The MK802 is a tiny computer that looks like a USB flash drive, and which ships with Google Android 4.0 and sells for around $80 or less. It’s designed to be something you can plug into a TV to surf the web, watch video, and play games on the big screen.
But over the past few weeks, we’ve also seen a number of Linux-based operating systems ported to the MK802. That’s because it’s very easy to load an operating system onto a microSD card and boot from that card. Pop it out and the MK802 will run Android again.
Software development for the MK802 is still in the early phases. There’s no Linux support for the Mali 400 graphics chip, for instance. But there are already a number of surprisingly useful versions of Linux that can run on the MK802, offering 720 and 1080p screen resolutions, support for Firefox and Chromium web browsers, office suites, and all sorts of other popular Linux software.
Basically, you can pick up an MK802 for $80 or less, plug in a TV, mouse, and keyboard, and you’ve got yourself a fully functional, low power computer that’s not particularly fast, but which also isn’t nearly as slow as you’d expect it to be.
The MK802 has an Allwinner A10 ARM Cortex-A8 processor, 4GB of storage, and is available with 512MB or 1GB of RAM.
Here are some of the Linux distributions that are currently available for the MK802.
- Miniand Lubuntu 12.04 – This is a version of Ubuntu 12.04 with the light-weight LXDE desktop interface. It also includes the DroidMote server, which means you can install DroidMote Client on your Android phone or tablet to use it as a remote control for Ubuntu.
- Miniand Ubuntu 12.04 and Xubuntu 12.04 – You can also find builds using the default Ubuntu 12.04 Unity desktop environment and the light-weight Xfce environment. Neither of these builds includes DroidMote yet, but you can download and install the server app manually.
- Toby Corkindale’s Linaro 12.06 armhf build – This version of Ubuntu uses technology that should speed up performance on the Allwinner A10 chip. The installation instructions are a little more complicated, though.
- Rikomagic Lubuntu 12.04 – This build includes a number of tweaks including a fix for WiFi performance, a working Chromium web browser, and the ability to access the MK802’s internal storage.
- Puppy Linux – Puppy is a light-weight operating system designed to run well on older computers with slow processors and small amounts of storage and memory. I found that a version for the Mele A1000 set-top-box works pretty well on the MK802.
- Fedora 17 – Fedora is probably one of the most popular Linux distributions that’s not based on Ubuntu or Debian. Now it’s also available for the MK802.
- Bodhi Linux – Bodhi is a light-weight OS based on Ubuntu with support for desktops, notebooks, tablets, and more. It uses the Enlightenment E17 desktop environment.
You can load any of these operating systems on a microSD card following our instructions for preparing an Ubuntu 10.04 installation. Just use the disk image for your operating system instead of Ubuntu 10.04.
Some of the disk images are prepared for MK802 Mini PCs with 512MB of RAM, and others for models with 1GB. If you try to use the wrong version for your device, you might notice garbled graphics on your display, making the operating system all-but unusable.
You can fix that problem using suzuke’s uboot switcher utility before preparing your microSD card.
If you want to switch between 720 and 1080p output, there’s a pretty easy method for doing that too.While using a 1080p screen resolution will allow more content to fit on the screen, and may work better with some monitors or televisions, some users are reporting that the MK802 performs more quickly when using 720p resolutions.