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Fully Open A13-OLinuXino Single-Board Linux Computer 111

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the gadgets-everywhere dept.
Penurious Penguin writes "Via LXer, an article from PCWorld describes the A13-OLinuXino, produced by OLIMEX. Similar, but distinct from the Raspberry Pi, the Linux-powered OLinuXino is touted as 'fully open,' with all CAD files and source-code freely available for both personal and commercial reuse. Its specs include an Allwinner A13 Cortex A8 1GHz processor, 3D Maili400 GPU, 512MB RAM, all packed into a nano-ITX form and fit for operation in industrial environments between -25C and 85C. The device comes with Android 4.0, but is capable of running other Linux distros, e.g., ArchlinuxARM."
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Fully Open A13-OLinuXino Single-Board Linux Computer

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  • freely available for both personal and commercial reuse

    Well, unfortunately that comes with the danger of abuse: MegaCorp ripping it off, bloating it with crapware and selling it for x5 the price- but let's see.

    • Re:FULLY open? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by John Hasler (414242) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:09AM (#41979733) Homepage
      How is that "abuse"? Why shoudn't people who want a "bloated" version at five times the price not be allowed to have it? "Fully open" means OPEN.
    • by Hatta (162192)

      How is that abuse? If they can do that, good for them.

      • by arisvega (1414195)

        How is that abuse? If they can do that, good for them.

        It would be abusive if the additions do not justify the price being higher: that is why I mentioned 'crapware'. I.e., a (misinformed) consumer usually falls for it, ending up being charged for the advertisment that went into a product (advertising products usually reflects on their pricing).

        Otherwise, if someone builds on it and produces an even more useful device, then of course I see no problem with it, and good for them indeed.

        • by wed128 (722152)

          a (misinformed) consumer usually falls for it

          Isn't that the consumer's fault for not doing their homework before making the purchase? under-educated consumers will always get duped, that's not the MegaCorp's fault.

          • by arisvega (1414195)

            under-educated consumers will always get duped, that's not the MegaCorp's fault.

            You cannot be serious: how can that be, since it would be MegaCorp that is doing the duping-- you said it! See this very recent thread [slashdot.org], and try to predict how good the 'dupe-non-tech-savvy-folk' business model will be for a company --unless, I guess, the company is too big (AT&T in the previous example) to give a crap: that's why I mentioned 'MegaCorp'.

            • by wed128 (722152)

              You missed my point... If a cheaper option is available, then it's the consumer's job to find it. It's NOT the Megacorp's job to show it to the consumer.

          • Under educate consumers will be duped from time to time. It's the stupid ones who keep coming back, time and time again, to buy whatever Megacorp tells them they need to buy this year.

            Telephones, for instance. There are a couple of camps that just HAVE TO HAVE the latest and greatest offering from their chosen Megacorp. Why? Ten year old phones do most of what the newest megadollar phones do. And, the extras that come with those phones are worth - a couple dollars. Certainly not hundreds of dollars.

            Th

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Sorry but find me the 10 year old phone (at any price) with 16 gigs of RAM, built in GPS, a high resolution screen that can connect to my car's head either by wire or BlueTooth.

              I'll even make it easier for you, find me the 10 year old phone that does anything of these things at any price.

              Just because you don't value what some phone makers are bringing to the market doesn't mean that it's not worth something to someone.

              Oh, and just as a FYI... my Motorola StarTAC cost more 12 years ag

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      megacorps are already selling pretty much the same thing for 5x the price - so what's there to lose there?

  • by queazocotal (915608) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @08:57AM (#41979637)

    On forking, however.

    To elaborate on why open-source hardware is hard.

    Why open-source software works is:
    Widely available repository of code.
    Many people able to review it, or sections of it, and understand it.
    Ease of submitting tested patches.

    Hardware has problems that don't really fit well with this.
    The open schematic is the trivially easy part, and not really a problem.
    (though in practice, you need a schematic with copious links to design documents, which isn't well solved by open tools).

    The number of people who can review it is rather smaller - as you can't
    open up a c file, and see a clear error or awkwardness in code that can be edited.

    For all but the most basic errors, you are going to have to sit down and
    read several hundred pages of hardware documentation about how the chips in question work, in addition to having in-depth knowledge about the circuit design, and costings of likely changes.

    Now, you've done this, and generated a patch that you think (for example) lowers the supply current by 1%.

    Compile - test.
    On a PC, this takes a couple of minutes.

    For something of a smartphone class, a one-off PCB may cost several hundred dollars. Then the parts will cost another several hundred dollars in small quantities, as well as being difficult to obtain.
    Now, you have to solder the parts onto the board, which is a decidedly nontrivial thing - and if you decide you want someone else to do this, it's probably another several hundred dollars.

    So, you're at the thick end of a thousand dollars for a 'compile'.

    Now, you boot the device, and it exhibits random hangs.

    Neglecting the fact that you are going to need several hundred to several thousand dollars of test equipment, you now have to find
    the bug.

    Is it:
    A) The fact that unlabled 0.5*1mm component C38 is in fact 20% over the designed value, as the assembly company put the wrong one in.
    B) C38 has a tiny bridge of solder underneath it that is making intermittent contact.
    C) The chipmaker for the main chip hasn't noticed that their chip doesn't quite do what they say it will do, and the datasheet is wrong.
    D) You missed a tangential reference on page 384 of the datasheet to proper setup of the RAM chip, and it is pure coincidence that all models up till now have booted.
    E) Because you're ordering small quantities, you had to resort to getting the chips from a distributor who diddn't watch their supply chain really carefully, and your main chip has in fact been desoldered from a broken cellphone.
    F) Though the design of the circuit is correct, and the board you made matches that design, and all the parts are correct and work properly, the inherent undesired elements introduced by real life physics means it doesn't work.
    G) A completely random failure of a part that could occur with even the best design, and best manufacture.

    G - may mean that it's worthwhile making two or more of each revision - which of course boosts costs.

    Hardware is nasty.

    This gets a lot less painful of course for lower end hardware. For very limited circuits, which can be done on simple inexpensive PCBs, and be easily soldered at home - costs of a 'compile' can be in the tens of dollars, or even lower.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wvmarle (1070040)

      Great copy-pasta, I've seen this before. And yes, hardware isn't as easy to develop as software is.

      Nevertheless it's a good thing. Better than keeping it closed. Maybe you and I can't do anything with it directly, there are certainly people that can learn from it. It can be used as study object in universities, for example (where students routinely design and bake their own microchips, too).

      • I should have stated it was copy-pasta.
        (But I am the original author).
        Is it useful - certainly - and lightly modifying an existing design without touching the core can give you considerable confidence that the design will work.
        Also, it can mean that you need limited or no software mods to get it booting, and confirm at least basic functionality, at which point you can start hacking on the drivers for your integrated cheeseboard.

    • These are all similar problems that existed in the early days of software development. It was very tedious to write on punch cards, it could take days before your program was run and all you got out of it was an error, the equipment needed was prohibitively expensive for all but the largest organisations, debugging required dozens of manuals, etc, etc.

      All these issues have been solved for software, and the open hardware movement is starting to help with these issues for hardware. Give it time, and runn

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Or you could just get the completeAndroid Mini PC [ebay.com] package for $36.
      It's complete, smaller, cheaper, been available for a year or two...

  • Does that mean Allwinner finally opened the code to the Mali 400 GPU?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Not to my knowledge; however, there is an open source driver being developed via reverse-engineering:

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

    • It would be nice; but I'd be surprised. The Mali 400 is straight from ARM, and for what Allwinner charges for A13s, it would be impressive if they managed to cram the cost of building their own driver or buying the right to open ARM's driver into the budget.

    • Re:Mali 400 GPU (Score:5, Insightful)

      by scorp1us (235526) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:23AM (#41979867) Journal

      Yes, but it sucks.

      I got a Mali 400 tablet based off what I read on the internet (must be true, right?) and came to find out there is NO working driver for it. There are two open source drivers - one official and one reverse engineered but neither work. The only way to get a Mali-400 functional device is to run android and use that driver. It seems that all other platforms (X, etc) were afterthoughts.

      I was excited to read about the board, but then my heart sank. Whoever did the research and selection for the Mali 400 on this board did exactly what I did, and now they and their customers are going to be very disappointed. The Mali-400 is a good chip, but lacks non-android support.

      • by Hatta (162192)

        The only way to get a Mali-400 functional device is to run android and use that driver.

        Why can't that driver be ported to vanilla Linux?

        I was excited to read about the board, but then my heart sank.

        Me too. No native XBMC means no sale. I will keep my x86 HTPC with open source ATI video drivers in service then.

        • by Andy Dodd (701)

          There are massive architectural differences between Android's graphics subsystem and X.

          Same reason Samsung's "open source friendliness" in terms of claiming "Hey we have a DRI driver" is kind of pointless when 99% of their Exynos4 chips are in Android devices. (Exynos5 is a bit more even thanks to Chromebook.)

        • Me too. No native XBMC means no sale. I will keep my x86 HTPC with open source ATI video drivers in service then.

          I only clicked the comments to check on XBMC support. This too makes it a non-starter for me.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            You seem to care about some of the same things I do, do you know if there's anything out there with 1080p, XBMC, and properly-working Netflix? I personally want it to run Android, but anything Linux-based would be OK.

            • Comes stock with Android, but they have a pure XBMC build. The company sponsors developers to work on XMBC for Android.

              It's in what I would call beta stage at this point. Not perfect, but pretty decent. It is supposed to run Netflix, but I haven't actually tried yet.

              I use it mostly for watching TV shows and movies stored on my NAS, and my wife/kids watch streaming video from websites via an addon.

              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                I actually managed to find that before you posted, but thanks anyway, I couldn't find any reputable reviews of how well it actually works. I'm a little hesitant to spend $120. There's also this UG802 thing, but people say it won't actually decode 1080p in realtime. There's 1.2, 1.5 and 1.6 GHz clocks, and people say the faster-than-1.2 GHz ones like to overheat. It is fifty bucks, though.

          • There is XBMC support with hardware decoding for Allwinner, its been around for a month or so. Check the tail end of this forum http://forum.xbmc.org/showthread.php?tid=126995 [xbmc.org]. This is the github with the source https://github.com/empatzero/xbmca10 [github.com]. Here are some build instructions http://linux-sunxi.org/XBMC [linux-sunxi.org]. And there is this project that plans to put everything like this into a distribution for Allwinner devices http://www.indiegogo.com/pengpod [indiegogo.com].
      • by Microlith (54737)

        I was excited to read about the board, but then my heart sank. Whoever did the research and selection for the Mali 400 on this board did exactly what I did, and now they and their customers are going to be very disappointed. The Mali-400 is a good chip, but lacks non-android support.

        It's because all of these open source projects go gaga over the Allwinner A10 despite the fact that it's at least 2 generations behind in the CPU and no usable open source driver exists for the Mali GPU.

        This is why I'm actually

    • by Narishma (822073)

      It's not theirs to open. Mali is made by ARM.

  • by doragasu (2717547) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:19AM (#41979835)
    Comparing it with the RPi, this one has more memory, a faster processor, a lot of GPIO pins, etc. But the lack of an Ethernet port, an HDMI output, an internal and an internal flash makes it less attractive for me.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      this one has more memory

      The RPi actually has 512M memory in its B model nowadays

    • by Obfuscant (592200)
      V2 of RPi has 512Mb. You can overclock it offcially now. And it has four extra GPIO pins.

      I'd rather have a VGA port instead of HDMI. Lack of Ethernet is a killer, and lack of firewire is a dissappointment.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Found this relatively interesting board in rpi price range.

    Official site: http://cubieboard.org/ [cubieboard.org]
    They sold small numbers last month and are now trying to fund a 1k+ run via indiegogo: http://www.indiegogo.com/cubieboard [indiegogo.com]

    Some difference highlights from specs:
    1G ARMv7 cortex-A8 processor (2x as fast per clock), NEON, VFPv3, 256KB L2 cache vs 700MHz ARMv6
    Mali400, OpenGL ES GPU (lima reverse-engineered drivers) vs VideoCoreIV (free "shim")

  • by LuxuryYacht (229372) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:34AM (#41979951) Homepage

    http://cubieboard.org/ [cubieboard.org] and also on http://www.indiegogo.com/cubieboard [indiegogo.com]

    It uses the A10 and has more features. The A10 is a full featured version of the A13

    1G ARM cortex-A8 processor, NEON, VFPv3, 256KB L2 cache
    Mali400, OpenGL ES GPU
    512M/1GB DDR3 @480MHz
    HDMI 1080p Output
    10/100M Ethernet
    4Gb Nand Flash
    2 USB Host, 1 micro SD slot, 1 SATA, 1 ir
    96 extend pin including I2C, SPI, RGB/LVDS, CSI/TS, FM-IN, ADC, CVBS, VGA, SPDIF-OUT, R-TP..
    Android, Ubuntu and other Linux distributions

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:34AM (#41979955)

    No ARM system can be truly "open", because no one who produces these SoCs is releasing full specifications. The GPUs are a particular problem, since almost all of them rely upon binary blobs. With more and more functionality being moved to GPU hardware, this is an area where Open Source is really falling behind.

    Having Linux or Android running on a cheap ARM board is nice, but if all you get is non-accelerated 2D graphics, you won't be able to be competitive with closed commercial products.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Come January I was going to use a Raspberry Pi as a personal ( sorry can't remember the name now ) mail server.
    Now I'm confused about what board to use.

    • The Raspberry Pi is cheaper and it comes with Ethernet. So maybe that. Either way, running a simple mail server does not require anything fancy, so both should be OK.
      • by DrXym (126579)
        You can buy small gumstick type PCs running Allwinner A10 chips that come with 4-8GB flash, 512MB-1GB RAM, a 1.5Ghz CPU, a plastic housing and wifi built-in. Android or Google TV preloaded. Alibaba is full of such devices and they cost about the same price as the Raspberry Pi.
    • by higuita (129722)

      raspberry pi!

      It have good support and will have it for long time (unlike most of this "clones" ).
      For a mail server it's powerful enough

  • I'll have to plead guilty to associating any outfit labeled 'A'nything as somehow connected to the A7 people, who let dozens of small kitchen table folks design products around their bluetooth offerings, shipping a dozen or more of the finished product, only to have them lock the door, disconnect the phones and disappear forever without notice to anyone, leaving the producers of the finished product who had paid the one time costs for the PCB's etc hung out to dry. Some paid in advance, and are still due r

    • I take it you don't own a smartphone then. Apple's in-house chip is called the A6. Most ARM SoC's are based on ARM Cortex A-series cores (A8, soon A15, etc). Never mind that Olimex is a well-known company, let's all be paranoid about anything that starts with the letter A.
      • I wasn't paranoid about A words, but now that you mention apple's chip is called the A6 I am growing seriously concerned... I think 25 letter lphbet wouldn't be tht bd.
  • Largely irrelevant, but the actual temp range according to their FAQ [olimex.com] is:
    What is the operating temperature range of A13-OLinuXino-WIFI?
    The board works in the commercial temeprature range 0+70C
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Some experience http://forum.doozan.com/read.php?6,10012 [doozan.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's important to remember that A13 is actually cut down ($5 cheaper) A10 present in Cubbieboard. Most interestingly Cubbieboard offers double the RAM and SATA port for the same price.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The allwinner A10 currently ranks as one of the most hackable and open platforms, thanks to the freenode #arm-netbook and http://linux-sunxi.org communities, communities where Olimex has actually contributed.

    As the developer of the lima driver, i have finally found a Mali based SoC with a proper linux, one that is affordable and hackable. Heck, i even have Q3A running on ARM Mali binaries (check my the linux-sunxi and my github if you do not buy it).

    How can everybody here just be spewing baseless bullshit a

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I bought one of these and just received it last night.

    Unfortunately, the Olimex people have no clue about how to package for shipping. I received a touch screen overlay that was cracked in half. The PCB had two ferrite core in the power supply broken apart since they loosely packaged other components on top of the PCB!.

    I ordered a "preloaded" SD card which arrived... blank.

    I've noted several "bugs" in the design although this is a rev. 'c' board and am now questioning this whole model of "ultra" cheap.

    I gla

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