Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Where have all the i386 cpu's gone, long time ago...

Years ago there was a song called "Where have all the flowers gone". I sort of wanted to do an introduction based off of that.  In a way the Intel i386 based architecture is not gone, but there is certainly a new major player on the scene. The Arm architecture is the new kid on the block. Originally used for embedded systems, is now coming into the main IT stream. There are desktops, laptops, tablets (aka palmtops), servers and etc that the I386 based systems have done for so long. What is the advantage of the Arm cpu's?  They are cheaper, require less electrical power, and require less space just for starters.

The picture represents four different arm or arm derivative based devices that are all within a foot or so of each other. Almost like a whole network of devices.  None of them are the traditional Microsoft operating system based devices either. They are all using some kind of unix lookalike operating system. That is a good thing as it allows similar software to be used on many devices without a whole lot of additional development work to get software to run on the devices. Within the picture is a server, palmtop, network router, and a low end desktop. What are the devices in the picture?

First in the upper lefthand corner is an NSLU2 that was originally used as a networked address storage (aka nas) device front end. Linksys was kind enough to have built the unit so that you could bootstrap other operating systems onto the unit. Instead of running the original firmware, It is now running the Debian (squeeze) linux operating system. So instead of being a single purpose unit, it can now do all kinds of things. At this time I can still use it as a file server much like the nas. My main use for it is a music server (daap) and as a web server. At one time I even ran the famous wordpress blogging software using the apache web server. Even write my own programs for it to do special projects using the C language.

Next up is the Airlink101 network router. Originally the router had the company's firmware, but thanks to some enterprising souls, I use an alternative firmware known as DD-WRT.  DD-WRT enhances the capabilites to what many expensive commercial routers can do.  Many plastic box routers sold in the retail stores are now made so you can not use alternative firmware. To me that sure reduces the values of the units not to be able to upgrade them with third party software. There are exceptions though. Mainly I use the router for connecting to wifi devices such as a touchpad. I do not use wifi on the main router.  A bit of security there maybe. Then it is easy to just unplug the router when wifi is not used.

Down to the right, sitting on a table in a homemade white case is the infamous  Raspberry Pi. It is sort of a desktop, Using a Commodore 1702 monitor with it. Despite it's size, you can have a gui desktop, just like a traditional desktop. I sort of call it the NSLU2 with super powers. It also runs the Debian (wheezy) linux. One thing I like about it is I can swap the memory card, so one minute it is a desktop and the next, it is a network media streaming device. Sort of jack of all trades as it can also be a server. It also be used as a thin client for the Linux terminal server project.  Like the NSLU2, you can still program your own software on it. Both the NSLU2 have a great library of software you can download and install. No reason to reinvent the wheel for most things.

Lastly is the Android touchpad. Like the above unit there is a tremendous amount of free software you can install. My main needs were a portable remote desktop viewer, text based terminal for logging into servers to do management. running my own developed software, and lastly as a web client. There is so much software you have access to that is served from web based devices. We have our own local web server with many applications from business applications, educational, and recreational too. The Android tablet can also be used to bootstrap a network pc for software installation via Ipxe using a wireless connection. I could go on forever. But lastly sometimes I just like to use it for listening to music from the web.

Where have all the i386 cpu's gone, Long time ago. They are slowly being replaced with Arm based systems.

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