A Third Scale Mini PowerMac

We’re surrounded by tiny ARM boards running Linux, and one of the most popular things to do with these tiny yet powerful computers is case modding. We’ve seen Raspberry Pis in Game Boys, old Ataris, and even in books. [Aaron] decided it was time to fit a tiny computer inside an officially licensed bit of miniature Apple hardware and came up with the Mini PowerMac. It’s a 1/3rd scale model of an all-in-one Mac from 1996, and [Aaron] made its new hardware fit like a glove.

Instead of an old Mac modified with an LCD, or even a tiny 3D printed model like Adafruit’s Mini Mac Pi, [Aaron] is using an accessory for American Girl dolls released in 1996. This third-scale model of an all-in-one PowerPC Mac is surprisingly advanced for something that would go in a doll house. When used by American Girl dolls, it has a 3.25″ monochrome LCD that simulates the MacOS responding to mouse clicks and keypresses. If you want to see the stock tiny Mac in action, here’s a video.

The American Girl Mini Macintosh is hollow, and there’s a lot of space in this lump of plastic. [Aaron] tried to fit a Raspberry Pi in the case. A Pi wouldn’t fit. An ODROID-W did, and with a little bit of soldering, [Aaron] had a computer far more powerful than an actual PowerMac 5200. Added to this is a 3.5″ automotive rearview display, carefully mounted to the 1/3rd size screen bezel of the mini Mac.

The rest of the build is exactly what you would expect – a DC/DC step down converter, a USB hub, and a pair of dongles for WiFi and a wireless keyboard. The software for the ODROID-W is fully compatible with the Raspberry Pi, and a quick install of the Basilisk II Macintosh emulator and an installation of Mac OS 7.5.3 completed the build.

Tiny Headless Servers Everywhere

Quick, what do “cloud compute engines” and goofy Raspberry Pi Internet of Things hacks have in common? Aside from all being parody-worthy buzzword-fests, they all involve administering remote headless (Linux) installations. It’s for exactly that reason that a new Ubuntu distribution flavor, Ubuntu (Snappy) Core, targets both the multi-bazillion-dollar Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud and the $55 BeagleBone Black.

If that combination seems unlikely to you, you’re not alone. But read on as we hope to make a little more sense of it all.
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Sense Hat Lights up Pi

One of our chief complaints about the Raspberry Pi is it doesn’t have a lot of I/O. There are plenty of add ons, of course to expand the I/O capabilities. The actual Raspberry Pi foundation recently created the Sense Hat which adds a lot of features to a Pi, although they might not be the ones we would have picked. The boards were made for the AstroPi project (the project that allowed UK schools to run experiments in space). They don’t appear to be officially for sale to the public yet, but according to their site, they will be selling them soon. Update: Despite some pages on the Raspberry Pi site saying they aren’t out yet, they apparently are.

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Orange is the New ($15) Pi

When the Raspberry Pi came on the scene it was hard to imagine that you could get a fairly complete Linux system for such a low price. The Pi has gotten bigger, of course, but there are still a few things you miss when you try to put one into a project. Wifi, comes to mind, for example. The first thing you usually do is plug a Wifi dongle in, consuming one of the two USB ports.

The Orange Pi is a direct competitor and has a few variants. Originally, the board cost about $30 but sports WiFi, a 1.6 GHz processor, 8 GB of flash, and a SATA interface. There’s now a reduced version of the board for about $15 that deletes the flash and SATA along with the WiFi and one of the original’s 4 USB ports. Still, the Raspberry Pi doesn’t have built-in flash. And the $15 Orange Pi PC has the things you’d expect on a Pi (HDMI and Ethernet) along with other extras like an IR receiver and an on-board microphone. Not bad for $15 considering it has a quad-core processor, a GPU and 1GB of RAM. Continue reading “Orange is the New ($15) Pi”

No Windows Drivers? Boot up a Linux VM!

[Voltagex] was fed up with BSODs on his Windows machine due to a buggy PL2303 USB/serial device driver. The Linux PL2303 driver worked just fine, though. A weakling would simply reboot into Linux. Instead, [Voltagex] went for the obvious workaround: create a tiny Linux distro in a virtual machine, route the USB device over to the VM where the drivers work, and then Netcat the result back to Windows.

OK, not really obvious, but a cool hack. Using Buildroot, a Linux system cross-compilation tool, he got the size of the VM down to a 32Mb memory footprint which runs comfortably on even a small laptop. And everything you need to replicate the VM is posted up on Github.

Is this a ridiculous workaround? Yes indeed. But when you’ve got a string of tools like that, or you just want an excuse to learn them, why not? And who can pass up a novel use for Netcat?

Reverse Engineering how a USB Switch Switches

[Daniel] found himself with a need to connect a single USB device to two Linux servers. After searching around, he managed to find an inexpensive USB switch designed to do just that. He noticed that the product description mentioned nothing about Linux support, but he figured it couldn’t be that hard to make it work.

[Daniel] started by plugging the device into a Windows PC for testing. Windows detected the device and installed an HID driver automatically.  The next step was to install the control software on the Windows system. This provided [Daniel] with a tray icon and a “switch” function. Clicking this button disconnected the HID device from the Windows PC and connected the actual USB device on the other side of the USB switch. The second computer would now have access to the HID device instead.

[Daniel] fired up a program called SnoopyPro. This software is used to inspect USB traffic. [Daniel] noticed that a single message repeated itself until he pressed the “switch” button. At that time, a final message was sent and the HID device disconnected.

Now it was time to get cracking on Linux. [Daniel] hooked up the switch to a Linux system and configured a udev rule to ensure that it always showed up as /dev/usbswitch. He then wrote a python script to write the captured data to the usbswitch device. It was that simple. The device switched over as expected. So much for having no Linux support!

Hacking An Android Laptop To Run Linux

A few years ago, someone at Lenovo realized they could take an Android tablet, add a keyboard, and sell a cheap netbook that’s slightly more useful than a YouTube and Facebook machine. Since then, Lenovo has stopped making the A10 notebook and has moved on to manufacturing Chromebooks. That doesn’t mean this little Laptop doesn’t have some life left in it: it still has a Cortex A9 Quad core CPU, is reasonably priced on the ‘defective’ market, and can now run a full-blown Linux.

When the A10 notebook was released, there was a statement going around saying it was impossible to install Linux on it. For [Steffen] that was a challenge. He cracked open this netbook and took a look around the Flash chips. There were two tiny pads that could be shorted to put the device in recovery mode, and the entire thing can be booted from a USB stick.

[Steffen] ran into a problem while putting a new kernel on the netbook: there was a null pointer reference in some device during boot. The usual way of diagnosing this problem is to look at the console to see what device failed. This netbook doesn’t have a UART, though, and [Steffen] had to use an FTDI chip and set the console to USB to see why this device failed.

Just about everything on this tiny laptop works right now, with a few problems with WiFi, webcam, and standby mode – all normal stuff for a putting Linux on a random machine. It’s worth it, though: the quad-core ARM is a very good chip, and [Steffen] is running x86 apps with qemu. Not bad for something that can be found very, very cheap.