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The worst linux PC ever
March 29, 2012 7:51 AM   Subscribe

The worst linux PC ever. Running on an 8-bit microcontroller. …it takes two hours to boot up to a bash prompt, and four more to load up Ubuntu and login.
posted by Deathalicious (48 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think this one's in the running.
posted by valkyryn at 7:56 AM on March 29, 2012


Anyone who is trying to run Ubuntu on an embedded system is doing it wrong.

Personally, I consider booting linux at all on an 8-bit micro controller an impressive feat - I love seeing this sort of abuse and creative use of hardware, and seeing just how far you can push things. Dude emulated an ARM on this thing, and that's just awesome.

I always like to see how far I can push virtualization and emulation, running emulators within emulators within emulators within a virtualized instance, but in that case, I'm going from progressively more powerful to progressively less powerful. Seeing it done the other way around? Very cool.

Worst linux PC ever? Hardly.
posted by MysticMCJ at 7:57 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Psh, that's nothing. I made a planet-sized computer to produce Linux and it took about 4 billion years.
posted by kmz at 7:57 AM on March 29, 2012 [27 favorites]


"It's fast enough for you, old man."
posted by drezdn at 7:58 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder how it would perform on a much more lightweight distro of linux, like Puppy Linux or DSL.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:06 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is this where we speculate about whether or not he soldered a z80 onto the bottom of the battery connector?
posted by schmod at 8:07 AM on March 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


All of them?

Kidding.
(FreeBSD FOR LIFE!)
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:09 AM on March 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Still better then WinMe.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:11 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Confess, Fletch: "Still better then WinMe."

Ah, yes. MetaFilter's contest section that was created in response to the Slashdot Cruiser. Later purchased by Microsoft, and turned into an Operating System.
posted by schmod at 8:18 AM on March 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'll show myself out now...
posted by schmod at 8:18 AM on March 29, 2012


I wonder how it would perform on a much more lightweight distro of linux, like Puppy Linux or DSL.

Or, even better, SliTaz.
posted by fifthrider at 8:22 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not surprised that the "worst linux pc ever" is running Ubuntu.

(Sorry Ubuntu fans. Too easy.)
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:24 AM on March 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I wonder how it would perform on a much more lightweight distro of linux, like Puppy Linux or DSL.

I don't think the problem is the distro. Still, the idea of an ARM emulator running on an 8-bit microcontroller is pretty slick, even if the results are anything but.
posted by tommasz at 8:28 AM on March 29, 2012


I correct myself - SliTaz doesn't seem to have an ARM version, so although it's my go-to ultralight distro, it wouldn't work here. Still, there's got to be something lighter than Ubuntu for that.
posted by fifthrider at 8:37 AM on March 29, 2012


(Sorry Ubuntu fans. Too easy.)

That's why we use it!
posted by 7segment at 8:42 AM on March 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


I'm waiting for the Bizzarro Beach Boys who sing about their cars that go really, really slow.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:47 AM on March 29, 2012


This is the year of Linux on the 8-bit microcontroller.
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:49 AM on March 29, 2012 [14 favorites]


I made a planet-sized computer to produce Linux and it took about 4 billion years.

...and when the developer team was finished, they yelled "So long, and thanks for all the fish" and disappeared into a clear blue sky.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:51 AM on March 29, 2012


I'm waiting for the Bizzarro Beach Boys who sing about their cars that go really, really slow.

I'm waiting for the Intel 4004 port.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:53 AM on March 29, 2012


Pshaw. Wake me up when you can run Snow Leopard on a Tamagotchi.
posted by spitbull at 8:53 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


We’re not sure if we’re dealing with genius or madness here[...]
Hmm..
posted by k5.user at 8:54 AM on March 29, 2012


I too am confused by the choice of Ubuntu for this sort of project, though it's certainly an amusing and very clever technical feat.
posted by Scientist at 8:58 AM on March 29, 2012


Psh, that's nothing. I made a planet-sized computer to produce Linux and it took about 4 billion years.

Typical noob mistake. That's why you don't use the random function as a bootloader. If you know what you are doing, it shouldn't take more than a week to get your basic system running. From there you just wait a few thousand years for the actual code to run.
posted by Cironian at 9:00 AM on March 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm waiting for the Bizzarro Beach Boys who sing about their cars that go really, really slow.


Somewhat offtopic, but there is actually a competition in Wisconsin where they try to drive tractors as slow as possible without actually stalling.

It's....it's pretty neat.

I know, I know. I know what you're thinking. But it is. Really.
posted by aramaic at 9:09 AM on March 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


I too am confused by the choice of Ubuntu for this sort of project, though it's certainly an amusing and very clever technical feat.

Well, any 32-bit OS running emulated on an 8-bit processor is going to be slow as a dog no matter what, so as long as you're going for the "gee whiz" factor, why not go all the way?
posted by jcreigh at 9:09 AM on March 29, 2012


Somewhat offtopic, but there is actually a competition in Wisconsin where they try to drive tractors as slow as possible without actually stalling.

Lo and behold.
posted by mykescipark at 9:12 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm impressed that it takes 2 hours to boot, and they still know it functions at all. Somewhere around minute 25 I would have just assumed the damn thing didn't work.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:21 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, any 32-bit OS running emulated on an 8-bit processor is going to be slow as a dog no matter what, so as long as you're going for the "gee whiz" factor, why not go all the way?

Yeah but how slow? There are a ton of devices that have minimal memory and processing power that can run at least some flavor of linux at at a usable speed, but wouldn't be able to run Ubuntu very fast at all. This is kind of like porting Call of Duty to a minimal embedded system rather than Doom, neither of them will probably run all that well but at least with Doom you are going with pretty much the most minimum option that could possibly work.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:24 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Put an Apple logo on it and it'll sell.
posted by onya at 9:28 AM on March 29, 2012 [7 favorites]




I'm impressed that it takes 2 hours to boot, and they still know it functions at all. Somewhere around minute 25 I would have just assumed the damn thing didn't work.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:21 AM on March 29 [+] [!]


Covering useful feedback from the machine with a splash screen isn't the best thing that consumer OSs have done for us, although it sure can be pretty.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:36 AM on March 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


If by "worst" you mean amazingly awesome feat of high geekery!

(Sorry Ubuntu fans. Too easy.)

That's why we use it!


Eh. I use it because it's a well-supported fixed-release Debian Unstable derivative.
posted by Zed at 9:39 AM on March 29, 2012


The guy's booting with init=/bin/bash. No matter how lightweight your distro is, it's still going to take two hours to get to that point.
posted by zsazsa at 9:50 AM on March 29, 2012


You could probably build a virtual Linux machine in Minecraft that would be faster than that.
posted by Naberius at 10:15 AM on March 29, 2012


So it's like running iTunes on a PC?
posted by drezdn at 10:24 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Love the first comment: "He should add a cooling system and overclock the ATMega for improved performance!"
posted by yerfatma at 10:25 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


mykescipark: "Somewhat offtopic, but there is actually a competition in Wisconsin where they try to drive tractors as slow as possible without actually stalling.

Lo and behold.
"

Oh neat, the next topic for my FPP.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:13 AM on March 29, 2012


Yeah but how slow? There are a ton of devices that have minimal memory and processing power that can run at least some flavor of linux at at a usable speed, but wouldn't be able to run Ubuntu very fast at all.

Really slow. Those embedded devices that run Linux just fine tend to be some 200 MHz or so ARM chip. The emulated ARM CPU here was running at an effective rate of 6.5 kilohertz, about 30,000 times slower.

Besides, the "two hours to boot bash" is just with init=/bin/bash, meaning nothing other than the kernel and a shell are being started. The distribution used won't have much of an effect at all on how long that takes.
posted by jcreigh at 11:28 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Besides, the "two hours to boot bash" is just with init=/bin/bash, meaning nothing other than the kernel and a shell are being started.
Heh, that's a pretty big detail. He's not booting into Unity with the 8-bit CPU emulating OpenGL.

Anyway, are there any good distros if you want to get some life out of, say, an old 386/486 machine?

A couple of years ago I was trying to get some really old laptops running. One of them had a floppy disk drive, so I was able to find a netboot floppy image, and an old machine with a floppy drive to, er, make it (I almost said "burn" the image - to floppy). Another one was smaller and didn't have an internal floppy, nor did it have an internal CD/DVD, And not only that it either didn't have USB ports, or it couldn't boot off USB. But, it had an Ethernet port.

What I ended up doing was getting some DHCP server and running that on my laptop with a linux network boot image, plugging the laptop directly into a wireless router -- and it actually worked. I put some version of Unbuntu (I think maybe Xbuntu or something) They actually worked OK, I think. I don't think they were ever used for anything though (for one thing, the batteries didn't work)
posted by delmoi at 12:03 PM on March 29, 2012


Also, I wonder: could this guy, rather then trying to emulate ARM have compiled Linux for that CPU, with, say 32 bit add instruction replaced with four 8 bit adds (or however many you need for dealing with the carries)
posted by delmoi at 12:05 PM on March 29, 2012


Pedantically, init=/bin/bash on any desktop distro is still picking up the initrd, unpacking it, and loading drivers for local storage (mmc or sata), mount it, and pivot/switch to the new root filesystem before running /bin/bash. In the embedded space, a custom kernel (with drivers bulit-in) can used to streamline the above process.
posted by fragmede at 12:07 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyway, are there any good distros if you want to get some life out of, say, an old 386/486 machine?

There is a time and a place for everything. And the time for 386es or 486es is not the 2010's.

In general, modern distros have dropped support for 386's. DeLi Linux looks like your best bet.

I'd expect it to be adequate for the purpose of learning to poke around the command-line, but really couldn't recommend it as anything other than a hobby project for its own sake. People routinely give away much more able computers, and even a Pentium III brings you into the realm of running a lightweight but capable environment like LXDE in reasonable comfort.
posted by Zed at 12:58 PM on March 29, 2012


What I ended up doing was getting some DHCP server and running that on my laptop with a linux network boot image

I have a couple of older Toshiba sub-notebooks with no bootable options (they actually shipped with a PCMCIA card driven external CD-ROM). Quickest this is to take the drive out and install a CLI bootable OS with network support in another machine, switch it back and then APT the bits you need to get x running (assuming you want that).

If they have a working OS already, Untetbootin can be run as a windows exe that modifies the main partition, so when you reboot, you have Linux.
posted by bystander at 2:22 PM on March 29, 2012


Oh, and the why? My 11yr old shares a Vista laptop with her younger brothers. I have offered her the (P3-500mhz) sub-notebook w/Linux as her own if she learns how to use it/maintains it.
I figure maintaining your own pc is the only way you ever get to be competent with IT.
posted by bystander at 2:24 PM on March 29, 2012


fragmede: In the embedded space, a custom kernel (with drivers bulit-in) can used to streamline the above process.

On the other hand, debugging modules is much quicker than debugging drivers built into the kernel - though it's usually not hours faster.
posted by Pronoiac at 2:31 PM on March 29, 2012


Also, I wonder: could this guy, rather then trying to emulate ARM have compiled Linux for that CPU, with, say 32 bit add instruction replaced with four 8 bit adds (or however many you need for dealing with the carries)

Probably not without a serious rewrite. The µcLinux project (now mostly integrated into the regular kernel) only ever targeted 32 bit microcontrollers. I don't think even NetBSD runs on anything less than 32 bits.
posted by jedicus at 4:11 PM on March 29, 2012


Get back to me when they do it in Minecraft. Then I'll be impressed.
posted by scalefree at 5:05 PM on March 29, 2012


It probably could be done in Minecraft, but the problem would be the parts of this that are actually fast - even the old RAM and the SSD has a data rate of 300kbyte/sec. No way you could close to that with Minecraft.
posted by ymgve at 4:32 AM on March 30, 2012


Psh, that's nothing. I made a planet-sized computer to produce Linux

That's how big your minecraft object is? Cool.

It'll work faster with NanoBSD however.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:02 AM on March 30, 2012


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