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Exotic stuff at home

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Hi,

Wanted to know about running exotic stuff at home. For instance, I heard that the PS/3 runs the IBM cell processor, and can easily run linux. Has anybody tried this? And if so, do you prefer it to more common at-home architectures?

I also would like to see this continue in regards to other unusual ideas, like forcing linux onto an xbox. I hope this will become one of those perpetual threads!

I know that a lot of ppl buy exotic stuff used on ebay, but I am screemish about this as you might inherit other peoples problems, other peoples broken stuff. So how can somebody get something new, and exotic, to tinker with at home?

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N00bie lisp hacker

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Back in the "UNIX Wars" period of the 80s/90s many corporations sold their own machines running their own flavor of UNIX. Towards the end some of them like Sun, DEC, HP, and SGI produced UNIX workstations with a wide variety of CPUs. As the dot-com boom began, all their customers seemed to start falling over each other in the rush to dump this old hardware in favor of generic PCs running Windows NT. Consequently, UNIX hobbyists could go to their local hamfests and pick up slightly outdated commercial-grade UNIX hardware for cheap. Those were good days.

I ran Debian GNU/Linux on a series of Digitial Equipment Corporation Alpha workstations as my home machines until it became too much of a PITA to find SCSI I and II replacement drives. I had a Sun ULTRASparc box for a while after that until its Sun-specific power supply got fried in an electrical storm. Now I'm down to a PowerPC Mac Mini.

For years I was adamant about not running a box with an Intel CPU. But I have to admit that the virtualization support in the latest Intel Core Duo CPUs is a cool feature that can't be easily dismissed.

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I have a Compaq AlphaStation XP900 which is running OpenVMS, a Sun Fire 3800 running Solaris, a HP 9000 running HP-UX, a SGI Octane 2 running IRIX and a IBM RS6000 running AIX. That is as "Exotic" as I get and even then I only have that hardware as it was offered to me for a good price or for free.

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I wonder what I would find if I went to a hamfest now. But it sounds like there is an ongoing issue with replacement equipment if something breaks.

I'm hoping they guy who ticked off "PS/3 ibm Cell" in the survey posts! hearing that this cpu has over six cores, I think they are called "GPU's" sounded really exciting. However, I could not find any kind of mainstream motherboard online that used it, so I kept looking at the PS/3. My understanding is that if this is used as a linux box, all the hardware has to be USB based, which might make replacement parts less of a problem. I'm guessing that in order to really take advantage of the cell processor, you would have to go back to using assembly or something.

I also hear that game consoles are sold at a slight loss, in the expectation that game licenses would make up a profit. I wonder how it would be to convert other kinds of game consoles and using them as general purpose computers, as opposed to their original intended use.

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n00bie lisp hacker

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I wonder what I would find if I went to a hamfest now. But it sounds like there is an ongoing issue with replacement equipment if something breaks.

I'm hoping they guy who ticked off "PS/3 ibm Cell" in the survey posts! hearing that this cpu has over six cores, I think they are called "GPU's" sounded really exciting. However, I could not find any kind of mainstream motherboard online that used it, so I kept looking at the PS/3. My understanding is that if this is used as a linux box, all the hardware has to be USB based, which might make replacement parts less of a problem. I'm guessing that in order to really take advantage of the cell processor, you would have to go back to using assembly or something.

I also hear that game consoles are sold at a slight loss, in the expectation that game licenses would make up a profit. I wonder how it would be to convert other kinds of game consoles and using them as general purpose computers, as opposed to their original intended use.

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n00bie lisp hacker

the ps3 has the equivelant of 8 cores, though 1 is used strictly for system redundancy. When you say "GPU" i think you might be referring to the actual gpu, or graphical processing unit (acronyms may vary) but it is simply the video card. the ps3 vid card is nvidia.

The ps3 has an option to install "an other OS". I have read a couple tutorials on how to do it, it seems pretty straight forward. a version of Yellow Dog linux was made specifically for the ps3, though I have heard of Gentoo being able to run on it as well. I am not completely sure, but I think the ps3 runs a very customized version of linux when it isnt playing a game (what the system boots into). Someone might have to correct me on that.

I was pretty excited to find out I can install linux, I thought it would allow me to pretty much create my own dev box for trying to make video games. Sadly, the video card is locked down and cant be accessed. Plus, itd be cool, but not pratical, that is what computers are for.

The point you made about the cpu is pretty much the exact reason why games such as the latest Madden run at 30 fps (if that) and not at 60 fps like on the xbox. The developers just havent had enough time to really dig into the hardware and understand how it works (360 been out a year longer). Though I would expect this to change in the coming years; the ps2 still has a shelf life whereas the xbox is completely gone from best buys/cc's/wal-marts. part of the reason why developers havent been able to dig into the hardware is because it has been so expensive to get a devkit.

The hardware for ps3 is sold at a loss for Sony. Part of the reason why they are willing to do this is because they really want Blu-ray to win the format wars (blu-ray > hd-dvd in terms of specs). If that is the case, they will easily make up the difference over time.

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I've also scoped out that Debian can run on the PS/3

Sounds like there are issues that the adoption of an open-standards graphics cards could alleviate. I know it can't be completely locked down though, because I read online that somebody found that the graphics card was actually great for the kind of computations that are needed for cryptography.

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n00bie lisp hacker

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I've also scoped out that Debian can run on the PS/3

Sounds like there are issues that the adoption of an open-standards graphics cards could alleviate. I know it can't be completely locked down though, because I read online that somebody found that the graphics card was actually great for the kind of computations that are needed for cryptography.

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n00bie lisp hacker

yea the ps3 gives you the option to download folding@home, which i contribute from time to time.

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Being a game developer, its hard for me to develop for the PS3, due to its lack of really thorough API and hardware documentation. Its much more inviting to develop a game for the xbox 360 for a few reasons. 1, its more popular than the PS3, which makes marketing people happy, and 2, because developing for a 360 is basically developing for a windows box. I also think it has to do with the companies focuses. Microsoft is very software-oriented, whereas sony is very hardware-oriented. This probably accounts for why the 360's SDK is so much better than the PS3's, because it was made by developers for developers from the start. I don't want to sound like a Micro$oft fanboy, but credit where credit's due....

As for exotics, the most exotic things I got are: Sun Ultra Enterprise 2 server, and a dual-pentium 3 server. I also have a few SCSI tape machines. The Sun server has 2 ultra sparcs, 768k ram, all sorts of SCSI connectors, a proprietary monitor mouse and keyboard, and runs solaris 2.4. The DLT machines are both SCSI, one is a Sun DLT 4000 which is a single tape workstation kinda thing, and the other is a giant black (i forget the company) multi-tape deck that fits in a rack. I've also got and old Cisco 2500 router, and a Nextscreen 10/100 firewall, and an old 10baseT 24 port Cisco switch, all rack mounted. Best part is, I got all this free from work =D.

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because I read online that somebody found that the graphics card was actually great for the kind of computations that are needed for cryptography.

Accelerware (http://www.acceleware.com/) base their business on using Nvida video cards to do alternative computations, mainly for predictive/modelling purposes.

Sure would be good for brute force attacks....

Munge.

My weirdest system was Elks (very light weight Linux version for <= 286) on the Psion3.... a whacking 0.75 bogomips. I guess it's just too easy these days with embedded processors getting so powerfull and plentiful.

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Nothing exotic here besides my Commodore 64 in the closet. I had it out about a year ago just messing around with it. I spent about 2 hours writing pointless Qbasic programs. Back in the closet it went.

My everyday use boxes...

2.53 GHz P4 - Win XP

3.0 GHz P4 - Gentoo

3.0 GHz P4 - Gentoo (Server)

1.2 GHz AMD Athlon - Win XP (malware test box)

An 8 port KVM and a 16 port switch about sums it up.

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I'm using OpenBSD on i386 arch ;)

Then a dualboot of windows and ubuntu on a laptop ( AMD )

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I have one of these bondwell laptops with a Z80 running cp/m

bondwell2ls8.jpg

Also some old school PowerPc Powermacs.

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is arm considered exotic ???

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I'm running Xubuntu 7.04 on a Slot Loading CRT imac & a 500mhz dual USB ibook, I also have an old i1450 IBM Thinkpad running Zenwalk linux, a Toshiba Satellite 4015CDT running Win2k, a Celeron 2Gig media center running Mythubuntu 7.10 , & finally on old Sun Sparc Station running Solaris 8...

Edited by doomtroll
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Hm, let's see...there's the large quantity of x86 compatible machines at home, which aren't very exotic. As far as exotic hardware goes:

32-bit Sparc (MicroSPARC, SuperSPARC)

64-bit Sparc (UltraSPARC II)

DEC Alpha workstations

MIPS-based Cobalt Qube2 (2x)

MIPS-based SGI O2

Dual P3 SGI rackmount workstation

IBM POWERstation (RS6000 based workstation)

IBM PC-XT (8088 processor)

Apple iMac G4 PPC

Embedded Stuff (Soekris board, PC/104 boards, etc, mostly x86 compatible)

Probably the coolest machines out of all that are the SGI O2 (running Debian currently) and the Cobalt Qube2 (also running Debian)...the specs are as follows:

SGI O2:

180 MHz R5000 MIPS CPU

18 GB SCSI LVD hard disk

96 MB RAM (was 224 MB, but I found out two memory modules had problems)

SGI integrtated graphics (capable of at least 1280x1024 @ 15 under Linux)

SCSI/Ethernet/PS2 kb/mouse

USB 2.0 added via PCI

Cobalt Qube2:

250 MHz RM5231 MIPS CPU

80 GB WD Caviar 7200 RPM drive

256 MB 3v RAM

Serial Console/LCD display

Dual 10/100 Ethernet

The O2 is actually a fairly usable graphical Linux workstation. I run Fluxbox on it, and it's fairly quick even with big apps like Firefox or gedit. With more RAM, I'd probably consider it for daily use. The Cobalt Qube2 is a microserver, and while extremely cool, it's not too fast. I think it'd be awesome if someone would produce modern processor cards for the Qube2 using embedded VIA processors or something!

I've gotten the 32-bit SPARC machines (of which I have probably 10) to netboot the debian-installer just fine, but as mentioned, SCSI hard drives are getting a little difficult to find. I have plenty LVD drives, but not very many 50-pin drives of more than 500 MB. Same goes for the Alpha machines. I do have a SunBlade 1000 workstation that I'm going to try to get set up, since it uses IDE drives. In addition to a 466 MHz UltraSPARC II processor, it has a hardware emulator board that sports an actual Pentium III processor with its own RAM.

Speaking of odd hardware and emulator boards, I have a device called an "Orange PC" -- it's a PCI card with a Cyrix Pentium-compatible processor, 64 MB RAM, and the usual host of PC hardware. It's meant to plug into an Apple Macintosh for the purpose of running x86 software on a Mac. It even came with a copy of Windows 95!

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