A few weekends ago I picked up the looqs Meebox from Novatech. I would link to the looqs site, but as of the time of writing it's currently unavailable because they've not renewed the domain (edit: this is now resolved).
TL;DR: The meebox is cheap because it's cheap. Runs an old Linux kernel, given time could probably get your own/other distros running, but I called it a day due to (lack of) hardware performance, the likelihood of not increasing its performance with custom “firmware”, and the fact that the vendor site wasn't available to dismantle a firmware update file at the time.
The Meebox is basically a fanless SOC design, in an attractive looking case, running Linux 2.6.15, with support for a maximum of 2 x 3.5” SATA hard disks (by default mine came with a single WD 500GB drive), a gigabit network port and 2 USB ports. SSH is easily enabled and the default admin user account has root privileges, and you get into a busybox shell.
Physically it's one of the better cases for something like this - it's all metal and mine came in a gloss black. It wouldn't look out of place underneath a TV or on top of a hifi stack.
Unfortunately I'd pretty quickly determined that this wasn't quite what I was hoping for. I had really hoped that this was going to be capable of gigabit speeds, but it's just not. My next thought was that it could be made more useful by being a generic Debian box, rather than this concoction.
I set about with the shell and had a good poke about. The good news is that it's pretty open once you're logged in. /proc/mtd reveals some useful stuff, along with everything else. I've popped the output of /proc/cpuinfo and /proc/mtd below.
cat /proc/cpuinfo Processor : FA526id(wb) rev 1 (v4l) BogoMIPS : 230.19 -- snip -- Hardware : GeminiA Revision : 0000 Serial : 0000000000000000 cat /proc/mtd dev: size erasesize name mtd0: 00120000 00020000 "RedBoot" mtd1: 00200000 00020000 "Kernel" mtd2: 00600000 00020000 "Ramdisk" mtd3: 00600000 00020000 "Application" mtd4: 00020000 00020000 "VCTL" mtd5: 000a0000 00020000 "CurConf" mtd6: 00020000 00020000 "FIS directory"
Poking at RedBoot (bootloader) didn't yield much information. As far as I can tell it's not configured to listen on the network at boot. If you dump out
/dev/mtd5 you can see references to
192.168.10.1/24, but probing that gets you no where. A port scan whilst it's booting and running yields nothing relating to RedBoot either, and sadly I did verify my crossover cable works.
The mtd utilities also do not appear to be shipped with the device, but that's a minor in convenience.
The board does seem to have what is probably a JTAG header (which could be used with Redboot to replace kernel, etc.), but that's moving out of my realm of knowledge. With the vendor site inaccessible I couldn't get ahold of a copy of the latest “firmware” to dismantle, or to request any part of their build chain, and with that I decided to call it a day.
As I've got an existing solution that performs just as well as the Meebox ever could I decided to stop. The effort I was about to expend on attempting to get a more generic distro running on the Meebox was just too hard to swallow.
I'm pretty sure it's based on a common design thats shared between other low-cost NAS solutions, however it currently doesn't seem like anyone has gone much further with it than me, and honestly I can see why. There are other solutions out there that are a little more expensive, just as quiet (fanless) and better supported by the vendor.
If you do get one of these to play with I would urge caution if you want to return or sell it - the factory reset option in the standard web gui does not wipe out any data.