SheevaPlug eSATA Plug Computer review
With ARM processors growing in popularity in the server market, now is a great time to start thinking about brushing up your development skills on the architecture…
Sadly, the Feroceon 88FR131 processor is no match for a similarly clocked x86 chip from Intel or AMD when it comes to more intensive tasks. In benchmark tests it took on average ten times longer to complete each test on the SheevaPlug than a reference 1.2GHz AMD CPU.
Whether or not that is an issue really depends on the usage scenario. While the benchmarks told of an underpowered processor, general use of the SheevaPlug was more than acceptable, with each service running as expected. Benchmarks aside, the true advantage of the SheevaPlug isn’t its performance, of course, but its power usage.
When the system was sat idle it drew around 2.3W, and even during intensive benchmarking we weren’t able to make the unit draw more than around 7W as measured at the socket, a significant saving compared to even the smallest of micro-ITX servers.
Unlike similar always-on server products, such as the PogoPlug ARM-based NAS adaptor, the SheevaPlug is a true development kit. As well as enabling you to install an operating system of your choice, so long as it’s compiled for ARMEL, the device includes a mini-USB connector with serial console and JTAG debugging interfaces.
For those wanting to develop on the platform, rather than just using it as a cheap, low-power server, there is even a growing community of SheevaPlug enthusiasts over at plugcomputer.org, where guides to installing alternative operating systems, schematics and code samples can all be found.
The SheevaPlug is a marvel, packing a surprising amount of punch into its diminutive casing. While performance trails that of x86 hardware, in large due to a lack of out-of-order processing, its low power draw makes it an excellent choice for a simple home server, while good debugging facilities help speed up ARM development projects.