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Rhombus Tech 2nd Revision A10 EOMA68 Card Working Samples 57

Posted by Soulskill
from the hardware-in-compliance dept.
lkcl writes "Rhombus Tech and QiMod have working samples of the first EOMA-68 CPU Card, featuring 1GByte of RAM, an A10 processor and stand-alone (USB-OTG-powered with HDMI output) operation. Upgrades will include the new Dual-Core ARM Cortex A7, the pin-compatible A20. This is the first CPU Card in the EOMA-68 range: there are others in the pipeline (A31, iMX6, jz4760 and a recent discovery of the Realtek RTD1186 is also being investigated). The first product in the EOMA-68 family, also nearing a critical phase in its development, will be the KDE Flying Squirrel, a 7-in, user-upgradeable tablet featuring the KDE Plasma Active operating system. Laptops, desktops, game consoles, user-upgradeable LCD monitors and other products are to follow. And every CPU that goes into the products will be pre-vetted for full GPL compliance, with software releases even before the product goes out the door. That's what we've promised to do: to provide Free Software developers with the opportunity to be involved with mass-volume product development every step of the way. We're also on the look-out for an FSF-Endorseable processor which also meets mass-volume criteria, which is proving... challenging."
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Rhombus Tech 2nd Revision A10 EOMA68 Card Working Samples

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  • by gman003 (1693318) on Friday April 12, 2013 @02:53PM (#43434601)

    It's funny how, on articles about things everyone here knows about, like BitCoin or the Raspberry Pi, the summary wastes space explaining the context (ie. what BitCoin or RaspPi is), but on an article about something relatively obscure, it just throws model numbers and acronyms at you.

    As far as I can discern without reading TFA, this is just some new ARM system-on-a-chip, not particularly revolutionary or powerful, but aimed at use in open-source environments.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, the A10 is a chip that's popular with mid-range unbranded chinese tablet PC manufacturers. It's a slightly better chip than the more common A13 from the same manufacturer (which is what most of the current crop of dirt cheap tablets are based on). It's usually advertised as being clockable at up to 1.5GHz (although 1.2 seems to be the fastest they reliably work at), and is a single core ARM chip with fully open source drivers for all of the integrated hardware, which is somewhat unusual. I have an

      • by citizenr (871508)

        Yeah, the A10 is a chip that's popular with mid-range unbranded chinese tablet PC manufacturers. It's a slightly better chip than the more common A13 from the same manufacturer (which is what most of the current crop of dirt cheap tablets are based on). It's usually advertised as being clockable at up to 1.5GHz (although 1.2 seems to be the fastest they reliably work at), and is a single core ARM chip with fully open source drivers for all of the integrated hardware

        Lie. No GPU, no Video Decoder, no Video Encoder.
        Its as "open source" as Broadcom sitting in RPi.

    • by AdamHaun (43173) on Friday April 12, 2013 @03:44PM (#43434989) Journal

      As far as I can discern without reading TFA, this is just some new ARM system-on-a-chip

      No, it's much sillier than that. This is the latest in a long-running series of Slashvertisements by the submitter, lkcl. They chronicle his journey towards creating an "industry standard" for swappable processors for tablets based on the PCMCIA form factor. Nobody asked for this, nobody wants it, and lkcl has next to no experience with hardware development [lkcl.net], but he's convinced it's going to change the world! To help the world along, he's working on-- actually, it looks like various Chinese companies are doing all the work. Anyway, lkcl is the funding conduit for an example card based on an existing ARM SoC. Today's story is about getting the first samples of the "2nd revision" of this card. Future samples are approved for sale as a standalone product because "they boot", which obviously qualifies them to ship.

      In our last episode, lkcl digressed from his main project to announce a funding drive for a totally unrealistic project [slashdot.org] to build a free software-friendly SoC with a custom CPU in six months without doing any "design" work. Except for speeding up the processor, adding a bunch of peripherals, and implementing it on a cutting-edge semiconductor process. And then getting to market by Christmas. Just a small side project, right?

      lkcl is pretty prolific on his own stories, so I'm sure his dozens of comment responses will answer all of your questions.

      Previous episodes:
      Live Interview: Luke Leighton of Rhombus Tech [slashdot.org] Dec 11, 2012: Live interview that nobody saw. There doesn't seem to be a transcript.

      Rhombus Tech A10 EOMA-68 CPU Card Schematics Completed [slashdot.org] Sept 7, 2012: PCB schematics (for the first revision -- prototype?) completed.

      PCMCIA Computer Project Aims Even Higher (and Cheaper) Than Raspberry Pi [slashdot.org] Dec 17, 2011: Project announced? This is as far back as the Rhombus Tech news page goes.

      • but he's convinced it's going to change the world

        So are the Raspberry Pi people. So what?

        • by AdamHaun (43173)

          The Raspberry Pi people made a toy for educational purposes [raspberrypi.org]. If you read the About page [raspberrypi.org], you will see two key differences:

          1. The Raspberry Pi people have extensive hardware experience, with key figures actually working in the industry. They do their own technical work. They can answer questions about their design. They are selling through reputable distributors. lkcl, on the other hand, is a front-man with no hardware background. He is apparently the sole advocate in the world for a China-based for-profit o

        • by lkcl (517947)

          but he's convinced it's going to change the world

          yes. for the better. and thoughts make a difference. if you don't imagine you'll make a difference, you won't. maybe you're happy with the way things are. i'm not, therefore i do something about it. got a problem with that? then FUCK OFF and stay out of my way. you do your thing, with your thoughts; i'll do mine. let's not get together and compare notes in 4 years time.

          So are the Raspberry Pi people. So what?

          the rbpi people are targetting education with a proprietary product which is restricted by the SoC vendor. you can be "educated" so

          • by AdamHaun (43173) on Saturday April 13, 2013 @03:11AM (#43439049) Journal

            got a problem with that? then FUCK OFF and stay out of my way. you do your thing, with your thoughts; i'll do mine.

            Excuse me? You're the one who keeps bringing your pointless stories about meaningless "progress" on your pie in the sky project to Slashdot. Last time you were asking for ten million dollars for a hopeless SoC project that you yourself knew nothing about. Now you're back here, what, trolling for pre-orders and funding? What kind of con artist are you?

            And let's be clear, this isn't even really *your* project. You're throwing money at companies in China to get them to do the work for you, and you can't even answer their questions [rhombus-tech.net]. You're nothing but a sales guy with a vague idea and a big ego. Come back when you're selling in volume, until then please quit wasting our time.

      • by pjr.cc (760528)

        Say what you guys will, personally i've been following EOMA-68 for a while and for a good reason. Ultimately a long time ago, i've been wanting to do what calxeda now do (around the time the first nslu2's came out) and was really excited when calxeda started talking the talk... then they released a box that is way over engineered and way too expensive for the role (not to mention rather inflexible).

        With eoma-68 you could do the same thing, only the price would be far more suitable and the server boards insi

      • by gman003 (1693318)

        Ah, I remember them now. "Mini ARM computer reusing PCMCIA connector" would have sufficed to describe it.

        • by lkcl (517947)

          Ah, I remember them now. "Mini ARM computer reusing PCMCIA connector" would have sufficed to describe it.

          :) Mini ARM computer, Mini x86 computer (when we get access to ValleyView), Mini MIPS computer (Ingenic jz series), Mini {insert CPU model here} computer, mini FPGA card, mini pass-through card.

          the EOMA-68 standard is *not* limited to a particular CPU - it's not even in fact limited to a CPU *at all*. take a look at this for example:
          http://elinux.org/Embedded_Open_Modular_Architecture/EOMA-68/Passthrough [elinux.org]

          that's what we call a "pass-through" card. it has HDMI/DVI **INPUT**. not HDMI output from a processo

          • by gman003 (1693318)

            As others have said, this seems very pie-in-the-sky right now. Have you yet produced *any* EOMA-68 card? As in, actually-shipping?

            Sure, if you manage to pull it off, it would be great. None of the ideas, themselves, are that bad. The problem is that you're doing far more at once than I would consider possible. When you were just focusing on the mini ARM PC, it was considered risky enough. Adding all these other ideas seems... unwise. Sure, plan for them, don't do anything as part of the mini-ARM-PC that wou

      • by rephlex (96882)

        Future samples are approved for sale as a standalone product because "they boot", which obviously qualifies them to ship.

        Isn't that the same criteria the Raspberry Pi Foundation used?

    • It's hidden behind the fourth link. http://elinux.org/Embedded_Open_Modular_Architecture/EOMA-68 [elinux.org]

      It's a computer in the form factor of a PCMCIA card. The whole goal of the project is to have upgradable tablets and laptops. You just pop the old card out, and put a new one in.

      It's a laudable goal, but more hardware manufacturers would need to support it. Honestly, at some point they need to come out with a high performance x86 one.

      • by dublin (31215)

        Not only that, it's been done before: One of the Japanese companies (Sharp or maybe more likely Epson?) tried to push a PCMCIA-based CPU module back in the early '90s. It was a decent idea then, but the form factor is not as reasonable a choice today, given the increased availability of smaller-scale SMD components....

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by lkcl (517947)

          Not only that, it's been done before: One of the Japanese companies (Sharp or maybe more likely Epson?) tried to push a PCMCIA-based CPU module back in the early '90s.

          the difference here is that this is re-use. it's *NOT* backwards-compatible with PCMCIA. the idea of having a computer-that-can-dock-with-a-computer is great, but nowhere near as revolutionary. i did quite a long post to one of the other questions on here, which explains a bit more of the background: http://hardware.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=3643131&cid=43435507 [slashdot.org]

          but yes, you're right: the EOMA-68 form-factor, which is credit-card-sized and 5mm in height, is a bit too big to put into devices such as

          • by dublin (31215)

            My point was that this exact thing has been tried before, and the market clearly decided it wasn't worth the trouble and expense. This is no different.

            Rhombus Tech is building EOMA-68 as a duplicate answer to a question no one has asked in years. By any reasonable standards of modern embedded hardware (I've been working with deeply embedded hardware for my own company for the past few years), EOMA-68 is poorly designed, not tightly integrated, and does not even begin to match the capabilities of many of t

    • by asola (2778943)
      The big news here is that the first EOMA-68 formatted computing cards and accepting cases are nearing completion. This is an open-source project with a strong emphasis on embedded Linux.

      This will make it possible to upgrade the computing core of your tablet or set-top-box or all-in-one computers, smart-tv when higher-performance computing cores become available.

      This makes sense since, for example, there are a lot of parts on modern tablets that need no upgrade at all (e.g. an IPS retina display is alrea
      • by lkcl (517947)

        I, for one, would be very happy if my NAS was upgradable like this.

        yeah me too! NAS boxes is on the list of products, as well as routers. as an open hardware project where the CPU Card is guaranteed to have full GPL Source Code, you'd be able to do anything - re-use the older cards as a router, and cycle them down over the years, between products. last year's "latest tablet CPU Card" becomes "the kid's games console CPU Card" becomes "the NAS / router" for your home or the "Freedom Box" for your grandma.

      • All of that is fine, until you can't upgrade the bus, and that becomes the limiting factor. And, when you upgrade the bus, you usually cannot use existing cards (easily). Upgradable items are usually good for two, perhaps three generations before the rest of the device is obsolete. Which may be a fine goal, but if the cost of the device doubles between upgradability and the upgrades themselves, it becomes a wash at two upgrade cycles and only profitable at three. That is a risk, and one I've seen burn peopl

        • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Friday April 12, 2013 @05:25PM (#43435993) Homepage

          All of that is fine, until you can't upgrade the bus, and that becomes the limiting factor. And, when you upgrade the bus, you usually cannot use existing cards (easily). Upgradable items are usually good for two, perhaps three generations before the rest of the device is obsolete. Which may be a fine goal, but if the cost of the device doubles between upgradability and the upgrades themselves, it becomes a wash at two upgrade cycles and only profitable at three. That is a risk, and one I've seen burn people when they are caught buying an upgradable item that has no upgrades made for it.

          let me answer the profitability issue first. we chose to re-use legacy housings, sockets and assemblies precisely because to do otherwise *would* result in this becoming a profitable venture only at cycle 3. there's a company in the U.S.+Taiwan which has had $USD 100m investment to create a 100mm x 70mm x 10mm modular PC standard. we've had *zero* investment.... and haven't needed it! the CPU Card development cost us under $10k. the tablet: $6k. getting new plastic done for the card because we're re-using PCMCIA metal casework from a product that's been made for the past 10 years straight: $6k.

          so you're thinking inside-the-box, i feel compelled to point out :) we'll go into "profitability" with the first 10k order!! everyone involved has been working on a commission-only basis for the past 4 years on the project. there *are* no investors or banks to pay off. the first lot of profits will go straight back into the project and will begin to fund and reward the free software developers and other people who have been helping us out over the years, and that will happen pretty much immediately.

          regarding the upgradeability and the durability of the standard: there's one factor that you've not taken into consideration, and it's the power requirements of faster interfaces. 10GbE over copper takes SIX WATTS, just to push the signals over those 4 twisted-pairs that's just... insane. as people have wanted faster and higher resolution screens, VGA has fallen by the wayside because at 75 ohms impedance, driving 3 lines at 200mhz and above in *analog* is just way waaay too power-hungry.

          but look closely at the interfaces selected for EOMA-68. RGB/TTL (24-pin), I2C, USB3, Gigabit Ethernet and SATA. are any of those particularly critical that they be ultra-ultra-ultra-ultra-ultra fast? no not really. what are they connected to? well, they're connected to peripherals i.e. I/O. do you really really really really need an 8096x5000 resolution LCD panel on a 7in tablet? no not really. do you need a 10000Mbytes/second SATA hard drive on a 10in $150 laptop? no, not really. do you need 10 Gigabit Ethernet on a portable device where battery life is important? no, you don't.

          so you're thinking of upgradeability as being all-important and the be-all and end-all of computing appliances, and i think you'll find that it really, really isn't that critical. at the apple end of the market? sure, there will be people who will always go after apple products, and the great thing is: just like microsoft's absolute-insane-latest-and-greatest processing and memory requirements have pushed the price of RAM down to $4 for 1GByte of 800mhz DDR3 RAM, so will apple's R&D costs *also* drive down the cost of parts for the rest of us who are happy to sell in much higher volume, quietly, to the rest of the world market including China which is 10x the size of the rest of the world's markets PUT TOGETHER and nobody knows it even exists.

          summary: the strategy we've pursued immediately pays off, and the EOMA-68 standard's designed around a different market focus which i believe is sound for at least the next decade. we could always develop new standards that take advantage of the latest-and-greatest innovations, but they would be limited to the latest-and-greatest products. we're going after the bigger volumes - the cash cow markets - and helping the Factories to stabilise their products, take advantage of the latest-and-greatest as it filters down.

          does that make sense?

    • by steelfood (895457)

      That's because the editors only include explanations for things they know about. What, were you expecting them to read TFA before front-paging it?

    • by lkcl (517947)

      It's funny how, on articles about things everyone here knows about, like BitCoin or the Raspberry Pi, the summary wastes space explaining the context (ie. what BitCoin or RaspPi is), but on an article about something relatively obscure, it just throws model numbers and acronyms at you.

      As far as I can discern without reading TFA, this is just some new ARM system-on-a-chip, not particularly revolutionary or powerful, but aimed at use in open-source environments.

      absolutely! i'm a link whore, what can i say :)

      ok - it's not limited to one particular ARM SoC, it's about a standard. actually, it's not about the standard. the actual goal is to bring about a revolution in the mass-volume computing appliances sector. i don't mention that too often because it sounds absolutely madly insanely ambitious, but it's what's actually going on here.

      so let's look a bit further down the chain, at say rhombus tech. rhombus tech is the web site designed to help link free software

    • by lkcl (517947)

      http://lkcl.net/articles/tiny.computers.txt [lkcl.net]

      the above article may help also to give you some background about where this came from and where it's going.

  • Not clear if Realtek RTD1186 has a FPU. It is possible to have those graphics co-processors and not have a FPU on the core. Missing FPU messes up games. This chip may be purpose built to implement something like a Roku or that Mele STB which makes it uninteresting except for those specific purposes.

    • Maybe I'm missing something but why are you focusing specifically on that chip? Some of the chips (e.g. A20) definitely have an FPU unit. If you need an FPU (and who doesn't), get a card (or cards) with an appropriately specified CPU core.
      • by jonsmirl (114798)

        The A10 chips definitely have a FPU, I have one on my desk.
        Unclear if the Realtek RTD1186 has an FPU. Many MIPS cores don't have one.

  • by n7ytd (230708) on Friday April 12, 2013 @04:18PM (#43435323)

    And every CPU that goes into the products will be pre-vetted for full GPL compliance, with software releases even before the product goes out the door. That's what we've promised to do: to provide Free Software developers with the opportunity to be involved with mass-volume product development every step of the way.

    If "full GPL compliance" is a goal of the project, then it's doomed to mediocrity. Real chip vendors are not going to share their secret sauce, either because they can't due to patent/IP agreements or because they don't see a reason to risk handing the crown jewels to their competition. It just ain't gonna happen.

    • Re:A pipe dream... (Score:4, Informative)

      by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Friday April 12, 2013 @05:02PM (#43435805) Homepage

      If "full GPL compliance" is a goal of the project, then it's doomed to mediocrity. Real chip vendors are not going to share their secret sauce, either because they can't due to patent/IP agreements or because they don't see a reason to risk handing the crown jewels to their competition. It just ain't gonna happen.

      then we will not talk to them. they can fuck right off. we only need one or two companies to cooperate: that's the beauty of it. we don't need *every* chip vendor to cooperate with us, we just need *one* chip vendor to cooperate with us. when the other companies see just how much volume we're shipping through our clients they'll want a slice of the action, and we will remind them that we will NOT expose our distributors to massive liability of primary and secondary Copyright Infringment Lawsuits.

      i'm staggered beyond belief that huge companies like Amazon aren't aware of the fact that they're risking being sued to the bedrock with a secondary Copyright Infringment Lawsuit. they should be banning these GPL violating products *outright*! but they're being hoodwinked... and unfortunately for them, in the eyes of the law, that's no excuse.

      we *are* aware of the GPL, and the implications of Copyright Infringment, so we simply cannot and will not expose the distributors to that liability - end of story.

      basically, your comments fail to recognise that the SoC vendors who "want to keep things secret" are in most cases now operating illegally, due to their criminal infringment of Copyright Law. many of them, like AMLogic, have *already* lost their rights to distribute the Linux Kernel Source code due to their GPLv2 violations of two years ago. for a SoC vendor to do that is COMPLETELY insane!! especially given that AMLogic is now owned by a USA-based company.

      but in the cases where these SoC vendors *are* operating within the law yet are keeping things proprietary (through the "System Library" GPL exemption clause), there what we will do is put some funds towards reverse-engineering their hardware. ironic that we will use the money gained from the sale of their own products to do that, but it is, long-term in their own interests.

      i don't know if you're aware of this, but in the case of 3D GPUs, the actual 3D GPU vendors *want* the free software community to reverse-engineer their hardware! the reason is this: the sole reason why they cannot publish information about their own GPUs is because of the risk of a patent war. i don't know if you've seen that talk given 6 months ago about this, but the situation between NVidia, ATI and so on, because they are mature products, they've come to an uneasy truce on their various patent portfolios. the so-called "embedded" GPU companies, they're new at this, and they are nervous as hell. *but*, they know the advantages that free software brings! google the story about the Intel GPU team getting together with the Valve/Steam developers: one of them said "it was the most productive work meeting they had EVER had", and it's because *BOTH* teams could read each others' source code... without having to go to their respective Directors and get NDA clearance, which would apart from anything have taken MONTHS.

      so there is a lot more going on here than it first seems, ok?

  • I am not saying the product is without merit. I do like the form factor, but right now I have two Raspberry Pi [raspberrypi.org]s, a BeagleBone [beagleboard.org], and a pcDuino [pcduino.com] on my desk (for use in various client projects). Those are just three of the various hobbyist and industrial small ARM based systems out there.

    Right now the EOMA-68 is more or less vaporware. Wake me when I can buy one, then we can talk...

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