Computing stuff tied to the physical world

JeeMon on Bifferboard

In Hardware, Software on Mar 16, 2010 at 00:01

The Bifferboard is an interesting computer which was mentioned on the forum a while back:

DSC_1239.jpg

It has an ethernet jack, and all it needs is 5V power and a USB stick with Linux on it. You can get an impression of its diminutive size with the JeeLink next to it.

So let’s try it out!

The Bifferboard will work with several different Linux distributions. I decided to use Debian because it’s stable, easy to manage, and has lots of packages ready to install. And because I’m very familiar with it.

Setting up Linux is fairly easy, using these instructions. The hardest part has been done and is fully automated with two scripts: formatting and creating a USB stick to contain a complete Debian 5 (lenny) system. This needs to be done from Linux on your desktop machine, I used Ubuntu.

The only tricky part is that a matching kernel needs to be flashed onto the Bifferboard itself. My older unit has 1 Mb flash, newer units have 8 Mb flash. There are two ways to flash the unit: via a special serial console cable and via a direct ethernet cross-over connection. I tried the ethernet thing, but couldn’t get it to work, and since I had already hooked up a serial line for debugging, I ended up using that method.

The serial port is available as 3.3V I/O signals, but it requires soldering an extra header to the Bifferboard:

DSC_1241.jpg

(only 3 lines are needed: RX / TX / GND, but I’m swimming in 6-pin connectors around here…)

Those pins are then tied to a USB-BUB, which in turn is hooked up to my Linux setup. The connection is 115200 baud, and shows the kernel boot log on startup.

Once the reflashing is done and the USB stick has been inserted, you end up with a standard Debian setup, which can be accessed over the network via SSH:

Screen shot 2010-03-15 at 12.19.06.png

If there is interest, I can set up a wiki page with more details about all this.

Now the fun part: the Bifferboard is x86 compatible, so it will run the standard JeeMon build for 32-bit Linux!

Screen shot 2010-03-15 at 12.16.03.png

There’s about 25 Mb of usable RAM (no swap space), which should be plenty to run just about anything in JeeMon with some other processes alongside it.

The one thing to keep in mind, is that this is a low-power board. It’s equivalent to a 486SX, i.e no hardware FPU, and it looks like it runs about 100 times slower than my (modern) Mac. But hey, you do get something in return: an very small unit and a power consumption of only 1.5 .. 2.5 watt!

  1. Interesting board! I bought one to test it after reading this blog. A Wiki page describing a setup for JeeMon might save some trouble. Do you plan on using a JeeLink (using USB port no 2) or a JeeNode (using the serial port no 2) to aquier the data from other nodes?

    • I’ll probably go for a JeeNode, because then the USB port can be used for the USB stick without extra hub. I2C would be another option, but I don’t think it’d be any simpler. But there are several ways to go forward – see tomorrow’s post ;)

  2. I totally like you finding these. They sound awesome. Can you also post a rough price point, and part you used exactly, as in web site.

    Because when considering options, budget matters.

  3. awsome. would sure help having a wiki with this. in order to connect to the bifferboard can i use the USB BUB that i use for my jeenodes ? whats’ the pinout ? do i really need a linux machine to get debian installed onto this ?

    • Yes – I used a USB-BUB to hook up the serial console. Pinouts – http://bifferos.bizhat.com/pinouts/

      If everything works out, and the Bifferboard is not to feeble for a decent setup with JeeMon, then I’ll look into offering a pre-flashed Bifferboard + USB stick in the shop. O at least come up with some good way to do everything yourself, without requiring a Linux desktop machine.

      Wiki page too, of course – once I get to it. Lots of things to work on :)

Comments are closed.