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$99 device offers minimalistic Linux/PPC dev platform

Sep 29, 2006 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

IBM's DeveloperWorks has published a detailed, technical survey of Hauppage's Linux-based MediaMVP, a minimalistic $99 media extender based on a PowerPC 405 processor and MPEG decoder. The article also looks at the MVP Media Center project to create open source software for the device.

Author Peter Seebach clearly appreciates the minimalism and design elegance he finds as he unravels the MediaMVP's architecture. The device's STBx25xx-series SoC (system-on-chip) is based on a PowerPC 405 processor core clocked at 252MHz. The system has 32MB of RAM, and no flash at all — it netboots Linux, and loads its 2MB root filesystem into a RAMdisk. In normal operation, the device runs a single application set up in /etc/inittab to respawn in case of a crash.

Some embedded Linux devices — the TiVo, for example — are closed to user modifications, with OS checksumming and other anti-hacking measures implemented in the BIOS or bootloader. This practice is common in the case of loss-leader priced hardware sold as part of a service. Other examples, besides the TiVo, include AMD's Personal Internet Computer, which is leased by the month in developing nations, and mobile phones. Whether companies should be allowed to use Linux in service-connected hardware that cannot run user-modified firmware is a key issue at the heart of the debate over GPLv3.

Seebach notes that the MediaMVP is marketed as hardware, despite its low price. As a result, the bootloader places few restrictions on what image is run, other than the image's actual filename. Hauppage will hardly mind if it sells a few more of the devices to users planning to use it as a $100 thin client, Seebach suggests.

Seebach goes on to discuss the MVPMC project, an effort to create open source software for the MVP. The project's firmware is based on a newer version of busybox, and has more general purpose utilities. It has not yet achieved stability equal to the stock firmware, however, Seebach writes.

To learn more about the Hauppage MediaMVP and the MVPMC project, read Seebach's article here. Additional details about the Hauppage MediaMVP are available in our earlier coverage, here.

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