Wanna DIMyself.
July 13, 2012 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Aspiring hobbyist asks: What would YOU do with this board?

My goal: a decently-powered tablet, netbook, or mini-PC hat that runs Linux. I'm waiting for the release of the Vivaldi tablet and I also don't think it will be long before someone creates a Youtube video about how to install a Linux distro on the Nexus 7.

However, I'm intrigued by some other options, especially DIY. I've seen some favorable comments about the HardKernel ODROID-X board, linked above. The board is supposedly capable of running Ubuntu in addition to Android.

I've never built my own system before, although I suspect I could do it given the right information and tools.

1) What kind of system could be built around this board by a novice hobbyist? Or is that a pretty ambitious goal for a novice?
2) Which sites are the best in terms of DIY information?

Please excuse any newb assumptions or other howlers in this question. It may be that I'm best off in terms of time and money just waiting on the Vivaldi or Nexus 7 experimenters, but I'd like to hear something from real-world DIY folk.

posted by Currer Belfry to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you can get Linux on it, you can get MAME on it. Considering the HDMI-out and SDHC slots, I would definitely use that as an emulator console, assuming, of course, your TV setup is better than your monitor/speaker setup.
posted by griphus at 7:10 AM on July 13, 2012

you could get the recent Rasberry Pi to do almost the same thing for $35 and considering the buzz around it, developers are just waiting to pounce on it.
posted by radsqd at 7:16 AM on July 13, 2012

That 50pin expansion port is neat. If I were you, I'd start looking at I2C devices that could be fun to play with. Giving you an even better understanding of I2C would be to use GPIO and bitbang it to control an I2C device.

Just google I2C, GPIO and bitbang to get an idea of what I'm talking about... embedded programming is fun.
posted by Loto at 7:52 AM on July 13, 2012

I just bought an MK802 and I'm pretty impressed with it. It's slightly slower than the mini-PC you linked (Allwinner A10 instead of Cortex-A9), but it's cheaper, almost twice as small, uses Wifi instead of ethernet, and can be powered just by USB. It has only been available for around a month but various people have made some linux images available for it (they load automatically from the microSD card, no need to reflash and risk bricking it). Lubuntu which is a stripped down version of Ubuntu works pretty well on it, the main outstanding issue is that there is no support for the GPU because there are no Ubuntu drivers for it, which means video playback is slow, but that should be fixed soon. Overall it's not exactly as fast as a real $300 PC but for a fun gadget it's pretty great.

These mini-PCs are all mainly designed around doing multimedia stuff. So in general people are doing things like viewing Netflix on their HDTV and whatnot. I personally do not have solid plans for what I'm going to do with mine yet, but having an Ubuntu device I can just plug into USB and then SSH into is pretty neat. If you hooked one of these things up to a TV and worked on a good way to control it, I think you could do a lot of fun things with it depending on what you're into. Otherwise if you want to go more in the hobby project direction in really depends on what your project is specifically.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:55 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that a development board like that will (probably) never have a slick sculpted case with a giant LED screen and accurate touch sensing -- a package like that really has to be designed together, and produced by somebody who can amortize the outrageous cost of tiny connectors and custom wiring harnesses over millions of units. If you want to hack a tablet, buy a hackable tablet.

Anyway, that dev board seems to have attractive specs. You can probably run Linux on it, which means you can do almost anything with it. MAME would be a challenging but doable project for a committed beginner.

The GPIO port really sets that board apart from many other options. Sure, the Raspberry PI has one (plus is much cheaper) but good luck getting one. And the few that have made it into acquaintances' hands have not really done much to convince me that it's as wonderful as everyone says it will be (I've heard of power and speed problems so far).

I just bought a couple of GuruPlugs for hacking purposes. Not the cheapest, or sexiest, or hippest, but they run Linux out of the box, have adequate memory and interfaces, and they come in a UL-listed box that you can plug into the wall without killing yourself. (Getting to their GPIO is a bit tricky, though. So if you need GPIO...)
posted by spacewrench at 8:22 AM on July 13, 2012

That thing already is a mini-PC. Installing Ubuntu might just work, but I think it's much more likely there are complications like device-specific drivers that would make it worthwhile to wait for someone else to do the heavy lifting and publish installation instructions (and an installation image.)

At such time as you could put a conventional Linux distro on it, you could do pretty much anything with it, and all sorts of things would become reasonable for a newbie hobbyist to do -- run your own web server, play games, use it as a media server, learn to program.

(But if you want a tablet or a netbook/laptop, wait for one of those.)
posted by Zed at 4:32 PM on July 13, 2012

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