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Author Topic: Suggestion: Reusing old computer as an Arduino station  (Read 1797 times)
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Before I get in to the story, let me tell you that this post is ultimately about a lightweight Linux desktop configuration specifically used for Arduino projects on older hardware. Thought at least someone here might appreciate the idea.

I've recently been bitten by the Arduino bug. I'm really enjoying working with it. However, it has the downside of my girlfriend not particularly enjoying the mess of wires, led's, resistors, breadboards and tools strewn across the office.

We have a "project room" so I decided to move everything down there for the sake of continued peace. But then I had no easy access to my desktop computer and I didn't want to run back and fourth to update and re-upload code. Particularly when debugging something...

We have this old laptop kicking around that we really just hadn't gotten rid of yet. It's pretty much a piece of junk by today's standards, dual core 1.6Ghz with 1GB of memory. But it occurred to me that a nice lightweight Linux install might still run pretty well on it. I dug around and found that the Arduino IDE as well as Fritzing both run on Linux so I figured why not?

I did an Ubuntu minimal install and put on Openbox for a window manager and tint2 for a taskbar. Of course there are lots of options out there, like Fluxbox or LXDE, etc. Then I grabbed the latest downloads for the Arduino IDE and Fritzing (the ones in the Ubuntu repos are out of date) and everything runs great! I picked up a 22" widescreen monitor on the cheap from the local University's surplus and order a keyboard and mouse (some of they keys on the tablet were sticking and I just don't like touchpads). All in all I was out about $50.



So if you know your way around Linux and have some spare hardware around, it's not a bad idea!
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yea if it will run a fairly recent version of java it will run arduino, when I started with arduino in ~2008 the machine I used for electronics stuff was a 800Mhz pentium 3 with 512 meg and windows XP

for the real linux nerds though, a few years ago I was out of work and a series of storms sequentially knocked out my computers, leaving the bench machine as a 1997 300Mhz powermac with 256 megs of ram and debian installed... It would not run java 1.6 or whatever so I used the arduino core libraries,  nano text editor and a make file all from the command line, once setup it was pretty easy, hit a F key in nano and have it run make - upload and bing bang boom
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Yeah definite geek points there!

I used the the default-jre in Ubuntu which is Openjdk-7-jre. I actually tried this with Debian first Which was using version 6 and that was fine as well.

I was thinking you could also do this on one of those SoC systems that are gaining in popularity like the RaspberryPi or the BeagleBone Black. I know that the RaspberryPi suffers from no hardware accelerated Xorg drivers (last I checked) and I suspect the Beaglebone suffers from the same limitation and then there's the lack of hardfloat based JRE's, though I understand that Java 8 will have hardfloat releases. So maybe something for the future, eh?
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We have this old laptop kicking around that we really just hadn't gotten rid of yet. It's pretty much a piece of junk by today's standards, dual core 1.6Ghz with 1GB of memory.
"Piece of junk"?  Speak for yourself - you are sounding like a gamer.  I consider that a perfectly serviceable machine for all serious purposes including business, though I am upgrading to so-called (it appears there are some tricks about this) quad cores with more memory.

More to the point, going from Windoze to Ubuntu or Mint makes up for a lot of processing power.  At present, Firefox (in tabs) seems to be insanely greedy however on all my (lesser) systems.

But it occurred to me that a nice lightweight Linux install might still run pretty well on it. I dug around and found that the Arduino IDE as well as Fritzing both run on Linux so I figured why not?
Of course they run on it - we are after all talking of an Open Source project.  The only reason for a "light" installation is if you have a tiny disk, but it is far more resistant to OS bloat.  And you (generally) do not have to worry about driver installation as you do on Windoze, because on (modern) Linux, it is essentially seamless.  Installing the MPS430 drivers on Windoze(7) - now that is another matter ...

Then I grabbed the latest downloads for the Arduino IDE and Fritzing (the ones in the Ubuntu repos are out of date) and everything runs great!
That seems to be a substantial problem in the repos.  It is so much easier to use the update system though that I am being lazy and still running 1.0 for the present.

I picked up a 22" widescreen monitor on the cheap from the local University's surplus and order a keyboard and mouse (some of they keys on the tablet were sticking and I just don't like touchpads).
Good stuff - I hate touchpads with a vengeance, also laptop keyboards with odd key spacings and layouts - a "standard" keyboard is so much better.

I was thinking you could also do this on one of those SoC systems that are gaining in popularity like the RaspberryPi or the BeagleBone Black. I know that the RaspberryPi suffers from no hardware accelerated Xorg drivers (last I checked) and I suspect the Beaglebone suffers from the same limitation and then there's the lack of hardfloat based JRE's, though I understand that Java 8 will have hardfloat releases.
The Pi is cute and nice that you can (extremely easily) install Arduino IDE on it - but abysmally slow.  We will all be waiting for those hardware accelerated Xorg drivers then.
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I'm running on a Dell D520 which is 1.8Ghz.  Unfortunately, the Dell and the Lenovo edge E430 that I bought to update the Dell both have the same problem, in that they use Intel graphics chips.  The more recent X servers seem to have problems when the 3D effects are used in the newer distros, and I've tried various things (bios settings, Intel X rpms, nomodeset kernel option, going to XFCE/mate instead of gnome, etc.).  So far, I keep the Dell at Fedora 14, which was the last Fedora release that was stable on the Dell, and I haven't been able to keep the edge running for more than an hour with either Fedora or CentOS.  I have some time coming up shortly, where I might try to take another whack at it.

So, if you have Intel graphics in your laptop, you might need to go to an older Linux distro that isn't so smart about 3D graphics.  As somebody who started computing with punch cards/paper tape, and used 80x24 character terminals for many years, I don't need the eye candy that the younger set thinks they need, and I wish modern distros had an option that says no 3D support at all.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2013, 06:56:21 am by MichaelMeissner » Logged

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well they do, just install xfce as your window manager
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We have this old laptop kicking around that we really just hadn't gotten rid of yet. It's pretty much a piece of junk by today's standards, dual core 1.6Ghz with 1GB of memory.
"Piece of junk"?  Speak for yourself - you are sounding like a gamer.  I consider that a perfectly serviceable machine for all serious purposes including business, though I am upgrading to so-called (it appears there are some tricks about this) quad cores with more memory.

More to the point, going from Windoze to Ubuntu or Mint makes up for a lot of processing power.  At present, Firefox (in tabs) seems to be insanely greedy however on all my (lesser) systems.
Fair point. A dual core 1.6 is still perfectly acceptable for even modern desktop processing. 1GB of RAM however is pretty slim for Windows or even your more bloated Linux desktops.

Then I grabbed the latest downloads for the Arduino IDE and Fritzing (the ones in the Ubuntu repos are out of date) and everything runs great!
That seems to be a substantial problem in the repos.  It is so much easier to use the update system though that I am being lazy and still running 1.0 for the present.

I also being generally lazy agree with this. But for one or two applications I don't mind periodically checking. I just stored them in /opt, symlinked the directories to arduino and fritzing respectively then added those to my path. So it's as easy as extracting the new package and updating the symlink.

I was thinking you could also do this on one of those SoC systems that are gaining in popularity like the RaspberryPi or the BeagleBone Black. I know that the RaspberryPi suffers from no hardware accelerated Xorg drivers (last I checked) and I suspect the Beaglebone suffers from the same limitation and then there's the lack of hardfloat based JRE's, though I understand that Java 8 will have hardfloat releases.
The Pi is cute and nice that you can (extremely easily) install Arduino IDE on it - but abysmally slow.  We will all be waiting for those hardware accelerated Xorg drivers then.
Agreed. This Wayland/Weston business looks promising too but I figure that's a long way out.

I'm running on a Dell D520 which is 1.8Ghz.  Unfortunately, the Dell and the Lenovo edge E430 that I bought to update the Dell both have the same problem, in that they use Intel graphics chips.  The more recent X servers seem to have problems when the 3D effects are used in the newer distros, and I've tried various things (bios settings, Intel X rpms, nomodeset kernel option, going to XFCE/mate instead of gnome, etc.).  So far, I keep the Dell at Fedora 14, which was the last Fedora release that was stable on the Dell, and I haven't been able to keep the edge running for more than an hour with either Fedora or CentOS.  I have some time coming up shortly, where I might try to take another whack at it.

So, if you have Intel graphics in your laptop, you might need to go to an older Linux distro that isn't so smart about 3D graphics.  As somebody who started computing with punch cards/paper tape, and used 80x24 character terminals for many years, I don't need the eye candy that the younger set thinks they need, and I wish modern distros had an option that says no 3D support at all.
Intel graphic chipsets are definitely the bottom of the barrel, no doubt. I've had some luck in Linux with newer chips but like you I've had terrible luck with older ones.

I'm not familiar with MATE but it looks like it's a fork of Gnome2. I can't tell if it uses compositing or not. It's also been awhile since I used XFCE but I seem to recall it having an option to use compositing. Compositing window managers use various 2D and 3D animation effects, true translucency/transparency, etc. These can be rough on a junk onboard graphics chip so that could be your problem. Turning them off might help.

Another option is to just an ultra lightweight desktop like LXDE that doesn't have the capability. I see that Fedora has a spin for it. http://spins.fedoraproject.org/lxde/
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well they do, just install xfce as your window manager
I have, and still the Lenovo randomly crashes.  I'm sure there is a solution, I just hate installing Linux (and I hate installing Windows even more).
« Last Edit: August 22, 2013, 09:13:29 am by MichaelMeissner » Logged

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