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Linux on the VIA EPIA ME6000 LVDS Mini-ITX

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I wanted a very quiet (or perhaps even silent) machine, and after some research bought the VIA EPIA ME6000 Mini-ITX. It was priced a nice € 115 (VAT included), so that was not a big investment.

The EPIA ME6000 is a fan-less motherboard, the 600 MHz CPU is soldered directly to the board (no ZIF-socket) and measures a nifty 17x17cm. That is small! I plan to replace my shell server with a box containing this board in order get a more quieter surrounding.

The processor

Here is some info copied right from the proc-directory

/proc/cpuinfo

processor       : 0
vendor_id       : CentaurHauls
cpu family      : 6
model           : 7
model name      : VIA Samuel 2
stepping        : 3
cpu MHz         : 599.905
cache size      : 64 KB
fdiv_bug        : no
hlt_bug         : no
f00f_bug        : no
coma_bug        : no
fpu             : yes
fpu_exception   : yes
cpuid level     : 1
wp              : yes
flags           : fpu de tsc msr cx8 mtrr pge mmx 3dnow
bogomips        : 1196.03

Powering up for the first time

I put a 512Mb PC2100 DIMM in the board (Kingston KVR266X64C2/512). hooked up an old harddisk and an CD-ROM player on the IDE-connector, a monitor on the VGA outlet and plugged a keyboard in the thing. I had also bought a small and quiet "ITX"-powersupply to power the board.

To start the thing, I wired two thin wires (see picture below) on the motherboard power-switch pins and when they contacted each other the thing started booting.

Unfortunately, my small monochrome 600x480 monitor wasn't able to cope with the high resolution picture the EM6000 provided. so I had to look for another monitor, capable of higher resolutions and/or higher frequencies. Fortunately, on the attic there was an old 14 inch monitor with a nice goldfish-bubbletank shaped round front surface.

Pressing the DEL-key for what seemed a long time gave me a BIOS-configuration menu. It seems this machine is capable to boot from amongst others: USB-drive, USB-CD-ROM, USB-Zip. Enough stuff to play with :-)

Powerswitch for the EPIA ME6000
Detailed view on the first class home brew power switch

Installing Slackware on the EPIA ME6000

Next, I flipped a Slackware 10.1 CD in the CD-ROM-player and booted the thing. The hardware was nicely recognized and installation went as any other i386 installation. Dull.

After the reboot the network was up and running and for fun I plugged an USB-mouse in the thing and typed "startx". A few seconds later I was looking at a familiar fvwm-screen. No need to do any X configuration. Cool.

Next I plugged in a USB memory-stick. No need to do any modprobing here, I only had to do a

mount -t vfat /dev/sda1 /mnt/hd

and I could read from and write to the stick. Thanks, Pat.

It is getting boring: after scp-ing a mp3 file and starting up mpg321 it turned out that the audio also worked right out of the box. So the main parts of the hardware where up and running without any human intervention, the hardware-recognition in the installation scripts had done their job very well. After only 20 minutes of toying we got:

  • Linux running
  • Network running
  • USB controller running
  • USB mouse running
  • X running
  • Sound running
  • No noise from vents (only a hardly audible ventilator inside the powersupply

Who said Linux is difficult?

Installing EPIA ME6000
Installing Slackware on the EPIA ME6000

Modules

After some playing around (mounting a USB-stick, playing sound etc.) I got the following output from lsmod:

Module                  Size  Used by    Not tainted
usb-storage            62336   0
snd-pcm-oss            36704   0 (unused)
snd-mixer-oss          12152   1 [snd-pcm-oss]
keybdev                 1892   0 (unused)
mousedev                4020   1
hid                    20804   0 (unused)
usbmouse                1880   0 (unused)
input                   3200   0 [keybdev mousedev hid usbmouse]
ohci1394               23888   0 (unused)
ieee1394               41636   0 [ohci1394]
uhci                   24284   0 (unused)
ehci-hcd               17516   0 (unused)
usbcore                58860   1 [usb-storage hid usbmouse uhci ehci-hcd]
snd-via82xx            12928   2
gameport                1420   0 [snd-via82xx]
snd-ac97-codec         52472   0 [snd-via82xx]
snd-pcm                54504   1 [snd-pcm-oss snd-via82xx snd-ac97-codec]
snd-timer              13412   0 [snd-pcm]
snd-mpu401-uart         3200   0 [snd-via82xx]
snd-rawmidi            12320   0 [snd-mpu401-uart]
snd-seq-device          3812   0 [snd-rawmidi]
snd                    31268   0 [snd-pcm-oss snd-mixer-oss snd-via82xx snd-ac9-codec snd-pcm snd-timer snd-mpu401-uart snd-rawmidi snd-seq-device]
snd-page-alloc          4712   0 [snd-mixer-oss snd-via82xx snd-pcm snd-timer sd-rawmidi snd-seq-device snd]
soundcore               3396   4 [snd]
via-rhine              12368   1
mii                     2272   0 [via-rhine]
crc32                   2880   0 [via-rhine]
ide-scsi                9392   0
agpgart                45092   0 (unused)

Silent Epia

To get this Epia completely silent, I build a small Linux-system on an USB stick. The Epia is now diskless, boots from USB and runs XVesa, ratpoison, rxvt and firefox (and the usual stuff like sshd, ssh and busybox). Completed with a fanless powersupply (adapter-type) my workstation is now 100% silent.

Total impression

First, the board is faster than I had expected from a machine that could run without a fan on the processor. With the 1196 bogomips it is faster then my AMD450 box (898 bogomips) and my imac G3 (797 bogomips), and playing around with it, confirms that.

Installing Slackware required no special tinkering, everything works right out of the box (well, I haven't tried the TV-out, and I haven't tried playing a DVD with it, so let us say the most important stuff). With the 512 Mb DIMM Mozilla works fast enough for me (I use elinks most of the time, anyway).

This machine is capable enough to be my main workstation. This is also because the type of thing I am doing with my workstation. If you are looking for a machine for some heavy video-editing, than you could probably better go for something faster.
With xine I played a mpeg2-file, I previously recorded with dunerec. This didn't work out well, xine complains the system is to slow. It is not fine to look at, much to many framedrops. Top showed a very heavy loaded CPU, so if playing mpegs is what you want, this isn't the right motherboard for you.

I have worked several months now with the diskless USB-pen system (XVesa, ratpoison, rxvt, ssh and firefox) and very seldom I require more computing power. My use of the system is most of the time working on other systems (including my shell server) through ssh. For things like webbrowsing, email, USE-net reading and rssfeed-reading I prefer textmode applications, occasionally I use firefox.
I power up my heavier workstation only a few times per month.

Uses of the VIA EPIA ME6000 LVDS Mini-ITX

Above you can read that the VIA EPIA is a good basis for my daily workstation. See also my diskless workstation page. However, because it is small, silent and requires not much power, there are a zillion of things you can use the Epia board for:

  • Music station:
    Connect the Epia to an amplifier and stream mp3- —or even better—, ogg-files to it
  • In car computer
    Put a LCD-panel to it and start using it in your car
  • Domotica:
    Use it to control the blinds or other controllable equipment that will make your life easier
  • Robotics:
    The EPIA can be used to control your robot

Opening the package
The Epia (next to a CD player, for size)