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What is Open Source Hardware? 143

ptorrone writes "In their piece 'What is open source hardware?', MAKE magazine divides up electronic hardware into layers, each of which has different document types and licensing concerns: Hardware (mechanical) diagrams, schematics & circuit diagrams, layout diagrams, core/firmware, software/API — each layer has an example provided and links to many of the open source hardware projects currently being worked on."
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What is Open Source Hardware?

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  • by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) * on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:23PM (#18844069) Homepage Journal
    You have a fab that can crank out a motherboard to order. A web page lets you pick the features you want, and then it arrives via overnight shipping.
    If you care to sell your soul for rock 'n' roll, you can opt for the various DRM choices.
    Maybe it arrives as a bag of chips, and you solder it yourself.
    Interesting posibilities.
  • by Prysorra ( 1040518 ) on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:39PM (#18844257)
    It will be harder to impose policeware []. Trusting your computer not to spy on you for someone else (be it criminal or not), is an equation of control. Open source hardware + open source software = nearly zero government leverage. Expect legislation concerning this if this technology takes off.
  • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:42PM (#18844297)
    Sure, you cannot edit a pdf, but what is important is the design itself rather than being able to modify it directly. An object file hides the source completely and would be the equivalent of getting a PCB.

    Still, using geda would definitely help. Shame so few people use it. Perhaps a something like a Protel to geda converter would be a GoodThing.

  • by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Monday April 23, 2007 @03:45PM (#18844327) Homepage Journal

    No, you have that right now.

    Every hear of []

    If you can do the layout, they'll make your board for you. Yes, it is kind of expensive for hobby projects, but for a computer motherboard it's not *terribly* bad. A commercially made motherboard is still cheaper, but I guess if you want something without DRM, you're always welcome to implement it yourself.

    Now, the only problem is that implementing and debugging a computer from scratch could be a rather time consuming undertaking. But, if you've got the time, there are places who will build it for you, whatever *it* is.

  • by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:02PM (#18844543) Homepage Journal

    I'm surrounded by engineers with the capability to produce open source computers, but...

    Nobody has the time or interest.

    Yes, I (among many) could design and implement a computer complete from the gate-level design all the way up to the compiler and operating system.

    Ironically, now that I have the knowledge, I don't have the time to work on it. It gets worse:

    • I could split it up into small projects and split the workload among several people, but none of my colleagues are interested in doing *anything* outside of work.
    • Prototyping a single board is prohibitively expensive. I could bring the cost down if I had a few people to share the cost (quantity discount), but without others interested in the project, I'm stuck footing the entire bill for the prototype.
    • It is actually cheaper to buy a computer than it is to build a new one from scratch. The BOM for a new computer at retail prices is more expensive than the finished product (which was built from wholesale-priced parts).

    If I did build my own computer, friends and family would inevitably ask, "So why did you spend $(Multiple thousands) for a computer slower than the $299 Sam's club special?", and "Isn't that just an expensive hobby? - you don't really expect people to buy a 1 GHz ARM machine, do you?" etc..

    I would like to work on open source hardware. I do have experience porting Linux to new architectures. But sadly, I think something about corporate america just takes away the passion from the discipline. Since I started programming more than 10 years ago, I have met only one person who was passionate enough about it to do it outside of work. And you know what he did? - mods for a game. Nothing really serious or interesting.

    It's not that there is a lack of talent. Rather, apathy is fatal to open source. And we need to come to terms with the fact that the overwhelming majority of those with the knowledge to do something disruptive, to use their skill to change their world for the better, choose just to go home at night and watch tv.

    They have no geek passion. They are irrelevant to the discipline. And they are exactly what Corporate America wants them to be.

  • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <> on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:03PM (#18844551) Homepage Journal
    I admit I haven't really been paying attention to SPARC recently.

    Can anyone fill me in on what its performance is like compared to x86 these days, when running Linux or Unix (Solaris)? (I don't think MS even supports Windows on non-x86 anymore, except perhaps Itanium and it's probably near-EOL anyway.)

    There seemed to be a lot of buzz about the Niagara stuff a while back, and how amazing the performance/watt was going to be, and then it seemed to evaporate. Did something happen, or was that just the fanboys moving on to something else shiny? (And is Niagara open-source/open-architecture like the more basic SPARC processors?)

    I've always been a big fan of RISC, since back in the early 90s; I think it's sad that we're fast approaching a monoculture, although there's some solace, I suppose, in the fact that with decreasing process sizes, you can now tack the x86 instruction set onto almost any real processor you want. But it certainly seemed like there were more avenues for performance being investigated back when you had IBM with Power, DEC with Alpha, Sun with SPARC, SGI with MIPS, HP with PA-RISC, and probably a bunch more that I've forgotten.
  • by GuruBuckaroo ( 833982 ) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:07PM (#18844615) Homepage
    Years ago, when I was single and could afford toys, I bought a Blaupunkt Tuscon head unit - at the time (1987), it was the absolute best car stereo AM/FM/Cassette head unit you could buy. Could even receive AM Stereo from the one station in town that broadcast it. Set me back $750, and I still had to get an amp for it, since it only had line-level outputs.


    It came with a COMPLETE set of schematics, including not just block diagrams, but actual component values and chip numbers. Given that schematic, I could have build a complete new unit. I was floored. I almost wanted to try it, just to see if I could - but couldn't imagine trying to build the whole thing on breadboard with my trusty Radio-Shack soldering iron. Would have been the size of an old console record player - the kind that doubles as furniture.
  • by Simonetta ( 207550 ) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:11PM (#18844677)
    Open source medical equipment is where the electronic designs, software, and diagnostic skills are completely and freely available to anyone who wants to build this piece of equipment for their own use. It will probably happen first in the developing world where this kind of equipment is not quite as illegal as it is sure to be in the West.

        A lot of what passes for 'advanced' medical equipment in the US is actually kludged ancient technology. It sells for absurd amounts of money because of the bizarre 'cost-is-no-object' state of the American Health Care industry. And a lot of people are beginning to be denied basic medical care because they don't have the money to pay for it.

        But a lot of medical tests could be done with inexpensive high-tech equipment that has been modified for home medical use. There may come an underground movement to build very high-tech medical equipment cheaply. Equipment that surpasses the quality of what is found in ordinary hospitals, but costs one tenth of the price. It would have no FDA certification, and would be quite illegal. No accredited doctor would use it.

          The difference between open source software and open source medical equipment would be that the medical equipment would be illegal. And the people doing the test and interpreting the results would be subject to arrest for practicing medicine without a license.

            But in many cases, the test results are just electronic data and can be analyzed by computer to give same level of professionalism as found in the hospital. An example of this would be having to pay $150 for a blood pressure test in a hospital that is identical to the test that you would get from the machine next to the door of your local grocery store.

            The US electronic medical equipment industry is in about the same place as the US automobile industry was in early 1970's. Overly restricted by trivial regulations, smug in their belief in their omnipresent power, and completely unaware that they are about to get totally blindsided by people overseas who can do the job much cheaper and much better.

          The USA lost the machine tools industry, the consumer electronics industry, most of the automobile industry, and many other industries by not paying attention to what the global consumers of these products actual need and want to buy. The US medical electronics industry is most likely being targetted now because it is showing all the same characteristics as those other industries that were dominated by American companies after World War Two.
  • by dfn_deux ( 535506 ) <> on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:27PM (#18844867) Homepage
    Niagara is wicked fast. It works great for highly parallelized tasks, however it only has a single FPU which makes it pretty much worthless for a lot of the things that you'd want to use a high-end server for. 24 threads and only one FPU does not make for fast ops at all tasks....

    It does have 300% more blue LEDs than the last gen sun hardware though ;)

  • by sarathmenon ( 751376 ) <srm@s a r a t h m e n> on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:32PM (#18844939) Homepage Journal
    I can say the same thing about my Dad's Nakamichi 600 II player, which was released in the 80s. It was amazing, expensive as hell, and had the entire circuit diagram etched in the inside case. It actually make me take electronics seriously as a kid!
  • by AndreyFilippov ( 550131 ) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:54PM (#18845251) Homepage
    Maybe I'm just lucky, but I'm sure it is possible to make living of the hobby not just for me.

    My little secret is that the market demand for open (and modifiable) hardware is higher than the offer. And that keeps us busy.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday April 23, 2007 @04:55PM (#18845271) Homepage

    Pad2Pad does less than they used to. The original idea of Pad2Pad was that they'd make the blank board, then assemble and solder all the parts, using anything in the Digi-Key catalog. That made it useful, especially since surface mount device soldering really needs to be done in a production environment with the right tooling.

    But they couldn't do it profitably. Now they're just another blank PC board maker, of which there are hundreds. It's been routine to send out your board design files and get boards back for almost twenty years now.

  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Monday April 23, 2007 @10:28PM (#18848985) Homepage Journal
    Someone should give a cheap implementation of SPARC a shot. IIRC, SPARC is very fast running C code because the way its internal registers are organized - minimizing memory hits to move stuff to and from a stack.

    With the current critical mass of free and open-source software, there is little to no need to use x86 processors - a cheap, Solaris or Linux based notebook or desktop would solve a whole lot of problems people use those x86 abominations for.

    My 166 MHz Ultra 1 still starts Firefox 2.5 faster than my 800MHz Pentium III. Other than the different processor architectures, I can't explain this difference (of course, the PC is running Windows, but not even that could explain the performance penalty).
  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Monday April 23, 2007 @10:41PM (#18849115) Homepage Journal
    If we are considering open-source hardware added to open-source software, do we really need this complexity? Most of it exists to give the newest Intel Core 2 Duo or Opteron the illusion they are really 8088s inside an old IBM PC 5150 from the time they power-up to the time they reset themselves into more civilized modes. I find it very interesting my notebook still thinks it has an ISA bus somewhere within its guts.

    The fact that an x86 computer is an ugly hack should not dissuade those who want to design elegant hardware.
  • by flydpnkrtn ( 114575 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @05:34AM (#18852111)
    That's good stuff... last week I was in an "Advanced VOIP" class the Army put us in (I'm active duty unfotunately), and as different concepts were gone over I kept thinking about "how proprietary all this is." Open hardware is a great concept... I'd love to not be under the same lock-in as users of that OS are.

    Anyways so basically: The proprietary Cisco CallManager talks to the Cisco router's proprietary T1 controller card, via a proprietary protocol (MGCP), and the VoIP calls to the POTS phone are done via SCCP (which is... you guessed it! proprietary). You get the idea.

    I asked the instructor if he'd ever looked at Asterisk as an alternative PBX, and he'd never even heard of the thing. I then asked what Cisco CallManager 5 would be running on (knowing it was Linux), and he replied "RedHat."

    Just goes to show you the thinking I guess...
  • by fcc3 ( 970783 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @06:16AM (#18852359)
    Yes, there is some development. Smd version of hardware being tested, small enough to fit on a headband and communicate to PC via bluetooth. Help is always welcome. More channels are a popular request and not far fetched, the question is whether they are needed for biofeedback. 8 bits resolution seem fine for biofeedback.

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller