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Thread: Linux on 7" mini netbook ARM-VT8500 ?

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  1. #1
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    Xubuntu

    Linux on 7" mini netbook ARM-VT8500 ?

    EBay is currently flooded with super cheap tiny laptops that currently sell for around $125 but after Christmas may drop below $100. The are all pre-loaded with WINCE 5.0 or 6.0 but I feel comfortable that they could run some flavor of Linux, maybe xubuntu, if someone figured out to load it. It wont boot from a unetbootin stick - in fact I suspect that there is no BIOS and that the kernel image is factory loaded into the 2GB SSD drive.

    Has anyone had any success with loading Linux onto one of these?

    My little writeup on the device follows:
    ----------------
    I purchased a small notebook machine direct from Hong-Kong distributor, through eBay. The are commonly listed on eBay as '7" mini netbook'. It is a generic mini-laptop running a WinCE6.0 kernel on a VIA ARM-VT8500 processor.

    It is a cute little machine, weighing 1 pound, 5.7 ounces with a 800x480 7" screen, measured diagonally. This machine is absolutely generic with no brand name whatsoever. Installed memory is 128MB. The 2GB Flash Disk has 1.7GB of formatted space, currently with 1.59GB free. Closed, the units deminsions are 8-3/8 inches wide, 5-3/4 deep and 1-1/4 high. When open the unit is about the same size as a standard sheet of printer paper (8.5x11).

    It contains MicroSoft Media Player, Internet Explorer 6, WordPad and MicroSoft Messenger, but also several 3rd-party software packages:
    a MicroSoft Office compatible suite by SoftMaker Software GmbH, supporting Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats.
    Other 3rd-part software installed is WinRAR, Foxit PDF Reader, Image Viewer and audio recorder.
    It also contains an email client, nPOP, titled Outlook on the desktop. As delivered, nPOP does not support SSL (needed for gmail and Yahoo-mail) but SSL support can be added by installing three DLL files:
    npopssl.dll from http://www.nakka.com/soft/npop/downl...pssl002arm.zip
    libeay32.dll and ssleay32.dll from http://npopuk.org.uk/2.13/dl/openssl-0.9.8l.tar.gz

    The Internet Explorer browses most sites OK, albeit a bit slowly, but its antiquated java engine fails to support some sites, such as PowerMyPc.com's internet speed test. Also, YouTube doesn't work, complaining that the Flash Player needs to be updated. Yahoo Mail classic works just fine, as does Gmail. According to IronGeek.com, the browser identifies itself as Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE6.0; Windows NT 5.1)

    Although the minimal documentation indicates that the SD slot is just that, an SD slot, in actuality it also supports SDHC.

    There are three USB ports. The ones on the side are labeled keyboard and mouse, but they work fine with a USB-stick.

    WiFi works just fine with my in-house D-Link router. In addition to built-in WiFi, there is an ethernet port.

    This machine has some oddities. There doesn't appear to be a BIOS ROM - thus booting from a unetbootin USB is impossible. The WINCE kernel must be directly loaded into the flash drive at the factory, probably using some external tool. There are no disk drive letters. A plugged-in SD card or USB stick can be accessed by programs, such as WordPad, but they are not mounted on the desktop. There is no resident file explorer, but you can access the SD card or USB stick by opening the "My Computer" icon. Another way to access a SD card or USB stick directly is to access the SD card or USB stick from the command line (RUN->CMD). Another oddity is that every time you turn on the machine, the WiFi is powered off. If you want to use WiFi you must power it on via a desktop icon title "WiFi Power". Obviously this is a power conservation theme. There is a keyboard key with "Z z z" on it, which implys, to me atleast, sleep mode. However, it does nothing. Furthermore, closing the lid does not darken the screen or trigger a sleep or hibernate mode. In fact, in the control panel's Poers section, the sleep and hibernate modes are greyed out. Obviously this machine doesn't support sleep or hibernate mode - possibly due to the missing BIOS and its associated APCI. The keyboard key with "Z z z" is probably generic and intended for a different model, namely one with a BIOS.

    In summary, despite its oddities, this little machine would be useful in some situations as a laptop, especially where a larger or more expensive machine was not desirable. I think that it would be useful for keeping a journal while traveling and checking email at public WiFi hotspots. The web browser's slowness and antiquated javascript support and lack of Flash significantly weaken browser functionality, but Google and many other useful sites work just fine.
    ----
    Linux user since before Yggdrasil, Unix before that while with the real AT&T.

  2. #2
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    Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala

    Re: Linux on 7" mini netbook ARM-VT8500 ?

    You would probably need to put another bootloader on it. Look at the Familiar project. It has been dead for some years, but the mailing list is still active. The aim of the project was to run Linux on CE devices like older iPaq's, but even though most of them was PXA based, i still think those guys might be able to help you.

  3. #3
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    Re: Linux on 7" mini netbook ARM-VT8500 ?

    VIA-ARM VT8500 I don't think that will run the usual i386 version of Ubuntu. There's a quiet a few different versions of these 7 inch screened netbooks from China all with different processors. Some are ARM, some VIA, other RDC cpu...
    Some with <256mb RAM.

    I think there's some out there with >256mb ram and a 1GHZ X86 processor. Like this one. That sounds like a good set of specs to me for running the usual Ubuntu. It is possible to run with less however (like with Xubuntu).

    I sure wish these mini netbooks had a vga out port for doing powerpoint presentations!

    I've been reading prices as low as $70 to 80 USD for one of these.
    Last edited by dimeotane; December 18th, 2009 at 02:34 PM.
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  4. #4
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    Re: Linux on 7" mini netbook ARM-VT8500 ?

    I've been thinking of opening mine up to look at the board. I read from a post by someone that did (partially) open it up, that there was a single board inside. I suspect that the variations are slight and that all are based upon the same board design and coming from the same Chinese factory.

    I feel strongly that there is no BIOS (to further reduce costs) and that the OS is loaded externally via some debugging tool.
    ----
    Linux user since before Yggdrasil, Unix before that while with the real AT&T.

  5. #5
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    Re: Linux on 7" mini netbook ARM-VT8500 ?

    Yuck, those specs are terrible... even the original 2007 Asus eee had 512mb of ram.

  6. #6
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    Re: Linux on 7" mini netbook ARM-VT8500 ?

    Yes they are terrible, yet surprisingly it works fairly well. I even loaded an old PowerPoint presentation and, to my great surprise, it loaded and displayed perfectly. I could use this for presentations except there is no external VGA port. The basic office-type applications and email work fine as their processor requirements are small. The MicroSoft IE 6 browser works well but is noticeably slow. When I hit a page with lots of photos and javascript it browser will lock up until it has processed it all.

    I can't help but wonder how a really lean Linux distro would work in it.
    ----
    Linux user since before Yggdrasil, Unix before that while with the real AT&T.

  7. #7
    Join Date
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    Re: Linux on 7" mini netbook ARM-VT8500 ?

    There is a keyboard key with "Z z z" on it, which implys, to me atleast, sleep mode. However, it does nothing. Furthermore, closing the lid does not darken the screen or trigger a sleep or hibernate mode. In fact, in the control panel's Poers section, the sleep and hibernate modes are greyed out. Obviously this machine doesn't support sleep or hibernate mode - possibly due to the missing BIOS and its associated APCI. The keyboard key with "Z z z" is probably generic and intended for a different model, namely one with a BIOS.

    I found out that the Zzz key is actually the Windows Key. It has the same functionality of the windows key...Try it out. Zzz key + E opens Windows Explorer.

  8. #8
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    Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex

    Re: Linux on 7" mini netbook ARM-VT8500 ?

    My boss just bought one of these for the same reason as the post above - For the kids to play Internet games. He gave it to me to see if I could get linux + flash on it. It's a cute little thing, but it sounds like I'm going to have to tell him the bad news. I can't risk bricking his netbook.

  9. #9
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    Re: Linux on 7" mini netbook ARM-VT8500 ?

    Well if we figure it out maybe we can put up some step by step instructions.

  10. #10
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    Re: Linux on 7" mini netbook ARM-VT8500 ?

    Hello dwinston91 and doudar.

    Yes,Youtube and facebook is what the kids want - and do not get.
    I too have googled for the Network Flash Utility (NFU) seeming to be part of software ment for the RealView developing boards.These (commercial) boards + the belonging proprietary applications cost something,and the RealView company will probably (and understandable) stick to this utility.
    But to ask politely does not cost anything .

    I remember a MP4 player (sunplus game king) looking a bit like a PSP but with camera and emulating NES games:

    http://mympxplayer.org/1-vt8674.html...r=asc&&start=0

    When connected via USB to Windows PC and pressing a "combo" when booting the device Windows would ask for the camera drivers,then part of flash ROM was mounted as a drive,and a hidden operating system could be lifted off with a tool found in the downloads/tools section on the site.
    Some ARM tools perhaps can be found at the site,I have not looked yet.

    I guess our ARM chip also support camera / webcam if used in other devices.Also one could search/ask for help at Samsung who perhaps has licensed this processor to company VIA.
    Just back from a meeting,will now have a cup of cofee.Talk to you later.
    Last edited by PerChristensen; December 22nd, 2009 at 12:02 AM.

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