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

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    Join Date
    Jan 2006

    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
    libeay32.dll and ssleay32.dll from

    The Internet Explorer browses most sites OK, albeit a bit slowly, but its antiquated java engine fails to support some sites, such as'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, 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.


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