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First slice of Pi

April 29, 2012 Leave a comment

I have had a chance to do some power draw monitoring of my Raspberry Pi and to compare with other low power ARM devices devices such as the SheevaPlug. The Raspberry Pi is really hard to beat – pulling roughly 2.0w when idle (with nothing plugged in to the USB or A/V outputs) to 3.2-3.3w at load (with HDMI output and USB keyboard and mouse) when using a standard Amazon Kindle charger as the power source. Something I’ve not had a moment to try is decoding HD video as I’d imagine that would load both the CPU and GPU but I can’t see the load being much higher given the combined CPU and GPU part (I’ll update this post when I confirm this).

Contrast these figures against 4.0w idle to 4.9-5.2w load for the SheevaPlug (also without any USB attachments). Admittedly the SheevaPlug has a slightly faster (1.2Ghz vs 700Mhz) ARM processor than the Raspberry Pi, but it also lacks the RCA/HDMI video output circuitry and has a wonky integrated PSU.

Probably the biggest difference between power consumption of the two devices will be related to power supply efficiency. As I already mentioned, the SheevaPlugs are renowned for being let down by cheap and inadequate integrated power supplies. In fact, I’m on my second Plug for that very reason. Since there is no (easy) way to test both devices with the same power supply, any comparison should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

The Pi has landed

April 16, 2012 Leave a comment

So my Raspberry Pi finally arrived today! Despite the launch morning kerfuffle I somehow (it’s still a mystery to me exactly how) managed to bag one from the first batch.

Here it is pictured alongside an Arduino for size reference – it’s slightly bigger but not by much. When I’ve had time to really explore what it is capable of I’ll write some more on the subject.

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(Raspberry) pie good, you like shirt?

February 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Exciting news! According to a blog post made a couple of days ago, the Raspberry Pi team expects the first boards to be available for purchase before the end of Feb! But a little background, the Raspberry Pi project is the brainchild of Eben Upton, formerly a lecture at Cambridge who set out with a simple goal – to try to reignite British educational system passion for by recapturing the programming frontier spirit of the BBC Micros of old. Seven years later and the boards are ready, compact and bristling with ports and potential.

Despite the original focus, the project has been blessed by a huge amount of interest and I for one am excited to get my hands on a board (or possibly several) to see what I can make them do. The boards have already been shown to run XBMC, Quake3 and have the approximate graphical capabilities of the original XBOX – I can’t wait to see what will happen in the coming weeks.

Quincying and you…

January 19, 2009 Leave a comment

quincying1It seems the much anticipated Playstation Home has, rather then revolutionise the game lobby experience, spawned a rather strange behavioural trend. Apparently all the male avatars gang up on the female avatars pestering them with their attentions… somewhere in the distance, the strained cry of “WOMAN” punctuates the silence followed by a left 4 dead style mobbing. Well, I guess that is what happens when you let pimply love starved socially inept geeks loose on the Internet… but I digress. :)

I chanced on a great little article describing in detail the act of ‘Quincying’. In the infinite world of Ying, yang and Newton’s third law, the Internet has come up with a comical rebuke to this sort of behaviour. Simply take one part beautiful avatar, mix with a pinch of deviancy. Stir for twenty minutes and add a sprinkle of button mashing and what do you come up with?

The process if trivial, create  a beautiful avatar and glide along seductively where-ever other avatars roam. Human (and online geek) nature being what it is, you will have a nice gathering in no time at all. When you have their attention, suddenly change your avatar from striking blond or giant ogre and watch in amusement as your digital ‘peers’ recoil.

Full story and description here.

I am sure there is scope for a detailed sociological study somewhere here… oh well.

Android G1 : Hands on review

November 2, 2008 Leave a comment

Since the first mobile running on Google’s Android software platform was announced, I have been eagerly awaiting it’s release here in the UK. Well this week it finally happened, so yesterday I went into a T Mobile shop to have a play with one. Unfortunately it is a bit of a mixed bag, whilst looking quite stylish (it looked a bit ugly from the photos) there are a number of bad points about the G1 which unfortunately terminally let it down.

First off, the slide. I actually rather like this part, despite being highly dubious about overly elaborate mechanisms, the G1 screen slides up and to the right cleanly and locks into place with a fairly reassuring click. The problem is the G1 is not comfortable to hold in the horizontal position, and I found the keyboard buttons to be inadequate for any serious use. However the most serious problem with this was that the screen was not fully locked into place. Given that it is a touch screen the fact that the whole screen section flexes backwards and strains against the sliding mechanism, even the smallest amount of force is exerted against it, is very worrying.

The touchscreen itself worked quite well and Android has definitely incorporated several design elements that Apple initially came up with. However it feels like Google were as eager to incorporate finger swiping functions as they were not to look like they were copying Apple and as such there are two different ways of scrolling through icon menus like the ‘desktop’ and the application menu which just feels silly and inconsistent. The overall layout and design of the menus and functionality felt poor and counter intuitive. This was felt especially in the web-browser which, whilst working well ( and really showing how nice the screen was) felt clunky and unfriendly to navigate and use. There was also an issue with flash plugins but I am assuming that would be fixed by an update.

Overall, the G1 very much feels like the unfinished article. The black one looks surprisingly nice in the person, but an inconsistent GUI / navigation system lets it down as well as the quality of the screen sliding retention mechanism. Still, thankfully this is not the Android phone, but the first version running the software platform. I have high expectations of future phones and can only hope that meager sales will not put off other companies from adopting this platform.

Up in the cloud

October 1, 2008 Leave a comment

Microsoft has a number of core business revenue streams – otherwise known as cash cows. Despite strong indications that regardless of the recent lightweight application paradigm shift to the ‘cloud’ Microsoft have remained staunchly of the view that the operating system, as we know it today, will still be present in the future. So todays announcement indicating a potential branching from the desktop application centric philosophy is quite astonishing. According to ComputerWorld, Microsoft are looking to unveil a version of Windows codenamed  ‘Windows Clouds’ within a month. It will be very interesting to see the approach Mircosoft take with this project considering they are were quite keen to emphasise this will not detract from the ongoing Windows 7 work which is the planned successor to Windows Vista.

I previously weighed in on my opinion on cloud computing and very little has emerged to change my mind so far. I recently tried gOS v3 codename Gadgets which is the lightweight Linux distribution formally its own flavour based on the Enlightenment DR13 window manager and I am not that impressed. I found the integration between Google services (presented via barely concealed HTML widgets) and the operating system felt very amateurish. This coupled with the fact that version 3 is based on the more feature rich Gnome window manager, any assertion of this being a ‘stripped down’, light weight operating system for ‘netbooks’ sounds rather strained.

I do not doubt that one day, a certain percentage of desktops and laptops will be light weight (or thin client) systems accessing storage, applications and processing power from a ‘mothership’ in much the way cloud computing is evolving now. However it seems to make much more sense for a family or household or even a group of people to buy a central ‘home server’. This will however be very different to Windows Home Server and will resemble more the old style dumb terminals where multiple clients connect to one central machine.

Well that is my prediction, we will talk in ten years! For now, long live monster power rigs! :) As a final note, it will be interesting to see where Apple fit into this in the coming years. iSlim? iWeb? iJot?

New iPod design leaked?

August 29, 2008 1 comment

I normally don’t pay much attention to ‘leaked’ designs or pictures as they invariably turn out to be fake or photo-shopped. However, I do trust some sources more than others and the following picture caught my eye.

Apple’s strategy of radical redesigns every couple of years form a clever strategy for separating people from their money periodically. This built in redundancy by design is quite remarkable, just look at the first generation nanos if you don’t know what I mean. Anyway, it may be real, it may be fake, but I thought I would share it.

The ‘new’ iPod nano (3rd generation presumably) … not sure if I like it much, although it is hard to tell from this blurry shot. The orientation is interesting and might suggest a landscape style view for movie playback.

Categories: Apple, Hardware, News Tags: , , , ,

PSP Touchscreen Mod

August 19, 2008 Leave a comment

I must admit I was a bit surprised to see this, but it appears the PSP now has some limited third party touch screen support. Although noble in aim, I have grave doubts about the viability of this project. Its welcoming to see that there is no soldering iron required, although for any serious game developer to take notice would require mass adoption, which lets face it, is not going to happen.

According to the developer, the original idea was to turn the PSP into a fully functional GSM mobile phone, although this was later scaled back to just a touch screen device. I think they made the right call on that one, N-Gage anyone?

Some youtube videos of this in action:

A calibration / test program:

So bottom line: its ugly and lacks any serious support. Still, it is a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of members of the community. Speaking of the PSP homebrew community, I wrote a few months ago about a n64 emulation project for the handheld which was then showing a fair amount of promise. Unfortunately, to my great sadness, the developer Strmnnrmn seems to have dropped off the face of the earth not having updated his blog since last December. Its always sad to see projects just die like this.


Distributed Computing : Folding @ Home Update

July 30, 2008 Leave a comment

I used to be quite an avid F@H contributor, I ran several folding rigs and wrote a bit of code for addins to the project. I have not done any real folding since late 2007, that is until this week. I built myself an awesome gaming system last week containing an Intel Core 2 Duo 8400 CPU, 4Gb of RAM and a ATi 4870 GPU. I am extremely pleased with the way this system works and decided to try out some of the high performance clients the F@H project offers.

These essentially break down into SMP and GPU. The former, SMP (Symmetric MultiProcessing) is a client designed to spread the unit workload over the physical (or virtual) cores available on a system rather than using the single threaded normal clients. Disappointingly it doesn’t appear the cores have been modified to achieve this, instead it looks like a managed series of single threaded processes are used. I will need to investigate this further as I had some problems getting it to work – more on this hopefully at a later date. The latter takes advantage of the stream processors on the graphics cards to perform folding, it is in essence a great example of GPGPU. This client absolutely rocks on my ATi 4870′s 800 stream processors currently giving me an approximate PPD (points per day) of greater than 2200 using the Gromacs GPUv2 core.

So, to anyone interested in Folding at Home, despite not being on the ‘officially supported’ list, the ATi 4870 is a work unit crunching beast. :)

(Profile)

Windows Media Center 2005 woes

July 23, 2008 Leave a comment

I managed to acquire, for the price of a nice lunch, a brand new Elonex media center Artisan LX a couple of days back. I was initially very excited because up to then I had still been running my first media center was really just an experiment, built from scratch containing mostly old components I had around my place. A year and a bit on, I am firmly hooked on a PC based PVR system the cornerstone of my entertainment system. It contained an Athlon 2600+ processor with 512Mb of DDR coupled with a DVB-T Hauppage tuner and an 80Gb drive for recordings running the open source MediaPortal software. So as you can see, there was plenty of room for improvement.

This was the first time I have really had a tinker with the Windows Media Center range of Operating systems that Microsoft produce and I went in with few expectations, apart from wanting at least as comparable an experience in terms of functionality and flexibility as I have enjoyed with MediaPortal.

The first thing that struck me was how fickle Windows Media Center 2005 was, even with all the roll ups (essentially what Microsoft call Service Packs for Media Center OS) installed. Wikipedia sums up the ‘capabilities’ of WMC 2005:

‘Media Center originally had a limitation of 1 analog tuner, but was raised to 2 analog tuners with Media Center 2005. With Update Rollup 1 for Media Center 2005, support for a digital tuner was added, but an analog tuner must still be present for the digital tuner to function. With Rollup 2, up to 4 TV tuners can be configured (2 analog and 2 HDTV). All the tuners must use the same source, for example they must all be off an aerial or a set-top box using the same guide data, you cannot mix Sky Digital and DVB-T for example.’

XP Media Center really shows its age here – I do not watch any analogue transmissions, so for a Media Center to require a legacy piece of hardware just to be able to access DVB (digital) seems preposterous. But that was not the worst thing! Windows Media Center 2005 is not capable of pulling EPG data OTA (over-the-air) instead requiring an overly elaborate system that relies on a permanent, always on Internet connection. This also raises some privacy concerns as ‘anonymous’ data, which is not entirely anonymous as Microsoft asks for your postcode during set up, is fed back to Microsoft which can include recording / watching trends and general EPG usage. Hitherto my media center system has not been networked. Considering it is in the opposite corner of my house, and I do not stream my recordings or have formal media shares, I never felt the need to network it. It was nice to just have a static, secure system without any security programs or periodic updates – now security monitoring of my media center has been added to my list of digital chores.

None the less, I was determined to give it a fair go, so I added a wifi adaptor, added some plug-ins and configured everything. After spending eight hours getting everything working, playing around and testing… I went back to my custom build. Not all the problems can be put squarely at Microsoft’s feet however. Elonex declared bankruptcy shortly after launching this range and the malicious part of me can see why, if this mediacenter is the sum total of their expertise.

Whilst the case looked rather nice from the outside, the hardware and the design of the internals is what really lets it down. The only element Elonex got right was the noise (or lack thereof) – the media center barely gives out a murmur when idle due to only a since fan which is housed inside the power supply. It runs at 690rpm, which draws air over the CPU heatsink (which has four heat pipes) and directly out the side of the case. However, I stressed ‘at idle’ before for a reason. When the media center does anything the incredibly noisy hard drive starts very audibly clicking and crunching away and it completely lets the machine down.

However that’s not the worst thing about this mediacenter. Due to the fact that there is only one very slow fan the airflow in the case is restricted to circulating around the motherboard tray, the processor then out the power supply. The harddrive and PCI / AGP cards are completely neglected. This point was slammed home when the harddrive consistently reported temperatures of high 50s to 62 degrees Celsius!!! Worse still, when I idled the system, that heat didn’t dissipate. The hard drive is locked into place with a pretentious plastic locking mechanism which neither improves the accessibility of the drive bay nor decreases the vibrations from the drive. There is no thermal (or thermally viable) contact between the hard drive and the case and as such, the hard drive is left smouldering away with no way to cool down predictably with next to no drop in temperature. There is a valid point that maintaining electronic components at a set temperature prolongs their life by avoiding constantly repeating thermal differentials (i.e. heating and cooling) however the fact remains that 60+ degrees centigrade is far too hot for a hard drive. Although my brief research on this did not yield any definitive threshold, most sources agree that 50-55 degrees Centigrade is about the absolute maximum recommended operating temperature.

Couple this practically zero thermal conduction with a lack of airflow and you have a recipie for a very short hard drive life. Even worse, this thermal issue was not limited to HDD, the south-bridge and GFX heatsinks were equally poorly cooled and get unpleasantly hot to the touch.

Worst of all, it is just slow. CpuID and the BIOS disagreed with each other about the exact Intel processor that powers the system. I believe it to be either an Intel Pentium 4 530 (at 3.06Ghz) or a Celeron D 345. There is no way the much older Athlon 2600+ processor with the same RAM should be out performing this setup and yet it does so without breaking a sweat.

All in all, very disappointing. A remarkable demonstration of technical ignorance on the part of Elonex. But hey, I didn’t pay for it and now I have an extra DVB-T tuner back in my original, self built machine.

Design (cosmetic) : 8/10 - Pleasing, with a nice Hi-fi look.

Design (technical) : 2/10 – Poor components poorly arranged.

Cooling : 6/10 - Great CPU and powersupply cooling, but everything else is woefully neglected.

Acoustics : 6/10 - Silent until it has to touch the harddrive, still a good effort though

Connectivity : 8/10 – Lots of connectors for digital Audio and Video

Capacity : 5/10 - 200Gb harddrive with a portion taken for recovery. I wouldn’t trust it though and by modern standards it is rather anemic.

Overall : 2/10 – Great for free, if I paid anything for it I would have been annoyed.

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