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DreamPlug ARM Box Brings Power To Plug Computing 182

Blacklaw writes "UK GlobalScale distribution partner New IT has announced its latest ARM-based plug-top computer, the DreamPlug — and it's a major improvement over its predecessors, packing some serious hardware into a tiny case. The DreamPlug packs some serious power in its tiny case. The Marvell Sheeva ARM-based processor at its heart runs at 1.2GHz — a significant boost over the 800MHz version found in the SheevaPlug — and while 512MB of DDR2 memory might not sound very generous, if you need more then your project probably isn't suited to the plug computing model. Unlike the SheevaPlug, the DreamPlug goes all-out to impress, packing integral Bluetooth, 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, a 3Gb/s eSATA port, two USB 2.0 ports, a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports, and even analogue and SP/DIF digital audio ouputs. ARM developers will be pleased to hear that the JTAG-over-USB feature of the SheevaPlug has been replaced with full hardware JTAG and UART connectivity — although the breakout board is an optional extra."
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DreamPlug ARM Box Brings Power To Plug Computing

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  • but the picture has a US power plug pins
  • by Tubal-Cain ( 1289912 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:09PM (#35072648) Journal

    DreamPlug — and it's a major improvement over its predecessors, packing some serious hardware into a tiny case. The DreamPlug packs some serious power in its tiny case.

    Slashdot, brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department!

  • by Colonel Korn ( 1258968 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:11PM (#35072670)

    I spent a fun five minutes looking through linpack results a few days ago and was amused to find that today's ARM superchips are comparable to the pentium 2. Sure, it's only one benchmark, but it's enough to be amusing.

    • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:15PM (#35072732)

      On the other hand, they run on 1/100th the power, 1/10 the size, and no cooling equipment. If you want a high power device there's plenty of processors available, but that isn't what the ARM chips are designed for. It's like complaining that your new 60 mpg hybrid doesn't have as much power as a 40 year old Corvette.

      • dunno, a hybrid might give a 36-year-old Corvette [] a run for it's money...
        • And just 5 years earlier, you could have gotten the same 15mpg on a car with more than double the horsepower. Lousy government emissions regulations...
    • by Tubal-Cain ( 1289912 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:20PM (#35072798) Journal
      Not that many Pentium 2 PCs were small and light enough you could hang it from the wall socket.
      And good luck getting Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GigE, eSATA, and DDR2 working in it.
      • by Fishead ( 658061 )

        But no RS232 port... That makes me sad. I love RS232.

        We were short one RS232 patch cable once while setting up a field demo for a customer. All us tech's had a tense moment when we realized we had used the same cable for testing each component as we loaded it into the crate. Fortunately we had some spare PC power chords (3 conductors is 3 conductors right?) and one of the guys had some spare DB9's in his tool kit. Some fancy solder work and we had a patch cable before the management types knew we screwe

        • ... kuz it's never the same!

          Agreed! Last time I really needed to talk over RS232 to some "really expensive box", none of readily available USB-RS232 adaptors were even recognized by a (reasonably modern) Linux box... :(

          So, I ordered a bunch of these: [] , and they have been quietly sitting there, passing control commands to 3 "really expensive boxes" for the last 4 years, or so... ;)

          And yes, when I fire up minicom to debug something, I do have to tell myself *not* to

    • by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert AT slashdot DOT firenzee DOT com> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:28PM (#35072908) Homepage

      The linpack benchmark focuses on floating point, whereas most ARM chips don't have hardware floating point units...
      ARM chips tend to do much better at integer benchmarks, and most code you would run on a server is integer code.

      • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Wednesday February 02, 2011 @06:53AM (#35078140) Journal

        Most recent ARM chips (except the very low-end ones) do have hardware floating point, and even vector units. There are two issues, however:

        The first is that most ARM Linux installs use a completely braindead ABI designed for to allow you to mix FPU and softfloat code. An ARM chip with no FPU traps on all FPU instructions, including loads and stores, so you can save a lot of overhead by passing floating point values as arguments in integer registers. Unfortunately, on ARM chips that do have an FPU, copying from an FPU register to an integer register causes a pipeline stall for each parameter. You can speed things up a lot by storing the floating point values on the stack and passing them by a pointer to work around this.

        I find it somewhat ironic that a Free Software system would default to using an ABI that exists for the sole purpose of making binary-only distribution easier.

        The second issue is that it is only 32-bit that has reasonable performance. 64-bit float (which LINPACK does a lot of) is very slow - typically a factor of seven or more slower than 32-bit - while it's close to the same speed on x86 (exactly the same speed on a P2, because both are done in the 80-bit x87 unit, may be up to half as fast in the P3 if you're using SSE instead of x87).

        The reason for this focus is that most ARM chips come with a GPU and DSP on die - if you're doing anything really floating-point intensive, you're probably going to want to run it on the DSP or maybe the GPU. The FPU is just there to avoid floating point code from becoming a bottleneck in general-purpose code.

        • by jabjoe ( 1042100 )
          This ARM doesn't have a FPU.
          • Next time you post, you might consider actually checking your facts first.
            • Next time you post, you might consider actually checking your facts first.

              That would certainly be one way to stand out from the crowd here.

            • by jabjoe ( 1042100 )
              LOL! Dude, check yours. This is the same processor as the SheevaPlug. I own a SheevaPlug, no FPU. Just google "SheevaPlug FPU". This might help: $cat /proc/cpuinfo Processor : Feroceon 88FR131 rev 1 (v5l) BogoMIPS : 1192.75 Features : swp half thumb fastmult edsp CPU implementer : 0x56 CPU architecture: 5TE CPU variant : 0x2 CPU part : 0x131 CPU revision : 1
    • ARM's aren't fast on FP, but are pretty similar to a P4 or low-clocked Intel Core at integer workloads. They do okay on vector-heavy stuff too, if your compiler is good enough to optimize for NEON and VFP. The Marvell chip in the DreamPlug is a known slow processor - moderate clock, but no FPU, an older microarchitecture, no NEON, and in-order. Yuck.
      • Except this specific ARM CPU is not similar to a P4 or low-clocked Core at all in integer or anything. "ARM" is not one CPU anymore than "x86" is. There are some pretty fast ARM chips out there, but not this one. The specific Marvell ARM in the DreamPlug/SheevaPlug/GuruPlug is not fast at all, Benchmarks put it at a mid to low end P3 in integer. Slower than most Atoms by far. A cheap atom netbook would have significantly better performance without much more power draw, plus you get a screen an hard dr
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      linpack is floating point heavy but still if it can match a P2 then that is pretty impressive for a wall wort.
      Truth is that they tend to be around a P4 in interger performance for the most part which again for what they are is fantastic. I think you are a little spoiled when you dismiss a wall wart with enough power to run Linux.

    • you are not an embedded guy.

      thinking this was a modern cpu (host-class) is YOUR error.

      for embedded, this is kick-ass. truly it is.

      been using seagate dockstars for a while for semi-embedded (usb thumbdrive debian) use. the new systems look so much better, too!

      hoping the spdif and even I2S might be usable, too.

  • Wait, what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jabjoe ( 1042100 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:14PM (#35072720)
    The SheevaPlug has always been 1.2 GHz and had 512 DDR2 RAM.

    Port wise, this seams like like GuruPlug version of the SheevaPlug. []

    What would be much bigger deal is a better power unit. One less prone to melting. That is the biggest issue with the SheevaPlug family, other then that major failing, they are already pretty good.
    • by Andy Dodd ( 701 )

      That brings up a good point - does this have better thermal management than its predecessors?

      They had enough problems with overheating with a single gigabit port.

      And some sort of I/O expansion header would have been nice. If it broke out a high speed SPI port I would've gone right for it.

    • by initjh ( 989289 )
      The power brick appears to be detachable now and is housed in its own space. [] I guess in theory that should alleviate the melting problem, or at least make replacing melters easier.
    • by Nursie ( 632944 )

      Just what I was thinking. At first it sounded like were going to get one of the long-promised next gen plugs, with dual core at 2.0GHz and more RAM.

      But no, this is just an inaccurate press release. My sheevaplug arrived two years ago with this much RAM and this clock speed.

      BORING. Let me know when we can get something that really has better hardware.

      • by jabjoe ( 1042100 )
        BeagleBoard or better still the A9 PandaBoard? CompuLab's TrimSlice (also A9)?
        • by Nursie ( 632944 )

          Is the trimslice on sale yet?

          The only problem I could forsee with it is that there's apparently no open driver for the tegra 2 yet, so you might be stuck with whatever OS it arrives with. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.

          • by jabjoe ( 1042100 )
            Don't think so, but I think it's not going to be far off. The lack of open drivers is a big BUT for the tegra 2, because you know it's not going to come with anything Debian based, and that will be what I want.
  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:15PM (#35072728) Journal

    Sure, 5 watts for a low-power miniserver is cool, but it's almost as expensive as a low-priced netbook which would have almost the same specs plus a screen.

    • by xaxa ( 988988 )

      For my server (family photos, websites etc)
      5W * 24h * 365 = 40kWh a year.
      150W * 24h * 365 = 1300kWh a year.

      At £0.10/kWh it looks like I could save £120 a year, or a little less if I have to use a hard drive rather than just SD storage.

      Or maybe I should just find an old netbook on eBay...

      • by afidel ( 530433 )
        You have a PC that uses 150W idle? What does it have 8 HDD's and SLI video cards? My HTPC uses about 150W max (maybe a bit more now that I have a 5750 instead of the GSO 9600)
        • by xaxa ( 988988 )

          It's old, I don't know how much it really uses. It's actually at my parent's house, because it's backed up to my desktop PC (in my house) in case of disaster.

          Since posting that comment I've been looking at alternatives, although the power bill has been at the back of my mind for a while. These plug things seem a good idea, with an external HDD (SSDs sufficiently large to store all the photographs are too expensive). The only alternative is a netbook (perhaps a used one from eBay, e.g. with a broken screen

          • by afidel ( 530433 )
            For a lot less money buy a router with a USB port that supports your protocol of choice for file transfer. Probably same or lower power draw and it can just replace the existing router so very little net power draw.
          • by shaiay ( 21101 )
            1. I have an eepc 701, 2Gb SSD + external 2TB disk. It's running lenny, and It's been on for about two years, doing an rsync backup every night. I'm not sure what the power usage of this setup is since the eepc 701 is a celeron machine, which is not very energy efficient, and the the 2TB external disk has it's own power supply, but it does show that it can withstand being on 24/7

            2. For a really cheap alternative, try buying an NSLU unit used (called SLUG by it's affectionados). it should be ~$20. It takes

      • by thsths ( 31372 )

        If it uses only 5W, why does it get so hot and blow up? Something does not add up here.

        And my PC, even with a DVB-S card, only uses 55 watt during light use, probably less once the GPU powers down. A laptop/netbook would use even less.

  • by hansamurai ( 907719 ) <> on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:15PM (#35072736) Homepage Journal

    I've got a Sheeva Plug, and as long as this doesn't have the same power supply issues that the Sheeva Plug is notorious for (mine is currently blown and collecting dust), this is probably well worth looking into. Too bad it costs twice as much ($200) than what I paid for my Sheeva Plug a year and a half ago.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:30PM (#35072952) Homepage

    The US version is supposed to ship this month. [] The developer kit is $149, and $179 with a JTAG interface (recommended for development.)

    The production version will probably be cheaper.

    Hopefully they've fixed the overheating problem they had with their previous GuruPlug.

    • by IceFox ( 18179 )
      Ouch, There was something special about the $99 price tag. The price was so low that it made it worth while over its other limitations and was why I bought it.
  • PogoPlug (Score:3, Informative)

    by MattBD ( 1157291 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:38PM (#35073042) Homepage
    I've got a PogoPlug, which is apparently based on the SheevaPlug platform, and it was a real bargain. I picked it up in the sale for £50, and I've installed Plugbox Linux (an Arch-based distro - I'd prefer Debian but I can't get that working on it) and it works really well. I've set up Postfix and Dovecot on it and I use it as a mail server, and I also have Apache, MySQL and PHP on there for testing purposes. Fantastic device.
  • ...and while 512MB of DDR2 memory might not sound very generous, if you need more then your project probably isn't suited to the plug computing model.

    Hey now, my primary desktop PC is still running with 512 MB of DDR ram (not even DDR2). What's wrong with that? Hell, my primary laptop is running with 128 MB RAM so suck on that!

    Then again, that may explain why firefox crashes all my computers and my N900 has become my favored internet browsing device. But hey, 512 is enough for Arduino projects, Matlab, Ubuntu 10.04, perl hacking, home network management. =)

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

      Uh, I'm very skeptical that any recent version of Ubuntu will work well on 512MB of RAM. Maybe Xubuntu would be fine.

      I ditched KDE once my distro dropped 3.5, because while I didn't mind KDE4 it was way too slow on my system, and it has 2GB of RAM (but runs a ton of services). When I switched to xfce it was like getting a whole new box. I'm slowly working on upgrading the thing...

      • A) I don't use, and have never used, KDE.
        B) You can be skeptical all you want. I've had it running 10.04 for about 3 months now. It chugs along just fine. (I will acknowledge that GIMP takes a long time to open).
    • Hey now, my primary desktop PC is still running with 512 MB of DDR ram (not even DDR2). What's wrong with that?

      NO wonder you didn't get first post...

  • I wonder if this iteration will be less prone to overheating. I have an original GuruPlug which still gets too hot to use for long periods of time.

  • I hope they've resolved the heat issues. I had a SheevaPlug that I used as a space heater for about 8 months until it finally burned itself out. Other than that, it was a great little box.
  • It would make a good wireless media player with the right software. It's a shame there's no video output at all. I suppose there are some USB monitors both dot matrix and LCD.
    • by alexandre ( 53 ) *

      Indeed, it'd be a perfect gateway with an HDMI out ! :/
      Do USB video solution permit bios access and all?
      I don't want to debug/install my server over a serial port ...

    • by Jenming ( 37265 )

      no way it could decode high bitrate video.

    • by batkiwi ( 137781 )

      It would make a good wireless media player with the right hardware. It's a shame there's no accelerated video decode chip at all.


  • by jimmyswimmy ( 749153 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @05:53PM (#35073214)

    I bought the Sheevaplug and the Guruplug for some engineering applications, and was sorely disappointed. The Sheevaplug was a decent box, just needed more native IO. The Guruplug was a piece of crap. I had more issues with that box than any embedded box I've ever worked on, including some I've designed (which is saying something when you factor in initial debug time). The Guruplug had major heat issues, even when run from an external 5V supply. I removed the heat spreader (a thin piece of steel) and replaced it with a thicker copper spreader, and that made a big difference, but the unit was never completely stable and could not handle running two GigE interfaces at the same time. And they also had the niggling little problem of selling something different from what they advertised - the sale product did not have an I2C port (I think they finally changed the block diagram to reflect the truth).

    By sticking with the same form factor I fear that the Globalscale product will continue to be plagued with heat issues. And based on the history of Globalscale's products, if you need a stable platform that does what the specs say they'll do - look elsewhere.

    I'll probably get one to evaluate it, but this time I'm waiting. Someone else can be the early adopter.

    • Agreed. I got a Guruplug for a project for work and quickly realized it was a pile of garbage. I have relegated it to be my home router and it does serve pretty well - granted the enclosure is removed since the original design clearly didn't even begin to take heat dissipation into account. I was planning on fabricating a heat sink for it, but its been going for a few months now without one without a problem - I'm at 44 days of uptime now, and the last time it was down was intended.

      I haven't had stabi
  • by agrif ( 960591 ) on Tuesday February 01, 2011 @07:24PM (#35074300) Homepage

    I know people like to hate on Diaspora around here, but this would be an ideal platform for it. Run your diaspora seed for you and a few friends on a wall-wart server. You could even pre-install diaspora, and sell them online for the non-tech-minded. Just unwrap, plug in, and setup through a web browser.

    This isn't a new idea, but I think it's a good one (that is, if Diaspora ever takes off...)

    • by knarf ( 34928 )

      An even better spot to host Diaspora (et al) would be the ubiquitous ARM/MIPS based router. Most networked homes already have one. The newer models have USB and thus the possibility to access flash storage. The thing is generally always on so the hosted content would be continuously available.
      If the protocols used by Diaspora get some good documentation it would be possible to implement them in a sensible language instead of the all-singing-and-dancing-framework-hog the Diaspora developers chose so it can a

      • by agrif ( 960591 )

        Yeah, that's my only major complaint with Diaspora so far. I'm a developer that's interested and would love to contribute, but I just do not have enough time to learn a whole new framework. Just installing all the stuff you need to run it takes almost too long for me, although it looks like it's gotten a lot better (smaller) since I looked at it last.

  • Somehow they forgot to mention which connector is used for video output. Can anyone help out?

    • That would be because these things don't tent to have video out at all. It is not their purpose to display anything. The RS232/USB/what-ever port will allow a route to a serial console or other such control method for your initial setup. After that just SSH in over the network or what-ever your preferred remote control method is.
      • by Kosi ( 589267 )

        Fine, that means if you screw up the network config, the thing is bricked. :-)

        • The serial console would probably allow you to boot it to do repairs, assuming that your linux setup supports serial consoles. If it won't boot at all, you could try the same thing bit booting from an OS setup on a USB drive.

          Or you could have a boot disk setup on a USB stick that would start with the network adaptor(s) configured via DHCP and SSHd running so you can remote in to sort the problem out - just shutdown, pull out the USB stick and restart when done.
        • by ledow ( 319597 )

          JTAG port.

    • There is no video out, which is my big problem with it. In the end you're better off with a nettop anyway, because for $275 you a 1.6Gz dual-core atom and some 2d and 3d acceleration.

      If you want "video" out, you have to use the linux vfb (virtual frame buffer) and connect to it from a computer over the network with a display using a network vfb client. Think VNC.

  • As a further alternative, there is always the Gumstix []. But, overall, the Pandaboard [] looks like a much sweeter deal: for $174 you get a dual-core ARM A9 board with 1GB, DVI output, Bluetooth, and all the goodies. I think I'll get one really soon now.

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson