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China GNU is Not Unix Open Source Hardware Linux

Rhombus Tech A10 EOMA-68 CPU Card Schematics Completed 155

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 @10:13PM (#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...

  • Re:WHAT? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 07, 2012 @10:46PM (#41270313)

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

    EOMA-68 [] 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.

  • Re:WHAT? (Score:5, Informative)

    by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Friday September 07, 2012 @11:23PM (#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: []

    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. []

  • Re:68 cores? (Score:4, Informative)

    by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Friday September 07, 2012 @11:26PM (#41270541) Homepage

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

    68 pins, not 68 cores :) of course, if you'd like to create a server box containing 64 or even 68 EOMA-68 CPU Cards, please feel free to do so! the idea was raised here: []

    i adapted the EOMA-68 standard after that discussion, and squeezed in 10/100/1000 Ethernet to make it more attractive. the Allwinner A10 doesn't have Gigabit Ethernet, but future CPU Cards definitely will.

  • by pnot ( 96038 ) on Friday September 07, 2012 @11:33PM (#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?

  • Re:WHAT? (Score:5, Informative)

    by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Friday September 07, 2012 @11:39PM (#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: [] []

    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: []

    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? []

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

    by metallurge ( 693631 ) <metallurge@gmail.NETBSDcom minus bsd> on Friday September 07, 2012 @11:46PM (#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.
  • Re:Schematics? (Score:5, Informative)

    by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Friday September 07, 2012 @11:59PM (#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.

  • by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Saturday September 08, 2012 @12:22AM (#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: []

    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 and 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 :)

  • Re:WHAT? (Score:4, Informative)

    by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Saturday September 08, 2012 @12:34AM (#41270883) Homepage

    The mailing list had some interesting discussions on the secrets, patents and companies behind this project []

    The supposedly "Open" EOMA-68 standard is a repurposed PCMCIA connector and PC-Card that is actually under "an undisclosed patent and the project had to make sure that everything produced fell under that patent so an undisclosed fee could be charged."

    i notice that you're posting as anonymous coward. we had some trouble with a particular individual who promised to deliver, reneged on that promise and caused us a great deal of aggravation. the patents were mentioned very early on in the project and were raised again much later, during a fire-fighting exercise dealing with the shit raised by the vindictive pissed-off and self-serving individual.

    to explain: the patents are there to protect people from physical harm due to the possibility of idiotic companies creating non-interoperable products that could potentially short-circuit things e.g. a lithium battery. if the scope of this project was to sell only 50,000 units maximum, we would not bother with the patents. however, given that the volume of units is expected to reach several million per year, there is no way in hell that we can leave this to "self-policing".

    look up the story that i told about my uncle, Anthony Pickford, who was Smith Kline Beecham's Director at the time when some moronic companies in the UK started importing "clones" of one of SKB's drugs. the clone drugs were *KILLING* people; SKB had to move very quickly. they managed to solve it by suing the Inland Revenue when Customs and Excise refused to comply with a 3rd party discovery request for the Import Records. the case was taken very swiftly to the House of Lords, where, fortunately, SKB won and was able to obtain the records, contact the importers and get the killer drugs stopped. if they did not *have* the patents, there would be no way that they could stop people from being killed.

    sometimes, patents can be used for good reasons. for someone who hates software patents and patents in general with a vengeance, that's really saying something.

    so, anonymous coward: if you've got questions, anonymous coward, fucking well ask them and stop making accusations, please.

  • by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Saturday September 08, 2012 @07:06AM (#41272209) Homepage

    Don't worry, just list them all out here

    I've been here for a long while, and my brain has yet been melted

    List them here, so at least you'll provide us with melt-proof brains a trip to the search engines

    Thanks in advance !!

    :) ok - that first story, the one on itwire, explains what the heck happened and why i started on this path at all. it was a GPL-violating laptop that, embarrassingly, i naively encouraged 20 people to buy the very first samples from a little china factory called "Chitech". i had no idea that the factory hadn't even been *supplied* with the source code, and assumed that they would supply it. when they wouldn't (because they couldn't) in order not to let down all the people i'd encouraged to buy the laptops i had to go into overdrive spending about a month working with frans pop, buy a hand-held oscilloscope and get out the soldering iron in order to reverse-engineer the hardware and create an alternative S3C6410 2.6.24 kernel and a debian installer for the device. at the same time i also began a GPL violations escalation which so unnerved the girls at the factory that they ceased working with the ODM who supplied the GPL-violating design. not entirely the result i was looking for, but hey.

    anyway i'd been through this reverse-engineering saga before in 2004 with a bunch of HTC wince smartphones (i used to own 7 HTC smartphones!), so it wasn't as hard this time, but it sank in that this was an absolutely ridiculous way to go about things, and i decided to try to find people to work with to actually create the hardware *itself*. i then looked at modules (like the ones used in the GPL-violating laptop) and, on learning how expensive they were (usually $99-$150) decided there was no way this could succeed using modules.

    i spoke about this to my friend and mentor and, slowly we morphed the idea into a mass-volume product, evaluating dozens of possible connectors for re-use, and patented the concept. for the first CPU card, we settled on PCMCIA, as it turned out to be perfect for re-use. also: it turns out that the client whom we've been advising has just taken on the automated assembly of some 20 million 3G PCMCIA modems for one of their customers. this was highly successful for them: they earned an *enormous* sum of money, and they gained the skill, equipment and confidence to make PCMCIA-card-sized devices.... just as we come along with a PCMCIA-sized computer and they're *also* looking to solve the problem of their unprofitable laptop business! ... talk about jammy, or what? :)

    anyway, back to the story: we started looking for SoC vendors willing to work with us, even though we had no cash, and started selling the advantages of the story and the opportunity to help our very large mass-volume client and for people to make large wads of cash some time in the future, instead. we had this mad idea of the EOMA-68 CPU Card becoming a de-facto standard which SoC vendors could create as their first BSP, on the basis that it takes all the hard work out of getting any given CPU *literally* straight into a mass-production environment with no additional changes, and happens to be a good format as an engineering board (similar to the origen, imx53qsb, pandaboard etc.)

    the funny thing is that over the past 2 years we've learned that it's actually *not* a good idea to encourage anyone to expect an up-front cash payment for "work done": it sends completely the wrong message. for example, we approached over a hundred factories around Shenzen, and asked them if they wanted to convert their products to EOMA-68. they didn't understand. they asked "how many our tablet you want buy?" quite a lot. on average it took about 20 messages to get across to them that we wanted to partner with them. we help improve their products, we supply software services at zero cost and introduce them to our clients on a commission-basis, if they modify the products to our hardware spec without charging us. win-win

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