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

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

    Is there anything here which might help?

    http://www.ubuntu.com/products/whatisubuntu/arm

  8. #8
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    Re: Linux on 7" mini netbook ARM-VT8500 ?

    A small precompiled linux image + U-boot bootloader seem to exist HERE:

    http://www.arm.com/products/os/linux_download.html

    Also a free ARM compiler seem to be available HERE:

    http://linux.onarm.com/index.php/Main_Page

    A (Windows) Burntool to burn "bootloader" and compiled Linux image on mini NB could be?:

    http://www.nxp.com/products/microcon...nload/lpc2000/

    or perhaps better (again Windows app):

    http://www.flashmagictool.com/

    Crosslink ethernet cable between host Linux or Windows box to mini-notebook for establishing connection, and then burn
    1. bootloader at right hex adress
    2. then the free Linux image onto mini notebook FLASH-ROM??

    Also I think it is possible to set up an ARM cross compiler on your running Linux box if you compile a new GCC compiler from source TAR ball and specify " make --with-arm " or something like when compiling.
    Perhaps it is then possible to compile f. ex. math.app. Maxima for such a small thing mini notebook??

    This is just fast notes,but I will happily in Xmas holidays join trying to get something to work (I run Scientific Linux 4.0 - a Redhat Enterprise 4 clone + XP on another PC)

    For specs of notebook see as of dec. 18:

    http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/NEW-7-Mini-Net...item4a9d1c41ab
    Last edited by PerChristensen; December 19th, 2009 at 12:12 AM.

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

    You really did your homework. These links look promising. With the Christmas arrival shipping date past, the prices are dropping. Under $100 e/w shipping is now common (http://tinyurl.com/y8bv4cf). I have to proceed carefully - I don't want to brick it.
    ----
    Linux user since before Yggdrasil, Unix before that while with the real AT&T.

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

    Hello celem
    Perhaps it will only be you and I thinking this way.I have a cross cable somewhere but has to buy a new one as I am not sure which one it is,and I can`t go to the mall at the moment because of heavy snow.
    As I see it we should focus on
    1. Working burn tool (does a linux tool exist?)
    2. What hex address to burn U-boot bootloader to.
    Let us take it easy the next days,hope other interested will join and perhaps in a few days make some sort of progress plan.Sincerely Per

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