Embedded x86 Linux
November 7, 2009 6:27 PM   Subscribe

x86 embedded Linux filter: Please recommend a not-too-costly embedded x86 system that is fanless, has a full set of the usual external I/O ports and doesn't use a lot of power. Should be the size of a VHS tape or smaller. Probably Mini-ITX form factor or nano-ITX. Relatively low cost would be good.

I'm looking for suggestions for a embedded x86 system to integrate into a product that will be produced in relatively low volumes, for a niche market. It should be relatively easy to make changes to and diagnose in the field so it needs to have a full set of ports, at least two USB (preferably four USB), VGA, one RS232, RJ45 ethernet. Having a minipci slot for a 802.11g card would be good too.

CPU power is not a factor so it can be the lowest power VIA or Intel Atom processor, but it needs to be fanless.

It may need to store a bit of data so it should have a mounting point for one 2.5" SATA SSD.

This will probably be in the mini-ITX form factor or one of VIA's nano-ITX type boards. I'm looking to buy the motherboard, case and power supply together as a package, and the power supply needs to accept 12V DC input. Any suggestions on vendors or sources?
posted by thewalrus to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've seen lots of people use Soekris or PC Engines sbcs for that kind of thing. Maybe those are on the small/slow end of your range. For more desktop-like machines, maybe Logic Supply?

Does it need to be x86, or just powerful enough to run a real OS? (ie, would a compact ARM or PPC board work as well?)
posted by hattifattener at 6:45 PM on November 7, 2009

Linux Devices frequently reviews stuff for embedded, industrial, mobile and low-power applications. I'd check their recent archives - something will definitely fit your needs.
posted by odinsdream at 6:48 PM on November 7, 2009

This is pretty close to what I'm looking for... The better VIA boards are about $199 by themselves, then you need to add a case. The only two things I don't like about this are the 19V DC in, so I need a DC-to-DC power supply, and that is uses Realtek LAN instead of Intel. The CF slot and the easily pluggable 2.5" SATA bay are nice.
posted by thewalrus at 6:55 PM on November 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have direct experience with the LogicSupply board you linked to, in that case. Let me know if you have any questions.
posted by odinsdream at 7:26 PM on November 7, 2009

If it doesn't have to be x86, the OpenRD Client hits most of your requirements.

Be a little careful with the Via boards if you need strict P3-and-above compatibility. Some of them run a slight subset of the full x86 instruction set, and I found I had to run a slightly unusual kernel to get them to work reliably.
posted by scruss at 8:05 PM on November 7, 2009

Tweaking custom kernels is not something I'd want to do on this, since all of the hardware plugged into it by USB would be very standard stuff... Scruss' comment is one vote in favor of an Intel Atom vs VIA chip.
posted by thewalrus at 8:20 PM on November 7, 2009

This is probably the most full-featured x86 system I've seen:


I have one, and it runs great from 12VDC, has 6 USB, one HDMI, an SD card slot, built in Ethernet, 802.11, and analog audio in/out. It takes a laptop SATA drive, so spinning disc or SSD.

There are versions which ship with Windows and Linux.
posted by tomierna at 8:56 PM on November 7, 2009

I bookmarked this some time ago. Might be of interest:
Nano-ITX form factor, 5-watts at idle
posted by smcameron at 9:49 PM on November 7, 2009

I wouldn't worry too much about the VIA chips. The earlier Samuel and Ezra-series of the C3 CPUs didn't implement 'cmov' which made for problems with code compiled for i686, but they should work just fine with stock kernels targeting earlier revisions of the x86 ISA (i've been using a samuel2 with stock Ubuntu kernels for 4-5 years). Plus, for the last 6 years, they've been shipping chips that implement cmov and should run just fine with code compiled for i686.

That said, i've had my eye on the Atom powered fit-pc that tomierna linked to.

If you don't need much CPU power, the AMD Geode based boards like the one smcameron or hattifattener linked to might be a reasonable option.
posted by Good Brain at 12:10 AM on November 8, 2009

Tomierna, what's the LAN and WLAN chipset on that fit-pc? It looks like a pretty good alternative to the AOpen I linked to above. I'm wondering how good the linux support is for the wireless...
posted by thewalrus at 12:30 AM on November 8, 2009

Perhaps too expensive but how about Asus's EEE Box
posted by jmsta at 5:27 AM on November 8, 2009

A plug computer, perhaps?

I believe Marvell sells an eval kit for USD 99.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:32 AM on November 8, 2009

I'm just going to throw out the higher-end thin clients - I personally recommend the HP T5710, which runs an 800mhz Transmeta Crusoe chip that works like a champ with any version of linux I've thrown at it. The kicker: you can usually get them for less than $50 on ebay. Wyse's S90 is also good, although I had (resolvable) problems getting it to boot.

If you're wanting to spend the extra money, and have your heart set on the mini-itx form factor, I also recommend the Intel Atom N270, in the fanless Jetway mobo - it's a strong and cool chip.

But seriously, others above have mentioned the big thing - ARM rules the embedded linux scene.
posted by eclectist at 7:39 AM on November 8, 2009


The chipsets are:
LAN: Realtek RTL8168C Gig-E
WLAN: Ralink 802.11n
posted by tomierna at 9:20 AM on November 8, 2009

Yeah, nthing that ARM is going to give much better performance / heat generated / power consumption figures than anything x86 compatible.
posted by idiopath at 10:41 AM on November 8, 2009

Easy my friend, I have been there. Looked at micro, pico ITX etc. Also looked at the Shivaplug.

You want to buy this:


It runs linux on a MIPS processor and consumes around 6 Watt.

* FRITZ!Box Fon WLAN combines ADSL modem, fast WLAN N, PBX and 4 LAN ports
* Suitable for combination with UMTS or cable modem
* The router connects to multiple PCs
* The DECT base station lets you connect up to six cordless telephones
* Phone calls over Internet with VoIP, or over ISDN or analog phone lines
* Internet telephony with existing phones, even when the PC is shut down
* Connect analog terminal equipment, ISDN telephones and PBXs
* Up to 5 answering machines and fax function integrated, voice-to-mail, fax-to-mail
* USB host for USB printers or USB mass storage media in the network
* Integrated firewall protects connected PCs


In the US you won't be able to use the cable modem functionality but you can just plug your US modem ethernet cable in it. You can also attach an external drive or flash for data sharing.

Then the fun only starts. You will erase the provided operating system and put this on it:

I currently down own one but will buy one soon. What makes it interesting for me is the low power consumption, MIPS based (more secure), Linux, and packages like firewall, torrent, privoxy, TOR etc. are provided:
posted by yoyo_nyc at 12:24 PM on November 8, 2009

The MPC-L ticks most of your boxes.
posted by Z303 at 3:46 PM on November 8, 2009

Neither the ShivaPlug nor the Fritz!Box have the VGA port that thewalrus was looking for. But, since people have gone off the preference for x86, check out the ARM based BeagleBoard. Has DVI-D and S-video, but not VGA.
posted by Good Brain at 11:40 PM on November 9, 2009

My latest computer uses a mini-ITX Zocat Ion board. It has a serial header, but you'd need a case to which you could attach an RS323C port bracket. It has most of the ports you'd expect of a microATX -- 3 SATA, 1 eSATA, 6 USB (and more headers to attach to the front of the case), 2 DDR2 slots, a miniPCI slot filled with 802.11n wifi, VGA, DVI. Comibine this with a mini-ITX case with a place to put the SSD and you'd be in business.

It's a pretty nifty machine.
posted by Zed at 10:47 PM on January 14, 2010

Er, that should be Zotac Ion.
posted by Zed at 2:32 PM on January 16, 2010

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