Its been an interesting day. I have a print server now running Xubuntu 8.1 on the P3 SBC but its not running on the compact flash and its not fully configured yet. Lack of space on the 1GB compact flash required the use of an old 10GB PATA drive. It took considerably more work than I thought it should have taken to install a “server” distribution. Definitely not a shrink-wrap project.
I ran into a few issues related to my choice of hardware. The chipsets related to the Pentium 3 didn't get universal support from Linux hardware-driver programmers back when the P3 was the pinnacle of x86 silicon. So the video that's running is 800x600 16 bit color @56 fps, under the generic Xserver driver. It seems to top out at 800x600. 1024X768 would have been more appropriate for a generic sort of driver even in the P3 days. The video adapter on this specific SBC is an integrated module built into the SIS chipset.
I'm fairly certain that most of the drivers that managed to install are the generic x86 “plain vanilla” drivers in the distribution. Eventually the print server will operate headless so I'm not too worried about the video adapter. Other functions may work sufficiently well enough not to require replacement with specific drivers.
What I've run into here has happened before. Using discarded legacy hardware makes a project more of a challenge simply because if it didn't get the driver support when it was new, its not likely to be in the Linux distributions now. When this particular SBC was current 6 to 7 years ago, Linux wasn't in the plan, it was going to run Windows XP Embedded and the Windows drivers seemed to work reasonably well.
The amount of heat generated by the P3 board was in the vicinity of 35 watts which doesn't sound like much until you realize that the box it goes into is made of stainless steel, totally sealed up and going to operate in 120 degrees F (49 C) ambient temperature with full sun exposure in the tropics. Assuming it continues to run non-stop, that's what makes it an industrial rated SBC. You go in hoping that you can get 3 years out of the board before it fails. Something breaks eventually. This one had the COM channels go first.
Because the system it was running in required COM ports and RS485 connectivity, it was toast. It got yanked out and replaced with another board. If the board is past warranty, it is actually cheaper to totally replace the board. Repairs made to surface mount boards are cost prohibitive when you add in the post-repair testing that will need to be done to re-qualify the board for service again. If was just a USB port that was bad, it would likely have been put back into service after a test or two. So running as a print server in a air-conditioned home will be a very nice retirement for the old P3 SBC.
The P3's future operating environment @ 500 MHz is going to be a lot less stringent. It still will require a CPU fan and ventilation. My guess is that it may only have to print 10 to 15 pages a day, worst case. High performance isn't going to be the issue. Mostly I need to have something that will allow me to keep my Windows XP Pro box shut-off most of the time.
Is this project cost-effective? Probably not. Educational? Definitely yes. I've learned that I need some more Linux-time to really know what I'm doing at a command prompt running configuration scripts. GUIs are too easy to use to get some things done. It also would be nice to know exactly how and what I need to put into a minimal server configuration.
Services needed for the print server: NFS – Network File System, because without it, Samba doesn't work. Samba – to allow connects to and from Windows based clients. Samba's WINS and DHCP servers so I can keep the Windows clients isolated from the Linux net. cups – the printer service. HP printer management software Apache2 for access to Samba and cups through swat CRON and AT for scheduled tasks FFS2 – flash file system, a CF plugged in the socket seemed to suffice to get it installed. APIC services of some kind to enable the hibernation/suspend functionality.