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Fully Open A13-OLinuXino Single-Board Linux Computer 111

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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  • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @09:57AM (#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:FULLY open? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @10:09AM (#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 wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @10:19AM (#41979829)

    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).

  • by doragasu ( 2717547 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @10:19AM (#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.
  • Re:Mali 400 GPU (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @10:23AM (#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.

  • Re:FULLY open? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2012 @12:32PM (#41981031)

    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 ago as the iPhone 5 and many of the higher end Android phones do (unsubsidized). There has always been a high end phone culture. It just has more bells and whistles now.

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972