorse.

Note: You really have to have some real Linux/Unix experience to set this up easily.

eddie@oesrvr3:~$ cat /proc/cpuinfo
Processor    : XScale-IXP42x Family rev 1 (v5l)
BogoMIPS    : 266.24
Features    : swp half thumb fastmult edsp
CPU implementer    : 0x69
CPU architecture: 5TE
CPU variant    : 0x0
CPU part    : 0x41f
CPU revision    : 1

Hardware    : Linksys NSLU2
Revision    : 0000
Serial        : 0000000000000000

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