As many of you will know the Toshiba AC100 is a netbook based on an
Nvidia Tegra ARM processor that ships with Android. I've been waiting
a long time for hardware like this to become available; I've just
bought one, and it is excellent. It's light, cool, and great quality.
On the other hand, the shipped software is not going to please anyone;
the decision to go with Android just seems bizarre.
Of course it didn't take long for someone to hack it. It seems that
it's sufficiently close to Nvidia's reference design that it's quite
easy to boot an alternative OS. The best resource at present seems to
be here: http://ac100.gudinna.com/README . As with a lot of projects
of this sort, the people involved seem to be rather spread out and can
be found at Toshiba's own forums
(http://forums.computers.toshiba-europe.com/forums/) (which I would
avoid because posts seem to get edited by Toshiba if you say the wrong
thing) and at this site: http://tosh-ac100.wetpaint.com/ (which I've
not registered with because it wanted to know my age and gender!). The
author of the gudinna.com page doesn't seem to want to identify
him/herself for some reason.
The procedure is basically as follows: you get an Nvidia x86 binary,
whose license says that it can only be used with their development
hardware, and use it over USB to replace one partition of the internal
flash. After this modification the device will scan the SD card during
boot. So this is a fairly non-intrusive change that lets you continue
to boot Android. However, the SD card is (presumably) slower than the
internal flash. You then install your OS of choice on the SD card and
off you go. An Ubuntu image is available from
http://ac100.gudinna.com/ (you need to use --numeric-owner when
untaring on a Debian system else it will fail to work in some nasty
subtle way). This naturally has some wrinkles at the moment but I
guess they will be smoothed out soon.
Sooo..... who is interested in getting Debian to work on this
machine? I guess there are a few issues:
1. Specific to this machine, there are issues related to installation.
Those are being resolved already by others, so we can copy that. One
potential issue is the legal one with the Nvidia tool; it may be that
it's simple to reverse-engineer the protocol it uses over USB, or something.
2. Presumably there will also be machine-specific driver issues, but
most things seem to be working in Ubuntu so that might not be too
hard. I'm not sure how many binary blobs are involved.
3. Then there's the whole ARM architecture version thing. Each time I
look at this I realise it's more complicated that I had hoped, for
example I have read that the Tegra processor in this machine doesn't
have NEON. Debian obviously doesn't want to have 42 different ARM
architecture variants. My guess is that in the case of the FP variants
there are only relatively few packages that are really fp-intensive, so
a scheme that allows them to have optimised versions distributed
separately might be best, and have the core architecture just cover the
I hope there are others out there interested in this machine, the first
of its kind.
(BTW I'm in Cambridge, and if anyone would like to play with it you're welcome.)