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Low-clock-frequency HPC which will happily run Linux

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i336_ Page Icon Posted 2014-02-16 10:23 AM
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I'm looking for an ultra-low-powered HPC which will run Linux (or, say, NetBSD) *reasonably* well (as in, I don't have to compile half the OS using gcc 2.1 on Debian 3.0, and there are relatively easy-to-follow instructions). I figure that this forum would be one of the most authoritative places to ask. (Hi. )

The kind of thing I'm looking for would have (listed from highest to lowest priority):
  • A CPU with a clock frequency as close to 40MHz as possible (if you know of a device which fulfills my suspend and host USB requirements and is less than around 150MHz, however, please do mention it)
  • Proper suspend support would be highly valued: I don't want to have to run the thing through the whole boot-through-CE-to-the-kernel routine, and even if I could skip CE, I don't entirely want to have to boot the kernel from scratch every time either
  • A CF or SD slot (or similar) which won't balk at the sight of large storage media is quite necessary (4GB? 8GB? How high can I go here?)
  • I know host USB is a lot to ask, but if it exists (even 1.1 would work!), Linux will be able to use it to its fullest potential...
  • If host USB can't work, some way to give the device an Ethernet (and possibly Wi-Fi) connection would be required
  • Besides something I can fit in my pocket, I'm also looking for a "large-format" tablet-type device with similar CPU clock speed requirements, and if this type of device could be made to run Linux this would be awesome
  • If the device has audio hardware, software support for it would be cool
  • A color display would be nice to have, but is entirely unnecessary (a greyscale LCD would last much longer, too, and being closer to my "ultra-low-power" target....).

If you're just scanning this thread - you have enough info to reply now.


Some notes/rationale/further information for those interested (basically an in-depth reiteration of some of list above):

Clock frequency: I'm looking for a particularly low-frequency CPU because, after years of not really knowing what I could do about my sensitivity to EMR (just about everything electronic makes me tired/irritable/skittish/etc eventually, unfortunately), I discovered an Ericsson MC218 PDA - which runs off a 36.864MHz CPU - in an op-shop, the first device which seemed to break this trend.
I figured it was the combination of the fact that the CPU was an especially low-power type (ARM7TDMI-based ARM710T series) running at a particularly low clock speed. Since I've found this PDA to unfortunately be frightfully delicate I'm hunting for a replacement for it.
Thus, I'll have the most confidence sourcing a ~40MHz replacement device, but since host USB and suspend are likely to be available/supported on such a unit, I'm willing to experimentally see how I'd handle something slightly faster which is still presumably a low-powered device (since it runs WinCE).

Suspend: Probably the coolest aspect of my aforementioned MC218 is the fact that I can be working away, hit "Off"... and when I hit "On" I'm staring at exactly where I left it. (To the extent that I have to make sure writes to the CF card actually complete before I hit "Off"... it very occasionally freaks out otherwise ) The 2.4 kernels which were built for this series of device supported the chip's standby/freeze mode, so I can do exactly the same thing with Linux too, which is truly awesome to see. I can haz?

Storage: Shortly after getting my MC218 I got a 2GB CF card for it, which worked out of the box.... until a couple months ago, when the PDA just inexplicably decided it didn't want to read it anymore. Despite the fact that the card works fine in my card reader. Thus, I want something which is known to play nice with large CF cards... long term
(I've tried wiping it, repartitioning it, zeroing it out then feeding it to the PDA... everything produces "no card inserted"

Form factor: I'm also asking around for a tablet-style or otherwise "large-format" type device operating on a similarly low-powered configuration, and if there are any gadgets out there using this format which can actually run Linux, well, that'd be *really* cool

Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance!

-i336

Edited by i336_ 2014-02-16 10:37 AM
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Rich Hawley Page Icon Posted 2014-02-16 1:02 PM
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Interesting...back when I was in the medical field, I had the opportunity to work with an older female patient who was hypersensitive to EMR. Her husband thought she was simply crazy, but we actually were able to prove her sensitivity. She could actually smell a television running in a house from standing outside it. It made her ill, sick to her stomach, gave her headaches and generally made her feel uncomfortable.

With the help of an EMR measuring device, she was able to finally find alternative electronic devices that helped immensely. She could still sense them, but they were not at the level where she couldn't live with them. For instance, the old CRT television was a major culprit...replacing it with an LCD television helped. Other things simply required additonal shielding to help relieve her symptoms.

So I guess my point here is it may not be only low-frequency devices that help, but the amont of shielding they have. I would think that perhaps a Pansasonic Toughbook which is heavier, but has substantially more shielding might be better for you than a standard laptop...so with that in mind, have you ever tried to take a device you know bothers you and wrap it in a shielding material to see if that makes a difference, say heavy aluminum foil? If so, then perhaps you could dismantle an offending product, shield it, and then reassemble it to make it tolerable.

Otherwise, I would think obtaining an EMR meter would be very good for you to test equipment before buying...
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i336_ Page Icon Posted 2014-02-16 7:29 PM
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I see.

This is amusing. Every time I've posted about this and mentioned why as an aside / in passing, the subject has always swung off into a discussion about EMR sensitivity, lol


Suffice to say, my opinion right now is that the definitive solution to fixing this is fixing me (which I'm working on... and getting somewhere with!), but for now, I need something ultra-low-power running at a low clock frequency. It's what will work.


That said, basic no go/go signal-strength meters simply wouldn't work for me: I'm fine with strong sources of some frequencies, but absolutely can't handle others. In my case, computer CRTs wear my eyes out after a while, but, until the TV signal in Australia went digital, I watched analog CRT TVs almost every day. Yeah.

I once saw an EMR meter being used for a moment on a TV show, which displayed a really cool FFT graph of all the frequencies it could monitor, on a very large LCD. It looked almost exactly like one of those "advanced"/super-fancy R/C plane/helicopter/car controllers - and I could immediately see that the number of zeros in its pricetag would likely have made me wince (). I've seen similar devices online, but with much smaller LCDs, and still for way too many digits after the $ .

I once considered the viability of building some kind of inexpensive "frequency shifter" which would swing all the frequencies I'd want to monitor into the audible range so I could hear them, but even with approximately less than zero knowledge of electronics, I figured that squashing the all the ranges ranges I'd want to monitor into the 20Hz-20kHz range would lose so much information in the process it'd be useless without some kind of tuning - but then I lose my "overview" / "see all the frequencies at once" capability. *sigh*


As for shielding, I've always believed that this will work... if absolutely nothing needs to enter or leave the shield. It'd be hard to see a screen through such a configuration


This post on the Hackaday forums would have to be the most definitive and informative I've written yet on the subject (there are a few others, but those are earlier versions with less detail).

It includes significantly more information about why I don't think shielding will work, as well as more "case notes" of my reactions to various things.

Unfortunately, that thread didn't really attract (m)any useful replies: most people interpreted my thoroughness/"here-are-all-the-things-that-don't-work" as "TLLLLLL(!!11);DR". (agh, ADHD ) I can't say I didn't try though, or that I left anything out...!

-i336

Edited by i336_ 2014-02-16 8:13 PM
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Rich Hawley Page Icon Posted 2014-02-16 8:04 PM
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Well, generally speaking, low clock frequency is akin to slow....spelled S.....L.....O.....W speed handhelds of an older year. Be interesting if you could find underclocking software rather than the normal inverse...
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i336_ Page Icon Posted 2014-02-16 8:17 PM
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*Wow*, you reply fast!

I was wondering about that! Hrm...

Also, my MC218 boots the Linux 2.4 kernel in about 20 seconds. (The userspace, which I was just testing and didn't "optimize" the mailserverandthewebserverandthentpcacheandtheeverythingelse out of, took about a minute, lol.) And that's at 36MHz!

I don't mind slowness. Really.

-i336
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Rich Hawley Page Icon Posted 2014-02-16 8:24 PM
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I reply fast because I'm running at 670mHz!
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i336_ Page Icon Posted 2014-02-16 9:14 PM
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GAHH... I must catch up! I'm only running at 800MHz :S
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Mjolnir Page Icon Posted 2014-02-17 7:00 PM
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I noticed from your HackaDay link that you entertained the idea of getting a PEG-N760C at 33mhz. Their are several on Ebay right now and here is a link to a USB wireless key that I CANNOT vouch for:
http://www.nbbatt.com/index.php?p=product&id=255236&parent=897&is_print_version=true

"Brand New Fast USB Wireless Adapter card for Sony CLIE PEG-N760C PDA - 150mbps * N Class * with CD - Compatibility Guaranteed"

No linux for this device (PEG-N760C) that I can find.
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i336_ Page Icon Posted 2014-02-17 9:11 PM
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Thanks for taking the time to read that Hack a Day post (it is quite... comprehensive ), and for your suggestion!

PDAdb shows that there are actually 68 different devices using the Motorola Dragonball MC68328, MC68EZ328 and MC68VZ328 series CPUs (clocked, respectively, at 16.67, 16.58 and 33MHz): Palm's entire product range (and a couple of third parties' who also used Palm OS) was based entirely on the 68k architecture before the switch to 100MHz+ ARM CPUs somewhere around 2002 or so (?). (Anecdotally, there was also the MC68SZ328 running at 66MHz, but I'm unsure whether that'd work for me ).

Unfortunately, that Wi-Fi adaptor link absolutely *smacks* of "cut and paste job", not least because, according to PDAdb, the Clie N-760C doesn't actually have host USB, which I'd assume that dongle would plug into...?

After about 3 months of research (!), I've concluded I have two options, Wi-Fi-wise: figure out what Wi-Fi cards are supported by the Treo 90, which got SDIO support via an aftermarket Palm OS 4.1H update, or find a HandEra 330 (ahaha !!1) and get a Symbol Wireless Networker CF card for it (which are apparently really, really good).
Only problem is, the Treo 90 got SDIO support *after* Wi-Fi SDIO cards were "interesting", meaning none of the cards seem to include Wi-Fi drivers for the Treo 90 (although the support for them is there). And while Symbol Networker cards can be found on eBay (provided you don't look at the prices ), the '330s themselves would appear to be in the aisle next to the hens' teeth.

I'm currently considering a slightly different route: Wi-Fi<->RS232 adaptors. This would have the massive advantage of Wi-Fi enabling any PDA (up to 14.4kbps, of course) and, because I'd be writing my own interface to the module, I'd have sufficient control to be able to associate with Wi-Fi networks programmatically, something I would very very much like to be able to do, and if I get a Symbol Wireless Networker, or actually manage find something the Treo 90 likes, I'm likely to be stuck with Wi-Fi driver/configuration software which is very, very unlikely to include a configuration API.


My intention in posting here to to get an idea from people "in the know" of what support for Linux was like on the various low-frequency H/PC models out there (so please do speak up, people who know! ).

Thanks again, and thanks in advance!

-i336

Edited by i336_ 2014-02-17 9:12 PM
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stingraze Page Icon Posted 2014-02-18 1:55 PM
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Hi. I just wanted to show you some links that may help you in getting Linux running on slower H/PCs.

I'm just experienced in emulating a very old Slackware 1.01 on Sigmarion 3 which has 400Mhz StrongARM myself using BOCHS, but I want to run Linux on older H/PCs too.

http://www.hacksrus.com/~mike/lince/lince-mips.htm

On Wayback machine, I found a site which somebody made Linux work on Mobile Pro 400 that runs Windows CE 1.0, 4MB RAM, 8MB ROM.
https://web.archive.org/web/20110615000000*/http://skyscraper.fortunecity.com/arpanet/47/lince.html


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i336_ Page Icon Posted 2014-02-19 12:15 AM
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Thanks for the reply

Wow, those are some old links... Linux 2.1!!

Running Linux on old hardware doesn't seem to be interesting to many people.
I did some poking around myself, but it would seem you've found the most definitive pages.

FYI, I had a look at the NetBSD/hpcmips list of supported devices, but the Sigmarion III isn't on it, sorry.
The slowest device on that list (the Everex Freestyle A-10, no idea what that is) runs at 54MHz, btw.

It would seem that these kinds of devices are best left running WinCE.

Perhaps someone could do something like EPOCEMX for WinCE, and build a kind of translation-layer "blob" which would let bash+sed/awk/grep/less/bc & co, cegcc, etc, work on top of unmodified Windows CE environments? This would probably be the most effective/cross-platform idea. (*Starts a separate post to put this idea into people's heads*)

-i336
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CE Geek Page Icon Posted 2014-02-19 4:17 AM
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i336_ - 2014-02-18 4:15 PM
FYI, I had a look at the NetBSD/hpcmips list of supported devices, but the Sigmarion III isn't on it, sorry.


Maybe because the Sig 3 is ARM-based. (The Sig 2 or the original Sigmarion might be candidates, though. )

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i336_ - 2014-02-18 4:15 PM
The slowest device on that list (the Everex Freestyle A-10, no idea what that is) runs at 54MHz, btw.


It's a Windows CE 2.01 Palm-size PC (an early predecessor of the Pocket PC).
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stingraze Page Icon Posted 2014-02-19 8:57 AM
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CE Geek - 2014-02-19 1:17 PM
Maybe because the Sig 3 is ARM-based. (The Sig 2 or the original Sigmarion might be candidates, though. )

Yep, Sigmarion 1 can run NetBSD/mips according to this Japanese Site: http://www.ne.jp/asahi/tachikawa/family/sig.shtml

NetBSD works on Sigmarion 2 as well.

I think I'll try it out soon and see how it works.
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Mjolnir Page Icon Posted 2014-02-19 8:06 PM
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i336_ - 2014-02-19 12:15 AM

...Running Linux on old hardware doesn't seem to be interesting to many people. ....-i336


This thread caused me to fire up my old DECpc 333sxLP - Debian Slink for the first time in probably 8 years:
http://www.linuxquestions.org/questions/linux-hardware-18/what-is-the-oldest-computer-hardware-you-installed-gnu-linux-on-4175487199/#post5077363

33mhz - 12 megs of ram

Back somewhat on topic I know you said that you had rather not bootstrap linux through wince but it might be possible to scale back the frequency (underclock) one of the Jlime Jornadas with a 2.6* kernel.



(IMG2_20140219_114900.jpg)



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stingraze Page Icon Posted 2014-02-19 11:51 PM
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Does that DECpc 333sxLP with Debian Slink run X Window?

Just curious what a 33MHz can do.
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