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News

SheevaPlug eSATA Plug Computer review

With ARM processors growing in popularity in the server market, now is a great time to start thinking about brushing up your development skills on the architecture…

This article is due to appear in issue 94 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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Specs:
OS tested Ubuntu 9.04.1 ARMEL
Processor Feroceon 88FR131 1.2GHz
Memory 512MB DDR2
Storage 512MB NAND Flash
Expansion SDHC-compatible SD card slot
Network Gigabit Ethernet
Additional ports USB 2.0, eSATA
Debugging Serial console, JTAG over mini-USB
Actual size 110 x 69.5 x 48.5mm
Weight 200g (excluding cables)
Price: £97 / approx $129
Where to buy:

Pros: The tiny form factor and completely solid-state nature of the device combine with an incredibly low power draw to make a tempting  home server
Cons:
The 1.2GHz ARM chip struggles with intensive processing tasks, while the single Ethernet port prevents its use as a gateway or firewall

There’s no denying that ARM chips have proven unbelievably successful in the embedded and mobile markets, but there is growing interest in the low-power chips from server manufacturers as well. The SheevaPlug, developed as an open source development platform by ARM licensee Marvell, is designed to be a cheap and easy route into ARM development.

The first thing that strikes you about the SheevaPlug is its size. Designed around a model known as the ‘plug computer,’ it looks more like the power adaptor for a device than an entire server. Picking it up, it’s plain to see that much of the size of the device is actually taken up with the ports on the sides, and that the body of the SheevaPlug is largely hollow.

Firing the SheevaPlug up, which is a simple case of plugging an Ethernet cable into the Gigabit-class port on the base and sticking the mains cable in, it quickly becomes clear that it’s something a bit special. Shipping with Ubuntu 9.04 compiled for the ARMEL architecture, the SheevaPlug is a genuine server-class device in the tiniest packaging.

As the SheevaPlug is designed to be a headless server, there aren’t any video output ports to be seen. Instead, the pre-installed operating system is configured to snag an IP address from DHCP and give you SSH access into the root account. It looks like a Seinfeld fan has been at the configuration too, with a default root password of ‘nosoup4u.’

The included Ethernet port provides Gigabit speeds, and the included 1.2GHz processor is more than capable of churning data quickly enough to keep up

While booting is a little slow, taking around two minutes, the system feels pretty snappy in use. The 1.2GHz ARM-based processor and 512MB of RAM keep things zipping along in general use, while the eSATA port provides a 3Gbps connection to an external hard drive to keep the Gigabit Ethernet port supplied with data.

During testing, the SheevaPlug proved perfectly adequate as a low-power server, streaming audio and video to a remote device using the DLNA-compatible uShare package without a single hitch or stutter from both eSATA and USB 2.0 connected drives. A quick installation of the lighttpd web server showed that the device has no trouble running multiple services either.

Page 2 – Verdict

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