Booting Ubuntu on an 8-bit Chip: the Lowest-end Linux PC

It appears that, with some effort, you do not need more than an 8-bit chip - despite the 32-bit requirement - 25-year old RAM and half a gigabyte of storage. It's not what you would call a particularly fast system, but it is astonishing that Grinberg got it to work at all.

He used an Atmel ATmega1284p RISC-based microcontroller with 128 KB ISP flash memory, 4 KB EEPROM, and 16 KB SRAM that runs at 20 MHz off-the shelf, but was overclocked to 24 MHz in Grinberg's case. The chip delivers a total of about 24 MIPS. To support the booting process and store Ubuntu, the developer added a 1 GB SD card as well as a 30-pin SDRAM SIMM that was common in 286-computers in the late 1980s and delivers a data throughput of about 300 KB/s.

Grinberg programmed an ARM emulator for the ATmega1284p to boot Linux (kernel 2.6.34), which decreased the effective emulated clock speed of the chip dramatically and ended up at about 6.5 KHz. The boot process took about two hours. the developer noted that the system is "somewhat usable". Typed commands deliver replies within a minute, he said. The overall result is the "cheapest, slowest, simplest to hand assemble, lowest part count, and lowest-end Linux PC," he wrote in a post detailing the system.

Linux on an 8-bit micro!

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  • ta152h
    t's kind of funny how the young twits have no idea how powerful these processors really are. 20 MIPs can do a lot. Heck, I remember running .894 MHz, and that thing could control appliances in the house. Tandy in the 60s ran their entire business on a 16K machine. People were running very effective business software on 64K machines in the late 70s, and early 80s.

    The reality is, there's nothing you can do on a computer now that you couldn't 30 years ago. You have bigger numbers, and things are prettier, and stuff like that, but you're running the same basic stuff. On the plus side, the cheap crap they sell today, forgetting about getting too hot, is unreliable, offensive in workmanship, not to mention poorly supported by people who don't quite speak English. If you were to take a "good" quality case back to 1985, people would laugh at that junk. A PC/AT would smash a modern Dell like a sledgehammer against a glass. If you brought a laughable keyboard from today back 30 years, people would think it was a bad joke. If you thought it was OK for your PC to be dead in five years, people would take your temperature.

    On the other hand, most of the saps here wouldn't be able to overclock, as you actually had to know what you were doing, and replace the clocks on the motherboard. And if you destroyed the motherboard with inept soldering, they were really expensive. And the old saying was "The computer you really want will always cost $5000". Plus, there was that dreadful interlacing that gave me, and others headaches. Ugggh.

    So, things are nicer in some ways, but fundamentally very little has changed. The amount a 20 MIPs processor can do with efficient code is enormous. It's just that human nature is such that it bloats up everything if there are the resources to do so, with grotesque inefficiency. Because it can done now. Programmers don't worry about an extra additional, or resetting the pointer unnecessarily, or asking for more memory than they need. When you had 3 MIPs to work with, you looked at every line of code, every routine, and made sure you weren't doing anything unnecessary.

    A lot of good stuff has happened, and a lot of bad. But, for the ignorant kids who scoff, don't think something with 1/1000 of the processing power did 1/1000 of the work of something modern. They did pretty much the same thing back then, maybe without a few bells and whistles, but essentially the same thing, because people work with what they have, and when you have less, you use it more efficiently.
  • aoneone
    Can it run doom? because that's all I need really...
  • spentshells
    tri forceThat's cool and all but the question is...can it run crysis?

    I don't know about crysis I bet it could automatically flush a urinal
  • Other Comments
  • aoneone
    Can it run doom? because that's all I need really...
  • charels88
    Ubuntu on a Arduino! Not what I would use my Arduinos for but if you have the time by all means....
  • madjimms
    "decreased the effective emulated clock speed of the chip dramatically and ended up at about 6.5 KHz"

    That's where I started smiling. Happy April 1st guys!