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NSLU2 in a Tux Case //at 18:23 //by abe

from the embedded-in-a-tux dept.

It started harmless when Thomas asked on Linux User Group Switzerland mailing list if someone knows a tux-shaped alarm clock. But the topic of that thread quickly moved to two other things in tux shape: the Tux Droid, a device similar to the Nabaztag, but needs a Linux host with USB, and ACME SystemsTux-Server, a ETRAX CRIS based Foxboard inside a tux-shaped case.

We found out that Telion, the Swiss importer for Foxboards, also imports ACME Systems’ Tux Case — although the Tux Case is not mentioned on their website. Even better: They had a few old Tux Cases in stock which don’t fit anymore on current Foxboards since the position of the power socket changed. (So only one hole in the case was missing.) And they wanted to get rid of them quite fast: They offered us the Tux Cases for 10 CHF (6€) each instead of 28 CHF each (17€) if we buy all of them. Of course we couldn’t reject this offer and bought all five remaining cases.

Another part of the thread was about performance. Although ETRAX CRIS is used by its inventor AXIS in many of its products (they’re famous for the Linux based web-cams) many were not sure if the board’s performance would be sufficient for their ideas. Another disadvantage of the ETRAX CRIS architecture is that no mainstream Linux distribution supports it.

Another point was the Foxboard’s price (169€, ca. 268 CHF). Bones just mentioned that an NSLU2 costs only about 100 CHF (60€).

Probably on IRC someone (probably Bones, too) wondered if it’s possible to fit a NSLU2 into such a quite inexpensive Tux Case. We took Wikipedia’s picture of the NSLU2 board, compared the size of the USB ports on that picture, compared them with real-life USB ports and found out the size of the board that way. And when I got my Tux-Case I noticed that the NSLU2 board really could fit into the Tux-Case.

Since I’m already building a bigger NAS-like home server, I have no use for another, much slower NAS. But since I more or less gave up the also ARM-based Thecus N4100, another ARM-based machine in my hardware collection wouldn’t be bad.

So it didn’t took long and the idea was born to build the NSLU2 board into a Tux-Case and let the website run on it. (I inherited its administration from Beat and it’s currently just a virtual host on one of our webservers.) Then it would be a server named Tux, serving Tuxes, looking like a Tux and running Tux’ operating system Linux. :-)

I ordered an NSLU2 at Brack for 117.60 CHF (ca. 70€). Played around with the original firmware for a moment, but it’s horrible from a security point of view: You can’t even change the admin password (default: “admin”) if no USB harddisk is attached. And no, a USB stick doesn’t suffice. So I didn’t wait long and tried to install Debian’s “armel” (ARM, Little Endian) port on it. But the NSLU2 refused the “new firmware” with the error message “Upgrade: no enough free space.”. While this is not in the Debian specific NSLU2 FAQ, it is mentioned in the general troubleshooting FAQ. As described in there, first upgrading to the most recent firmware version and then uploading the Debian installer worked fine.

After I had successfully installed Debian Lenny on a pqi 4 GB USB sticked into the NSLU2 and verified that everything is working fine, I opened the NSLU2 case and checked if it really would fit into a Tux Case.

It does, but very, very close. You’ll have to drill some holes and the ethernet socket will stick out Tux’s shoulder, but everything else should fit perfectly after a few mounting parts inside the Tux Case have been removed. As a proof of concept I laid the NSLU2 board on the Tux Case’s back:

Pictures taken with my Nokia E51

So later the LEDs will be in Tux’ one shoulder while the network socket will be in his other shoulder. And the USB stick will be inside his paunch via a USB hub.

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