A Tale Of Two Linux Minimal Boxes

I ran into an interesting alternative Linux machine being offered to the public. It is from “Endless” I’m going to make an oblique comparison to an Odroid C1 (and the C1+) but then do a more head to head compare with the Raspberry Pi Model 3 (as that is the actual ‘buy’ I’m thinking about so it’s ‘one or the other’ for me, most likely).

The Endless Mini and Macro?

https://endlessm.com/

The basic idea is something like a Chromebox, but without the internet strong tie (i.e. it will work without an ongoing internet connection), and with a load of already installed stand-alone software and data.

No Internet? No Problem.
Great content for education and
entertainment, whether you’re online or offline.

And from the “products” link at that site:

Packed with content.

Great online and offline.

Preloaded with thousands of articles
and hours of entertainment.
[…]

Play

Your personal entertainment center
with hours of music,
videos, and tons of games.

Encyclopedia app

Learn
Knowledge at your fingertips.
80,000 articles about anything
you want to know.

Spreadsheet
Work
A powerful tool for school and work. Opens Microsoft Office® to create papers, resumes, budgets and more.

Now they go out of their way to state that this OS does NOT run Microsoft Software, so that “Opens Microsoft Office” sure looks fishy to me. I have to think it really means “Opens OpenOffice to open Microsoft Office documents to…” but something got lost on the marketing cutting room floor… The fine print at the bottom of the page:

“NOT INCLUDED: Display monitor, mouse, or keyboard. Endless OS doesn’t support Windows® applications or other applications that don’t come with Endless OS. Runs Endless OS. Not compatible with all printers models. Flash video playback not supported.”

You use your TV for the monitor, like the R.Pi, and add your own mouse and keyboard in the same way. No Windows Applications (some of us think that a feature ;-) and runs a flavor or Linux specifically ported to and tuned for this hardware (also often a feature as things “just work” and you don’t have to screw around with it yourself so much…). The “Flash video” not working is a bit of a downer, though. Yet the “developer” page has: “Flash Plugin Updater — Downloads and installs the Adobe Flash plugin.” so who knows…

Then there’s the hardware choices. Both an ARM based version for “way cheap” and an Intel Architecture (of unknown maker) version for more. I’ve not got a clear read on just which chips are in both from their web pages, so likely needing a bit more digging on reviews for it, to find out. Each architecture choice comes in a skinny and fat version where fat has more memory and the Intel choice comes with a USB 3.0 port. I’m just going to quote the low end of each architecture and you can hit their pages if really interested in more:

Endless Mini
Simple. Affordable. Compact.

Endless Mini computer24 GB
$79USD
Quad Core CPU up to 1.50 GHz
1 GB RAM
24GB Solid State Storage
HDMI / RCA Video
3x USB 2.0
Audio 3.5mm in / out
Ethernet
[…]
Endless
More Power. More Space.

Endless computer32 GB
$189USD
Dual Core CPU up to 2.17 GHz
2 GB RAM
32GB Solid State Storage
HDMI / VGA
1x USB 3.0
2x USB 2.0
Gigabit Lan
Audio 3.5mm in / out
Ethernet / WiFi / Bluetooth

The “Mini” looks rather like the head off of some small Droid like critter from Star Wars, while the Endless (Maxi?) looks like an octopus that lost some legs to a lawn mower… Both would be OK on my desktop. At least if I could get one NOT in the hideous Orange color they’ve got as a theme. It’s that sort of “Orange that wants to be red at times while thinking about amber”…

Seriously, there are BLUE family folks and there are Orange/Red family folks and they Do Not Mix. I’ll take anything in the “white, grey, powder to dark blue, royal blue, to purple” range. Nothing in the “yellow to orange to red” spectrum, please. (Though I can barely tolerate yellow if pale enough or approaching the brown / tan end of things). Similarly, folks who like orange to red are generally not willing to be seen with blue. (Green, tan, brown and other colors found in trees are generally neutral to both parties).

So make one with clear, smoke, grey, blue, purple, tan-ish, maybe even a very subtle and light green, and I’m willing to “go there”. Orange? Red? On my desktop? Ah, no. ( I might be willing to get one if I put it in a closet and ran the wires out somewhere else…) One hopes they have other colors available or at least in planning… and only their web designer is the one interested in selling only to people who love orange (and all us blue folks can go piss off…)

But that aside, it’s basically the same class of hardware as Chromeboxes use. Perhaps a bit faster, or maybe I’ve just not checked on what the latest Chromeboxes have in them. I’ve got the HP with Intel in it and it is just dandy, thanks. Only complaint about it is the “MUST USE INTERNET” and “All your data are belong to Google” aspects of ChromeOS. (I bought it with the explicit check that I can, in fact, overwrite it with Linux whenever I feel the desire enough…)

I think the Endless comes with slightly more / faster hardware, but that would require a dive into the present ChromeBox architecture AND finding out just what chip sets are in the Endless to do a valid comparison.

The key bits are the ARM box has a quad core running at 1.5 Ghz. Exactly which chip set isn’t listed on the “specs” page where you would naturally expect it to be. It is almost available buried down on the “developers” space here:

https://endlessm.com/developer/#row-3

Someone needs to inform them that “buyers” need specs too…

Hardware

Linux Kernel — The Linux kernel shipped on the Endless computer.

Linux for Amlogic Meson — We host a community effort around the Linux kernel on Amlogic Meson SoCs, the chipset used on the ODROID-C1. The code includes the GitHub projects linux-meson and u-boot-meson.

So it’s an “Amlogic Meson” system on a chip and claims to match the Odroid-C1. OK.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amlogic

AML8726 family

Amlogic AML8726-M – Legacy single core ARM Cortex A9-based SoC with ARM Mali-400 GPU released in 2011, with a 16-bit DRAM interface and manufactured on a 65 nm process.

Amlogic AML8726-M3 – Legacy single-core ARM Cortex A9-based SoC with ARM Mali-400 GPU, released in 2012, with a 16-bit DRAM interface and manufactured on a 45 nm process.

Amlogic MX (also known as AML8726-M6) – Dual-core ARM Cortex A9-based SoC with ARM Mali-400 MP2 GPU, released in 2012 on a 40 nm process.

M8 family (announced 2013)

Amlogic M802 (originally called AML8726-M8) – Quad-core ARM Cortex A9-based SoC with ARM Mali-450 MP6 GPU (although listed as an octa-core GPU on Amlogic’s website) running at 600 MHz. Supports 4GB DRAM and 4K2K display output. 64-bit DRAM interface, manufactured on a 28 nm HPM process.

Amlogic M801 – Similar to M802 but with DRAM limited to 2GB and display output limited to 1080p.

Amlogic M805 – Quad-core ARM Cortex-A5-based SoC with Mali-450 MP2 GPU in a reduced-size 12mm x 12 mm LFBGA package.

One guesses it might be the M805? or maybe the M802? Checking the wiki on Odroid:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ODROID

ODROID-C1 Hardkernel Odroid C1 Board 2014
Amlogic S805, 4× Cortex-A5 @ 1.5 GHz
Mali-450 MP2
1 GB DDR3 SDRAM microSD card slot, eMMC module socket
4× USB 2.0 Host, 1× USB 2.0 OTG
Micro HDMI connector Type-D — —
10/100/1000 Ethernet (8P8C)
expansion ports for console UART,
IR receiver, GPIO, I²C, SPI, ADC
5 V DC input
85 × 56 mm
Linux, Android

Looks about right… so you can get a similar SoC board for about $35; though it looks like on Amazon only the C1+ is available for $37+ now.

http://www.amazon.com/ODROID-C1-Project-Board-1-5GHz-Gigabit/dp/B018WDR45A

So figure the other $40-ish is for the nice case, the built in connectors and power supply, and that preinstalled and working nicely software. OK, that’s a reasonable price.

So for anyone wanting to “hack around” on Linux, the Odroid gives more “stuff” you can do with the OS, and a lot more stuff you MUST do. While the “Endless Mini” gives the same, but in a tuned and preconfigured package with a compatible and QA tested Linux already running and data / apps preloaded. I’m good with that. (It would finish the sale, for me, if it were less preachy about how you can ONLY get the OS from them – sources available- and had a bit more “for Linux Gurus, yes, you can install other distro’s, details at the forum…”) Frankly, with that statement and a non-Orange color, I’d likely buy 2. One for the family and friends to play with, one for me to hack around on.

In any case, I see this as a pretty good competitor for the ChromeBox machines. All the QA / handholding / ease of use layered on top of a Linux, but without the Google Tongue Down My Throat aspects.

Overall, I’d rate it a Very Nice Package. Maybe someday I’ll actually get one and do a real hands on evaluation of it. (If the vendor wanted to send me one, I’d even stop complaining about the color ;-)

The Intel version needs a bit more name than “Endless” with the implied “not so Mini”. Having one thing named as a subset of the name for your low end product is just confusing and a PITA for anyone wanting to unambiguously name a model. Oh Well. One could call it “Casper” as it looks a bit like a ghost with orange feet… or OctoPlegic as it looks a bit like an octopod minus the pods…

My experience comparing the R.PiM2 vs Intel based ChromeBox is that Intel is MUCH faster (no real surprise) and generally “worth it” for the extra money. As we noted earlier, the single core performance tends to matter a lot for many codes, like web browsers, that define the user experience. Now if Endless (the company, not the box) has managed to ‘tune up’ things like the browser to use multi-core well, that might change. But generally I think the Intel is “worth it” even at this end of the price curve. Note that it’s about $100 uplift…

But if you don’t have a spare $100 kicking around, even the 1 GHz R.PiM2 with poor use of multiple cores was a ‘tolerable’ browsing experience with only minor delays at time. (Even there, I suspect some of that was wait states for write to the SD card due to non-tuned software…). With single core speed at 50% faster, and software tuned at all to the hardware, the Endless Mini ought to be acceptable and the “Casper” ought to be Just Fine. But if you DO have that $100, well, there will be no ‘sloth’ issues with a tuned Linux on a dual core 2+ GHz box. (I’ve run it on a 400 Mhz single core and been happy… it all depends on things like matching the build to the box so things like buffer sizes don’t squander memory and such and a bloated monolithic kernel build doesn’t kill you with swaps and sloth.)

So that “Casper” has a dual core (of some make) running at 2.17 GHz and with 2 GB of RAM. Ought to generally fly. I note in passing that the even larger one has 500 GB of storage instead of 32 GB, so I presume they stuck a USB drive or similar into it somewhere. Generally, I’m moving to “all external storage” so that when I’m gone and anyone decides to take my computer, they get no data as the disk is “in an undisclosed secure location”… but others might not be as “rationally paranoid” as I am (and as all ex-Systems Admins tend to be…) The “uplift” is $40 and I’d rather buy a TB disk for about $60 and have it outside the box.

The USB 3.0 on the Intel Architecture version is likely the biggest value add to the platform after the CPU uplift. Nice Fast external USB disk… Note, too, it has a built in Bluetooth and WiFi, so you save about $20 on ‘dongles’ for those things. Likely plays Flash decently too. (In the developer section of their site they mention Flash available for download, so the whole ‘what really runs Flash is a bit unclear).

Ah, found that if you click the buy button there’s an almost hidden full specs pop-up you can click to get. The “Casper” chip is the “Intel® Celeron® N2807 1.58 GHz Dual-Core processor (burst speed 2.16 GHz)”… so that 2+ GHz is yet more marketing hype. If is isn’t available all the time, it isn’t real. So you get a dual core 1.5 GHz chip, but with the Intel CISC instruction set. Not quite as good as I thought, but likely still OK. The ARM version has this: “Amlogic® S805, Quad Core, ARM® Cortex A5, Mali®-450 GPU (burst speed 1.50 GHz)” so it, too, suffers from “burst speed” sellers puff. I guess “someday” I’ll need to find out what the actual speed us for continuous use… Or maybe that web designer / marketing guy thought “burst” sounded like a good power word as opposed to a warning that “Here There Be Marketing Lie Specs”.

At $189 US it’s $10 more than the HP ChromeBox I bought. Right off the top, I don’t remember what CPU is in the thing, but it’s at least a 2 or 3 year old Celeron of some sort, IIRC. I think it might be dual core… (Probably ought to look it up and update this part…) But the bottom line is that the Endless box will be at least as competent. And far far less of a “pill” about things like letting me use cut/paste without needing to download an “app for that” from the “Google store”… (Chrome has regularly removed normal Linux features from code and turned them into Apps that you must download, thus assuring you ‘log in’ to your Google account so they can better track what you do and merchandise you… IMHO.)

So, were I doing it now, I’d almost certainly get the Endless “Casper” and not the ChromeBox for the “Intel in a lozenge” solution to “Browser appliance plus a bit” of function. The Endless looks to be built on Debian / Gnome from some of what they have in the (limited) technical description. Heavy use of Gnome (though customized for novice user friendly)

Core Endless OS

For our core user experience, we use a lot of core GNOME technologies. Since we are targeting a different set of users than the upstream GNOME, we have made some fairly fundamental changes to the experience, and so we maintain permanent forks of these.

Desktop — A heavily customized version of the GNOME desktop (GNOME Shell) powers the Endless OS desktop experience.

Help Center — Our user documentation is based on the GNOME desktop’s documentation and help viewer Yelp. You can find the code in these four GitHub projects: yelp, yelp-xsl, gnome-user-docs, gnome-getting-started-docs.

Desktop theme — The desktop theme is a heavily modified version of Adwaita, the GNOME desktop theme.

Other open-source software

Here are links to all the other open-source packages we’ve customized, ranging from the Linux kernel to games. These customizations are not as far-reaching as above, and the majority of these patches already exist upstream. We backport them to the stable releases that we use, and so we maintain these custom forks to show what exactly goes into our system.

accountsservice base-files base-passwd debhelper dpkg gdm gjs glib gnome-bluetooth gnome-control-center gnome-desktop gnome-initial-setup gnome-session gnome-settings-daemon gtk jasmine jruby-pgp libgsystem libsoup megaglest ModemManager mutter nautilus ostree plymouth pulseaudio systemd system-config-printer u-boot xdg-user-dirs xdg-user-dirs-gtk xf86-video-armsoc

For almost all other packages and any customizations we may have applied
to them, you can download their sources from our repository:
$ wget http://sources.endlessm.com/debian/keys/endless-sources-key.pub.asc
$ sudo apt-key add endless-sources-key.pub.asc
$ echo “deb-src http://sources.endlessm.com/debian eos2 extra core extra-apps” \
| sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/pub-sources.list
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get source

The signature key ID for the repository listed above should be DC063E08.

Note the word “debian” in the wget and deb-src lines.

I’m not real keen on the use of systemd, but it’s becoming ever harder to avoid that “Binary Blob ala Microsoft Registry” mindset… (Hey, I’m an old BSD guy first and one never forgets their first love… ;-) So I’ll not hold that against them. Their “upstream” of Debian and their upstream of Red Hat have “gone there”, and fighting it is an act of courage, will, and large amounts of money… so likely a losing battle.

So there you have my general view of it. The $79 “entry level” is likely decent “value for money” as after you take an Odroid, add things like case, power supply, OS on a chip, etc. etc. you will be out maybe $10 to $20 less than that, or with shipping, maybe not. Only real reason to go for the Odroid would be a sincere desire to play with the OS a lot and / or do other kinds of “hacking around” things. If you just want a low end info appliance for browsing and email, the Endless Mini is likely fine for that. Just don’t expect a lot of speed all the time… Think tablet kind of activities.

The “Casper” is likely a fine desktop machine, especially for the money and considering the comparison to the ChromeBox. Yeah, I’d rather do a ‘head to head’ but I can’t buy every box on the market… Comparing specs, design goals, and such, I’d rather have the “Casper” than the ChromeBox, just due to the software straight jacket that comes with the ChromeOS. I do like the “appliance” aspect of it, but Endless promises that same appliance aspect with QA and software controlled by them and tuned to the box, AND no need for constant Internet Connection and Google Store crap.

Back at Raspberry

So I’m “more or less OK” with the Raspberry Pi Model 2, except for that whole crashes if you use all 4 cores for a while aspect… and it is just not quite fast enough single core for a seamless browser experience. Enter the Raspberry Pi Model 3…

http://www.amazon.com/Rasberry-Pi-Model-Mother-board/dp/B01CD5VC92/ref=sr_1_1?s=pc&ie=UTF8&qid=1460419498&sr=1-1&keywords=Raspberry+Pi+Model+3

Amazon has it for $41, but it’s supposed to be down around $35 – $37; still, not bad. It’s also a quad core, and at 1.2 GHz, so a touch slower (unless it’s 1.2 GHz continuous and “burst” isn’t in their vocabulary). But, it’s 64 Bits!… except the OS doesn’t use them yet, as Raspian runs 32 bit on it… but someday it might… Welcome to Hacker Land.

A 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARMv8 CPU
802.11n Wireless LAN
Bluetooth 4.1 Bluetooth Low Energy
4 USB ports,40 GPIO pins,Full HDMI port,Ethernet port,Combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video
Camera interface (CSI),Display interface (DSI) Micro SD card slot (now push-pull rather than push-push) VideoCore IV 3D graphics core

So, in general, it’s got the built in Bluetooth and WiFi that the Endless Mini low end lacks, but you get on the Mini high end for $20 more at $99 and with 32 GB solid state (SD? NAND Flash?) instead of the 24 GB on the $79 one. Since I have plenty of 32 GB SD cards for my Pi.M2, I’m happy to make the price comparison to the $99 mini instead of the $79 one…

It is about 80% the CPU clock speed, and maybe someday the use of 64 Bit cores will pick up some of that slack. For now, it’s just going to be a very young port of Debian (Raspbian) that isn’t well tuned to the hardware and isn’t well QA tested and isn’t well, going to run as well.

All up, a ‘kit’ with card, case, power supply etc. runs out at $69 for a 16 GB one and $79 with a 32 GB SD card. So for $20 more you get the integration in a nice sphere case, the hand holding and OS matching, and about 20% more CPU speed (maybe!, if it bursts… sometimes… possibly). Or for the same price, you get a 24 GB storage and lose the WiFi / Bluetooth.

All in all, they look very similar in target performance level and general expected experience. Modulo that software QA and support angle.

In Conclusion

So which one do I think I’ll get as my next “daily driver”? Who wins this head to head?

Well, since I don’t have either one “in hand” I can’t assess the things like “tendency to crash at 100% load” or “what do you mean I can’t install the browser I want?”. So it is the usual flying blind crap shoot on things like stability and user hostility. Typical with new product choice decisions. The things I care about the most, I can’t know until I’ve already spent the money. Sigh.

I’m leaning toward the Endless, just based on it being real Linux and supported / ported already. The 1.5 Ghz single core ought to be plenty (maybe, depending on what non-burst is and what ‘burst’ means…) and I expect any “walk and chew gum” 4 cores at once issues would already be worked out. It would be nice to have one of them, find it “does fine” as is, and then be free to turn the ChromeBox into a straight Linux machine and say goodbye to the ChromeOS experience and straight jacket.

OTOH, the R.PiM3 ought to be fast enough too, and as the software matures it will be running full 64 bit cores so would be ideal for things like climate codes and BOINC like things. But it is a bit of a development issue at the moment, and I’ve got 2 x R.PiM2 boards that really ought to be properly put to use before I go buying yet more boards to have laying around the desktop…

Price is more or less a wash. That $10 – $20 or so difference will tend to be lost in the shipping and “oh yeah” things added to the buy list.

But the Pi has the advantage that I get full control of the OS for all those more tech things I like to do… and I already have a ‘Posting and Browsing” appliance in the ChromeBox (even if things like editing and image handling are a bit of a pain as one must find/get/learn Apps at best, or give up at worst).

So in the end, I’m not yet settled. I could see getting either one. Maybe I’ll just go back to that prior plan of getting an Odroid or similar and with a SATA drive too ;-)

I think for now I’ll work on using up the R.PiM2 boards for infrastructure things and then I’ll be more justified in buying new toys ;-)

Besides, by the time I’m done finally making my PXE Boot server and that NAS server station, there ought to be some decent reviews of the R.PiM3 and the Endless boxes… That, and I need to find out what the actual CPU speeds are for those 2 “burst” sellers-puff lies might be. Time to hit the ol’ benchmark sites I guess…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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4 Responses to A Tale Of Two Linux Minimal Boxes

  1. Eric Fithian says:

    I am running an installed Beta on eLive (2.6.3) on an older HP Pavilion desktop (m7750n). Got the thing from Action Used Computers with *no* hard drive…
    Just looked at Synaptic, and eLive, though based on Debian, has *not* installed systemd… So there are a few OSs in the wild which are not yet infected!
    And they are still 32-bit; which matters not one whit to me, given my non-CPU-intensive activities….

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    @Eric Fithian:

    Thanks, I’ll take a look at eLive.

    There are still a fair number of older releases of Linux that are not systemd, and I’ve got Devuan running on the EVO (though the “distrowatch” page is a bit out of date: http://distrowatch.com/weekly.php?issue=20141201&mode=67 ).

    The problem comes in over time. For many many releases of Linux, the “upstream” is Red Hat. Even Debian looks to Red Hat for things like Gnome. Over time, Red Hat is firmly integrating Systemd (and dbus…) into darned near ever bit of the OS. That is the basic problem. The damn thing has tentacles everywhere.

    Now when the “upstream” sends their code base to, say, Debian, they have a choice.

    1) Just go with the flow and use the systemd / dbus work as developed.

    2) Fork a different chain and for the rest of time commit to ripping out systemd development and reimplementing it in a non-systemd form every single release.

    So you commit to re-doing ALL the work of the upstream every release, in one form or another.

    Most folks just give up and take 1 as the work load is low. (That is, after all, why one has an “upstream” relationship. So you can just layer your bit of ‘special sauce’ on top without all the work).

    Now as systemd becomes more pervasive, this workload grows. Want “Firefox”? You now get to rip out the systemd parts and rework any development that was done that used it… Want Gnome? Ditto. Want KDE? Once they accept systemd, again, ditto. The plague spreads from binary to binary… Eventually you end up doing maintenance / re-development on just about every aspect of the system (since just about everything “communicates” between processes or to the system via dbus and systemd, by design). That, in a nutshell, is why I don’t like it. It creates strong dependencies throughout the system.

    The original philosophy of Unix is that each program ought to be small and independent. Simple self sufficient parts are easy to make work fast, efficiently, and reliably. Systemd is directly counter to that philosophy. “Tie everything together and make it dependent on a big arcane binary blob” is just wrong. It’s the way Microsoft designs things (and we’ve all seen how reliable and secure it is… NOT!)

    For me, I’m probably going to be “OK for a while”. I’ve got Centos 6.x (as the last non-Systemd release) in the archives along with some Knoppix and Puppy and even an old Debian or three that are non-systemd. That will be fine for my present hardware and for about 1/2 decade. By then I’m less likely to be still hacking around quite so much anyway ;-) Over time, new hardware needing new drivers will come out; and much of it will require new releases that will be ever more systemd. I’m hoping Devuan succeeds and their remains a Debian fork minus systemd. Time will tell. Forks often happen, then whither as there just isn’t enough free labor to make them “go”… It will all depend on how many kindred spirits there are…

    Worst case, I drop back to BSD Unix. It’s a PITA to install and get X running as they don’t go in for all that “fru fru” hand holding GUI based stuff. It’s more “old school line terminal” in style. It is not systemd, and unlikely to go there. (Full of “Surly Old Curmudgeons” who think The Unix Way is the right way ;-) They will accept bits from the Linux / GNU world as long as they are not too much of a disturbance in the Pure Unix Force… So I could easily see me just getting a copy of a BSD variation and putting up with the install process. (Or maybe even doing the work to make the install more automated…)

    For now, I’m not too worried. For 4 or 5 years from now? Well, if a security flaw in systemd pops up, you will have about 95% of ALL systems running Linux exposed for an unknown length of time while the “upstream” works on it and pushes a patch, and “stuff runs down hill” to each next downstream… I’d rather not “go there” and I’m glad I’ve got a few years for any systemd “crap” to be worked out… For now, I’m running some systemd releases on the Pi (and some non-systemd) and I’m running non-systemd on the CentOS and EVO Devuan boxes. We’ll see how painful it gets ;-) (FWIW, the non-Systemd CentOS was the only one that ran on the Antek / ASUS box, it was a choice by force… but I’m happy with it ;-)

    In the mean time, I’m “collecting” various releases that are non-systemd “for that day”…

  3. Steve C says:

    Ye Gods, I take your point about the Endless’s looks. I scrolled right down to the end of the page looking for a picture of the equipment before realising that the illustrated “alien headgear” on show was the equipment. Give me stuff I can stack every time (because, believe me, I need to stack stuff if it’s not going to take over …). Dare I suggest a modest 3D printer for one of your Pis, so you could make nice, stackable, maybe even slot-together plastic cases for all these little ‘puters?

    Per colours, I almost agree, but I really don’t get on with most artificial green shades. Nature does green very much better than us.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    @Steve C.:

    Yes, I generally like “stackable” (as long as appropriate free air venting is provided…) and also generally detest fans (gratuitous noise, failure prone mechanical gizmo, dust collector). IMHO, the presence of a fan is an admission of engineering failure. It REALLY is possible to cool semiconductors without fans, look at high end stereo gear… A chunk of aluminum is NOT expensive… (or the magnesium case of the old Grid computer before “grid computer” got a different meaning… the whole thing just warmed up…)

    OTOH, I do have a few devices on the desktop that don’t stack. Generally these are very small. WiFi router, USB hub, etc. I think the R2Dx Helmet orange computer is likely about the size of a large mug of coffee / small potted plant, so I’d likely be able to live with one of them… If I didn’t have to look at it much ;-)

    Per green: Yes… Green ought to look like a color found in nature, not something from the “Mystery Candy Shop” or “Space Aliens R Us”… “Neon Green” is an oxymoron for morons… IMHO.

    Per 3D printer: I’d love to have one, but last I looked they were a few $Thousand and the plastic case is $5 … so I bought a nice case… Since as of now I have all of 3 working Pi’s (one died likely from handling w/o static bag on the last to/fro Florida…) and both PiM2 are in cases (the B+ is loose on the table top as it doesn’t fit the same case and paying $10 shipping for a $5 case does not appeal… Eventually I’ll order something else from Amazon and toss the case in that order.. or maybe take the last B+ on a “road trip” without a bag ;-)

    I’d have gone ahead with the “Dogbone” stack case and likely ordered 2 more M2’s had I not run into that “crashes on full load” bug. I can’t commit to a platform that crashes when you push on it. I’ll likely try a M3 (in a month or 3, AFTER doing a search on “Pi Model 3 Crashes”… burned once…) and see how it handles 100% load for a week… IFF it is fine, then I’ll order enough to make a Beowulf stack. (4? ought to be a nice starter…). Or I’ll move on to some other platform since they will have illustrated a generic failing…

    For now, I’ve been ‘tepidly on hold’ with a lot of the climate data work I’d intended as I was screwing around with mediocre hardware / software issues. Since the M2 seems stable as long as it is run at 50% or less, I’ll likely resume work using it while I figure out “what next?”. It might even be stable at 75% load, but I’ve not cared enough to fine tune where it hits the wall… It is about 50% of ideal memory for the compute size anyway – somebody in the small SBC market needs to read up on the work Amdahl did on balanced machines and CPU vs Mem vs IO speeds and sizes – so if you are not doing low I/O and low Mem high compute tasks you will tend not to whack into that “full CPU use” case as it is unable to use all CPUs in that more normal use. Though it may crash then if you do it too much…

    So far it looks like the crash case hits when CPU’s (multiple) all demand more memory at once and there isn’t enough free available (that balance thing…) so all try to hit swap (that’s too slow) and the OS goes into a crash lock up (poor low mem handling in the OS). Assigning more “must keep free” memory reduces the probability of that case (at the expense of less generally in use memory as more is in ‘reserve’). The REAL answer is more memory and a faster I/’O to swap, but hey, that would add $10 and for a $35 machine a 1/3 price uplift is a big deal… Or maybe it’s just a timing issue in the OS at full load… who knows…

    Oh Well, as they say.

    But for now the Pi.M2 is making an OK desktop machine and router, and I’ve got it acting as something of a file server too. Been up continuously for about a week now (low CPU loading…) and that without fan nor heatsinks. Not too bad for a computer costing less than a bottle of Scotch… (and mediocre Scotch at that ;-)

    So very useful for anything that isn’t a 100% CPU loaded compute farm ala Scientific Beowulf… which unfortunately is my current muse… well, that and a desktop that has remote file storage on encrypted media for security reasons ;-) So I’m putting more effort into the “encrypted police proof desktop” aspect than I’d like and less into the Beowulf… I have more real use for a Beowulf and the “We are here to take all your computers” recent police behaviour is really very unlikely to apply to “the old boring geek doing climate data crap”… maybe… so I feel a bit misallocated…

    I’d be in more of a hurry were it not for 2 things:

    1) It might be that it is something else causing the crashing. Poor power supply or whatever. Some folks seem to have working Pi.M2 clusters and not everyone reports the crashing.

    2) The longer I wait, the more “bang for the buck” I get.

    This link:
    http://hackaday.com/2015/04/17/moores-law-of-raspberry-pi-clusters/

    covers both points. It is about a guy who made a Pi cluster, then a Pi.M2 cluster. So first off, he does have a working Pi.M2 cluster and the article is NOT about how it crashes every 5 minutes of heavy use… and secondly:

    [James J. Guthrie] just published a rather formal announcement that his 4-node Raspberry Pi cluster greatly outperforms a 64-node version. Of course the differentiating factor is the version of the hardware. [James] is using the Raspberry Pi 2 while the larger version used the Model B.

    We covered that original build almost three years ago. It’s a cluster called the Iridris Pi supercomputer. The difference is a 700 MHz single core versus the 900 Mhz quad-core with double-the ram. This let [James] benchmark his four-node-wonder at 3.048 gigaflops. You’re a bit fuzzy about what a gigaflops is exactly? So were we… it’s a billion floating point operations per second… which doesn’t matter to your human brain. It’s a ruler with which you can take one type of measurement. This is triple the performance at 1/16th the number of nodes. The cost difference is staggering with the Iridris ringing in at around £2500 and the light-weight 4-node built at just £120. That’s more than an order of magnitude.

    Look, there’s nothing fancy to see in [James’] project announcement. Yet. But it seems somewhat monumental to stand back and think that a $35 computer aimed at education is being used to build clusters for crunching Ph.D. level research projects.

    So more than an order of magnitude price / op reduction, a 4-node M2 cluster doing more than a 64 node Model B cluster, and at a price point of £120. Not too bad. I just wish I had confidence my Model 2s would do that and that they could be made stable (whatever the reason). Or maybe he just had not yet loaded it up to 100% load for a half hour to find out it goes unstable… Ah, the joys of “roll your own” computing ;-)

    But by putting off my Beowulf Dream from the Model B to the Model 2 I’ve cut the cost to £120. Next up, the Model 3 may cut it to £60 ;-)

    Time will tell ;-)

    Until then, that Intel based “browsing appliance” has a certain charm…

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