- What is a minicomputer in today’s terms?
- Where did they come from?
- Why would I use a minicomputer?
- How much is this so called minicomputer?
- What is the operating system?
- Is the software going to cost me an arm and a leg?
- Where can I get one?
So many questions! So many answers, where to start? Well let’s take it one question at a time. We will start with question one first, the most obvious choice. “What is a minicomputer in today’s terms?” You might think cell phone and you would not be wrong. There in-lies another topic for another day. I am actually speaking about a true minicomputer that has a keyboard, mouse, network connection, a CPU, memory, and all the other computer stuff you might think of.
A minicomputer in today’s term is most any electronic device; you can put your hands on. Think about it, a GPS is a computer. It takes input from a user and puts out information based on the user input. It stores data based on user input. So a GPS in of it’s self is a minicomputer. Cell Phones in today’s terms is a minicomputer, more so then the GPS. It stores even more data for a user then the GPS. GPS and Cell Phones can both search the internet depending on the models and features built in.
That was only a couple ideas of minicomputers now lets move to the true minicomputers that we are here to talk about. The most famous one is the Raspberry Pi.
The Raspberry Pi has been around for about 7 to 8 years. When it first came out, it was not so cheap as it is today. You can now have a Pi for a minimal cost. The items needed to be up and running with a Pi is as follows:
- Raspberry Pi $35.00
- 16 GB SD Card $12.95
- HDMI Cable $7.95
- K400 Keyboard and Mouse $33.00
Now this is not with standing the fact that you need a monitor to connect to. This list presumes your TV has HDMI connection or your computer monitor has one. If you do not have either of these, you can find one online for around $100.00. The good thing is if your Pi dies, you only need to spend $35.00 to get back up and running. If your SD card dies, you only need to spend $13.00 to get back up and running. You can also get a wireless USB key for internet access for the low price of $9.00. So if your TV is not close to your TV for wired connection, this will help.
You may be asking, “How much is software for this minicomputer?” Well let me tell you, it is all free. Yes that is right; it is all free from the Operating System to the Office type products. The OS is a Linux based OS and can freely be downloaded from the internet.
You may be asking where you can get one of these and I will tell you that you can get everything you need over at SparkFun. The guys over there will get you up and running with the hardware, books, monitor, and anything else you can think of.
So before you run out and spend several hundred dollars on your next computer for the TV or just internet surfing, think about a minicomputer. No we are not done yet, there are several other models that deserve mentioning.
Let’s look at the pcDuino for a second; it can also be found over at SparkFun.
1. 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 CPU
2. GPU: OpenGL ES2.0, OpenVG 1.1 Mali 400 core
3. 1GB DRAM
4. Onboard Storage: 2GB Flash, microSD card (TF) slot for up to 32GB
5. Arduino-Style Peripheral Headers (Adapter Needed for Shield Form-Factor)
6. HDMI Video Output
7. Linux3.0 + Ubuntu12.10 Supported
8. 0.1" Spaced GPIO Headers
9. RJ45 Ethernet Connection
10. Power Requirements: 2A @ 5VDC
11. Total = $59.95
This is not just a minicomputer; it is a hobbyist’s dream computer. This thing does it all and runs off Linux. Again as you can see in the image, this thing is not much bigger than a credit card. Man oh man; I can remember when computers took up complete office spaces. Look at us now and all is in an affordable range for most anyone who wanted one, could buy one.
We are not done just yet, there are more out on the market but the last one we are going to hit on is the Odroid-U2. You are now looking at smaller and faster than ever. Half the size of a credit card and in a 1.7 Ghz Quad core speed.
* Ultra compact size with full metal enclosure
* 10/100Mbps Ethernet with RJ-45 LAN Jack
* 2 x High speed USB2.0 Host port
* Audio codec with headphone jack on board
* Community-driven projects & supports
Man-O-Man, if these just don’t get your techno-lust going, nothing will. These things are getting smaller and faster. They can be used for many things, what’s on your mind? All you need to do is a little Google searching and you will find many projects that others are doing with their mini-computers.
1. Home Theater Systems
2. Retro Gaming Consoles
3. File Servers
4. WiFi Radio
I can go on and on but I will not. Get out there and Google it and you will see the abilities of these tiny things. They pack a big punch!
Author - Emory Mullis has been in Law Enforcement for roughly 19 years including military and civilian law enforcement. He started learning about computers back when Gateway 266 MHz was the top of the line and cost about $2000.00.Right out the box, I was compelled to take my new found 266 apart. Why I have no idea other than pure curiosity. Once I had the computer out the box and on the floor in pieces, my wife walked in. Trust me people, this was not a good thing! Either way I got a good understanding at this point on how a computer is put together and / or the components inside. This was my starting point with computers and I still hear my wife in the back ground “It better work when you put it back together!” That was my humble beginnings as a Cyber Investigator. Now with many Cyber cases under my belt, I have learned that you must question, challenge and test almost daily to keep up with all the new tools, software, computers and cell phone formats to be able to forensically acquire evidence and it is a real challenge. I enjoy the challenge and look forward to learning more every day!
Tim is the Oldcommguy and Chief Technical Editor of Lovemytool.com and working as a volunteer for the Georgia POST helping to train Georgia's Law Enforcement community in sound techniques for recognition, protection and acquisition of lawful cyber evidence.