Insignia Infocast

A.K.A. “BB8”, for “Best Buy 8-inch”.
First off, it’s not an alarm clock. For some reason a lot of people seem to mistake it for one. The Insignia Infocast is a Best-Buy branded Chumby device, an “internet media terminal”. It runs Linux on a 800 MHz Marvell PXA168 ARM9, has a 800×600 color touchscreen, 2 GB internal storage (on a microSD card that can easily be swapped out), 128 MB RAM, Compact Flash, SD, 2 USB 2.0 host ports, etc. And it’s extremely hackable. The board has labeled headers for an I2C bus, a 115200 8N1 USART, and 4 GPIO pins (and a good number of other GPIOs scattered around the board that could be repurposed if needed), and there’s source code with examples of using these. The whole thing runs off 5V DC, powered out of the box from a wall-wart, with a coin cell battery for RTC backup. I don’t know yet how much power it needs, but converting it for battery operation should be trivial.

For a piece of consumer electronics sold by Best Buy, it is surprisingly fast and easy to get into…nothing to jailbreak, there’s an easter egg of sorts that lets you in. Once the device is up and running, go to the apps screen, press the logo in the corner to bring up the device info screen, press the pi icon in the upper right corner to bring up a hidden control panel, and press the sshd button to enable SSH login. Log in via SSH (no password needed), type “make” or “gcc”, and it will offer to download and install a toolchain for you. It’s got enough CPU, RAM, and storage space that you don’t necessarily need a cross-compiler, you can do everything on the device itself.

The bottom is held on by four screws hidden under the rubber feet, and one snap-latch at the back near the USB ports…relocate the feet, remove the screws, and pry a bit with a flat-blade screwdriver to get it open. There’s some ventilation slots on the bottom with plastic cover bits that can be easily snapped off with pliers, letting you snake ribbon cables from the serial and I2C/GPIO headers through to the outside world.

The device uses an AU6350 for the USB ports and card slots. For Compact Flash, this chip is limited to PIO mode 6…so there’s no reason to go for an expensive card faster than 25 MB/s (and it’s entirely possible the actual bottleneck would be between this chip and the processor). I haven’t discovered if it would be possible to boot directly from a card, but you can put your own stuff on the card and overlay it over the file system with UnionFS as detailed in this forum post. A current oddity of the software is that it won’t automatically mount a SD card if it’s in the slot at boot, but I did get it to automatically mount the CF card…this may have to do with the fact that I formatted the card as ext3. This is something that merits further investigation.

Some detailed information here, including I2C source code, pictures of the main board, and schematics of the reference platform:

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