C.H.I.P. $9 Computer First Impressions

Just got my C.H.I.P. $9 computer prototype.  I opted for the KHB (Kernel Hacker Backer) support option on their kickstarter campaign.  I wanted to get my hands on one as quick as I could.  The package arrived on Monday and was impressed by its small size.  I didn’t think it was that small from the literature I have been reading.  I wasn’t able to work on it Monday but, couldn’t wait till I got some time on Tuesday to dig in and see what it could do.

I know I have been doing a lot of PIC work on the site and thought I should give you a little back ground on me as to why I would opt for this particular board.  I have been doing Unix programming since the mid 1980’s.  I have done everything from driver work to full fledged applications.  Every time I do something on windows I always use cygwin as I’m more comfortable in a Unix environment than a windows environment.  Linux came along a bit later and I wondered how close Linux is to Unix and found that it is very close.  When I saw the $9 computer I just had to have one as I have been playing with some Raspberry Pi’s and have a few Pi’s running around my house to control sprinklers and make sure my Action Tec DSL modem is still running properly.  I’ll talk more about those later.

With the $9 computer board in my hand I wanted to see how it worked.  I went through the instructions and realized that I have to flash the board before I could boot it up.  I started with a Windows 7 machine (Ya, I know what am I doing with a Windows machine, my customers do a lot of work with Windows).  After going through all the instructions for flashing the device with windows 5 times I still couldn’t get it to work.  Then I thought I would run Ubuntu 14.04 in a VM on my Windows machine to flash the device.  The loading process went very smoothly this time but, wasn’t able to get the USB device to appear in the VM so Ubuntu could access it.  Another dead end.  I then tried an old laptop I have laying around that I have linux running on.  I read that you need to use version 14.04 of Ubuntu to get this to work so loaded version 14.04 on the laptop.  Boy, Ubuntu 14.04 did not like that hardware at all.  So, put a new hard drive in my newest laptop as I didn’t want to disturb my current disk image on that laptop and loaded Ubuntu 14.04 on that.  It worked great.  Ubuntu loved the hardware and I was able to install all the necessary items to flash the board.  I then hooked up the board and ran the flashing program.  It worked!!  The board flashed according to the program anyways.

Now time to hook up to the board and see if it actually booted.  I tried cu as in the instructions but that didn’t work for me.  I switched to minicom as I like that a lot better.  After some setup in minicom I was talking to the $9 computer.  I performed the hwtest program as that was in the instructions and said it would be a good idea to try so, I ran that.  Everything passed with flying colors.  Now I understood that it had a WiFi card built in.  Oh ya, a built in WiFi interface for, you guessed it, $9!  I went through the WiFi setup for my access point and it hooked right up.  I then pinged google.com and got a response.  I was on the internet with a $9 computer.

After all this fiddling around to get the board flashed I was out of time.  But, I thought I had made some good progress and now with some more careful reading of the instructions I’m going to start looking at the connectors and what I can hook up to the board.

So, I’m excited about this little board and what can be done with it.  If you want to take a look at it go here and read about it.  My first impressions are very very good.  I think the guys at NextThing Co. have done a great job so far.

Stay tuned for more……

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