'Space Cube' could be world's smallest PC

Aug 28, 2008 by Lisa Zyga weblog
Space Cube
The Space Cube is designed for use in space, where it can communicate with NASA, ESA, and JAXA, the space agencies of the U.S., Europe, and Japan, respectively. Credit: PC Pro.

Measuring just 2 inches by 2 inches, the Space Cube is roughly the size of a large die. However, the cube is actually a tiny PC, developed by the Shimafuji Corporation in Japan.

The PC is designed for use in space, where its task is to control various electronics and manage an "interstellar computer network." While it´s normally only available in Japan, the UK-based site PC Pro recently got hold of a Space Cube, and revealed several interesting details.

First, the Space Cube´s metal chassis is "utterly rock solid," enabling it to withstand cosmic encounters. As might be expected, it has very low power requirements, running on just 5 watts.

Inside the tiny computer, there´s a CPU with a top speed of 300 MHz, and 16 MB of on-board flash memory - low by today´s standards, but impressive for its size. The PC runs on a Linux OS from a 1GB CompactFlash card that fits into a slot in its side. The Space Cube´s hard drive is a 64MB SDRAM card, and it also comes equipped with a LAN port, USB port, Ethernet port, and a VGA monitor connector. A pair of jacks even accommodates speakers and headphones.

In addition to the normal computer features, the Space Cube also has some more unique characteristics. It has a SpaceWire port, which is an extremely thin socket that serves as an interface used by NASA, ESA, and JAXA, the space agencies of the U.S., Europe, and Japan, respectively. When the Space Cube goes into space, it can link up to each agency´s systems, where the SpaceWire acts as a common interface for linking together different kinds of devices.

PC Pro discovered that the Space Cube isn´t all serious, though. For instance, they found that typing "xeye" in the command line brings up a pair of googly eyes that follow the cursor around the screen.

Although the Space Cube isn´t currently available outside of the Japan, a company called Star Dundee plans to start selling the device after making some improvements. Star Dundee, a spin-off company from the Space Systems Research Group of the University of Dundee in Scotland, supports users and developers of SpaceWire technology. When it goes for sale, the Space Cube will be priced at around £1,500 ($2,750). As PC Pro speculates, rocket and robotics clubs might find the device quite useful.

More information: http://www.star-dundee.com/

via: PC Pro and CNet Crave

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User comments : 14

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nilbud
5 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2008
I think what you really want is a linutop which costs a buttload less.
Suzu
not rated yet Aug 28, 2008
I don't get it. Isn't there smaller pcs available that are a lot more powerful anyway
nano999
not rated yet Aug 28, 2008
So it's a PDA in cube form. Meh.
earls
not rated yet Aug 28, 2008
You mine as well get a Dell Inspiron 518 for the price of a "Linutop." The Dell specs blow the it out of the water ... and it comes with a flat panel monitor. Don't forget shipping from Europe.
nilbud
5 / 5 (2) Aug 28, 2008
@earls It's the form factor not the price, fanless no moving parts ultra low power (8W) ultra small form factor.
Eco_R1
not rated yet Aug 29, 2008
So it's a PDA in cube form. Meh.
the first thing that triggered me as well. why not use a small polymer casing with metal frame and slap in a HTC diamond? i'll bet you mine it will cost a less than half the price. its like building a 19mile/l car that cost 2 billion (not zim dollars) to develop from scratch, where they could have gone and bought one for a 10 000th of the price.
Aloken
4.5 / 5 (2) Aug 29, 2008
Quite right, PDAs these days are far beyond 300mhz have no moving parts, very low power consumption, more onboard memory than this cubes 16mb and accept larger flash memory cards than the 1gb they use to run linux or the 64mb SDRAM card it has. They do lack the ports this one has but that shouldn't be difficult to add
superhuman
5 / 5 (3) Aug 29, 2008
Its simply build for space market with completely different goals in mind (although the article fails to emphasize it), the key factor here is reliability - millions of dollars worth of satellite hardware will depend on. It has to work for years in 4 degree Kelvin and zero pressure and endure the stress of launch, it also has to use as little power, launch mass, and volume as possible.
In areas where energy consumption is an issue the hardware should be just fast enough to handle its tasks reliably and not faster as more speed always means more energy consumption.
cjameshuff
5 / 5 (4) Aug 29, 2008
Superhuman is mostly right. Cold isn't actually the issue, heat is...no air cooling in vacuum. It has to be physically rugged, compact, and low power. It also has to be radiation hardened.

It's not an exceptionally small computer for what it does, and for hobbyist robotics, it's insanely overpriced. Higher performance single-board computers like the Gumstix exist for far lower prices. It's designed for satellites, and its the thermal, vibration, radiation, and power ratings that matter, together with things like the SpaceWire interface.
earls
not rated yet Aug 29, 2008
nilbud, do you own a linutop? Know anyone that does?

Regardless of its size, I still think it's a hefty price to pay for only Internet access and Open Office.

I originally looked Linutop to resell them, but I have a feeling people can't justify paying nearly $500 for the computer alone, and then additional money for what's missing just because of its appearance.

But then again...
agg
3 / 5 (2) Aug 29, 2008
WTF on the xeyes comment. That's included in almost every linux distro. It's a demonstration of X11 libraries. Who writes this stuff?
Assaad33
not rated yet Aug 30, 2008
WOW, it is faster than my first computer !
Wicked
not rated yet Aug 31, 2008
It's the prime radiant!
DoctorKnowledge
4 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2008
It's not a consumer computer, folks, it's for uses where radiation is high, physical stresses can be great, room is very limited, and power is very, very, very expensive. I.e., the space station. And as the article says, rockets and robotics. Considering that it takes about 200 times less space than my PC tower? For the right application, this sounds like a real deal.