Hackit: SheevaPlug


A few months ago, we introduced the SheevaPlug, a 1.2GHz ARM processor with 512Mb of RAM, 2 usb ports, an ethernet port, and an SD card slot. In that article, we asked: “What would you do with one?”. We received tons of responses, 118 comments and counting. Scientific American had a similar idea and asked some “hackers”(MIT students) what they would do with it (thanks, grisspy). We thought maybe we would weigh in with our opinions. Join us after the break and in the comments.

#1. Home Automation
Summary: “I would hook it up to a Web camera and track myself in the house,” says Nikolaus Correll, an M.I.T. CSAIL postdoctoral associate.

Eliot: [Nikolaus] has an interesting idea about leveraging the extra processing power to do object recognition and then having the home react accordingly. The phrase “home automation” points out one of the SheevaPlug’s shortcomings; despite plugging directly into the wall, it doesn’t do powerline communication.

Caleb: Note how he avoids mentioning x10. It’s a nice idea, especially once he gets to the “statistical profile” bit.

#2. Desktop Replacement
Summary: It’s small and fairly powerful. It could replace your desktop.

Eliot: No dedicated video hardware means you’ll have trouble replacing even your Apple TV with this. No one is scrambling to build an ARM desktop.

Caleb: What advantage does this have over a netbook? By the time you add a display and input aren’t you close to the netbook bottom of the line, minus the easy portability?

#3. Data Center Replacement:
Summary: “If these things can compare with [server farms’]…computational throughput at a fraction of the power consumption, that’s intoxicating.”

Eliot: This sounds like a terrible cluster. Having a dedicated AC-DC converter for each processor is NOT efficient.

Caleb: For small applications, this makes sense. Like doing a cluster in your home, or possibly office. It seems like their performance would be lacking in larger applications. Anyone care to weigh in here?

#4. Data Availability
Summary: Connect a hard drive to it, access the data from anywhere.

Eliot: This is definitely a good use. There are very few applications that get the software right and we’d love to see improvements. The USB host port could make initial setup much easier.

Caleb: I like this. If it really is plug and play, it is a great solution. I’m guessing you could even have software with it that would let normal people set this up without modifying their router settings?

#5. Data Mining
Summary: Connect stuff to the internet to gather statistics.

Eliot: This is a user friendly way to add network capability to appliances. It costs more than an Arduino, but it should be much easier to get started collecting, storing, and hosting data. It has a serial interface for connecting whatever you want.

Caleb: He is talking about making every day objects share data right? The title lead me to believe he was going to have these things crawling the web collecting data. This seems like overkill. If you can rig a machine not meant to send that data,with sensors and custom code, you can probably program a development board like Arduino to relay that data for cheaper than the SheevaPlug. Am I way off base here? Assume they have a unit to collect data at the home office, that cost 5 times as much, but they save money on each cheaper unit in the machine(in the field) that calls home. That would be a more cost efficient way to do it wouldn’t it? Maybe my take only applies if you are doing a lot of appliances, like beverage machines.

#6. Life Filter
Summary: Use it to filter your email.

Eliot: Innocuous looking hardware for running interesting daemon processes on a network certainly sounds like a fun project.

Caleb: Yeah, I guess that could work. I don’t understand the necessity with all the filtering available for email as it is. Maybe he’s referring to some illusive future data that we need filtered. I’ll just stick with here and now. Email filter? Really?

#7. Surveillance
Summary: connect webcams for cheap surveillance.

Eliot: This has been solved and many of them even feature external inputs already.

Caleb: IP cameras are pretty cheap, they can be found for far under $100. Is this a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist? Maybe this could add some feature like facial recognition or something.

#8. You Name It
Summary: SheevaPlug is versatile, it would make a good cheap server.

Eliot: The lack of x10, powerline networking, and WiFi makes this platform undeserving os the hype. It could be a replacement for all the router hacking we’ve covered… but it costs more.

Caleb: Web server and source code repository were mentioned frequently in the comments on our article. It seems that this thing may not be perfectly suited for anything, but it’s small and cheap enough to be used for a lot.


We saw many of the ideas above listed in our comments, as well as climate control, corporate espianage, proxy serving, media serving with a NAS, IRC, Firewall, torrent box, clustering, SSH, art installations, and more. These guys came up with some good uses, but nothing compares to our commenters.

59 thoughts on “Hackit: SheevaPlug

  1. Eventually, I’ll probably get a couple of these to replace my aging NSLU2’s. But I will wait for the price to drop under $50. Like an NSLU2 these are good as file servers, web servers, media servers, DNS servers. Some of the task the NSLU2 can’t handle these could would be web parental filter, print server, scan server, web cam server, and high definition media server. I find the NSLU2 can not keep up server media some of my high definition media.

    For now, my NSLU2’s server my needs, but eventually it would be nice to have something that could push the bits around at a faster rate.

  2. Having say bunch of 97% efficient AC-DC converters is more efficient than having one big 96% AC-DC converter.

    Then if you account for the losses of DC transfer, even 1% more efficient AC-DC converter would be worse, maybe even couple.

    You waste slightly more materials to make bunch of small AC-DC converters, but there’s a reason AC is being used for transfers.

    AC transfer is way way less than DC transfer, also lower the voltage, higher the amps, and amps get easily lost on the transfer, while voltage does not.

    So having in a datacenter kilometers of DC power transfer lines would probably account for a bit of losses on the road, and therefore extra heat.

    Having one AC-DC converter per rack might actually work. You could get the most power efficient normal PSU you can find, which would easily power atleast 40 of these. More likely close to 100.

    But then the wiring work would take lots of time, unassembling these, throwing away the small ac-dc converters, and running new wire, soldering it up, putting connectors, fuses etc. You would need 1 fuse per device, might very well make this environmentally a very bad idea, and atleast quite costly in employee time. So there would need to be mass manufacturing of these which takes only DC 12V, which still might not be that good idea after you account for all the extra plugs and wire.

    Besides, usually smaller tends to be more efficient …

  3. Has anyone ever connected a USB Internet dongle via the Ethernet port? I Need more than one usb port and theto 3g modem can’t work thro a USB hub.
    So possibly use an ethernet adaptor to connect the USB dongle and then access the Internet??

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