GumStix comes with BusyBox preloaded. BusyBox is an embedded application package with a large number of tools, one of which is a Web server. To use it, install your site at /var/www/html, reboot the WaySmall and off you go. One immediate application is to add a Web interface to your embedded application. Additionally, one could build a dedicated Web application for a WaySmall and essentially have an application in a box. Keep in mind that the Intel PXA255 has no floating-point unit, so number crunching is a stretch. However, several popular lightweight Web applications could run easily on a dedicated WaySmall.
Simple text-based HTML created with a minimal amount of graphics and no scripting was easy to accomplish. If you have an application that would not stress the server, you will be in good shape. The processor speed was more than adequate, but the RAM, storage and bandwidth were limitations on the evaluation unit. The 32MB of RAM is too little storage space for anything significant. The RAM is fixed, too, so you have to work around it. Storage is more flexible, however, with up to 512MB available.
I suggest checking your intended host computer to see if it has a serial port, because a lot of newer machines delete them in favor of USB. I also suggest that you purchase the power supply, the 128MB MMC module and an MMC adapter for your host machine. Third, as indicated earlier, mechanical stability is a real issue with the GumStix. During the evaluation process, the antenna of the WS200f-bt became damaged and the Bluetooth failed. This occurred because the serial cable became tangled with the antenna. Additionally, when the host machine was moved, a load was placed on the PCB connector and a solder failed. Thus, the Bluetooth-equipped WaySmall may be too fragile for practical applications. This is a known problem, however, and will be resolved when the integrated antenna is added.
Bluetooth is an excellent addition. The bandwidth of Bluetooth is substantially better than the serial connection and should be better than the USB 1.1 option. The Bluetooth-enabled models allow you to go wireless. They automatically boot to a configuration with rfcomm, generating a Bluetooth serial port called /dev/rfcomm0, and the startup script starts a getty over it. I was able to establish a serial connection over the Bluetooth, and it was faster than the USB 1.1 connection.
GumStix is refining its products rapidly, but I am going to make some predictions:
First, look for an integrated antenna. As a part of this change, I expect to see the serial ports dropped in favor of serial-over-Bluetooth.
Second, expect to see Ethernet added to the GumStix, certainly an Ethernet-enabled device with a connector off one end. I would prefer to see wireless Ethernet in lieu of Bluetooth, but that is my preference.
The bottom line is the GumStix SBCs are cool. Their ease of use, small sizes, low power consumption and flexibility make them excellent choices for a wide range of applications. GumStix are good alternatives to most of the other SBC form factors presently available and should be given serious consideration for any new embedded development efforts.
Michael Boerner is a consultant based in St. Louis, Missouri. He likes to focus on embedded Linux and device drivers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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