Friday, December 21, 2012

Arduino IDE on an EEEpc 701 Netbook?

ARduino :: Sure, why not? The Arduino is a programmable controller used to operate electronics projects. By measuring and regulating inputs and outputs, the Arduino can control lighting, motors, sound, and just about anything else electronic you can hook up to it. To give the Arduino instructions, you must write a program in the Arduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and upload it to the controller. This is generally done from your desktop or notebook computer using Windows. But what about using a Linux-based netbook?

An Asus EEEpc 701. This was the original model that started the netbook craze. Since then, Asus has come out with a whole line of EEEpc's including tablets and desktop versions. The 701 is still a convenient way to bring reading with you, browse the Internet, and now, with Ubuntu's Netbook 10.10 operating system, work on Arduino projects.
If you are using Windows, you can simply download the IDE software, install it like a normal program and have it running in minutes.

If you have Linux, on the other hand, it can be difficult - especially if you have little experience with Linux. The Asus EEEpc netbook 701 model - the first model they came out with several years ago - came by default with Linux Xandros. I had long since replaced it with EEEbuntu (another Linux distribution) and it has worked flawlessly for years.

Installing Arduino on EEEbuntu is probably possible if you are an expert in Linux and using its terminal function. If you are a causal user, it is not. Ubuntu's Netbook version 10.10 is a better bet. I followed the instructions found on this beginner's guide on how to install the Arduino IDE on Ubuntu, and it worked.

Here's how to do it:

1. Download the utility Unetbootin on your main computer (a Windows PC in my case). This allows you to download .iso files and put them on a blank USB thumbdrive. This USB drive can then be used to boot from on your EEEpc and install the OS of your choice - in my case, Unbutu 10.10 Netbook (download here: ubuntu-10.10-netbook-i386.iso

2. In Unetbootin, select Diskimage, keep it as ISO, and browse to your download folder and find the .iso file you just downloaded. Ensure that you have the correct drive for your USB selected because this process will erase any data you may have on another device or drive. When you are doing this sort of work - it is best to disconnect everything else just to be on the safe side. After clicking "OK" it will place the .iso image on your thumbdrive and when it is finished you simply close it (don't "reboot"), remove the drive and connect it to your EEEpc.

If you successfully hit your Esc key during your EEEpc's boot up, you should see this screen. If you have your USB thumbdrive with the Ubuntu .iso on it, it should show up as an option, usually the second one down. Pick it and hit enter.

3. Turn on your EEEpc and hit the Esc key at start up - a blue screen with boot options comes up (you might have to hit Esc several times until it comes up). You want to make sure you select your USB drive as the boot up device. If it works, you will begin the self-guided process of installing Ubuntu. If a white line is blinking, you may have to shut it down, reformat your thumb drive, reinstall the .iso image, and start over (this happened to me many times when installing different OS' during the last 3 days).

4. Once you have Ubuntu up and running on your EEEpc, follow this fool-proof guide for installing Arduino's IDE. It worked for me the first time.
My EEEpc running Ubuntu Netbook 10.10 with Arduino's IDE successfully running. The project to the left is the Sparkfun kit, circuit 14, the code for which can be found here. I was able to load a "fade" code example that is included with the IDE - and without changing anything to the circuit, the LED pulses on and off.

It's slow, but I was then able to upload to my Arduino using my EEEpc. It gives this aging piece of hardware another use and in the process, I learned a lot about Linux.