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Move Over Mini-ITX, Here Comes The gigaQube 209

Posted by timothy
from the product-before-its-time dept.
Jim Ethanol writes "Since there's been a lot of interest lately in Mini ITX based servers I thought the Slashdot crowd might enjoy checking out Project gigaQube. The gigaQube is a modified Cobalt Qube 2 server appliance with 240 Gigabytes of storage running NetBSD's Mips R5000 based Cobalt port. Cobalt Qube's are quiet, cool looking little (7.25 x 7.25 x 7.75 inch) servers that when modified, make a powerful home server solution. They also seem to have achieved 'fetish' status in Japan. See some gigaQube action shots here, or check its vitals here."
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Move Over Mini-ITX, Here Comes The gigaQube

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  • as more and more data is being stored (TV shows, Movies, Music and yes Pr0n too) the drives are being filled at an alarming rate

    saving HDTV is killing my disks I don't know what it is like in the US but here in Japan its a 19 meg stream for each channel
  • by jthorpe (545911) on Saturday November 15, 2003 @03:40AM (#7480356)
    The /. article mentions that this could be a replacement for Mini-ITX, but in reality, I suspect that you could use (with quite a bit of modding) a Mini-ITX in one of these boxes intead of the existing board.

    A Mini-ITX would offer a nice replacement for the Mips-based CPU and dependence on old SIMM modules for memory.
    • Yep, these things are definitely not the future by any means. These qubes with mips chips were actually the earlier ones, the later ones had k6's of some sort (and that was an improvement over the mips, AFAIK).
      • It was more akin to having a more modern kernel, etc. that made the K6-II based Qube3's an improvement over the MIPS based Qube2. It was that you didn't have to compile special versions of things and that you had 2.4 versions of the kernel available that made the improvement. The Qube2's CPU was actually faster/cooler than the Qube3's offering- but the whole configuration wasn't largely utilizing the real power of the CPU in any of it's normal usages.
    • actually a better solution is from an article yesterday....

      Put an ITX board in a Octane2 chassi.

      you get the cool SGI case in a tiny server appliance form.

      Much cheaper as O2 cases are $20-$40 on average.
  • Seriously though, I'll have to replace my server, a pretty cool home-built computer inside the fantastic, cool-looking Antec 1080 (I think it has eight fans all over) case, and I'd been thinking about putting it in one of them sexy, tiny black nForce Shuttle computers, would have been fantastic, but maybe this is a nice alternative.
  • Why is this news? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Can anyone tell me why this is news? It's not like anything super-duper was done, he just added some storage and RAM.

    I think this line from the page:

    Shortly after receiving and playing with the Qubes, I named them Pamela.Anderson & Keanu.Reeves because they looked pretty

    Is more interesting then the project itself.

    Fortress of Insanity [homeunix.org]
    Blogzine [blogzine.net]

  • old news (Score:2, Informative)

    by DNS-and-BIND (461968)
    Man, Cobalt Qubes have been out forever. I remember evaluating one at my old ISP job in 1998 (THAT takes me back). They're decent boxes, I suppose, though a bit overpriced for what you get. It was mainly notable for being the first popular "it runs linux but you'd never know it" machine.
    • I remember evaluating one at my old ISP job in 1998 (THAT takes me back).

      Aaaah, nostalgia's not what it used to be.
  • server? (Score:3, Funny)

    by simp (25997) on Saturday November 15, 2003 @03:52AM (#7480374)
    Strapping a drive to the back of a CPU board with ty-wraps is not my idea of building a small server. But whatever floats your boat...
    • Re:server? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mackstann (586043)
      Cardboard [incise.org] beats tie-straps anyday! Yes, I built a computer in a cardboard box, in fact, it's serving you that image. Small [incise.org], cool, quiet, cheap, and fun to build (for the type of person who was a lego nerd when they were a kid, I guess).
      • You know, if you're going to link to images on /., you should make sure they're in a fireproof case really.
  • by steveha (103154) on Saturday November 15, 2003 @04:00AM (#7480391) Homepage
    I built a Mini-ITX file server. It has three 120 GB hard drives; they are running Linux software RAID, so I have the same amount of storage as the gigaQube... but I can have any one hard drive die and I'm okay.

    The gigaQube is smaller, but my Mini-ITX file server is small enough for me. It's also extremely quiet.

    Details:

    It's a VIA EPIA-M motherboard, with a 1 GHz "Nehemiah" core. It has two IDE controllers onboard, and I used an IDE controller PCI card to get another available controller for the third drive. The case is a common Mini-ITX case, almost a cube shape, which I got at the Fry's Electronics in my area. One drive is mounted in the (only) hard drive holder in the case; one drive is mounted in the 3.5" external bay; and one drive is mounted in an adapter bracket which is mounted in one of the two 5.25" bays. I actually have one 5.25" bay free, but I don't need it for anything. I use the 100 Mbit Ethernet jack on the motherboard for hooking the server up to my net, and I have Debian GNU/Linux (stable branch) installed. It's a sweet little server.

    steveha
    • By the way, I left the RF shield plates in place on the external bays. The hard drives are all inside and not visible. I plan to swap round IDE cables in (replacing the current flat ones) and measure the system temperature to see if the round cables make any difference.

      steveha
    • I used an IDE controller PCI card to get another available controller for the third drive.

      Hmm... nice setup. I'd like to use my PCI slot for something else so I'm curious - why you didn't use 2 drives on one IDE channels? Was the performance sub-par? Also, I understand your data is striped across 3 drives, and you can afford to lose one - what RAID "version" is that? RAID 2?

      Has anyone got an idea how to use 2 PCI cards with the Mini-ITX boards? The manual for the 533 Mhz Mini-ITX boards say it supports 2
      • Actually, he didn't use two drives on each IDE channel, because (AFAIK) the EPIAs only support one drive per channel on the integrated IDE controller.
      • by steveha (103154)
        why you didn't use 2 drives on one IDE channels?

        0) IDE peformance sucks when two drives both want to use the same controller.

        1) According to a Linux software RAID web page I read (but I'm not sure where; lost the URL so I can't tell you) when an IDE drive fails, it can confuse and hang the controller it's connected to. If you only have one drive per controller you don't care, but if you have two drives on one controller, one drive can fail and it can "take out" the other drive (at least untily you reboo
    • I have an 2.4Ghz eCube with a couple of 250Gb drives. One in the drive bay and one in the foppy bay. It has a DVD/CD RW so I do not need a floppy. It has a Gb of RAM and the thing is running 24/7 quite happily. It has SuSE 9 on it now but that is obviously new :) It has been sitting there for about 6 months without a hiccup.
  • I recently bought a Shuttle SK41G box as a replacement server. I stuck in an xp1900+ processor, 80gig WD drive, a dvd/cd reader, and 512Meg memory. It has room for one more drive since I didn't bother to get a floppy for it (who uses floppies these days?). This baby is way overkill for my server needs. Running apache, exim, spamassassin, clamav, samba 3, and mysql (plus the usual array of programs), it hardly makes a mark in the CPU usage.

    It's small, relatively quiet (though not as quiet as the k6-2 40
    • I have the Athlon64 based Sn85G4 with nearly half a terabyte of storage. :D

      The machines do rock severely, though I am having a real hard time with the Silicon Image raid chipset on them - it had trouble with my two 250GB SATA drives...
  • by heldlikesound (132717) on Saturday November 15, 2003 @04:29AM (#7480438) Homepage
    I bet people would love it.
  • Neat (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    This is neat. The MIPS is a nice processor with a much nicer programming model than x86 if you're working with assembly.

    If I were Sun, I'd churn out MIPS boxes like this by the hundreds. I have a need for two machines (that I don't have money for right now). One is to be a file server, and the other is to be a firewall/router for my crappy dialup (which will one day be broadband of some sort). A machine like the Qube could fit the bill for both of these machines, with one being configured for RAID an
    • I suspect part of the kick of using the Cube is that the original machine is no longer for sale, so there is an element of exclusivity. If all you want is a tiny server, take a mini-ITX case and you can do much the same. Sun would possibly spawn a new market (tiny file servers) but they'd not profit from it. No marketing capability.

      Now, Apple, on the other hand...
    • by bhima (46039)
      Sun gave up on MIPS seconds after buying Cobalt.

      Price per Bogomips I suppose.

      • Sun gave up on MIPS seconds after buying Cobalt.

        And that right there is the reason I hate Sun with a passion bordering on some /.'ers hatred of Microsoft (well, that and Scott McNealy's big mouth).

        Cobalt wasn't the greatest or cheapest computer but it did what it did quite well. It had a good interface for administering the box that was easily explained to an end-user. It was all around just a decent little machine for it's purpose (expensive, though).

        Sun bought them just to kill them off. Die Sun! Die
  • by crapulent (598941) on Saturday November 15, 2003 @04:44AM (#7480459)
    Wow! Do you know Vin Diesel? You just need to find a third guy named "Alexander Isopropyl" or something and you'd have your own little gang!
  • by Pansy (10091) on Saturday November 15, 2003 @04:46AM (#7480463)
    Thanks for driving up the price of the Qube I was bidding on on Ebay. I guess I'll have to go put together a mini-ITX box just to spite the article. There should be an Ebay listing that comes with a slashdot article, kinda like the premium listings where you end up at the top of the page, but a lot more expensive...
  • Err no. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Space cowboy (13680) on Saturday November 15, 2003 @04:48AM (#7480468) Journal
    So, you can get a 300 MB drive, put it on a 17cm (7.5" :-) board and get something about half the volume of the "cube" for almost certainly less cost. And it still runs Linux, and it has all those 386 RPM's that you can install.

    If you really must have a cube form-factor, there are cuboid cases around the same size at www.mini-itx.com

    Simon
    • I presume you mean 300GB...

      300mb won't even hold my pr0n collection ;)
    • Well, I think he was just making use of the hardware that he already had. He had bought the Qubes a couple of years ago but wasn't using them for anything. His only real expenses, if I recall, were a 128 MB RAM SIMM and a new power supply. That's way cheaper than buying an i386 motherboard and a 300 GB hard drive.

      I guess I don't understand why the inability to run Linux is a big deal when he's happy with NetBSD. I use both Linux and NetBSD on my machines -- NetBSD is much easier to work with and will r
  • ... Haven't read the whole article yet, I have some pork in the frypan, and I need to keep an eye on it!

    I've shelved the Qube 1, and now a PII-500 running FreeBSD takes care of *my* home storage (caching, web serving, mysql, php, wireless access point, you-name-it) needs...

    Should I be exhuming my Qube 1 and making something of it, or stick it on eBay, or stick it back in the cupboard? Anyone interested in it?

  • by hal9k (7650) on Saturday November 15, 2003 @05:22AM (#7480525)
    Keep an eye out for a bong in the action shots. Just what were these people smoking when they made this?!
  • Quiet PCs (Score:2, Interesting)

    by xyote (598794)
    Well, the passive cooled Via mini-ITX and nano-ITX mother boards are there but the power supplies for them aren't there yet. They have these whiney little 4cm or 6cm fans. No you need a nice slow rpm 12cm fan. Pulls lots of air and is quiet. Though I see Nexus and Papst have some really slow 8cm fans that might work. Silicon Acoustics [siliconacoustics.com] carries a lot of this kind of stuff including 12cm fan PSUs, though I haven't dealt with them yet. Unfortunately it's mostly for full sized P4 based systems which by def
    • Well, the passive cooled Via mini-ITX and nano-ITX mother boards are there but the power supplies for them aren't there yet.

      Yes it is! [mini-itx.com]

      If you buy a Mini-ITX case, most have a silent power supply included.
    • Re:Quiet PCs (Score:2, Informative)

      by DeBaas (470886)

      Well, the passive cooled Via mini-ITX and nano-ITX mother boards are there but the power supplies for them aren't there yet.

      http://www.lex.com.tw/index1.htm They make nice powersupplies. No fan, just 12v -> atx adapters. They require a 12 volt AC/DC adapter. No Fans, no noise.

      The mini-itx boards can be passively cooled. The 533 mhz version is. Some special cases use heatpipes. Then the only noise is the harddisk (if you need one, booting via the ethernet adapter is also an option!)

      • I'm running a 553 mhz one here, the external PS is a great idea, but doesn't provide much juice.

        I find that with a Seagate Barracuda IV and an additional ethernet card on the PCI riser it makes an ideal firewall/webserver. I've even disconnected the case fans it runs so cool.

        The only time I hear it is if I do a massive find(1), and then thats just a ticking...
  • Nano-ITX (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bushcat (615449) on Saturday November 15, 2003 @05:35AM (#7480545)
    If Qube hacking is simply a quest to get a small but useful computer into a pretty case, then Via announced its Eden-N [via.com.tw] processor last month, dissipating 7W at 1GHz and 4W at 533MHz. Samples shipping now, so I assume a Nano-ATX board will be available soon.

    The 866BASE [compulab.co.il] gets a P3, 2 ethernet ports, and the usual interfaces on a 91mm x 96mm board.

    Plenty of opportunities for packing a nice computer into a small case.

    • I've been looking at that trying to figure out why it has 2 PATA connectors and only one SATA connector. Because as a hobbyist you'd want a bunch of SATA connectors and it's not like you have legacy hw issues here.

      It appears from Via's nano-ITX web page that they are aiming at the imbedded systems OEM market, not hobbyists. With that market cost is everything and parallel drives are cheaper. It will be nice when Via starts taking the hobbyist market more seriously and they come out with small form fact

  • But man check out that bong on the bottom shelf! When can we see that in action?
  • Gcc seems to suck and produce un-optimized binaries for every platform except x86 and now powerpc.

    I remember complains about people running Linux on the alpha. They recompile the kernel and everything turns dog slow. The reason being was that the compiled default redhat kernel was compilied using a special proprietary compiler.

    NetBSD might not perform well if its compilied with gcc.

    • This is not my experience, do you have anything concrete?
    • GCC sucks on everything. Really. It performs poorly compared to Intel's compilers, Digital's compilers, IBM compilers, etc. I think it might have done better than SUN compilers though, but I heard that's not saying much. GCC's only strong points are GPL licensing and possibly the broadest hardware support, and stable output I guess, it was everything but fast.

      DEC just happened to release a special compiler for Linux, GEM, I think. End users could get it, I have a downloaded beta of it too. The back
  • by bhima (46039)
    OK I admit, I do have a qube2. It's just a regular qube 2 running linux though. It has two 72 pin EDO sockets. So is the max RAM 2*64=128 or 2*128=256 or can one even install 2*256 for 512?

    Is this a function of the board or the OS?

    • Too much slashdot... Replying to my own questions: From the manual!

      Upgrading your Qube 2 Before you purchase a component to add to the Qube 2, ensure that the component fits into the allocated space: The SIMM modules must be less than 0.4 inches (10.1 mm) thick. The PCI card must be less than 5.5 inches (139 mm) long. If you have 128 MB of memory installed, the second memory slot (slot 2) is empty in the Qube 2. If you add a memory module: you can have mismatched sizes of memory modules (for example, you

  • Missing IO/Features (Score:2, Interesting)

    by repvik (96666)
    I can't see why this is going to replace the mini-itx in any way.
    I'm using my mini-itx as my home entertainment centre, and as such connect it to my TV and Stereo. It also serves as the home for my iPod and Digital camera. In addition, it's my local fileserver, firewall, web and mail-server. It's even my local wireless access-point. It's so feature-packed, that I've probably missed a dozen services.

    Does the cube do half that? Didn't think so.
    • by bhima (46039)
      I think you are missing the point!

      This cool little Qube has been out for Years. It predates USB1&2, 802.11x, Bluetooth, Divx;-), and decent audio better than the sound-blaster standard. But the Qube series was never meant to do any of these. It was meant for a SOHO web, mail and document server.

      Unfortunately after Sun bought Cobalt they gave up on MIPS.

      A Great toy for those of us with processor 'fetishes'

      Oh yes... The Qube does have of what you mentioned!

      • Actually Cobalt themselves gave up on MIPS long before Sun acquired them. Most 3rd party Linux stuff was being built for x86, so it was harder and harder to find add-on software that would work on the MIPS boxes.

        Starting with the RaQ 3, Cobalt shifted to the AMD K6 series of CPUs. The most recent couple of boxes (XTR and 550) actually had Intel Inside.
      • Actually Cobalt stopped using MIPS on their own long before the Sun acquisition. Starting with RaQ 3, the AMD K6 CPUs were used. The XTR and 550 actually had genu-wine Intel CPUs.

        FYI, the Qube 3 UI was released under a BSD license by Sun over the summer, and can be found at open.cobaltqube.org [cobaltqube.org].
  • wire unions? (Score:2, Insightful)

    this guy is using electrical tape to wire up his new PS to the old cobalt plug. how stupid is this guy? there are more safe and reliable ways to bring two pieces of wire together than that...5 minutes at home depot would tell you that.
  • Cable Ties and an extra hard drive does not a case-mod make.

    Modifying the power cable is a succesful mod, but interesting at all.

    Slow day, slashdot eds?
  • I used many back circa 1998- 2001. We loved them because they were easy to set-up and maintain with an excellent web-based interface and one-click software updates made the TCO of maintaining them extremely low despite their high initial cost. I've recently been shopping Ebay for a couple for general office servers to power our intranet (running phpProjeckt). However, getting one of those cubes would be cool for a generic file server...
  • Toy value only (Score:3, Informative)

    by fishbowl (7759) on Saturday November 15, 2003 @01:48PM (#7482063)
    I have a Qube that just sits on a shelf, because it's such a drag to install an OS on it.

    I can't get it to recognize any drive other than the one that it came with.

    It has no IO other than the network and the drive controller.

    Even if I could get the thing to boot, it apparently won't work with any kernel besides the 2.0.36 custom kernel that it came with.

    There is a restore CD that you could get at one time, but you have to get the thing to boot via TFTP before you can even think about using the restore CD. Or else you have to format the drive a certain way with a certain version of ext2fs, and then un-rpm the restore stuff, which does not
    appear to be complete. I'm not even sure you can still get the restore cd ISO's anywhere. The Qube archive has always looked like a patched-together, incomplete effort.

    What's the "Special Sauce" RPM anyway?

    You can hardly us any PCI devices at all. Most PCI ethernet cards won't even work. PCI video isn't possible either. Even if the bus could support it, there are power issues.

    The MIPS chip on a Qube2 doesn't outperform a P-75. You are severely limited in your choice of RAM chips.

    There is supposedly a BSD port for the box, but nobody on the cobalt list has ever reported much success with it. It's certainly not something you can do with a cookbook example.

    So the Qube is enough of a pain, that I just keep it on a shelf. I'd maybe consider fitting an ITX board into it, but I don't want to mess up the toy value by cutting up the case.
    • Actually, the restore CD is bootable. Here's how it works:

      You take a seperate computer (from the Qube) that has a recognized network card (3com, Intel... the CD has this information when you boot), and you boot this computer with the restore CD. Connect the network card of this restore computer to the eth0 interface of the Qube (the interface with one dot) and power on the Qube.

      Hold the "S" button on the Qube while it boots, and you will be able to select where to boot from (ROM, Net, or Disk). Choose
  • Who needs a Cobalt Qube when the BTX form factor is coming out soon? (Link below for details)

    From Anand's website form factors will start at 8.0" x 10.5" for the smaller boards (close enough).I wouldn't pay premium prices even just to have the case when commodity parts will soon be available to accomplish the same.

    http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.html?i=1876
  • I always like the Qube, for its small size, quietness, and design. But one thing has always been missing -- backup. The Qube Pro had dual drives that could be used for RAID mirroring, but that's not real backup IMO. And an external drive kind of defeats the whole purpose. What I'd like to see is a Qube-type thing with a tape drive. I've been tempted to go into the business of building them for years -- hey, if Cobalt could get *$2B* for their little company, maybe I could be a couple hundred thou...
  • by iamhassi (659463) on Saturday November 15, 2003 @10:37PM (#7484463) Journal
    Perhaps I don't understand: this old server costs a few hundred bucks for ~200mhz w/ 16megs & 10gigs [ebay.com], hasn't been made in years so you can't find parts for it (a problem when the power supply goes bad [shon.org]), uses ancient, 60ns (read slow) 72pin memory [crucial.com], and adding a second drive requires "ty-wraps, bubble wrap and double stick tape" [shon.org], but this is going to replace Mini-ITX?

    I enjoy hacking systems as much as the next guy, but when I can get something much better for much less and it's more reliable (no bubble wrap), I don't see the point.

    So please, someone explain why the Qube is so great compared to Mini-ITX systems because I fail to see the advantages.

    • The only great thing about the Qube is that it is designed (from the ground up) to be a headless system. There is no video out, there is no keyboard or mouse in. Initial configuration is done from 6 buttons and the LCD panel (which you use to give it an IP address) and the rest is done using a browser.

      For most of the /. crowd this device is far inferior to what is available today, but for a small office environment, it's a great little device. Simple, reliable, and well featured.

      The Qube 3 came with RA
      • "Simple, reliable, and well featured"

        Sounds like the argument for Macs... let me guess, it looks pretty too? Oh what a shock, the author is a Mac user [shon.org].

        Don't get me wrong, it's great for people that don't know what they're doing, but if you know anything the Qube is inferior.

        • ...it's great for people that don't know what they're doing...

          That is a rather large market share. Witness the propagation of viruses, the proliferation of consultants, the success of AOL...

          That aside, the Qube has its place even for those who know something. Simplicity can be quite rewarding.
          • " '...it's great for people that don't know what they're doing... '

            That is a rather large market share"

            I'm sorry, I should have said "it's great for people that don't know what they're doing and need/desire a file server."

            How many AOL users do you know with Unix file servers, or any Unix machines for that matter, or even know what Unix is? I see your market share dwindling...

            • Let's just say this... I, personally, know of more than 250 sites (some with over 500 people, but most under 300) that are using a Cobalt Qube 3 for email, proxy, and web publishing.

              The nitch isn't as small as you might think.
  • i have been running my little raq2 for nearly 2 years now. its upgraded to 192mb ram and 30 gig hd and cookin better than ever!!! those little mipsel processors are just smoothe as butter and how much faster than a playstation do you really have to be to serve web pages anyway? ? ? ? hehe.
  • And it's nice, but not real fast. One of the things I like about it is that it's MIPS, not i386. I run NetBSD on it, so given the OS portability and the commitment to keeping it running on all sorts wacky (cobalt) hardware is nice. The other cool thing is that root-kits are unlikely to work against my wacky software running on wacky hardware. Sure, if there's a buffer overflow, someone can crash one of my servers, but unless the root kit is designed for MIPS (vs i386), it'll just be restarted by my daem

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