I’m always on the lookout for low-cost, easily maintained computers to drive displays or do other odd jobs around the museum. The Mac mini is still the gold standard for me. But even with the educational discount, a Mac mini can seem like overkill. We have an exhibit coming up where there’s going to be a projection of a single, still image. Some projectors can take an image from a flash drive, but none of the ones we have laying around can do that. So it was either spend money on a projector that can, or get a computer to drive it. (We could also use a DVD player with a single frame video loop, but that wouldn’t give me full 1024×768 resolution on the projector.) So last week I bought an Eee Box B202 preloaded with Linux.
Initially it was a bust. I hooked it up to a monitor, turned it on, and it booted to a text login prompt. No nice multi-media GUI, nothing. Just login:
Googling around was no help. I couldn’t figure out how to make it start X Windows or anything. The OS that’s on there is called Red Flag Linux. It seemed to have everything it needed, but I don’t have enough Xorg fu to understand how it was supposed to figure out how to configure itself for the monitor I had.
It turns out that was a blessing in disguise. After a little more Googling, I found myself making a bootable USB stick with Ubuntu 9.10 on it. I wound up using the “From Linux” instructions from another Ubuntu box. I debated whether or not to use the netbook distro or the full desktop one. I picked the full one. It turned out to be the right choice.
I did mess with the B202’s BIOS a bit to figure out how to make it boot from the USB stick. I’m not sure whether any of that was strictly necessary, but I had changed a few things to try to get the original software running.
After that it was smooth sailing. Ubuntu booted right up, running from the USB stick. It helpfully presented the option of installing from the stick. Once I made sure it would be able to work with the ethernet and WiFi, I used the installer to reformat the drive and install Ubuntu.
Things went so well, I’m ordering another one. The first one’s going to run our projector. The next one’s going to act as a WiFi to ethernet connection sharing router.
This was my first experience with a LiveCD/LiveUSB/etc. linux. It’s probably unremarkable these days, but I’m impressed with how easy it was to do.
Update: I just got my 2nd Eee Box. This one came with Windows XP pre-installed. Here are the steps needed to install Ubuntu:
- When it boots into ExpressGate, click the Exit icon, then hold down DEL to get into the BIOS setup
- In BIOS->Tools: Disable ExpressGate, then hit ESC to exit
- In BIOS->Boot->Hard Drives: hit + to make 1st drive = USB:SMI USB Disk
- Plug in your Ubuntu USB stick
- Hit F10 to save and exit
Now it will boot from the USB stick. At this point you can either boot into Ubuntu w/o installing (i.e. run from the stick) or install Ubuntu. If you’re unsure whether you want to go through with this before you try, then choose the first option. Note that it takes a longish time to boot from the stick.
Once it boots, you’ll see an icon in the upper left corner labeled “Install Ubuntu 9.10”. Double-click that to do an installation.