Saturday, October 20, 2007

New hardware toys

Over the past month or so, I have been searching for low-cost prototype boards for exploring our RIPPS and ScaleBox work. I think I finally have a winner to play with for the near term with the Atmel NGW 100 Network Gateway kit. It has native dual Ethernet support to allow me to do pass through operations with a customized version of Linux already running. A host of other options less important for networking but very cool for tinkering (SD slot, USB, I2C, SPI, GPIO). Most important of all, the price is just about perfect at only $89. For a few more dollars, it would have been nice to see a power supply tossed in but I already had a few 12V supplies lying around from our my mass of external drive purchases in January.

The board is quite fascinating both as an implementation platform and potentially as a teaching platform. At sub-$100, it is close to tolerable to have students simply buy one for themselves. For teaching, a JTAG debugger (enabling remote GDB and recovery from hosing the flash) would be essential but at a $320 list from Digikey, it is a bit pricey but is not necessary for each and every board. I am a bit concerned about how well it could run our current RIPPS code at only a 133 MHz processor but that gives some incentive to help speed it up / streamline it anyway. Perhaps making a hardware version of the WANRay is finally in order without having to toss on a $700 Cisco PIX box.

Initial forays into the box are very promising. I was really surprised how much stuff is running. Telnet into the box worked right away with ssh and ftp already supported. The box is also running a web server as well as a DHCP server for eth1 (labeled LAN). I did not have a chance to test the serial operations as I could not dig up a serial cable amongst my bank of cables at work.

We'll be putting up a Wiki web fairly soon to collect the various information :)

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