Cheap ARM netbooks have Linux forced upon them

[Doragasu] got his hands on one of these WM8650 Netbooks for around 50 euros (~$63.50) delivered. They come with a version of Android preinstalled, but he wanted to use them more like a computer and less like an Android device. So he set out to load Arch Linux on the ARM-based Netbook.

This is possible because the hardware inside is actually pretty good. The 800 MHz SoC is accompanied by 256 megs of RAM. There’s 2 gigs of internal storage, a 7″ display, USB, Ethernet, WiFi, and an audio system. This is comparable to what you’d get with a Raspberry Pi (without video acceleration) but also includes all of those peripherals, a case, a touchpad and keyboard… you get the point. There are several patches that need to be applied to the kernel to get it working with the hardware. [Doragasu] covers each of them in the post linked above. You can also hear his presentation in the video after the break.

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Android on your netbook

Looks like there’s a pretty easy way to install Ice Cream Sandwich, the newest version of Android, on your Netbook. Actually this is limited to a few types of hardware including netbooks like the eeePC. That’s because the ISO files used during installation have been tailored to the hardware used on those devices. As with other Linux distros, the ISO file can be loaded on a thumb drive using Unetbootin. From there you can give it a whirl as a Live CD (or USB as it were) or choose to install it on your hard drive. We haven’t given it a spin as the eeePC version doesn’t want to boot on our Dell Mini 9, but we don’t see a reason why this couldn’t be set up as a dual boot option.

Now why would you want to run Android on your netbook? We’ve already seen that there’s a way to run Android apps in Ubuntu. We bet some people just love Android, and others just hate the Unity desktop that Ubuntu now uses… especially when the Netbook Remix had a lot of good things going for it.

Recovering a corrupted EEE PC BIOS

recovering_eeepc_bios

[Jeremy] had an ASUS EEE PC 1000HE netbook on his hands which had succumbed to a corrupted BIOS. In most situations, people replace a motherboard when the BIOS is damaged beyond repair, but considering the price of motherboards, especially those built for portable devices, he simply refused to go that route.

Instead, he took it apart and did a little investigation to find out what SPI flash chip ASUS used in the netbook. With that information in hand, he put together an SPI flash programmer using a breadboard and a DLP-USB1232H USB to UART module. He couldn’t program the flash chip in-circuit, so he had to desolder it and deadbugged it onto his programmer. Using a few Linux-based flashing tools, he was able to reprogram the chip with a functioning BIOS in short order, saving him from a costly motherboard replacement.

While some motherboard manufacturers have built in secondary BIOS chips to prevent the need for this sort of recovery, it’s nice to know that the process is relatively straightforward, provided you have some basic soldering and Linux skills.

This also isn’t the first time we’ve seen someone recover an EEE PC from the brink – if you’re looking for an Arduino-based alternative, be sure to check this out.

Add some LED enhancement to your netbook lid

[Mathieu] needed to open up his Acer Aspire One to do a hard drive replacement and decided to add a bit of pizzazz while he was in there. The image above is the lid of the netbook adorned with RGB LEDs and a spray painted stencil.

He previously purchased a set of surface mount RGB packages on eBay and thought that they were perfect for this hack. after removing the case he found that by using a flex PCB he would be able to fit the LEDs inside, and pass the connections through to the main computer housing. The leads connect to a Teensy board, which is held in place with a liberal application of hot glue. [Mathieu] removed the USB connector and soldered jumper wires to one of the computers ports. In the video after the break you can see that he uses the programming software to write some code to the Teensy, driving the LEDs. We’d like to see it set to listen for serial communications and react accordingly. That way you could use it for notifications, as an audio VU meter, to track torrent progress, etc.

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Mini arcade cabinet looks as good as the real thing

mame_cab

[Ed] had a netbook he no longer needed and decided to make it into a mini MAME cabinet for some of his family members. MAME cabinets are pretty plentiful, but this one was so nicely done, we wanted to share it.

He removed the monitor from an EeePC 901 in order to get some precise measurements, then went about crafting a mini cabinet from MDF. The whole thing was wrapped in sticky label paper adorned with old-school Galaga graphics, then covered in plexiglass for a nice sleek look that also protects the artwork.

He used an iPac 2 controller board to wire up all of the buttons and joystick to the netbook, opting to solder the controller’s wires directly to the USB header on the eeePC’s motherboard. A power switch was added up on top for easy operation, and the cabinet was sealed shut, though the back does open easily in the event that maintenance is required. The system is managed using the Maximus Arcade front end for MAME, which [Ed] claims is incredibly easy.

If you are interested in making your own MAME cabinet, check out some of the other MAME-based projects we have featured in the past, and don’t miss the video below of [Ed's] cabinet in action.

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Robot follows the rules of the road

This is a fantastic high school project. [Shmendrik213] built and robot a programmed it to follow common traffic rules. The robot drives itself with a DC motor, using one servo for steering and another to pan a webcam back and forth. The netbook that comes along for the ride is running a VB.NET program that can detect an upcoming intersection, read the street sign, and react based on other cars currently at the intersection.

The hardware is running on an Altera processor using firmware programmed in VHDL. We remember building a tissue box holder for one of our high school projects. Looks like the times have changed since then.

All that’s needed is a retro paintjob, miniMAME

[Tim's] miniMAME‘s construction follows the “light and cheap” approach, using foam core board and hot glue. Sure it won’t last a nuclear attack, but at least it’s light enough to carry to a friend’s house.

With a removable netbook at the core, CCFLs, speakers, trackball, and mini arcade fighting stick, the project completely surpassed our expectations. For those looking to build a miniMAME, [Tim] includes lots of pictures, details, and plans allowing anyone to make their own in about an afternoon.

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