Xen and EeePC

I’ve been considering the possibility of using Xen on an ASUS EeePC as a mobile test platform for an Internet service. While the real service uses some heavy hardware it seems that a small laptop could simulate it when running with a small data set (only a few dozen accounts) and everything tuned for small amounts of RAM (small buffers for database servers etc).

According to the wikipedia page about the EeePC [1] the 70x and 900 versions of the EeePC use a Celeron-M CPU. According to Wikipedia that is based on the Pentium-M (which lacks PAE support and therefore can’t run Xen).

The Fedora Tutorial about the EeePC has a copy of the /proc/cpuinfo data from an EeePC [2] which shows that the model in question (which is not specified) lacks PAE. Are there any 70x or 90x variants that have PAE? Intel sometimes dramatically varies the features within a range of CPUs…

The 901 version and the 1000 series use an Intel “Atom” CPU. According to discussion on the Gentoo Forums some Atom CPUs have the “lm” flag (64bit) but no “vmx” flag for virtualisation [3] (which means that they can run Xen paravirtualised but no KVM or hardware virtualisation for Xen), it also has PAE. This is more than adequate.

According to the Wikipedia page the Atom comes in both 32bit and 64bit variants [4]. Hopefully the 901 version and the 1000 series EeePC will have the 64bit version.

The 90x versions have support for up to 4G of RAM but the 1000 series is only listed as supporting 2G, hopefully that will be 4G or more (although I wouldn’t be surprised if Intel had a chipset supporting only 4G of address space and PCI reservations limiting the machine to 3G). But even 3G will be enough for a mobile test/development platform which should make it easier to debug some problems remotely.

The 901 is available in Australia for just under $700. It’s a little more expensive than previous EeePC variants ($500 is a magic number below which things can be purchased with significantly less consideration), but it still might be something that one of my clients will pay for.

The prime aim is to be a mobile sys-admin platform that can be carried anywhere, running a Xen simulation of the target network is an added bonus.

Any suggestions for other laptops that should be considered will be welcome. It needs to be light (1.14Kg for a 901 EeePC is more than I desire), small (a reduced display size is not a problem), and not overly expensive ($700 is more than desired).

Update: JB HiFi is selling the 1000H model [5]. The 1000H has an 80G hard disk and weighs 1.45Kg. The extra 210g and slightly larger size are a down-side, as is the extra ~$50 in price.

A comment was made that OpenVZ could be used. If that avoids the need for PAE then a 702 series would do the job (with some USB flash devices as extras). The 702 is a mere 920g.

Update: This ZDNET review shows that the 901 can only handle 2G of RAM and has an Atom CPU that is only 32bit [6].

10 comments to Xen and EeePC

  • Alex

    Why not try a lighter virtualisation solution like openvz? Obviously you’re restricted to only running other OSes (or rather: distros) with the same kernel, but it’s a hell of a lot faster.
    I’m not sure if you can get vz kernels that support all the power-saving features of laptops though…

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  • etbe

    Alex: I guess that’s worth considering. As for not supporting power-saving features, Xen doesn’t support them either so it’s not a down-side of OpenVZ vs Xen (in fact it might not do as badly as Xen in this regard). The usage scenario of firing up a laptop to test things while in a taxi on the way to an office (which I have done in the past) doesn’t require the longest battery life.

    How does OpenVZ run on a machine without PAE?

  • alex

    Works fine, see (the page is mostly out of date otherwise I believe).

    I run vz on Lenny on a Netburst Celeron 2.8:
    flags : fpu vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 clflush dts acpi mmx fxsr sse sse2 ss ht tm pbe nx lm constant_tsc up pebs bts sync_rdtsc pni monitor ds_cpl tm2 cid cx16 xtpr lahf_lm

    And a on Hardy on a Penryn T8100 (not nearby, but they are the new core2 chip).

    I should note the vz guys swear blind that their .24+ kernels are unstable and even ‘experimental’, but I’ve never had a kernel panic while using them (for admittedly not very exciting things, but still..).

  • pratfall

    The market opened up by the original EEE is flourishing; the MSI Wind, as well as similar “sub-notebooks” from Acer, HP and Everex are available now. Dell is getting into the ring, and IBM has an 11″ laptop, though it is about 3x more expensive than an EEE. All of these are worth digging up a cpuinfo grab for.

  • etbe
    alex: According to the above URL the Atom N270 CPU which is used by the EeePC 901 supports PAE so I can use Xen. But it’s good to know what OpenVZ does. OpenVZ is less resource intensive so is worth considering anyway as only 2G is supported.

    pratfall: Interesting, I’ll have to check out the other options. I saw a Lenovo competitor to the EeePC today and wasn’t really impressed – it wasn’t a scaled down Thinkpad.

    I’ve handled EeePC models 701, 900, 901, and 1000H today and it seems that the 1000H is a little bulkier than I like (and I presume that the hard disk will make it more fragile). The 901 is not much bigger than the 701 and well within the budget. So I think I’ll go for that.

    So now I’m looking for other devices that compare with a 901. I looked at a small HP laptop today which appeared nice but cost $800. $800 didn’t necessarily put it out of range but it didn’t appear to have any huge benefit over the EeePC. The fact that so many Linux users have EeePC’s makes it a significant reason for getting one.

  • etbe

    The MSI Wind is about the same weight as a 901, either a bit less or a bit more depending on the type of battery. Dimansions are 260*180mm vs 226*175mm for the EeePC 901. An extra 34mm in width wouldn’t necessarily kill me, but I’ve got to draw the line somewhere or I’ll end up carrying my 310*280mm Thinkpad T series.

    The Dell Inspiron Mini is not listed on the Dell Australia web site, and Dell apparently sells no laptop in Australia that costs less than $1000 and would be called small by today’s standards.

    The Acer Aspire One sounds good but doesn’t seem to be available.

    I can’t find anything else which is close to 226*175mm in size, not much more than 1Kg in weight, and less than $800 in price.

  • etbe,first-pics-acer-aspire-one-better-than-the-eee-pc.aspx

    Actually it seems that the Acer Aspire One is available in Australia, Acer lists a price of $599 for the Linux model (cheaper than the sale price of the EeePC 901) and we can expect that the sale price will be cheaper, there is also apparently a $99 cash-back deal. The Linux model has 8G of SSD and 512M of RAM while the XP model has an 80G HDD and 1.5G of RAM. The storage is too small but 8G flash devices are $35 each, while external storage is less convenient for using in the machine it’s more convenient for sharing data.

    It’s a close call, if I was going to run the built-in OS then I might go for the Acer but as I want to install Debian I think I’ll go for the ASUS as it’s well supported.

  • alex

    please post a review of whichever you buy if you do get one :)

  • Hi,
    I found your post useful. I wrote a small OS kernel as part of my coursework, and I’m paravirtualizing it under Xen on an EEE PC 1000H. Just wanted to confirm that the 1000H does support PAE.
    However, I’m using a non-PAE Dom0 linux (with Xen v 3.1.4 — which is probably the most recent version that supports both non-PAE and PAE).
    So if you are ok with using a slightly older Xen kernel, then 3.1.4 would work for you.
    Hope this comment is not too late :).