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Wireless Networking Hardware Linux Build

Tiniest Linux COM Yet? 76

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-small-or-go-home dept.
DeviceGuru writes: "An open-spec COM that runs OpenWRT Linux on a MIPS-based Ralink RT5350 SoC has won its Indiegogo funding. The $20, IoT-focused VoCore measures 25 x 25mm. How low can you go? Tiny computer-on-modules (COMs) for Internet of Things (IoT) applications are popping up everywhere, with recent, Linux-ready entries including Intel's Atom or Quark-based Edison, Ingenic's MIPS/Xburst-based Newton, Acme Systems's ARM9/SAM9G25 based Arrietta G25, and SolidRun's quad-core i.MX6-based MicroSOM. Now, an unnamed Chinese startup has raised over six times its $6,000 Indiegogo funding goal for what could be the smallest, cheapest Linux COM yet."
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Tiniest Linux COM Yet?

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  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Friday May 30, 2014 @04:01PM (#47131563)

    Just like "Web 2.0" and other non-concepts, this term gets used to pretend something is a new version of something else, just because its "Internet". Its a small computer, just like small computers that are already in things. Get over it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There are quantitative differences that end up causing qualitative changes. When cellphones became sufficiently powerful to run a general purpose operating system, feature phones were replaced by smart phones, and smart phones aren't just faster feature phones with more memory.

      • by petes_PoV (912422)
        Yes. This is more than "a small computer". The size of this device, coupled with its onboard WiFi is one of its basic properties. Although there have been smaller "computers": PIC devices would be a good example, the functionality of this is the game changer and could make it ubiquitous in pretty much any electronic gadget.

        I would hope that the next version would focus on getting the power consumption down. A tiny little computer is no use if it needs a shopping cart to haul its batteries around.

        It occur

    • Just like "Web 2.0" and other non-concepts, this term gets used to pretend something is a new version of something else, just because its "Internet".

      Ordinarily, I'd agree. Too many "but on the Internet" patents granted, businesses started, etc.

      Its a small computer, just like small computers that are already in things.

      This is where I'll disagree. Sure, there's been small computers for a while. However, this is the first time these small computers are both cheap enough to be in too many places and complex enough to run a common free OS that provides an IP networking stack. Previously, small computers that could speak IP were too costly to be ubiquitous, and small computers that were cheap enough to be ubiquitous were too simple

      • by rahvin112 (446269)

        The only reason they used to be too small for IP was because the people that wanted to buy these small computers weren't planning on hooking them up to a network. They were used in industrial controls and cars and other applications where network connectivity was a non-issue.

        • The people buying toasters tomorrow won't be planning on hooking them up to a network either. But those toasters will have IP stacks running in them, simply because the cost of adding that feature will approach zero as time goes on, but the value of having exclusive control over yet another avenue of delivering advertising to your home will remain.

          Perhaps I'm being cynical and there's other reasons to put computers in toasters. However, the fact remains, a simple microcontroller is still cheaper than som
          • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

            SoCs with network access won't be replacing microcontrollers any time soon, if ever. There are two problems preventing them being commonly used in toasters, even if the price comes down.

            First you have reliability. An 8 bit microcontroller is easy to harden and give a wide operating temperature range, ideal for use in something that contains multiple heating elements. It's not just the peak temperature that is a problem, the heating and cooling cycle is too. Everything from the type of ROM used to the densit

            • by MrNaz (730548)

              What if the toaster was free, so long as you had to deal with a screen on the side with speakers that played ads with sound while it toasted your bread? Sure, *you* wouldn't willingly buy it, and *I* wouldn't willingly buy it, but if enough of the market did, we may end up with that being the business model for toasters and nothing else being available.

              Google, Facebook and and their ilk are doing that exact thing. Their services are all free* (as in getting raped at the train station after dark).

              • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

                I don't think many people would accept a free toaster with ads, considering a basic one only costs a few Euros anyway.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Sure, there's been small computers for a while. However, this is the first time these small computers are both cheap enough to be in too many places and complex enough to run a common free OS that provides an IP networking stack.

          The only reason they used to be too small for IP was because the people that wanted to buy these small computers weren't planning on hooking them up to a network.

          I assume that by "small" you mean "inadequate", because your comment makes absolutely no sense otherwise. The reason embedded processors used to be incapable of participating on IP networks is that it would have cost too much to embed that much CPU. Today that much CPU comes in your crackerjack box, even though they usually just give you a sticker these days.

          They were used in industrial controls and cars and other applications where network connectivity was a non-issue.

          It wasn't until the nineties that PCMs even went 32-bit. The cars of the eighties (even with sequential fuel injection) had single-digit-MHz speed, 8-

      • The problem isn't so much "speaking IP", a PIC18 can do that.

        But when you want TCP, SSL, HTTP, support for several types of VPN* and so-on it gets harder and harder to implement on a small microcontroller and something a bit more powerful that can run a proper OS (albiet a pretty stripped down one) looks more attractive.

        * VPN support is useful in "internet of things" type applications because you often want to deploy them where you don't have a public IP and/or you don't control the network and yet you woul

    • Unfortunately, the 'something else' that "Internet of Things" is closest to is probably SCADA, which we all know is Secure, Reliable, Trustworthy, and totally something you'd trust a bunch of data-grubbing silicon valley marketing weasels to sell to idiots with the intention of being connected to the public internet...
    • by hairyfeet (841228)
      But just as "on the Internet" and "on a mobile device" let the USPTO hand out obvious patents to their corp buddies so too will "Internet enabled appliance" allow the corps and trolls to put up yet more roadblocks with obvious ideas appended with the catchphrase.
    • by jonsmirl (114798)

      There is another similar project simultaneously up on Indiegogo from AsiaRF
      https://www.indiegogo.com/proj... [indiegogo.com]
      It was put up about a week later so its funding is not as far along. There are still a few Early Birds left.

      It based on the same chip and around the same price. The main difference is that the AsiaRF module has already gone through CE/FCC testing and it is already in production. So there is very little risk of the project not shipping. Support for the AsiaRF unit is already checked into OpenWRT.

      I fin

  • by by (1706743) (1706744) on Friday May 30, 2014 @04:15PM (#47131657)
    These little guys appear to be running Linux, and some are even hackable (I'm not affiliated with any of these companies/blogs): http://www.monoprice.com/Produ... [monoprice.com]

    http://haxit.blogspot.com/2013... [blogspot.com]
    http://hackaday.com/2013/08/12... [hackaday.com]
    • AIUI the trouble with those cards is that the only interface between the card and the thing it's plugged into is a shared storage array and said shared storage array is rather lacking in terms of good mechanisms to handle writes from both sides without corruption.

      This kind of limits their utility for anything beyond their intended use of making it slightly easier to get the pics off your camera.

      • Yeah, I was wondering if you could use the onboard wifi as a client, as opposed to their intended use as a low-performance access point.

        Of course, if small size / obscenely low power consumption isn't the ultimate goal, a Raspberry Pi has way more bells and whistles at about the same price...
  • by Dan East (318230)

    A decade ago, this was predicted to be the realm of Java. An internet of things incorporating chips that natively execute Java bytecode, I'm thankful that hasn't come to pass. Even more so now that Oracle is in the picture.

    • Yes, ARM sees to have become what Java promised to be.

      • Wasn't the theory behind the Rise Of Embedded Java that companies would move between suppliers fairly rapidly (which they do) in order to keep BoM to a minimum and that those moves would involve disruptive changes of CPU architecture(which appears to be much more rarely the case) thus driving them to write as much as possible in Java for easy porting?

        As it is, ARM doesn't exactly appear to be, um, strongARMing, licensees on fees, at least if the fact that MIPS is more or less standing on a street corner
        • by Agripa (139780)

          Wasn't the theory behind the Rise Of Embedded Java that companies would move between suppliers fairly rapidly (which they do) in order to keep BoM to a minimum and that those moves would involve disruptive changes of CPU architecture(which appears to be much more rarely the case) thus driving them to write as much as possible in Java for easy porting?

          I think it was a marketing hallucination. They were advertising this concept to replace 8 and 16 bit microcontrollers while JAVA had no support for unsigned a

    • I still own my Dallas Semiconductor TINI. Runs Java, 40MHz, same size as a stick of RAM, and it's about ten years old. A decade ago, this was the realm of Java.

      And assembly.

      ... Mostly assembly.
      • by mlts (1038732)

        I remember thinking there would be great future in Dallas Semiconductor "one wire" Java buttons, because they could be used to store RSA keys, and so on.

        These days, the "one touch" Dallas Semiconductor iButtons seem to be very rare... although they would be nice to have as an alternative to a mechanical keyswitch in some situations.

        • That market niche is actually doing better than most of embedded Java; but Maxim-Dallas' iButton package concept seems to have gotten pretty badly hammered, despite their mechanical virtues. A nontrivial number of the fancier contact smartcards run some flavor of teeny-Java; and fulfill the same basic role of being authentication devices powerful enough to handle their end of doing Proper Crypto; but smartcard form factor, contact-pattern, and external protocol seems to have mostly crushed 1-wire.
          • by matfud (464184)

            iButtons still seem to be popular in Point of sales systems (for staff authentication. But those are little more then a unique id in iButton format.

            I have a couple of TINI's around here somewhere. Lots of IO options. Even ethernet (albiet very slow) not bad for a decade old 8 bit microcontroller (with some 32 bit internal extensions)

            A lot of smartcards of almost any kind run java. Mostly beacuse of dumb mobile phones with enabled apps on the smartcard (not what you would call apps nowdays:). Orginially wri

    • A decade ago, this was predicted to be the realm of Java..

      Not Java specifically, but Jini [wikipedia.org], since Java didn't have a networking stack built-in and was too big (even then) to do cooperative processing/communications w/o requiring a far beefier CPU than most embedded devices could muster at the time (which is why Sun started the whole Jini project in the first place).

    • I'm thankful that hasn't come to pass

      Me too, because implementing Smalltalk on top of that would be a nightmare.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      An internet of things incorporating chips that natively execute Java bytecode, I'm thankful that hasn't come to pass.

      Well, modern SIM cards run Java Card, is that creepy enough for you? Apps can be loaded onto the SIM by the phone any time it is active.

  • by Megahard (1053072) on Friday May 30, 2014 @04:21PM (#47131695)

    Who else pictured Linux running inside a MS-DOS program?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 30, 2014 @04:37PM (#47131825)

      Smallest .COM? That would be zero bytes, and on DOS 2.11 it would have the funny effect of running the last program you ran, if it was compatible with executing itself in place again.

      • Smallest .COM? That would be zero bytes, and on DOS 2.11 it would have the funny effect of running the last program you ran, if it was compatible with executing itself in place again.

        Now that is arcane knowledge.

  • CLOUD!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      when i was young i never understood why old bastards weren't excited about all the exciting new shit happening in technology now 15 years later i see why all this "new" shit isn't exciting at all...i think that's why start-ups really don't want old people, because old people realize how boring and unimportant it all is.

  • by hammeraxe (1635169) on Friday May 30, 2014 @04:43PM (#47131859)

    Here is a blog from the developer: http://vonger.cn/ [vonger.cn]

    Judging from the entries this thing looks real enough

  • I've spent more for less. Best case I get a toy to play with in October. Worst case I do a CC charge back (assuming I can do one 6 months after purchase).

  • I was curious what sort of OSes could run on this thing beyond OpenWRT. Surprisingly, the minimum requirement for RAM is pretty large for OpenBSD, making it incompatible with this SOC, though I did find out that this fits within the system requirements of Plan9.
  • by TalShiar00 (238873) on Friday May 30, 2014 @04:54PM (#47131941) Homepage

    Apparently it has a pin out dedicated to PORN ;)
      https://images.indiegogo.com/f... [indiegogo.com]

  • So small, there's no room for mounting holes, aside from the through-hole vias. Is that normal for COMs?
    • So small, there's no room for mounting holes, aside from the through-hole vias. Is that normal for COMs?

      The ones that expose a substantial number of I/Os often repurpose whatever flavor of DIMM or SODIMM socket is current at the time, since that's a well known, mass produced, connector that can handle the fairly touchy signal integrity demands of RAM and so is probably qualified for most assorted I/O stuff.

      If you don't go that route, the alternative for getting that small is usually some sort of terrifyingly fiddly fine-pitch Hirose connector(Gumstix COMs are good examples of doing this).

      Through-hole li

  • You might as well buy the bare chip for u$s 5, it's almost the same as this board.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      You might as well buy the bare chip for u$s 5, it's almost the same as this board.

      How much will you charge me to deadbug it to an ethernet socket?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I love China and enjoy living here, but funding an "unnamed Chinese startup" is one step above flushing your money down a toilet in terms of likelihood of a return on your investment.

  • I know why, but sometimes I love to hear Microsoft people come to its defense. The short answer is THEY CAN but they have to start over to do it. For some reason, they seem terribly allergic to the idea.

    • The more curious question is why Microsoft can't sell this. They were perfectly capable of putting together .NET Micro [wikipedia.org], which runs on fairly tiny stuff, and they've been poking at ambient embedded devices at least since SPOT and various DirectBand receiver devices. More recently, there was "Windows Sideshow", which more or less died without a whisper; but was a serious stab at making semi-autonomous devices, intermediate between ye olde serial LCD and the PDA/Phone/MP3 player that is just here to sync and t
  • If you combined it with PoE it'd make the perfect retrofit for old satellite dishes, e.g. Primestar. And in general, would make dandy small access points.

  • Why wouldn't you just buy a TL-WR703N that runs OpenWRT, is cheaper, available now and includes a case and PSU? http://item.taobao.com/item.ht... [taobao.com]
  • 8devices (http://8devices.com/) have been making basically the same thing for years now. Their original version was also Ralink based but their second generation device is Atheros based. Similar price point and a proven track record.

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