Zonbu – the Via C7 Distro

Via LogoThe Zonbu needs to carve out a niche in the open source community.

While there are already a number of distributions focused on older/lower powered hardware, there is no distribution that has claimed the “Via C7 optimized” space.

The Zonbu, and many mini-itx form factor PCs, run an Intel-compatible processor from Via Technologies. This processor and the related chipset (providing sound, video, USB, networking etc), are not that well supported in the mainstream kernels and currently benefit from a number of patches and tweaks.

Patching the kernel is not something most people want to spend time on or have the technical chops to do.

I think Zonbu has a unique opportunity to position it’s OS stack as the optimal choice for anyone running on any flavor of the C7 hardware…

Carving out a niche

In the open source world, where Linux distributions abound, it is important to carve out a niche.

By taking all the Via C7 processor optimization expertise that they have developed internally (patching the kernel, tweaking parameters and so forth) and using that as the basis for a general release, Zonbu can demonstrate not only community involvement but also technical and thought leadership.

By sticking their flag in the ground and becoming the “source” for C7 optimized distributions (an Ubuntu version in addition to the stock Gentoo version), could go a long way in helping win mind-share with the tech-savvy early adopters who often use the C7 platform for things like media centers, MythTV, automobile PCs and so on.

Video Drivers

Zonbu needs to show leadership and sponsorship of the driver for the embedded video controller in their box.

While it is great that the www.openchrome.org project is working on advancing the driver, however I think Zonbu needs to take a more proactive role.

The driver needs to be rapidly advanced so that it is more stable and reliable and so that it can take full advantage of the advanced graphical features of 3D desktop packages like Compiz Fusion. Zonbu needs to put up some serious bounties (in the thousands), to help make that happen.

I think a material contribution and sponsorship of the project, helping it mature and become part of the mainstream, would go a long way to improving the Zonbu’s flexibility and Zonbu’s mindshare in the space.

Audio Drivers

It looks like the audio chipset is well supported in the newest kernel & ALSA driver package so I don’t think there is much to do here, which is great All the major releases going forward should have default audio support.
USB Drivers

I need to do more research on this one, but I’ve noticed one of the USB keys is wickedly fast when connected to the front of the unit, and another seems to run at 1.1 speeds.

They both run at full 2.0 speeds on my XP desktop. Something funny is going on there, so I’m not sure if it is a driver bug or what but I suspect optimization is needed here.

The Zonbu Desktop

The Zonbu desktop experience is a good one.

It is aimed at the mainstream, “average” user who wants to surf the web, do light office work, listen to music and manage digital photos. In short, what most of us spend 80% of our PC time doing.

By sticking their flag in the ground and taking the position that they are the C7 optimized platform, I think the Zonbu team can immediately start to see their product/service proliferate on to other, similar machines.

This will help expand the total audience and move the business forward.

The Zonbu Server

A final thought.

While not on target with becoming the ultimate ‘light’ home desktop, I think Zonbu should do a C7 optimized version of the Ubuntu Server Edition.

Power consumption in data centers is becoming a larger and larger issue. In fact, I’m actively replacing a number of machines in our facility with C7 based boxes. The machines in question are very low disk I/O machines but heavy network I/O.

By providing a server optimized C7 platform, Zonbu can further cement it’s position as the leader in optimizing Linux for lightweight platforms at a professional quality level.

That would make me a lot more comfortable deploying their desktop stack across my organization.


If Zonbu doesn’t “take this hill” soon, someone else will and a major opportunity for thought leadership will be lost.

Conversely, done right, Zonbu could own the Via C7 optimized Linux space, applying their expertise not only with the processor but with CF card data management, network storage and desktop optimization.

And that would be good for everyone.

-Mr. Zonbu


10 Responses to Zonbu – the Via C7 Distro

  1. mykhal says:

    well, could you please paste here cpuflags from the /proc/cpuinfo file ? it zonbu is really C7 optimized OS, as you (they) claim, there should not be flags ace2, pmm and phe missing 🙂

  2. mrzonbu says:

    OK – Posted here


    Would any kernel/processor experts care to comment?

    I’m not a hardware guy, if this thing isn’t optimized then please speak up!

    -Mr. Zonbu

  3. Gregg says:

    Most Via C7 mini-itx systems are now using the CN700 chipset, but I think, given that a standard mini-itx motherboard would not fit into the Zonbu case, the Zonbu may be using the CX700 chipset on a smaller than standard mini-itx board…


    “VIA’s first single-chip IGP solution, the VIA CX700 System Media Processor integrates all the cutting-edge features of a modern chipset’s North and South bridges, including rich video graphics, HD audio, and DDR2 and SATA II support, into a single, compact and highly power-efficient package.”

    So this could be a problem, as there are likely to be significant differences involded in supporting these two different chipsets.

  4. Pelle says:

    Would absolutely love this to happen. Systems based on low-power-processors like Via’s really is the future and for a company like Zonbu to take the lead on developing an excellent linuxdistro would be totally awesome!

    About doing a server version – that would be cool and I’m thinking about a 5 computer big Via-cluster I once found on the net: http://www.slipperyskip.com/page10.html

    Such a cluster combined with some lovely Erlang-websites and a Zonbu-Via-optimized OS could be a real killer thing?

  5. […] one of the latest desktop PC alternatives, from the Menlo Park-based Zonbu. It’s a small box powered by a Via x86-compatible processor with 512MB of DRAM and 4GB of flash for storage. It runs a custom Linux distribution that comes […]

  6. […] the two teams should try and work together, as I’ve suggested before, to create the ultimate Via C7 distribution. Back in August I wrote that Zonbu should stick its flag in the ground and take that position. That […]

  7. netghost says:

    C7 is a poor man in terms of computing power, so it is just funny to think about a distro which claims “C7 optimized” and on the other hand tries to put up with those fancy eye candy like Compiz Fusion. ….

  8. Devlin says:

    I run a Cloudbookk powered (poorly) by a VIA C7-M processor and find it frustrating I can’t seem to find a distro able to properly run it. gOS came with it but is horrid and it appears all they do is use ndiswrapper and windows drivers.

    A real C7 optomized OS would be a very welcome thing indeed….

  9. Syed Shani says:

    A very Nice Website Ive seen Uptill. Excellent post. Keep it up! Good day!

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