You might have caught my excited tweets and posts about getting Ubuntu running on the AC100 over the last few days and if so, you might be starting to realize how close these ‘smart’ books or ARM-based netbooks, effectively smartphones in a netbook-style case, are getting to the netbook experience. The overall experience is certainly not ready for the average customer but take this video as a demonstrator that 1) Processing power is significantly better with dual-core devices to the point where Web browsing is not slow 2) A productive experience is possible through Linux applications 3) that the AC100 is well positioned as a device for further hacks. MeeGo, Android 3.0, Chrome OS and other Linux builds included. At 800gm for 4hrs productivity, Intel need to take note. I’m definitely looking forward to see if the same hacking process works on the Toshiba Folio 100 tablet.
Before you watch the video though, note that there are problems.
512MB RAM – Ubuntu 10.10 netbook build needs to be a lot slimmer for the AC10. 512MB might work if swap space was fast (not on the SD card.)
Battery life – The AC100 is lasting 4 hours but should last 6 or more. A big part of the problem is the lack of screen brightness control – it’s on 100%, all the time. Also, Linux is very uncontrolled when it comes to networking and disk access too and with 152 process running (gulp!) I doubt there’s a moment’s silence for the silicon inside the device. Take the iPad as a benchmark in this area because with a similar size screen and battery it’s getting 10hrs or more.
You can’t run a full Linux build from an SD card without disk access blocking from time to time.
No sound, video, 3D graphics support or WebCam at the moment as far as I can tell.
Installation requires flashing the BootROM of the AC100 – A risky process
Again, this isn’t a solution that anyone could use on a day-to-day basis yet but I regard this as a seminal moment for ARM-based ‘netbooks’ because it’s the first time I’ve ever been able to efficiently run my desktop work processes (Web apps, blogging, image editing, twitter) on an ARM-based device. With the doors open now, I expect the AC100 to get picked up by quite a few hackers in the coming weeks and for progress to accelerate even faster. My testing continues but i’ll refrain from posting further articles on Carrypad unless anything significant happens.
I’ve installed Ubuntu on my Toshiba AC100 ‘smartbook’ and I’m accessing my WordPress back-end via Firefox 3.6. This is a test to see if I can create and post an entry.
You should see a photo on the right (uploaded from the filesystem on the AC100)
Wifi is obviously working and considering i’m running this from an SD card the experience isn’t too bad. It’s locking-up from time to time as the OS works with the filesystem but i’m seeing some quite impressive CPU-related performance.
An interesting example of the performance is the SunSpider result i’ve just got from Firefox 3.6. Its the fastest result i’ve ever seen on an ARM-based device.
The work of the uber-Linux and Tegra Lords of these three forums allowed me to do this today:
Yes, you’re looking at Ubuntu 10.10 (RC) running on a Toshiba AC100 smart book.
This is the most exciting thing I’ve done in a long long time. It’s not quite there yet (the boot hangs at this point but the people-that-know are working on it) but apparently everything works apart from sound.
If I can fire up Firefox and get 7 hours battery life out of this 800gm slim-n-lite then I’ll be shouting “See. I told you the smart-book wasn’t dead.”
It took one Linux box, some Nvidia Tegra tools, a new bootloader (dangerous) and Ubuntu built for ARMv7 on an SD card. Clearly the doors are now open for other installations although if Ubuntu is fast enough it should be good enough for most people.
I’ll be doing more work on this when the new tarball arrives.
I remember getting excited about the original Touchbook when information started coming through in mid 2009. The modular keyboard/tablet concept seemed sound and the ARM Cortex processor offered a chance to see how the new architecture could perform.
I remember too, the disappointment in the first weeks of deliveries as people started reporting issues that ran through hardware and software. A year later, many of these early owners are somewhat unhappy about the new product announcement. We cancelled our order before the credit card was booked, walked away and haven’t looked back until today.
That history makes us somewhat sceptical about the latest version of the open-source design from Always Innovating. The Smart Book [Registered trademark no less!] sticks with the modular approach and adds a MID (Mobile Internet Device.) The MID sits in the back of the device and contains the processing unit, an upgraded Ti DaVinci module with a Cortex A8 1Ghz CPU. The MID runs the core software and what you’ve got is a tablet-style frame, screen and connectivity (upgraded to capacitive touch) and an optional keyboard unit with power and additional connectors. If you don’t want the MID module, you can choose to buy the tablet component with its own motherboard in place of the removable MID. The image and video below shows the concept more clearly.
In addition to the hardware changes Always Innovating are offering a tri-OS system that can switch, instantly, between the classic Angstrom distro, Android Open Source and Ubuntu. There’s even talk of Google Chrome being available. When the device ships by the end of the year, these OS’ will be updated to the latest versions. (10.10 Ubuntu, 2.2 Android.) With these operating systems being highly customised to work simultaneously, there’s a lot of interdependence so hacking the builds isn’t going to be simple.
ARM Texas Instruments cortex-A8 with video and 3D acceleration
Once again I find myself interested but this time I won’t be laying down my credit card and with the total cost at over $550, it’s an even bigger risk this time round. The tablet section can be had for $199.
Sascha Pallenberg, MeetMobility podcaster and editor-in-chief at Netbooknews attended a recent WePad live demo and has posted his videos. They’re in German but I’ve been through them and pulled out some of the important points here. (Luckily I also speak German.)
The most important take-away is that this is not an Android-based Linux build as first thought. It’s a heavily modified Ubuntu distro with overlay software. The Android aspect is likely to coming from Canonicals Dalvik runtime which will provide some Android application support but don’t expect the Google Marketplace or Google Apps such as Maps, Mail or Sky to be running on this.
Below you can find the notes I made as I went through the video. Some of the notes are my own thoughts and conclusions and not information taken direct from the video.