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China GNU is Not Unix Open Source Hardware Linux

Rhombus Tech A10 EOMA-68 CPU Card Schematics Completed 155

Posted by timothy
from the soon-for-the-carputer dept.
lkcl writes "Rhombus Tech's first CPU Card is nearing completion and availability: the schematics have been completed by Wits-Tech. Although it appears strange to be using a 1ghz Cortex A8 for the first CPU Card, the mass-volume price of the A10 was lower than other offerings. Not only does the A10 classify as 'good enough' (in combination with 1GB of RAM), Allwinner Tech is one of the very rare China-based SoC companies willing to collaborate with Software (Libre) developers without an enforced (GPL-violating) NDA in place. Overall, it's the very first step in the right direction for collaboration between Software (Libre) developers and mass-volume PRC Factories. There will be more (faster, better) EOMA-68 CPU Cards: this one is just the first."
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Rhombus Tech A10 EOMA-68 CPU Card Schematics Completed

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  • WHAT? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 07, 2012 @09:13PM (#41270077)

    Too many links... no intro telling me what this is.

    For those who want to know... it is a PCMCIA (PC-card) sized integrated computer designed to compete with the Raspberry Pi... supposedly cheaper and faster. Raspberry Pi does have one major advantage though: it is in production and shipping whereas this is still in the schematics stages. So... nothing to see here...

    • Plus the raspberry pi has all of the I/O ports you need to actually use it. This CPU card might form the core of another product, like a tablet, but as a minimum you'd need a docking station to connect to everything.
      • Re:WHAT? (Score:5, Informative)

        by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Friday September 07, 2012 @10:39PM (#41270597) Homepage

        This CPU card might form the core of another product, like a tablet,

        or a laptop, smartphone, PDA, workstation, desktop, power-saving server, router, All-in-One LCD computer, Media Centre, IPTV, All-in-One keyboard computer, upgradeable camera, upgradeable videorecorder, games console, and many many more that have been discussed and we're always on the lookout for more - feel free to make suggestions on this page:
        http://rhombus-tech.net/community_ideas/ [rhombus-tech.net]
        http://elinux.org/Embedded_Open_Modular_Architecture/EOMA-68#Example_Motherboards [elinux.org]

        it's also worthwhile pointing out that we've added a DIL2-44 (2.5in IDE size) expansion header which gives access to the more common "engineer's" GPIO functions, such as an extra USB 480mb/sec, as well as AC97/I2S, dual-channel LVDS, VGA out and more; as well as adding a more "factory-style" FPC-45 which provides access to the kinds of functions that you'd see in commercial IPTV and other products (Dual Transport Streams; GPS; Smart Card, TV-IN and so on).

        obviously, that "factory / engineering" mode, you'd not be able to get the standard 5mm height PCMCIA case on, but that's ok, because it's either factory-installed or being used for engineering, R&D or educational purposes. i've documented the full pin-outs here: http://rhombus-tech.net/allwinner_a10/orders/ [rhombus-tech.net]

        but as a minimum you'd need a docking station to connect to everything.

        not "everything": that would mean that without the docking station you'd not be able to gain access to the HDMI port, USB-OTG port, SD/MMC socket or the Audio Jack :) but i believe i know what you mean. you mean like this?
        http://elinux.org/Embedded_Open_Modular_Architecture/EOMA-68/MiniEngineeringBoard [elinux.org]

        • Maybe a dumb question, but why do you put the core peripherals (USB, Sata, ethernet, VGA) on the CPU card, each requiring these pcmcia pins. Why not use a PCIe interface, and leave the peripherals to the tablet / laptop / motherboard / tv / etc vendor? It seems like this would allow for greater differentiation between "system" vendors, and would require less integration efforts from CPU vendors.

          • Because all the peripherals mentioned are part of the CPU, which in x86 terms has an integrated southbridge. As far as I am aware, ARM and PCIe don't go together in the same sentence. I'm guessing PCIe would require more bandwidth and/or more power than would be available in most likely use scenarios.
          • by lkcl (517947)

            ok, metallurgy's answer is a good one, but let's think it through, by looking at the specification of various CPUs.

            * Ingenic jz4760 has: 24-pin RGB/TTL, 2x USB2, 10/100 Ethernet, I2C, AC97/I2S, SD/MMC
            * TI's OMAPs typically have: 24-pin RGB/TTL, USB2, 10/100 Ethernet, I2C, I2S, HDMI, SD/MMC
            * Samsung's S5Pxxxx series typically have: 24-pin RGB/TTL, 2x USB2, 10/100 Ethernet, SATA, I2C, I2S, HDMI, SD/MMC and MIPI. the more advanced ones have PCIe.
            * The A10 has: 24-pin RGB/TTL, 3x USB2, 10/100 Ethernet, I2C, I2

            • Sorry, I have an x86/amd64 + DEC alpha historical bias, and don't really know a lot about ARM.

              As a user, having the "southbridge" stuff integrated onto the CPU card means that you're essentially getting a whole new motherboard when you replace this CPU card. I always view a whole new motherboard as a whole new set of problems, in terms of potentially buggy hardware and drivers. At the very least, it is seems problematic in terms of having to upgrade your kernel to support the latest stuff. In the x86 wo

              • It's not just "in the card", it's in the CPU (SoC or System on a Chip in ARMese). The card is essentially just a carrier/socket for the CPU/RAM, which in ARM-land is typically soldered one-on-top-of-the-other directly onto the motherboard.

                The division-of-labor between motherboard and CPU is different with ARM versus x86. ARM is more integrated, mostly because this is a good thing in typical ARM applications. A lot of what would be regarded as the duty of the motherboard in x86-land moves to the CPU in AR
              • by lkcl (517947)

                Sorry, I have an x86/amd64 + DEC alpha historical bias, and don't really know a lot about ARM.

                As a user, having the "southbridge" stuff integrated onto the CPU card means that you're essentially getting a whole new motherboard when you replace this CPU card. I always view a whole new motherboard as a whole new set of problems, in terms of potentially buggy hardware and drivers.

                yes. absolutely. you've put your finger on the problem. i've mentioned this before, and... hang on, i think i even wrote a message to linus torvalds but of course, he's far too busy to read it :) 1sec let me see if i can find it.... hard to find hints, try this http://lkcl.net/linux/eoma.initiative.txt [lkcl.net] but also go (briefly!) over some of the others: http://lkcl.net/linux [lkcl.net]

                the point is that each ARM processor is *wildly* different from all other ARM processors. linus doesn't understand this. he was at a

    • Re:WHAT? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 07, 2012 @09:46PM (#41270313)

      No, it's not designed to compete with the Raspberry Pi.

      EOMA-68 [elinux.org] is a new form factor to fix the current rat race of upgrading to new devices, cracking the bootloaders, and just about time you get things running smoothly with open source software, *boom* it's obsolete; there's a device twice as fast at the same cost, and if you buy it, you're back to square one.

      It's designed to serve as a computing core that can be dropped into various peripheral shells (e.g. netbook, phone, tablet, or settop box) and swapped amongst them at will; once you find that perfect shell (for me, the Fujitsu U2010 laptop is the closest yet, and I'm considering gutting one and converting it to EOMA-68), you can swap in e.g. ARM or MIPS cores, or even a passthru card to let your desktop drive it for debugging etc. -- you don't get stuck with the factory CPU (an aging 1st-gen Atom in my case), but left hanging on because nobody makes that lovely hardware with anything else, or because new models have a signed bootloader that has to be cracked to own your own hardware. It's also made to run entirely on open-source software -- neither of these were design constraints for the Pi, which is a computer in its own right, rather than an interchangeable component.

      • by couchslug (175151)

        It's about time we had a standard "form factor" for such a core card.

        Standard form factors have been great for desktop consumers as they facilitate upgrade, repair, and re-use.

      • by Yfrwlf (998822)
        So...it's a CPU that uses an actual real standard for connecting to the rest of the motherboard/system?

        Wow. Standards for freedom for end users, something the megacorps purposefully forget about. What a concept.
        • Re:WHAT? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Saturday September 08, 2012 @09:38AM (#41273313) Homepage

          So...it's a CPU that uses an actual real standard for connecting to the rest of the motherboard/system?
           

          yeah. actually, several "lowest-common-denominator" standards, just placed onto nothing more complex than an existing legacy (but still manufactured) standard.

          PCMCIA is still manufactured in mass-volume, but not as PCMCIA. instead, it's been re-used by the Satellite TV Industry for decrypt purposes. that makes it perfect: the risk of people misunderstanding EOMA-68 as being an *actual* PCMCIA card (when it isn't) is reduced, but the cost of manufacturing the EOMA-68 cards isn't sky-high due to having to make an entirely new connector (or use one of the less common $12 ones).

          EOMA-68 itself is made up of well-established proven standards that have down-level negotiation built-in, as well as multi-peripheral support (ok, except for 24-pin RGB/TTL that is!). SATA, USB2, I2C and Ethernet: they're all multi-bus standards that have been around for at least a decade. with the exception of SATA, it's actually quite hard to find an embedded SoC that *doesn't* have all the interfaces of EOMA-68, and even there you can put on USB2-to-Ethernet or USB2-to-SATA. ironically, though, the cost of those ICs actually pushes the BOM up by an extra $5, making it completely pointless to consider using a lower-cost SoC that *doesn't* have Ethernet and SATA built-in. many people asked us to use Allwinner's $5 A13 CPU for an EOMA-68 CPU Card: when i pointed out that it would need an extra $5 of components, taking it *above* the mass-volume price of the Allwinner A10 CPU they went... "oh. yeah. duh. go figure :)"

          Wow. Standards for freedom for end users, something the megacorps purposefully forget about. What a concept.

          yeah. you get it. that's really encouraging to hear. take it one step further though: think the implications through. cost savings for the users. increased competition amongst CPU Card suppliers bringing prices down. ability of end-users to extend the lifetime of a product until one component literally falls apart... and them being able to just go down to the hypermarket and pick up a replacement screen, replacement battery pack or replacement CPU Card off-the-shelf, 1 or even 10 years from now, and it's *still* backwards-compatible. ... now we just need to be able to convince companies like Three.co.uk, Best Buy, John Lewis, Walmart etc. and to come up with a story for them that will convince them to buy 100k+ units a month :)

          • by Yfrwlf (998822)
            I doubt the mega store chain thing will work since Intel, AMD, etc can simply give Walmart and others a bigger cut of the profits to keep the competition out, one of the bigger problems in the capitalistic world in many countries right now I think. I think Internet sales, smaller shops, and the fab@home movement perhaps might be the only way to get past all the anticompetitive roadblocks at this point, at least at first until things take off.
    • by mrmeval (662166)

      Yes, would someone translate that into Engrish Please?

    • Re:WHAT? (Score:5, Informative)

      by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Friday September 07, 2012 @10:23PM (#41270525) Homepage

      no intro telling me what this is.

      apologies. it's the first in a series of CPU Cards, based around a mass-volume modular computing initiative that allows both china factories and software (libre) developers the opportunity to work together to create desirable, affordable mass-volume computing appliances. at the risk of melting your brain with another link, here's the news article which provides some background as to why the project exists: http://www.itwire.com/opinion-and-analysis/open-sauce/52054-british-company-looks-to-create-cheap-open-platforms [itwire.com]

      allow me to go over what you wrote:

      it is a PCMCIA (PC-card) sized integrated computer

      correct. it can operate stand-alone via USB-OTG power, if needed. without the case on, there's access to the remaining interfaces of the A10 that we could not fit onto the 2 ends of the CPU Card.

      designed to compete with the Raspberry Pi...

      incorrect. this is more a commercial venture than an educational venture, with volumes approaching several million units a year. our goals almost accidentally encompass those of the raspberry pi (hence the reason why the developers were a bit rude to me on their forums a few months back: they feel threatened, unfortunately. can't be helped... *sigh*).

      supposedly cheaper

      incorrect. this perception is based on a misinterpretation that unfortunately was propagated through more channels than we have resources to spend time chasing down and correcting.

      and faster.

      correct. it's a 1ghz Cortex A8, whereas the rbpi CPU is... a 700mhz(?) ARM11. it's therefore guaranteed to be at least twice as slow.

      as the scope of the rhombus tech project goes way beyond just this one CPU Card or just one device, we'll be constantly on the lookout over the next decade and beyond for upgraded CPUs, and for new products to create. we'll also review the standards: EOMA-68 is just the first. i'll risk being responsible for causing brain-melt and provide you with another link, if that's ok. http://elinux.org/Embedded_Open_Modular_Architecture/EOMA-68 [elinux.org]

      • by makomk (752139)

        The Raspberry Pi developers are rude to everyone on their forum, even their own customers.

    • by fm6 (162816)

      Uh, the Pi is meant an educational and hobby platform. It has a bunch of slots and connectors. This thing is obviously a commercial product without a lot of slots or connectors that's meant to be embedded in a larger product.

      Not being an embedded systems person, I'd be grateful if somebody linked examples of the kind of system that uses this kind of CPU card.

      • by lkcl (517947)

        Uh, the Pi is meant an educational and hobby platform. It has a bunch of slots and connectors. This thing is obviously a commercial product without a lot of slots or connectors that's meant to be embedded in a larger product.

        Not being an embedded systems person, I'd be grateful if somebody linked examples of the kind of system that uses this kind of CPU card.

        can't do that. can link you to planned and discussed products though:
        http://elinux.org/Embedded_Open_Modular_Architecture/EOMA-68#Example_Motherboards [elinux.org]
        http://rhombus-tech.net/community_ideas/ [rhombus-tech.net]

        the first will be a laptop. we have a deadline to meet of 10th october to get 25 prototype samples ready, for our client. yes. really. that soon.

        • by fm6 (162816)

          An ARM laptop? Dare I ask which OS? There might be a market for Windows RT, but I can't see anybody wanting an Android tablet.

          Some of the products you link to do look intriguing. I've often wanted an Android tablet. I actually bought a no-name Chinese ICS tablet a few months ago. Had nice specs, including a 10" screen. Alas, the design was very cheap, with a digitizer that required a special stylus and a screen that brook in a few days. It seems that building a reasonably sturdy tablet at a reasonable price

          • by Bert64 (520050)

            I have an android laptop, it now runs much better with a normal linux distribution... Android is really unusable on a keyboard/mouse operated device, but a thin/light laptop running linux with long battery life is actually very useful, and should sell well if released with a non crippled distro and some level of marketing.

            • by fm6 (162816)

              Maybe, except they'd have a hard time competing with netbooks running Window 7 Starter. Small, light, stupendous battery life, and only cost about $250.

          • by lkcl (517947)

            An ARM laptop? Dare I ask which OS?

            any OS you like: that's the whole point. A10-based devices are "unbrickable" and are always upgradeable. there's a link here:
            http://rhombus-tech.net/allwinner_a10/hacking_the_mele_a1000/ [rhombus-tech.net]

            you can see from that that there are *eleven* variants on 5 main OSes available. openembedded covers a ton of options just on its own. debian, ubuntu, redsleeve (a fedora-ARM port), puppy linux, android 3, android 4.

            the similarity between the Mele A1000 and the A10 EOMA-68 CPU card is very strong: it's the reason why the

            • by fm6 (162816)

              Hackers can unbrick their devices and install their favorite OS. Most Slashdotters are hackers, but most everybody else is not. Build a cheap consumer device that comes with an OS people don't want, and you won't sell enough of them to turn a profit.

    • by mrmeval (662166)

      I have a stack of 486 cards that have all but the peripherals. It's made by epson but I have almost zero data on them. I just looked for Epson card PC and found something but it's slim. It's about the same size as a PCMCIA card but it uses a 236 pin edge connector. Maybe EASI interface Embedded all in one system interface

      Our company had made an attempt to interface them with the PLC of a joint venture only to have that flop for various reasons. It's a full featured 4mb 33mhz 486 PC that needs a connector

    • Sounds a little like a modernized version of the Rex5000 ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/REX_5000 [wikipedia.org] )

  • I tried to read the summary, really I did, but my +1 machete of reading comprehension was rendered useless against the overpowering thicket of overused parenthetical asides and link-whoring.
  • I thought they might take me to V14GRA pages.

    Wait, this wasn't randomly generated text designed to bypass spam filters?

    Huh. Go figure.

  • by Stoutlimb (143245) on Friday September 07, 2012 @09:31PM (#41270215)

    An odd number of cores. Perhaps they have 4 cores, each controlling 16 CPUs. Or 4 cores set aside for other purposes?

  • Okay, so a company that works to 'serve the community' produces a CPU card in a PCMCIA form factor (though which is electronically incompatable) chose a very inexpensive Chinese processor for their first project. The CPU is 3x the speed of a Rasberry Pi. It has some GPL code provided by the CPU manufacturer--who seems very cool to the OSS movement.

    The schematic and layout are out for this card. There is code coming. There will be boards coming. The BOM is $15, but who knows what the shipping cost will

  • by slashmydots (2189826) on Friday September 07, 2012 @09:36PM (#41270247)
    I guess having 2 other major manufacturers of chips is just way too many to keep track of or they'd have realized there's already chips called A8 and A10 from AMD. In fact, I think they just recently released A10 chips.
    • by pnot (96038) on Friday September 07, 2012 @10:33PM (#41270567)

      I guess having 2 other major manufacturers of chips is just way too many to keep track of or they'd have realized there's already chips called A8 and A10 from AMD. In fact, I think they just recently released A10 chips.

      ARM Cortex A8 came out in 2010, and AMD announced their A-series in 2011. So perhaps AMD's marketing department should have done their homework, hmm?

      • by caballew (2725281)
        ARM processors are developed by ARM Holdings but they don't actually manufacturer them; they licensed to many different manufacturers. That's why you see different manufacturers with the same product because they license the technology and implement it in their own proprietary ways.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARM_Cortex [wikipedia.org]
      • AMD was calling their chips a letter and number since like 1993 or something. But anyway, this one that's being made is a lost opportunity. They could have named it the AMDFU for copying them apparently lol.
  • by tftp (111690) on Friday September 07, 2012 @10:10PM (#41270447) Homepage

    If they just completed the schematic drawings this tells me that they are at least half a year away from production - if they are super good designers and if their prototype works right the first time they power it up.

    The schematic is often the easiest part of the design. An EMC compliant PCB is usually harder; passing FCC/CE/* EMI compliance is harder; setting up for mass production is not for beginners either. Those guys just made the first step on a long road. And that's exactly why it's so hard to build hardware these days; the progress is so fast that by the time you are ready to manufacture the key parts are obsolete and out of production. Even if the parts are still available your design may be already obsolete because newer, better parts became available. It's either "design it under 3 months" or "do something else with your life."

    • Re:Schematics? (Score:5, Informative)

      by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Friday September 07, 2012 @10:59PM (#41270723) Homepage

      The schematic is often the easiest part of the design. An EMC compliant PCB is usually harder; passing FCC/CE/* EMI compliance is harder; setting up for mass production is not for beginners either. Those guys just made the first step on a long road. And that's exactly why it's so hard to build hardware these days; the progress is so fast that by the time you are ready to manufacture the key parts are obsolete and out of production. Even if the parts are still available your design may be already obsolete because newer, better parts became available. It's either "design it under 3 months" or "do something else with your life."

      you know what? i'm really glad you raised this point. it's *exactly* why we sub-divided the CPU Card from the actual device. independent development and product life-cycles for the CPU and the device! so yes, sure, the CPU becomes obsolete, but that's ok: you can just buy the latest CPU card... *without* having to throw away the entire product. so you've highlighted the very core of the strategy, here. it's not just about upgradeability, it's about being eco-conscious as well as providing redundancy without disrupting the user.

      think about it: yes, sure, we're having a hard time getting the first CPU Card out, but you know what? it's just the first. it took 3 months to source just 5 connectors at reasonable prices (mostly because they are unusual: mid-mount HDMI, mid-mount audio, sub-1.8mm Micro-SD, mid-mount USB-OTG and the increasingly-obscure PCMCIA). but guess what? having found those suppliers, we won't have to do that again for subsequent CPU Cards, and we will have pre-established relationships by the time the 2nd CPU Card comes out.

      also, with the 2nd and subsequent CPU Cards, we expect to actually have some profits made so that we can pay good people to work promptly and according to *our* timescales. one of the issues that we have is that we've got this far with *zero* investment. absolutely none. think about that for a moment. no money has changed hands; we are beholden to no-one, yet there are software engineers ready to get the OS onto the CPU Card, but not only that, the CPU Card Schematics have been made.

      how is that even possible? we did deals, based on the strength of committment and the desire of our PRC State-Sponsored client to make use of the EOMA-68 solution and concept that we came up with. it's *perfect* for them.

      so CE compliance will be covered by our client: they are big enough to be able to self-certify. FCC is more problematic: we're simply not going to even bother unless we receive an order from a USA/Canadian company of minimum 50k units, and the cost of the FCC Certification will be included in the quote. as the USA market is below 1/10th the size of the PRC market, we don't see this as being a problem.

      but yes - the key here is that this first CPU Card is a heavy learning curve. we're on the lookout for faster and better CPU Cards, and we fully anticipate - especially with the Linaro-sign-ups such as TI, Samsung and Freescale creating fully open Schematics for the Origen, Pandaboard, IMX53QSB and the upcoming iMX6 - being able to very rapidly adapt those Open Schematics into EOMA-68 CPU Cards. what we would *really* like is for someone else to step forward and do that work, and we'd do a deal with them to introduce their product to our clients. that would be great. we much prefer to do these kinds of "cost-plus" deals. it's fairer to everyone who is involved.

      • Wish I had mod points to toss at you for this. Too many here - perhaps understandably - have no idea of the steps necessary to imagine, design, test, troubleshoot/re-engineer, certify, build, and ship a Real Working Product. If they knew even a fraction of what has to happen before something shows up at Newegg, they might have more understanding of why what you're trying to accomplish is so cool and potentially game-changing.

        .
        Kudos to you and your crew for getting even this far on a shoestring.

        • by lkcl (517947)

          Kudos to you and your crew for getting even this far on a shoestring.

          :) thanks. that's really appreciated. uh, i actually made a mistake: it's the board layout photo i released, not the schematics. biiiig difference.

      • by godrik (1287354)

        Hi,

        I reply to this comment because I want you to get the message and I am not sure how to reach you otherwise.

        Let me tell you that I am really fond of what you are doing there. I am really interested in seeing "open source" computing hardware becoming a reality. I am a software guy (on the theory side) so I am not sure I can help you. But I really like what you do. Please keep us (slashdot) posted on the development of this hardware.

        I'll probably get one when it is released just for fun. (I just got a raspb

  • It's a schematic (actually, the picture shows a board layout) for an Allwinner A10 (which is a rather impressive ARM-type CPU with peripherals) board in a PCMCIA form factor. Big deal. There are many other Allwinner A10 boards. The Rikomagic MK802 is a small one, and it costs about $60 in quantity 1. It comes loaded with Android, but you can load Ubuntu. If you want this as a "media center" (it can do 1080p HDMI), it's available in various set-top box cases with power supply and remote for around $70. Thos

    • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Friday September 07, 2012 @11:22PM (#41270817) Homepage

      It's a schematic (actually, the picture shows a board layout)

      shit. you're right. it is! no wonder the other guy said we'd be 6 months from release :) no, it's definitely a board layout. first samples will be available for testing by next week. definitely not 6 months from now.

      It's not clear why you'd want an Allwinner A10 in a PCMCIA form factor. The Allwinner A10 has a sizable set of peripherals on-chip. Ethernet, HDMI, etc. Usually, boards for this part have a whole row of connectors. Bringing out the pins on a PCMCIA connector means you need another board to fan out the peripherals.

      ah. right. this is covered here: http://elinux.org/Embedded_Open_Modular_Architecture [elinux.org]

      we wanted something that is user-installable and user-upgradeable. if we had wanted factory-installable (only) then we would a) not really have bothered at all, given the proliferation of offerings from direct-insight.co.uk and variscite.com and many many others b) we would have created something like the q-seven standard and, again, really to be honest, would not have bothered with that, either, because why create a competing standard?

      no, you're missing a couple of points. one is that the A10 EOMA-68 CPU Card can operate stand-alone, powered by USB-OTG, booting from USB-OTG, NAND or Micro-SD as you choose, and having both HDMI out and Stereo Audio. that's not bad, right there.

      the other point is that we picked interfaces that happen to be "common buses", that happen to all have backwards-compatible speed negotiation. 24-pin RGB/TTL you can drop down even to as low as 15 pin by ignoring the higher-res bits; you can reduce the clock-rate to run a 320x240 LCD or you can ramp it up to run 2048x2048 @ 30fps in full colour. USB2 goes all the way from 11mbit/sec to 480mbit/sec. SATA-II has down-level negotiation all the way to 150mbit/sec. I2C goes from something like 75khz up to 4mbit/sec or thereabouts. Gigabit Ethernet goes through 10 to 100 to 1000.

      so there is a hell of a lot of thought gone into the selection of those interfaces, in order to keep the pin-count down. it was just pure luck that when you added 16 GPIOs and some power and ground that the pin-count came to *exactly* 68. jammy or what. and if you look at that interface set, it's *extremely* flexible and powerful. but i believe i know what you're saying: why didn't you make *all* the pins available? because if you've looked at the cost of user-hot-swappable 100-pin connectors, they're insanely expensive: $12 is not uncommon.

      so instead, we're recommending the use of a low-cost STM32F on the other side (I/O Board side). we've tracked down the OpenEC2 project (originally the firmware for the OLPC XO-1) and intend to port it to RTEMS-lite, then extend it to provide Audio Drivers in the form of A/D and D/A converters, amongst other things. ST Micro actually recommend their 75mhz+ CPUs for use as Audio ICs. but it can pretty much cover everything. this practice is standard in x86 PCs (using an Embedded Controller) but is quite rare in the ARM world: normally you'd use the ARM CPU itself to do this job! but, because of the EOMA-68 "break", we can't do that. swings and roundabouts: it'll come out in the wash :)

      • Gigabit Ethernet goes through 10 to 100 to 1000.

        Does the Allwinner A10 support Gigabit Ethernet? Or is it the EOMA-68 that allows for future boards with GbE?

      • USB2 goes all the way from 11mbit/sec to 480mbit/sec.

        Minor pedant point: it actually goes all the way down to the 1mbit/s USB 1 slow speed interface. I know this does happen in practice because you can still plug the USB PIC micro into a USB 2 port, and it certainly can't support the full 11mbit/s.

        That aside, I love the idea you've come up with here, and I'm really very much looking forward to what transpires as a reasult.

        I love that you're decoupling the computational lardware from the form factor. I'm s

        • by lkcl (517947)

          USB2 goes all the way from 11mbit/sec to 480mbit/sec.

          Minor pedant point: it actually goes all the way down to the 1mbit/s USB 1 slow speed interface.

          ah cool - thanks for the correction.

          Having it completely OSS as well will also make life a happy dream with unicorns and rainbows and etc...

          *lol*. hilarious. with extra virgins to go with the unicorns, and a pot of gold thrown in for free, arrr :)

        • you can still plug the USB PIC micro into a USB 2 port, and it certainly can't support the full 11mbit/s.

          Note that interface speed and acheivable throughput are not the same thing. The PIC18f4550 and similar can do full speed and all the examples i've seen run them in full speed mode (you can run them in low speed mode but IIRC you have to lower the core clock to get the right USB clock for low speed).

          Still any general purpose USB port has to support low speed so that standard keyboards and mice can be used.

          • Wow, I didn't know that there was a full speed PIC out there. I was thinking of the one used on the USB PicKit (not the 12F675 target, but the one running it). It's not a 18 series one.

            • Ah the 16c series USB PICs I remember seeing them in the prouct selection table but then losing interest when I saw them listed as "OTP" (I later discoverered that the OTP designation was not strictly true, they are EPROM based parts, so if you buy them in a windowed package you can UV erase them).

  • What is it? (Score:4, Informative)

    by metallurge (693631) <metallurgeNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday September 07, 2012 @10:46PM (#41270647)
    It's an attempt to create a standardized form factor for open/modular highly portable inexpensive computing device CPUs. It intends to do for these markets what the AT/ATX motherboard/case design and ISA/PCI buses and Socket 3/5/7 did for the desktop computing market. Additionally, it is doing this with openness (libre open source software stack) clearly an important design criterion, besides the technical/performance ones.

    Will it take time to mature? Yes. But less than one might think. It's farther along than might appear.

    Will it therefore fail, by missing out on the window for Cortex A8? No. It's modular enough to continue even after the Cortex A8 CPU is obsolescent. The Allwinner A10 was chosen in part because it is currently available and cheap.

    This will open up niche markets which the major manufacturers are not servicing. High-resolution debian ARM netbook? Can be done. 7" Netbook? Can be done. Pixel Qi Tablet? Can be done. Desktop ARM terminals? Can be done.

    I've been following this project for a while now, and it is going in a direction which I believe in. I am getting tired of proprietary ARM hardware and software.
    • by lkcl (517947)

      I've been following this project for a while now, and it is going in a direction which I believe in.

      thank you. i'm very encouraged to hear that.

      I am getting tired of proprietary ARM hardware and software.

      ... you and me both. update from mjg on the Android-related GPL-violations situation of 18 months ago: it hasn't got any better. http://mjg59.dreamwidth.org/8991.html [dreamwidth.org]

      • by repvik (96666)

        Regarding closed/proprietary hardware. The VPU in the A10 is still closed. And the Cedar library is terrible. They haven't been very cooperative in this regard?

        • My understanding (which is certainly from a distance) is that the goal is to use the leverage of (large) sales to prompt better cooperation.
    • "I've been following this project for a while now, and it is going in a direction which I believe in. I am getting tired of proprietary ARM hardware and software."

      According to the link, the Allwinner A10 has a MALI GPU, which presently requires a proprietary driver although there's an nVidia Nouveau-like project to produce a reverse-engineered driver, aptly named Lima.

      http://limadriver.org/ [limadriver.org]

      I agree it's an important project, if only because it would allow hardware computer geeks to continue building their ow

      • Mali may currently be proprietary, but I'd say in 6 months to a year, that won't be the case anymore. Just my subjective feeling.

        I personally am mulling the notion of ripping out the motherboard from a Thinkpad 600 and replacing it with an ARM motherboard. The TP600 is still a great form factor and case design.

        In my opinion, Intel and AMD were both caught flat-footed by the rise of ARM. Both used to build ARM CPUs and both divested themselves of those divisions. D'oh!

        I'd say neither wants to kill t
      • by lkcl (517947)

        Which has me wondering while Intel and AMD aren't doing their own Manhattan project to produce their own full-featured SoCs rather than the more powerful but less integrated APUs.

        others have covered the other points, but i wanted to share my insights on this one. i've mentioned before that i believe the x86 architecture has painted itself into a corner, from an instruction-level perspective more than anything else. it takes some going-over, please bear with me.

        to explain: the x86 instruction set was designed to be exceptionally memory-efficient, at a time when the price of memory was at a premium. opcode "extensions" were added to keep up-to-date, but even there, the ethos of kee

  • by Reed Solomon (897367) on Saturday September 08, 2012 @12:27AM (#41271093) Homepage

    Yeah I've been following this for a while as well. I was originally confused by the purpose of the PCMCIA card, but it eventually came through in my mind the idea that the PCMCIA card shaped object is just a REALLY EASILY replaceable motherboard that plugs in to a host device. Granted it's not a PCMCIA card, and it's not called a PCMCIA card.

    I like the premise. Buy a barebones laptop shell, plug in the EOMA-68 card device, and boot up. Or plug it into some other type of form factor. Inside of a TV. Inside a media player device. Inside a tablet. So many options. This could be big.

    Assuming this uses the Allwinner A10 chip, What is the status of decent hardware video decoding support?

    Frankly the fact that they put gigabit ethernet on board is pretty awesome. That's not something that comes with the SoC.

    If you did put it in a device shaped like a laptop, would you be able to add more ram, upgrade the wifi card, etc, like a normal laptop or are you stuck with what's on board? Not sure how the card deals with expandability.

    Still, if this catches on, maybe RMS will finally be able to move up from his yeeloong lemote

    • by lkcl (517947)

      Yeah I've been following this for a while as well. I was originally confused by the purpose of the PCMCIA card, but it eventually came through in my mind the idea that the PCMCIA card shaped object is just a REALLY EASILY replaceable motherboard that plugs in to a host device. Granted it's not a PCMCIA card, and it's not called a PCMCIA card.

      ... now translate that across a language barrier (chinese) and you start to appreciate how effing hard it's been for factories and even our clients to "get it" :)

      I like the premise. Buy a barebones laptop shell, plug in the EOMA-68 card device, and boot up. Or plug it into some other type of form factor. Inside of a TV. Inside a media player device. Inside a tablet. So many options. This could be big.

      i know, i know! we want it to be. it's got a lot more potential than e.g. the q-seven standard. q-seven is really targetted at x86 and ultra-high-end ARM SoCs: the standard is some 250 pins and requires 4-lane PCI-express, 8x USB2, HDMI, Dual-channel LVDS, SATA-III and many more. that's not... mass-volume: it's too complicated. it's more a mod

      • My thinking was that some things could be offloaded to the host device through expansion card slots. Perhaps the use of mini-pci cards or what have you for wifi. Perhaps extra RAM could be added as well without touching the EOMA-68 card.

        • by lkcl (517947)

          My thinking was that some things could be offloaded to the host device through expansion card slots. Perhaps the use of mini-pci cards or what have you for wifi. Perhaps extra RAM could be added as well without touching the EOMA-68 card.

          yeah.... the problem is that there's very little space. the thickness of Mini-PCIe and Mini-PCI cards is typically around 5mm; that's actually the thickness of the PCMCIA Cards themselves. there just really isn't room. likewise for SO-DIMMs. but there's an extra problem with SO-DIMMs: they typically have a 64-bit-wide data bus, whereas most of the mid-end ARM SoCs we're dealing with only have 32-bit. you simply can't wire the two up without either putting in a funnel chip or wasting half the RAM on the

    • by Melkman (82959)

      Assuming this uses the Allwinner A10 chip, What is the status of decent hardware video decoding support?

      Alas the hardware video decoding on the A10 allwinner has been problematic. The XBMC team want(ed) to make a native port to the A10 and found the library to access the cedar video decoding hardware is broken. There has been an effort to solve this but despite commitment from Alwinner there has been no progress. See also http://www.j1nx.nl/xbmc-allwinner-a10-apologies-received-accepted/ [j1nx.nl]

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      Add lots of flash and you could take your 'computer' with you where ever you go, and just plug it in to power/monitor/keyboard/mouse ( think card slot docking station ).

      Sort of like what you can do now with a high end smart phone or average tablet... ( admittedly some being easier than others :) ) and have it useful even without the dock... Tho you are trapped with a non desktop-friendly OS while docked unless you run some sort of RDP type session from it.

  • There is a big effort in progress among well-known SoC manufacturers to work towards a unified ARM kernel, as a result of Linus Torvalds's crictics last year [slashdot.org]. Today, we see Texas Instruments, Freescale, ST/Ericsson and Samsung working to integrate their existing platforms into this new model, whereas the newer platforms - CSR's prima2 for example - are required to use all the new features: Device tree for ARM, the unified clock framework, pinmux, etc. must be used to get a new platform accepted in the mainl
  • Serious question. Why would vendors support such an approach? Especially in the consumer portable market which is growing every day and eventually will end up being most of the 'computing devices' we have in our homes and businesses.. Their revenue stream counts on devices being totally replaced every x months. If you could swap out inexpensive components like this instead they would be cutting their own noses off.

    Nice technological idea ( and reminds me of some things done in the 80's ), but the marketing

    • Serious question. Why would vendors support such an approach?

      we have one vendor who *is* fully behind it. it took them a long time, a whiteboard and a lot of hand-waving but they got it. it was an amazing meeting, after 2 years of them not getting it, where they suddenly got excited and went, "hey! we have an all-in-one PC product: we could... we could... convert that to a TV or upgrade it by just changing the CPU Card!" and it was a eureka moment - such a relief :)

      but the key for them is that they are an assembly company rather than a manufacturing company. a wh

      • ultimately, i see this approach empowering smaller 3rd party companies to be able to re-enter the markets that they've been squeezed out of by the ever-decreasing margins of the PC business. the hard part, technically is the CPU Card. the most expensive part is the casework. not exactly sure how to deal with that: 3D printers sort-of spring to mind... anyway, just a thought.

        Yes! From a hardware standpoint, anyway. Understanding this is key.

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