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Using a cubox as a media platform.

23 May 2014 21:50

Somebody recent got in touch offering to mail me a Cubox, in exchange for me experimenting with it and writing about it. In the past I've written book reviews in exchange for receiving free copies, and while I don't want to make a habit of it I don't see a problem providing I'm up-front and honest.

So, what is the cubox-i? It's another one of those "small computers", roughly similar to the Raspberry Pi, but with slightly different hardware, and a really neat little case design, as the name suggests it just looks like a tiny two inch cube, only spoiled by the mass of cabling attached to the back.

Me? I was cheeky and said I'd have no use for one, unless it was the fancy-model. The hardware comes in 4 different versions, which you can read about on the Cubox-i product page.

Ignoring the smaller/cheaper models the fancy version is the CuBox-i4Pro, and this differentiates itself from the Rasberry Pi:

  • It has built in WiFi support.
  • It has two USB ports, and a SATA port too.
  • It has a built in infrared receiver/transmitter.
  • The onboard NIC is 1Gb - though limited to 400Mb or so due to bus-constraints, certainly faster than the Pi.
  • The on-board storage is micro SD.
  • It looks lovely.

I had two uses for this toy; the first was to be a random NAS-box hosting local backups, the second was to be a media-center. In the past I used a Rasberry PI as a media-box, but unfortunately performance was appalling, largely because of the low-spead of the USB WiFi dongle I bought.

The video playback would stall at times, even though the hardware could display full HD-output, the network constraints seemed to be a limiting factor. In the end I abandoned it and these days use it sporadically for emulation, and little else. I've been meaning to do something more interesting with it, but never quite got round to it.

By contrast the Cubox-i is wonderful at being a media-box. I've exported some shares of MP4/AVI files from my desktop host, via NFS, then downloaded a binary image of the geexbox (XBMC) distribution which I installed onto the MicroSD card via dd.

The box boots in about seven seconds, was configured to use WiFi (via "Programs | Settings"), and was streaming media in less than two minutes.

There is a Debian disitribution available for download from the cubox-i wiki, but sadly it is an ancient snapshot of Jessie from December last year. It did install, but there was no WiFi out of the box. Gunnar Wolf wrote about bootstrapping an image from sources, rather than using a binary snapshot. He's kindly shared the resulting image he built, but again sadly no WiFi support, so for the moment I'm just enjoying the media-suport.

In the future I need to decide what to do:

  • Keep the Cubox-i as a media box, using the PI for backup-hosting.
  • Avoid having two devices and lose media-streaming.

I also need to look at running Pure Debian, for obvious reasons, but if I can't use WiFi the machine is no good to me. (The TV is in a different room to the office which contains our Linux hosts.)

Either way I've not been excited about new hardware for a while, not since I bought a Logitech Squeezebox, and we're both enjoying watching media on the TV.



Comments on this entry

icon rjc at 18:14 on 23 May 2014

The list needs a bit of formatting :^)

icon rjc at 18:22 on 23 May 2014

P.S. Like the 'Little My' mug :^)

icon Steve Kemp at 18:24 on 23 May 2014

Oops. The older notes weren't supposed to be there at all. My bad!

The mug? The only downside of having a Finnish wife; all our mugs have to be Finnish...

icon rjc at 19:15 on 23 May 2014

Downside? Are you kidding? I grew up on 'The Moomins'!

... Call me sentimental ;^)

icon Steve Kemp at 19:17 on 23 May 2014

I'm only teasing, though I guess it is sometimes hard to convey that in written-media!

I only tease because she brought 40+ of them over here, and all our non-Moomin cups/mugs have been hidden away.

They're nice, but sometimes you just want a really big cup of coffee, and they're too small for that.

icon Teddy at 20:09 on 23 May 2014

> I don't see a problem providing I'm up-front and honest.

I do see a problem with having sponsored content on planet.debian.org. Please do not make such posts there.

icon Charles Darke at 22:41 on 23 May 2014

I had the same problem with the rpi playing media via NFS. I determined the problem was due to a bottleneck in NFS which could be eliminated by mounting with better rsize/wsize options.

icon Steve Kemp at 17:45 on 24 May 2014

I've written about optimizing NFS performance in the past, but I couldn't ever make enough difference with the Pi to make it useable.

I suspect half of my problem was the generic/poor USB WiFi dongle I bought - I think I chose the cheapest possible option from Amazon, and spent £1.99 on it.

icon Andrew at 00:09 on 27 May 2014

Why do you need wifi? Have you seen the Ethernet over Powerline adapters you can get now? they fixed my streaming problems over wifi in my house

icon Steve Kemp at 07:26 on 27 May 2014

Using IP over power would work, but would require extra equipment which feels wasteful?

Though I imagine they're handy for more than just streaming ..

icon andrew at 12:38 on 27 May 2014

Cubox looks nice, if that is your new media-server, then you can use the Pi with RiscOS, there is a pebuilt image for it available.
I found some nice hardware, too:
One can order one here in germany at the half price of the cubox, but it comes without power-supply and case of course.