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Always-online appliance

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Got myself a new toy: a FreeAgent Dockstar from Seagate. This thing was initially sold by Seagate as a network adaptor for 2.5″ hard drives (sold by Seagate too, of course). Plug in a disk, plug the device into your network and there you go: you have a Gbit disk ready to serve files locally. Seagate went a bit further than that and offers you to get access to your data from anywhere on the Internet by going through a dedicated web site called PogoPlug. Service is free the first year and then you would have to pay a yearly fee to continue having access to your own data through their site.

This little box is really tiny:

FreeAgent dockstar

Inside is a remarkable set of electronics: a 1.2GHz Marvell Kirkwood ARM processor, 128 Mb of RAM, 3 USB 2.0 ports and a Gbit network plug. The firmware is installed in flash and boots to a tiny Linux taking care of filesharing over the network.

Now comes the bright part: with a minimum tinkering you can install your own operating system there and transform this tiny box into a full-fledged Linux box. The fact that it consumes only 8W of power is a major argument to let it run full-time.

Interested links on that topic:

I followed instructions from the first site to disable any proprietary software on the dockstar and the second site to install Debian. I did not touch the firmware: if you brick the box you need to open it up and attach a serial cable in order to get into the boot sequence. Since I do not want to get into that kind of manipulation I followed Jeff’s advice and modified the boot sequence to look for bootable USB drives that might be plugged in, and otherwise boot the regular firmware.

For the first couple of tries I used a 2Gb USB key. Installation worked but performance is far from good and very soon the box started to get into corrupted sectors. I ended up attaching a real hard disk to the box and created a small (4Gb) partition to hold Debian.

This thing is a real beauty! I can now attach 2 more USB disks to it and see their data through a Gbit link. Since all of Debian works on it, it becomes a great candidate to hold an FTP or HTTP server, a Bittorrent client, a Samba server, you name it.

Oh, the best part now: I got this for 25 euros (incl. shipping) on a fairly known French online shop. Could not get better network service for the money!

Written by nicolas314

Sunday 12 September 2010 at 9:53 pm

Posted in dockstar

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