In this small note I’ll tell you how to turn an old MediaTek SoC-based cellphone,(The one that’s probably gathering dust somewhere on your shelf, with no updates from vendor) into… a server running Debian Stretch! I’ve done this for UMI-X2 and iOcean X8 and you can download ready to flash firmware for these devices at the bottom of this post. Since a typical Chinese mtk cellphone now features 2GB or more RAM and 4 or more ARM cores the result packs way more performance than a typical Raspberry PI.
For a handful of projects work and hobby alike I use Debian. However, when you deal with embedded systems (e.g. ARM SoC) you normally don’t have the installer CD or even the disk drive. You end up creating a filesystem, compiling the kernel. Well, pretty much the usual way it goes.
The process can be somehow lengthy if done by hand using debootstrap and multistrap and especially mind-blowing if you are a total newbie. (Alas, I’m already no n00b here. Getting older, heh)
The worst part of it is that you not only need to create a root filesystem for debian, but set it up in a more or less sane way, e.g. set the default password, ssh keys… The usual thing.
In the Big Enterprise ™ we can see tools like vagrant creating us a base box in the VM and chef or puppet actually setting the system up. While we can use, say chef or chef-solo on an armhf board (why not?) we still have to make sure we have some base image it will set things up on, right?
If you’re following my blog, you might’ve read my post about Dlink’s substandard engineering, and how I’ve got debian running on the damn thing. Well, since that time I’ve made a few improvements, namely:
- Power button’s now correctly rigged as well as the rest of the buttons.
- Upstream 3.18, 3.19 kernels now works flawlessly and don’t ever freeze. I update kernels with each new kernel release
- Goodies like Marvell’s DMA engine, mv_xor, watchdog and mv_cesa are all enabled for the win and are working awesomely
- There’s now a huge guide about ‘cooking’ the damned thing into a useable state in five easy steps. And you are reading it.
- Power measurements are all there as well!
BIG FAT WARNING: I take no whatsoever responsibility if you screw up your device following these instructions. Proceed at your own risk, use your own head. This will also void warranty, btw.