Sheevaplug - An ideal home server

The sheevaplug, a marvel development platform based on a 1.2GHz has risen out of obscurity in recent times as a silent, very low power computer. It's uses have been stretched way beyond the intended use into cars and even as a full on desktop computer, despite it's lack of connectivity.

The basic hardware consists of:

The system is fanless and there are no moving parts, so it is silent apart from a strange extremely high pitched ringing sound which is on the edge of being audible.

In this post I'm going to describe what made me choose the sheevaplug, what I have added to default system and why I love the sheevaplug.

Requirements

For a while I've been looking around for a home server which I could leave running 24/7 acting as a general server. As it was to be placed in my bedroom it had to be silent as I have tried sleeping though many different computer noises from systems which claim to be silent without success. The system had to use as little electricity as possible if I'm going to leave it running constantly.

After a few months of um-ing and ah-ing I found the sheevaplug which completely filled all of these requirements - having no moving parts and using 2.8- 7W depending on load, significantly better than any x86 based system of comparable speed.

Default Setup

When the plug arrives it contains an installation of ubuntu 9.04, a strange choice as ubuntu have now discontinued support for the ARMv5 line of processors used by the sheevaplug so to be more up to date I felt a new distribution was required. The basic install of ubuntu almost fills the included 512MB SSD and therefore is a little impractical.

Current Setup

To get a more up to date system I decided to remove the provided ubuntu installation and installed Debian, following great instructions here. Debian testing supports the sheevaplug in its installer (but does not support the internal ssd) and is quite simple to get up and running, as long as a usb stick or sd card is used. My troubles started when I tried to use a 1.8 inch asus usb hard disk, to allow me to install a different operating system and store more data without having to worry about sd card wear. The bootloader used by the plug, uboot, does not correctly power up usb powered hard disks to allow them to be used for booting from, this meant I had to use an sd card for the /boot partition so that the boot loader could load the kernel then Debian would correctly load the rest of the system from the usb hard disk. This arrangement also removes any complications with usb hubs and booting which can occur. Not as simple as I'd hoped but easy enough none the less.

Current Uses

Having now achieved a fully working system Debian on the sheevaplug behaves much as any headless server does, except with a surprising turn of speed in comparison to similar machines such as the Viglen MPC-L.

I use the system fulfils a number of functions in my ecosystem:

Summary

All in all the sheevaplug has been a great success for me and sits silently churning away day after day without event and costing me only a minimal amount to run. I can defiantly see it (and its derivatives) becoming widespread for uses from making a simple NAS or torrent machine to home automation systems and probably a huge number of exciting uses I've never even dreamt of!