Thursday, November 29, 2012

MK802 Media PC Review

I recently made a post comparing the specs of the A10 based MK802 to the RaspBerry Pi. For those who are unaware the MK802 is a low cost, Android based media PC you can pick up on Amazon for less than 40 USD. A little over a month ago I replaced my desktop sized media computer with an MK802 - today I would like to share with you my thoughts on the device.

The Hardware:

The MK802 is a little bit larger than a flash drive and the package includes a power adapter, HDMI mini to HDMI cable, a user manual and a few USB cables:

Now, the MK802 has only a single USB port, which means unless you have a keyboard/mouse combination you are going to want to be sure to pick up a USB hub to go with this device so you can attach multiple peripherals to it.

I have read reviews that said this little device is prone to over heating - I do not believe such reviews. I've left my MK802 powered on for over a week straight and playing hours of video in a single sitting without issues. It is a little trooper.

The Software:
The default operating system that comes with the MK802 is a fairly stock version of Android 4.0. So much in fact that it is very clearly designed for a tablet computer - not a media center PC. Still, the GUI functions well enough with a USB keyboard/mouse and with a few minor tweaks it is near perfect.

The first thing I did on the device was disable the on-screen keyboard. It seemed terribly silly to have a giant keyboard take up half my TV screen every time I clicked into a text box. This issue is quickly solved by installing and configuring the Null Keyboard application from the Play Store.

Speaking of the Play Store, I've installed several applications from there and most of them have worked fine - however not all of them. For example Google's Chrome for Android does not support the device.

One nice thing about the device is that the version of Android on it is rooted by default and the device knows what to do with an APK file when you click on it in the file manager.

In terms of speed the MK802 isn't going to win and records. The 1.5ghz single core processor runs most applications fast enough, but there is a noticeable speed reduction when using multiple applications on the device simultaneously. If you are interested in the full specs of the device I would direct you to my post here.

Wrapping Up:
Over all I've been very happy with my purchase of the MK802. It has aptly replaced my media PC at a low cost, while using much less power. I would highly recommend this device to anyone looking for a cost effective media PC device.

As an aside I haven't been successful in booting an alternative operating system on the device - but I'm not giving up yet. Bodhi Linux will be booting on this thing before the end of the user.

~Jeff Hoogland

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

HOWTO: Check Hard Drive Health with Linux

I've been experiencing full system lockups on my netbook off and on for the last few weeks now. Up until recently though they had been few and far between so I'd just been ignoring the issue. A few days ago however they got bad enough to the point where I had to restart my system three times in the same hour.

Needless to say shortly after that I started running system checks. A quick boot into memtest showed that my RAM was A-OK (which is good considering one stick of RAM is stuck to the netbook's mother board). The next piece of hardware I checked was my netbook's SSD. Almost all modern hard drives have "SMART" controls today to allow you to check their current health status.

I booted my netbook from a Bodhi live USB drive and did a quick:

sudo apt-get install gsmartcontrol

GSmartControl is a GUI front end for smartmontools - a library that lets you interface with your drive's SMART controls and run various health checks on the drive. The interface is fairly straight forward and right clicking on one of the displayed drives gives you the ability to begin checking it.

There are options for a short test (which takes a minute or two) or a longer test (which can take up to several hours on larger drives to complete - depends on the size of your drive).

After my netbook finished the longer test I was greeted with some bad news - my SSD was failing in one area and getting close to failing in others:

At any rate GSmartControl is a fantastic tool for checking the health of your drive that is fairly easy to use. Hopefully the results of your drive check will be better than my own!

~Jeff Hoogland

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two Years of Bodhi, Three Years of Blogging

This year has flown by. My entire life - both on the internet and off the internet has been moving at a rapid pace and I have enjoyed almost every moment of it. I've been so focused on my last semester of graduate work that I completely forgot to make two posts I've been making every year.

The first is that Bodhi is two years old now! It was on November 16th, 2010 that I first announced the project I had started with a couple of friends. The project advanced rapidly and the team that we gathered was very pleased with where we were after just twelve months. Take a moment to look at the data graph in that previous link - in a nine month time span our highest throughput on the package server was under 1.5TB worth of data. We have made leaps and bounds since that point - in fact earlier this year we moved the main Bodhi package server from a VPS to a dedicated server because we had been consistently serving up over 5TB of packages each month. Beyond that our ISO image has been seeing over 25,000 downloads a month, over twice the number we saw in our first year.

The best part about all of this? Even with our increased overhead costs we have managed to stay 100% funded by user donations - meaning our main website and forums have been able to stay ad free (which I prefer). If you enjoy the Bodhi project I would ask that you please help support us by becoming a member, ordering some goodies or making a one time donation.

On a non-Bodhi related note, I've been publishing articles here on Thoughts on Technology for not one, not two, but three years now! I plan to continue publishing articles for many more years to come.

~Jeff Hoogland

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Raspberry Pi vs MK802

There has been a ton on news in the open source world revolving around the Raspberry Pi. It was one of the first low cost, ARM computers to be targeted at the hobbyist and educational markets. I've owned a Raspberry Pi for many months now and while it does an alright job at playing media files and acting as a small server - for most computing tasks it simply didn't have enough resources available to be useful.

My dedicated x86 media PC I'd been using for some time died a few months back and I had been searching for a low cost replacement for the system - I finally found it in the ARM powered MK802 device.

I've been using the MK802 almost daily for close to a month now and it shocks me that this awesome device hasn't gotten more press in the FOSS world. I plan to write a formal review of the device in the next week, but for now I would like to simply do a comparison between the MK802 and the latest RPI Model B device:

Raspberry Model B
1 gig
512 meg
Internal Storage
4 gig
USB Ports
Video Out
Audio Out
HDMI, 3.5m
Micro SD
8.8 x 3.5 x 1.2 cm
8.560 cm × 5.4 cm
Cost+Shipping to US

In addition to having superior specs at a lower price point than the RPI Model B, the MK802 also included an HDMI mini to HDMI cord, power adapter, and the device is in a case by default instead of just being a raw board. Needless to say I am impressed with the little device. For those interested in picking up an MK802 I got mine from Amazon here.

~Jeff Hoogland