Fun with my little VIA console

At the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose this year they handed out little VIA embedded EPIA systems to the attendees. I’m not sure everyone got one, but I was thrilled. It has a embedded VIA processor with a chipset that includes Unichrome 3D graphics, and also include a hard drive, ethernet, VGA, four USB ports, and audio in and out. It’s a cool little unit.

I haven’t done too much with it, but thinking about this Open Console concept (set top box with 3D graphics running Linux), I thought I’d try setting it up with some of the things I had in mind. I started by putting the Debian lenny installer onto a USB stick and installing from it. That was a little tricky until I reformated my USB stick and put syslinux on it properly. I installed enough packages to get X running with the openchrome driver for 3D graphics. glxgears ran pretty smoothly which gave me some hope I could actually use this thing to run games.

So I got adventurous and installed Nexuiz, an open source first person shooter. To my surprise, this and other open source 3D games are available from the Debian package repository. So a quick little ‘apt-get’ which brought down around 450MB of game, and I was off and running. We’ll off anyway. I got about 20 seconds per frame, which makes it a little hard to even notice the thing was running.

Anyway, I tried a few other simpler games and they actually worked. I had to force myself to go to bed while hooked on billards-gl. It was fun. But I’ve slowly begun to realize that games built for the desktop aren’t really ready to be played with only a joystick as you’d likely only have in a set top box scenario. So there would be work to be done.

I also started to understand first hand the commercial opportunity behind Linux, embedded Linux especially. Sure you can install a Linux distro and get a desktop environment up without too much effort. But try to do anything off that beaten path and you’re in for a lot of work. If you can share in that work, fine. If you can pay someone to do it for you for cheaper than you could do, even better.

I also gave up on using this little VIA box for my play-totyping (hmm, new word). I need to start getting ready for my EclipseCon tutorial which will help me get back into the guts of qemu. Maybe I can do a little work there to bring GLX emulation to it, play time permitting, of course. Or maybe I’ll shell out the $500 bucks to build a real system. Though playing in qemu would be funner…