Cubox

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What is it?

Cubox is a small cube-shaped computer with a variety of supported interfaces based on Marvell Armada 510 SoC (armv7). It is possible to purchase Cubox from the manufacturer in Israel or from the British distributor. We recommend the Cubox Pro model that features 2GB RAM.

Why we chose Cubox as the target platform for our first supported ARM-based desktop distribution

We have chosen Cubox for several reasons:

  • it is a fully-functional ready-assembled system, not just a barebone;
  • it is not shipped with a locked pre-installed OS like most tablets and other ARM-based solutions on the market;
  • it is an ARM v7[1] system with support for floating-point arithmetic;
  • very few devices of this class have 2GB RAM, and it is an important advantage;
  • it is very simple to install and re-install an operating system; it only takes two steps: copy the system image to an SD card with the dd utility and then insert the SD card into Cubox;
  • it is built on the platform developed by our partner Marvell, and we are able to directly discuss the problems and future plans with them;
  • developers of Cubox are easily accessible (see their web forum);
  • even when the cube gets really outdated and not very much exciting any longer, you can still install XBMC on it and continue to use it as a home multimedia center.

We are constantly working with a half-dozen of different ARMv7-based platforms from various manufacturers. In particular, we provide regularly rebuilt images for the popular Nexus 7 platform. We plan to release supported server and desktop distributions for some of these devices[2].

Installing ALT Linux on SolidRun Cubox

In order to start the installation, it is sufficient to have a monitor (or a TV-set) with HDMI input and a microSD card of no less than 8 GB in volume and no less than 10 in speed class[3]. You will also need Internet access in order to download and record[4] a system image on it, for example:

wget -c http://ftp.altlinux.org/pub/distributions/ALTLinux/p7/images/simply/altlinux-7.0.0-simply-cubox-armh.img.gz
gunzip altlinux-7.0.0-simply-cubox-armh.img.gz
dd if=altlinux-7.0.0-simply-cubox-armh.img of=/dev/mmcblk0 bs=1M

The selection of packages in this system image mostly corresponds to Simply Linux Live DVD (XFCE, Firefox, LibreOffice4, Gimp, Parole etc.). After the first boot, the system will offer to perform initial configuration. By default, local network is configured via DHCP, while installation of additional software packages can be performed via the pre-configured apt utility.

In future, there will be images for Cubox with other desktop environments.

Functionality

The base configuration of the Simply Linux distribution for ARM corresponds to the i586/x86_64 version. When using an SD card, it may take a while for resource-consuming applications (LibreOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird, Gimp, Audacious) to load. However, once these applications are launched, the execution speed, especially on Cubox Pro with 2 GB of memory, is quite satisfactory, as well as playback of local video files with the Parole video player. It is possible to increase the launch speed of applications with an external SATA drive connected via the eSATA socket.

Known limitations:

  • Lack of CPU support for NEON.
  • Hardware-accelerated video playback works for players based on gstreamer-0.10 (parole, kaffeine), but does not work for ffmpeg players.
  • As in almost all ARM systems-on-chip, there is support for OpenGL ES, but not for full OpenGL. Therefore, there are currently no 3D games for Linux, while a version of compiz for OpenGL ES is still under development and cannot be supplied with a supported system.
  • There is no Adobe Flash Player for Linux on arm v7 hard float. However, it is possible to view YouTube videos with Parole having first downloaded them youtube-dl in the flv format.
  • HTML5 playback in Simply 7.0.0 is not hardware-accelerated (this problem should be partially remedied in the new versions of Firefox).

Notes

  1. not to be confused with Cortex models; for example, ARM v8 is a family of 64-bit CPUs that are not yet available on the market
  2. when choosing a platform for such solutions, we consider it crucial to have hardware support for floating-point arithmetic and at least 1 GB of RAM (preferably no less than 2 GB), that is why no ALT Linux distributions are planned for the presently most popular Raspberry Pi system.
  3. the higher, the better; the 4GB class 4 supplied with the device will make the system run very sluggishly
  4. the last command should be issued by a user with write privileges for the card-reader device; usually the root user has these privileges
 
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