A Thorough Comparison of the Data Evolution Dectop and the Linksys NSLU2

Both the Data Evolution dectop and the Linksys NSLU2 can run Debian linux. They both feature ethernet connectivity and low power consumption, and are similarly priced. However, the two are fairly different.

FeaturedectopNSLU2
Processorx86 compatible AMD Geode 366MhzARM 166 MGhz
CPU Cache32 KB?
Memory128MB32MB
NetworkUSB 1.1 Ethernet dongle10/100 on-board LAN, plus USB 2.0 ethernet dongles
GraphicsVGA supportNone
Power consumption10 Watts*5 / 15 Watts*
Bonus featuresInternal hard driveUSB 2.0
Extra HWKeyboard, mouse, USB ethernet, usb cable, built-in modemNone
Cost$99 + s/h$75-$100
AvailabilityNow, future unknownAvailable

Operating System Considerations

Linksys NSLU2

Installing debian on the NSLU2 can be tricky because it is headless, but it is a well documented process. The NSLU2 comes with an operating system installed, and is useful out of the box. It also supports OpenSLUG and Unslung.

Dectop

The dectop ships with no operating system and one must be installed, raising the initial price tag substantially due to the cost of labor. However, if the end user is going to be doing the installation, the labor can be considered negligible, as the installation could be part of its actual “usage”. The dectop should support any type of linux, bsd, or open source software installation including FreeDos, and should also support Windows CE with a new license.

Overall Conclusions

Both of these machines are amazing devices, and I’m glad I got a chance to work with them both. As similar as they are, the subtle differences make them poised for entirely different applications. The Linksys is very limited in its capacity, but its very good at what it does. It provides network access to USB devices, and that’s it. It can do more, but in my humble opinion its not really worth it.

The dectop is a much more versatile and capable machine. Its really too bad that they didn’t provide on-board lan or linux pre-installed. Those two factors aren’t deal killers, but we’ll need to see whether it is possible to install a new operating system to the included hard-drive without opening up the box. My efforts were thwarted, but others have reported success. Another possibility is to boot the dectop over a network, but we have yet to see if that is a possibility. The one thing the dectop device does very well is provide a low-power “window to the internet”. Since most internet connections are 5 Mbits or slower, the usb 1.1 ethernet dongle does not pose too big a limiting factor in evaluating the performance. However, that limit makes an impact when considering this device as a local area network storage device. Compared to the slug, this thing would be a snail. That metaphor doesn’t really work! In other words, it would be really really slow. :-)

It would be interesting to also compare a thin client to the dectop. HP makes some very capable, low-power thin clients that also provide a “window to the internet”. Their limiting factor is the no-hard-drive aspect, but with solid-state drives and USB flash drives getting bigger and bigger, that’s becoming less of an issue. They are more expensive, but go on sale from time to time. <div style="background: #EEEEEE">* Power measured with a Kill-a-watt device. dectop has a WD 80GB drive, NSLU2 has only a USB flash drive at 5W, an external 250GB drive at 15W.</div>