Marvell 8335 Chipset: The State of the Union

Previously I mentioned the Marvell Libertas 8335 wireless chipset. In researching further the Marvell chipsets, it turns out that some of the Marvell drivers (though not the 8335) even have problems with Windows Vista.

The Ubuntu Linux community seems to have some nice documentation on using the Marvell 8335 chipset (the Linux driver is called mrv8k), including specific instructions for the TRENDnet TEW-421PC. The blog My Favorite Ubuntu has some nice instructions specifically about using the PM150NXT08 Wireless Adapter by NEXXT with Ubuntu Edgy.

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project stirred up some serious controversy when the project went with the Marvell Libertas chipset, resulting in a very unhappy letter from Theo deRaadt. The Jem Report has an article that explains most all sides fairly well. In short, using the Marvell chipset required signing of an NDA, which means that the information thus learned cannot be used by the open source community to build or enhance drivers for this chipset.

It turns out also that the drivers for (some?) Marvell products require the use of proprietary firmware; thus, even with an open source driver the system still requires proprietary products to operate.

However, in spite of the fact that Marvell is the bane of the open source platform, it turns out that it seems to be the darling of the commercial builders. When Netgear chose the Marvell platform, Marvell released a press release about the fact and generally seemed to strut shamelessly. The press release was widely reported; here is the report as seen in the EETimes.

The Linley Group (who?) went so far as to state (in 2006) that Marvell’s chipsets were the best 802.11g chipsets in the market. This, of course, comes from Marvell (as reported by the Wireless Broadband Exchange Magazine here). If you want to see more awards and press releases ad nauseum from Marvell, check out their web site.

My current recommendation about the Marvell chipsets and those products designed around them: avoid them and go with the (perhaps older) better supported chipsets from other companies.

The decTop $100 Computer!

Lifehacker has an article on a product called the decTop. It is billed as a Internet-browsing appliance, but is apparently a complete (and upgradable) computer as well. Sounds like the perfect hacker computer.

It does seem to be slowish by modern standards, and if my experience with 128M is any indication, it won’t run the most current distributions. There are some excellent discussions on how to install Ubuntu 6.06 onto it: one from Jonathon Scott and one from Ray over at Librenix. Juan Romero Pardines from the NetBSD Project has put NetBSD onto the decTop. Someone else put AstLinux onto a decTop – and added great pictures of the internals as well.

Over at Docunext there is a great series on the decTop, including pictures of the guts and of the locked drive (apparently no longer locked in current versions). There is also a set of tips on getting Debian to work on the decTop, as well as the author’s experiences in running the decTop on solar power.

The system advertises an ethernet connection, but it is, in fact, an USB-ethernet dongle. This fact combined with the USB-1.1 means that the ethernet connection is very, very slow. Everything hooks into the USB ports, including keyboard and mouse as well as the Ethernet connection. These two facts appear to be some of the worst drawbacks of the device.

There also appears to be no wireless support at all – the Internet browsing devices I’ve seen all use wireless connectivity as their main connection method – so this appears to be more of a desktop device, rather than a portable device. It is fanless, which means near absolute quiet. Who knows, maybe they’d make a good cluster (heh).

I must admit, when I first heard the name, I thought it might be a minature of one of these instead. Silly me.

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