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Embedded box - OS choice?

Posted on 2006-07-05
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Last Modified: 2013-12-06
I've got a car-radio sized kit built around one of those superb VIA EPIA Mini-ITX boards. This was a hobby-job rather than a task with a specific aim, but possible uses for it would now include:

Sat-Nav & entertainment box in the car.
Voice/email portal in the car - GPRS/Wi-Fi connectivity.
Just about anything else I probably shouldn't be doing while driving.

In the home: it would make a great lounge-box, I guess - all that oomph and connectivity.

Home office: NAS appliance (I like this one - three USB ports, so just hang extra drives off it as required)

In short, it's now a very small and reasonably powerful "spare" PC. But not over-powered - the VIA C3 1GHz CPU and reasonable but limit graphics, so I doubt I'll be installing Vista or using it as a gaming console, although it's well up to playing DVDs. Oh yeah it also has VGA, S-VHS and composite video-out connections. And proper 5.1 surround output. It's starting to feel like I should add a TV tuner :-)

I also have a 7" touch-screen on the way (if I don't get outbid on eBay LOL). Don't have a specific need in mind for that either, it just seemed to "fit" with the rest of the kit so nicely - I can hardly imagine hooking a keyboard & mouse up to this thing, wherever it is eventually deployed.

So..... which OS should I feed this thing? I have an unused (still sealed!) full XP Home SP2, and it's VERY tempting to just shove that in - makes things dead easy. Also slows things down! I'm not scared of Linux/xBSD either, but the variety of non-mainstream hardware is a bit of a worry.

I'm aware that this is very subjective, so I'm looking for a variety of different opinions. Feel free to have an argument! 100 points each to the five people who really give me something to think about.
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Question by:kenpem
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by:PsiCop
PsiCop earned 100 total points
ID: 17044057
Grab Knoppix, which is usually a good tool for determining if there's Linux drivers for the hardware. If Knoppix can ID and load a driver, then you can be reasonably sure that other Linux distros will have a driver (either included or available) or that you can get a driver that the distro doesn't have.
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shmukler earned 100 total points
ID: 17044236
If you want a NAS applaince (I am assuming for use with Windows), you might want to conceder FreeBSD.

SAMBA would work a little faster than on Linux and it's a bit more stable.

However, if you want a tuner on the same machine, you definately need to have your video card supported.

If there are accelerated drivers for FreeBSD, you are in luck. Otherwise, see whether there are approriate drivers for Linux that would support your video card.

There are projects (that package together and fill missing pieces to have one-in-one open source tuner).

If you are even a little familiar with Unix, just make a separate partition on the disk (or better have a 2nd HD if possible, so that disk IO bandwidth stays higher) and add SAMBA to your initialization routine.

Good luck
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Expert Comment

by:tacticalvehicle
ID: 17044488
Exist many projects ( developed on Linux ) but for touchLCd you shoud add support for :Linux into Xserver

try check this http://skylab.org/~chugga/mpegbox

I think *nixOS for good performace and stability is good choice also you can tunne you set better as in WinXX
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Expert Comment

by:rindi
ID: 17046295
Linux will most definitely work much better on a C3 than xp will. As mentioned earlier, you can try knoppix, you can also install that directly and then go ahead building a customized kernel for the hardware. I'm sure most of the hardware will work no problem.
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by:pjedmond
pjedmond earned 100 total points
ID: 17046471
Might wish to have a look at FreeNAS:

http://www.freenas.org/

It's a stripped down version of BSD, but you can always add the extra functionality if you need it. Very robust/secure and stable.

However, with respect to this type of project it's often easier to start with 'everything', and strip out what you don't need than to start with the minimum and add extras to create the 'perfect' setup for you.

Therefore, if you are very confident with your linux/BSD skills start with FreeNAS and build, otherwise start with a desktop distro:

http://distrowatch.com/

and strip just ensure that the Samba server is added for NAS. I agree that Knoppix would make a good choice as would Ubuntu/Kubuntu etc

(   (()
(`-' _\
 ''  ''

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Assisted Solution

by:knoxzoo
knoxzoo earned 100 total points
ID: 17046804
XP Home will work just fine on your little dragon slayer.  Do a standard install, then go back in and yank out the unnecessary junk MS puts on there.  That'll insure the easiest overall usage, and the greatest compatibility with all the goodies you might decide to run on it, including the ones you've listed, and the touch screen in particular.  
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Expert Comment

by:cup
ID: 17049225
Is it connected to a network?  If it is, then you don't really need a keyboard/mouse once the OS has been set up.  You should be able to configure it to be accessed remotely so if the music downstairs gets too loud, you can shut it down from upstairs via the remote connection.
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by:Redwulf__53
Redwulf__53 earned 100 total points
ID: 17050863
Windows XP with Drivesoft http://www.drivesoft.net/dfs_vehicles.html as seen on MTV's Pimp My Ride :)))
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by:kenpem
ID: 17057688
Not sure about network connectivity..... if it's home-based then YES. If car-based, then SOMETIMES - whenever it's in range of an open WiFi point (or one under my control), or whenever I tell it to grab a GPRS connection.

I wasn't planning on connecting keyboard & mouse after initial setup, unless it becomes part of my little server farm at home, in which case I can just as well connect it to the KVM along with everything else. If it ends up in the lounge then I'll manage it with VNC/Webmin/whatever. Plus of course a little touch-screen that *could* be used for device-local work.

I'm starting to lean towards the XP lazy-option, simply because it gives me the quickest, easiest time-to-production. But I won't learn anything that way. The BSD/Linux route is bound to be a lot more fun, and I'll learn lots (which is where the fun comes from), but will doubtless be a lot slower to get going and will I'm sure have many frustrating bumps in the road!

Good comments, all! I'll leave this open for a little longer, then divvy up the points.
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Author Comment

by:kenpem
ID: 17075089
Thanks all. Still not decided, I guess the answer ultimately depends on what I'm going to use it for! But you gave me plenty to think about.
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