A Mad Idea....

Portable PC for synths.

I’ve been kicking around this idea for a PC to drive synths in a live situation. The idea being a small, probably homemade case with a micro-ITX motherboard and a fast Athlon. Imagine about the size of a cereal box with an LCD screen attached to the front, and a sound card (or even on-board sound if acceptable). Here’s the kicker - No hard drive, boots to USB flash drive - running RT-Linux/Jackd/Zynaddsubfx/Spiral modular synth. It would have only two external jacks (midi in, and audio out). Initrd scripts would launch the applications so no qwerty keyboard only a midi controller keyboard. According to specs jackd can provide < 5ms latency, so it would be usable in live situation.

I wonder if there’s a way to use the music keyboard to do double duty in place of the qwerty keyboard?

It looks like it’s possible RT and Feather Linux distros can boot from USB if the bios supports it.

Anyone attempted something like this before??


Actually I have worked on a number of embedded systems projects over the years and such things are very possible. Once it is debugged, I have no idea why you would even need a video display.

Since I was working on commercial projects we used something called Disk On Chip by M-Systems instead of USB. USB boot would require both BIOS and OS support but is quite possible.

If you can get everything running without using X and a window manager, the software can be pretty small and should boot very fast.

I am not familiar with all the software you mentioned so I don’t know suited it is to such an environment. You may have to do a bit of tweaking and recompling but it is very possible to do such things.

I would get all of this running on any old pc before I invested in any new hardware.

Good Luck if you decide to go ahead with this.


Good Luck