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Space Cube – the World's Smallest Linux PC 265

Posted by timothy
from the not-time-cube-note dept.
Barence writes "Meet the Space Cube — the world's smallest fully functional PC. Primarily designed for use in space, it somehow manages to cram a working PC with USB ports, card readers, audio outputs and proprietary interfaces into a tiny cube chassis measuring just two inches square. It runs a basic Linux front-end, which the blogger takes a look at, and there are some great photos of the device being loomed over by everyday objects like coffee mugs and cellphones. It has connections for controlling various electronics used by ESA, NASA and JAXA, but it will also apparently be for sale to the public soon, for use by amateur engineers and robotics clubs."
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Space Cube – the World's Smallest Linux PC

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  • Smallest? (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @09:50AM (#24764445) Journal
    In terms of volume it looks bigger than a beagle board + CF card. The Beagle board is 3" square, but it can be a lot less tall than this. It also has a much faster CPU and (to me, most importantly, since it means I can actually connect it to a modern monitor) DVI output.
    • incorrect summary (Score:5, Informative)

      by yankpop (931224) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:02AM (#24764641)

      The second line of the article states that it is one of the smallest computers in the world, not the smallest.

      yp.

    • Re:Smallest? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PinkyDead (862370) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:06AM (#24764743) Journal

      Maybe 2 years ago this might have been 'Wow!' - but with the likes of the Eee etc around - the appropriate response is 'Meh.'

      Just some quick back of a fag packet calculation on the Eee put it at 9cm^3. Obviously, a lot more than this with its 5cm^3, but you do get
      * a keyboard
      * a screen
      * 3 usb ports
      * wireless ethernet
      * mouse pad
      * power
      * loads more disk space
      * 3 times the processor
      * etc
      all for 300 quid

      Which if you got rid of would reduce the size right down to a lot less than 5cm^3.

      No disrespect to the folks that put this thing together - and yes I would like one please - but... it's not rockin' my world.

      • Re:Smallest? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Atlantis-Rising (857278) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:16AM (#24764913) Homepage

        Of course not. And it also doesn't help that the Space Cube, unlike the eeePC, is totally useless by itself.

        It's wonderful to have a tiny computer, but if you need to slap on a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to use it it's really not all that tiny, is it?

        It also doesn't help that the real reason, in general (i.e., other than embedded computing environments) the reason people want small computers is portability, and this thing is hardly portable- sure, it's small and light, but given that it's totally useless on its own, that lack of size and weight is mostly irrelevant.

        Even for use in space, I still think it's a waste of, well, space. Either you're going to connect it to a real computer for display and use (with that big monitor and keyboard) or you're not, and all those jacks are a waste of space.

        • Re:Smallest? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Bert64 (520050) <{bert} {at} {slashdot.firenzee.com}> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:31AM (#24765165) Homepage

          Dont forget the power, the space cube requires a power source... while the eee does too long term, it can run for a length of time on it's battery.

        • It might be useful if you don't need a computer while mobile, just in a few fixed locations. You could take something like this between work and home, for example, and plug it into peripherals at both ends.

          Except that it's really slow. You would get better performance from a VM image running on a USB 16GB flash drive with 1GB reserved for saving state when suspending - plus you'd have 14GB more local storage space.

          The only possible niche where I can see it being useful is for on-site tech support peopl

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by jmpeax (936370) *
          Not to mention the fact that it's damn expensive - £1500 (~$3000) according to TFA.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by jellomizer (103300)

            I don't think there are many spots on earth where the difference of size will make having such a small system affordable. Perhaps on the ISS but past that even NYC Where property is like (a blatenly wild guess with no facts other then by rumor) $1000 per square foot. There is no cost savings, and a normal rack mounted computer will offer better savings.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Just some quick back of a fag packet calculation on the Eee put it at 9cm^3.

        Isn't the Eee 22.5 cm x 16.5 cm x 3.5 cm? That looks like it comes out to almost 1300 cm^3. Even if my dimensions are wrong, I doubt your ability to fit a keyboard into 9cm without going to chording or something of that nature.

      • Don't forget it has a Spacewire [esa.int] interface.

        I kindof found the bulky db15 connector on the side funny, but I guess you'd need some sort of adapter anyway. But if you had a lot of them you'd probably use a kvm and at that point you could move to a proprietary, thin, small, light connection.

      • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @11:12AM (#24765825)

        Just some quick back of a fag packet calculation

        Please don't tell us what you used as a writing utensil.

    • by quenda (644621) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:27AM (#24765089)

      . No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Z00L00K (682162)

      And then you have the Jack PC [chippc.com] that fits into an ordinary wall outlet box. (Round type, not the rectangular type)

    • Re:Smallest? (Score:4, Informative)

      by dubbreak (623656) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @11:32AM (#24766097)
      I checked out the beagle board site [beagleboard.org] and they are pretty damn cool. Definitely a lot more fun for playing with at home.
    • exactly and gumstix is selling pc's now as well that are as small as your wallet.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Taxman415a (863020)
        Yeah but the gumstix are much slower than the TI's OMAP35x processors in the Beagleboard. Gumstix does seem to be coming out with some OMAP products in Q4, but currently their only advantage is that they are neatly packaged with a small case and they have a model with ethernet built in. Otherwise the Beagleboard has much more going for it.

        Those two things would be nice to be able to get preconfigured for a beagleboard, and nothing I saw on their site hinted at it. Of course you can do it yoursself with a
  • by SystematicPsycho (456042) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @09:50AM (#24764461)

    Would they let you pass with that in an airport?

  • Yes but... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Underfoot (1344699) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @09:52AM (#24764483)

    does it run... oh... it does? Awsome.

  • by Kazymyr (190114) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @09:53AM (#24764491) Journal

    ...measure two inches square?

  • by utnapistim (931738) <dan.barbus@gmail.cSTRAWom minus berry> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @09:53AM (#24764493) Homepage

    Too bad it's not available to the general public at the moment :(

    • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:19AM (#24764985) Homepage

      Actually this stuff IS available to the general public.

      It's called the PC-104 formfactor and it's been around for decades. Hell I got a 386 with A2D inputs and digital in and outs as well as VGA, CF interface and audio interface in the basement that is slightly larger than that that I used for wearable Computing in the early 90's.

      It's not new or special. It's standard industrial PC gear repackaged and sold with a "Ooooooh space technology" marketing twist.

      • This is substantially smaller than the PC-104 form factor, which is 3.6" x 3.8". It did however remind me a bit of the old Intrinsyc CerfCube devices that used to be available a few years back, one of which I have in my collection of stuff somewhere around here.
  • Another? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by amdpox (1308283) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @09:53AM (#24764507)
    What's the dealeo with all these ridiculously tiny "fully functional" Linux boxes coming out? Does anyone have a use for them, other than attempting to cram a distributed computing network into a backpack? A machine that needs an external keyboard, screen and power adaptor has no need to be any smaller than a midget-ITX.
    • Re:Another? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @09:55AM (#24764539)
      'Primarily designed for use in space'.

      It is enormously expensive to launch things into orbit. Making a smaller and lighter computer saves on launch costs, and the weight allowance can be used for other things. Then again, presumably you still have to launch a mouse and keyboard and VDU for this thing, so it's not quite as great a saving as it sounds...

      • Re:Another? (Score:5, Informative)

        by slim (1652) <john&hartnup,net> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:02AM (#24764657) Homepage

        Then again, presumably you still have to launch a mouse and keyboard and VDU for this thing, so it's not quite as great a saving as it sounds...

        Depends on its job. It could be a headless device for logging/collating/forwarding sensor data, controlling a robot, whatever.

      • Re:Another? (Score:5, Informative)

        by utnapistim (931738) <dan.barbus@gmail.cSTRAWom minus berry> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:05AM (#24764729) Homepage

        Not necessarily. You could (for example) have them control all kinds of things with no peripherals attached for most of the time (that is, except in the case when a problem needs to be diagnosed).

        In case of a problem if there's need for diagnostics, you can then plug some small screen+keyboard and you're set to go.

        They're running linux so they should be ideal for monitoring sensors and reporting, transmitting ping/heartbeat signals for any kinds of devices, for controlling hardware, basically for anything that can run autonomously.

    • Re:Another? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by martinve (1233522) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:04AM (#24764683) Homepage
      Exactly the same question. My puny phone has 64MB RAM, 369 MHz CPU, screen, battery, built-in speakers, mini-USB port and minimalistic keyboard and internal volume of 66cc (roughly 4 cubic inches). I really do not see the point of that gadget except being really cheap and expendable - and that product is not.
  • by Brane2 (608748) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @09:57AM (#24764569)

    This thing is obviously aimed at special applications.

    For these kind of things there are much better solutions than x86 chips. They are smaller, faster, cheaper and more economic than classic HW.

    Take a look at TI's daVinci program, for example, or maybe some small Coldfire from Freescale or maybe some cool Arm from NXP etcetc.

    • by IDtheTarget (1055608) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:37AM (#24765255)

      I would think that the primary "big deal" would be programming talent.

      Way back when, the government used proprietary, government-programmed operating systems and software for stuff, and it rarely worked and it was difficult to find programmers to maintain or update the software. This way, by using a processor that can run a well-known, well-liked, popular OS that has literally millions of enthusiastic programmers available, it shouldn't be difficult to get critical software written or maintained.

      You also won't need to re-invent the wheel for common modules, and your programmers can therefore concentrate on the stuff that is unique to your application of the hardware.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by GauteL (29207)

      Apart from the inappropriate use of the 'PC' term, the article doesn't actually state what type of architecture the processor is.

      This [dundee.ac.uk] far more interesting paper on it, states that it has a MIPS processor.

    • by raddan (519638)
      But there's loads of software that runs on x86. Developer time costs magnitudes more than equipment, and for many places, my workplace included, these things are just great. If you're lucky enough to have software that's easily portable, and you don't mind dealing with the inevitable byte-order issues, character encoding issues, and other problems, by all means, use specialized machines. x86 is just so damned flexible that it's worth the extra cost.

      We use Soekris [soekris.com] boxes all over the place
  • by Bibz (849958)

    It's interesting how this articles follows the one about the NASA space virus (http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/08/27/1231224)

  • Radiation hardened? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by unts (754160) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @09:59AM (#24764605) Homepage Journal

    I appreciate that it's not meant for handling critical systems, but nevertheless, I wonder if its components are radiation hardened. In particular, what CPU has that thing got? Some sort of ARM?

    And the RAM... is it SECDED?

  • wait what? (Score:2, Informative)

    by otravi (1289804)
    So.. it's a blast from the past [ubergizmo.com]?
  • PC Pro is clueless. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:01AM (#24764639) Journal
    Behold Picotux! [picotux.com]

    Or, less dramatically, gumstix [slashdot.org].

    The spacecube is cute, I admit, I'd be amused to have one; but the notion of it being the smallest is silly.
    • by blanks (108019)
      The first thing that came to mind was gumstix for me as well. Having owned a gumstix "rig" a 2 inch square computer seems fairly large.
    • If it came with a Weighted Companion Cube skin, I'd consider buying one just for the hell of it.

  • by joeflies (529536) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:03AM (#24764681)

    the Gammima.AG worm? I hear that's popular in space nowadays

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:04AM (#24764709)

    This is Not a PC.

    From the Manufacturer's web site, it runs a fairly standard MIPS SoC from NEC... a Vr5701. There is not x86 compatible CPU in there. Since it's MIPS, don't expect to just use RPM and install anything, and clearly it doesn't use RedHat. The OS might be derived from RedHat, but I suspect it's just bad journalism (everything Linux is RedHat, right?).

    I'm not saying it's not cool, but it isn't a PC. And I think if you want a Space capable device, you'll have to deal with the radiation hardness yourself. www.gaisler.com has some perhaps more suitable chips that are rad hard (SPARC based).

  • by miserere nobis (1332335) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:07AM (#24764761)
    Ahh, so Locutus has a mini-me and this is his home. How cute!
  • Imagine... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anita Coney (648748) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:12AM (#24764853) Homepage

    Imagine a beowulf cluster of these puppies! You might actually be able to run a GUI.

  • by the_B0fh (208483) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:16AM (#24764915) Homepage

    The biggest problem is that they're selling it for US$300+ in Japan, but the University wants to sell it for $1500+

    Another good idea dying on the vine caused by greed.

    • The biggest problem is that they're selling it for US$300+ in Japan, but the University wants to sell it for $1500+

      It's worse than you think. That second price wasn't in dollars. It was pounds. You're looking at $3000 for one of these from the University of Dundee. Better to get on a plane to Tokyo and ask around Akihabara , even with the round trip ticket you'll come out ahead and you'll be able to stop off in a maid cafe while you're there.

  • N810 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by oever (233119)

    How is this special? The Nokia N810 [wikipedia.org] has a faster processor and comes with GPS, wifi, keyboard and 640 x 480 screen. Storage space can be added to exceed that of the Space Cube.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      when did they downgrade the screen size on the Nokias?

      My 770 has a 800X480 screen. that sucks if they reduced screen resolution on the newer ones.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by meist3r (1061628)
      Too bad GPS is useless in SPACE. And on the other hand a mobile phone is probably not the most reliable solution to grab sensor outputs and have them relayed to earth. The price of text messages alone would be outrageous ...
      • by edremy (36408)
        Why is GPS useless in space? It most certainly works in orbit- you just need a few more satellites to get an accurate fix on altitude and you need to get signals from satellites on the other side of the earth, but you can do it. See http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/12714/?a=f [technologyreview.com]

        Now around Jupiter you're pretty much out of luck, but there's no way NASA's ever using one of these guys on a deep space probe. Data rates are a bit worse than even a first gen iPhone :^)

  • That device is $325. How about a $50 Linux PC that might not be the smallest, but is still smaller than a notebook, runs at least as fast as a P3/500MHz, has at least one each USB and PCI (but maybe no onboard VGA), and runs fanless?

  • Imagine . . . (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dcw (87098)

    Buy a bunch of them, pack them into a suitcase with some laptop batteries, Portable Cluster.

    • by Bert64 (520050)

      Yes, and because the CPUs are so slow, you could just cluster the laptops that the batteries came from and get better performance from the same size suitcase.

    • Buy a bunch of them, pack them into a suitcase with some laptop batteries, Portable Cluster.

      I could only imagine how an airport would react to that apparatus.

  • by Rie Beam (632299) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:22AM (#24765027) Journal

    Who'd a thunk that the Borg would have such humble beginnings?

    I have to say, it does explain their relative ease of Assimilation...

  • Further details on the Space Cube see the translated product page [yahoo.com] (original page [shimafuji.co.jp]). To save you clicking on the link:

    Flash Memory: VR 5,701,200 MHz/250MHz/300MHz
    Flash Memory: 16M byte
    DRAM I/F: DDR SDRAM 64M byte
    Input/output: IEEE1355 (SpaceWire), RTC and CF (True IDE), XGA (1024×768), USB1.1 and LAN (100BASE), Audio (Stereo) input/output RS232C and JTAG I/F (for debugging)
    Power source: +5V
    External size: 52mmx52mmx55mm (the spine is excluded)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by steevc (54110)

      Note the copyright of 2005-2006. I saw these ages ago. Not really news, but still a neat gadget. Having a PC this small means you can put it in places where you might not normally have one, providing it has the power for the application. I'm sure it could be good in a car for audio and assorted data logging.

      You can get something more powerful for less money, but sometimes size and power consumption will be the main factors.

  • Radhard? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Conspicuous Coward (938979) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:30AM (#24765141)

    If this thing is meant to be going into space doesn't it need to be using radiation hardened components?
    TFA states the cost is likely to be around GBP1500, that along with the size and specs of it makes me wonder if they're using commercial grade components in there. Aren't radiation hardened componentes generally around 10 years behind standard PC's? In other words is this thing actually going to be of any use in space or is is just some wierd marketing gimmick?

  • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:33AM (#24765181)

    I have a new record minium time required for going from "not knowing something is available" to "wanting something badly."

  • Gumstix [gumstix.com] are tiny 386-compatible boards - although they're modular, they occupy less volume than a space cube.
    • Gumstix [gumstix.com] are tiny 386-compatible boards

      Where did you get the idea that XScale chips were 386-compatible? Unless this is a very loose definition, meaning 'able to run a userspace 386 emulator.'

  • When spacecuube meets timecube, we're off to the 8th dimension for a hell of a party!

  • FTA:

    Downlink Telementary Sub-Systems, which sounds like something more akin to Battlestar Galactica

    Sounds like someone hasn't been watching closely. Doesn't he know that starships are principally operated by wrought-iron wheels and analog needle gauges?

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