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Hacking Ellison’s NIC (Part 5)

Jun 8, 1997 — by Rick Lehrbaum — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

The verdict?

I'd have to say that the hardware choices made in designing the NIC have resulted in a product that is almost a good one. This is especially true of the decision to use the CD-ROM drive to hold the system disk. This is almost a good idea. It results in a very low maintenance system that requires no expertise to administer — a user updates the system by popping… in the new system disk provided by NIC. It is also very low cost, in comparison with the higher expense of a hard drive or a substantially larger capacity Flash memory.

In short, the approach of using a CD-ROM drive along with a small Flash memory “disk” is really quite resourceful!

So, it's all the more painful to have to report that the necessity for the disk to spin up periodically during normal operation results in performance that many users are likely to find unacceptable. Attempting to cache as much data as possible alleviates this to some degree, but results in a rather fragile system, because the caching must be tuned to the user's habits, and tweaked as the system's software evolves.

Perhaps adding still more memory would be practical, in light of the very cheap RAM that is now available — which would reduce disk accesses to an acceptable level. Also, using a smaller foot-print browser would certainly help. It's not clear why NIC chose to start with the relatively bloated Netscape browser and strip away much of its functionality and configurability, resulting in a still large browser with no more functionality than many of the available bare bones open source browsers.

In conclusion, I think The NIC Company is off to a good start with its current NIC — and might even find some limited success with it. However, it would be interesting to see what they (or others) could do with essentially the same hardware, but with more memory and slimmer software. And a mail client.

Happy hacking!

— The end —

Author's bio: Jerry Epplin has written embedded software for the past fifteen years, primarily for medical devices. He can be reached at [email protected]

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