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Dual-Core Allwinner A20 Powered EOMA-68 Engineering Card Available

Unknown Lamer posted about 10 months ago | from the keep-one-in-your-wallet dept.

Hardware Hacking 98

A year after the first schematics were completed and a few months after the first prototype board shipped, Make Play Live has released Improv, the first engineering card for EOMA-68 (EOMA-68 is a specification for modular systems that splits the cpu board from the rest of the system, allowing the end user to use the same core with several devices or upgrade e.g. a tablet without having to pay for a new screen shell). From Aaron Seigo's weblog post: "The hardware of Improv is extremely capable: a dual-core ARM® Cortex-A7 System on Chip (SoC) running at 1Ghz, 1 GB of RAM, 4 GB of on-board NAND flash and a powerful OpenGL ES GPU. To access all of this hardware goodness there are a variety of ports: 2 USB2 ports (one fullsize host, one micro OTG), SD card reader, HDMI, ethernet (10/100, though the feature card has a Gigabit connector; more on that below), SATA, i2c, VGA/TTL and 8 GPIO pins. The entire device weighs less than 100 grams, is passively cooled and fits in your hand. Improv comes pre-installed with Mer OS, sporting a recent Linux kernel, systemd, and a wide variety of software tools. By default it boots into console, so if you are making a headless device you needn't worry about extra overhead running that you don't need. If you are going to hook it up to a screen (or two), then you have an amazing starting point with choices such as X.org, Wayland, Qt4, Qt5 and a full complement of KDE libraries and Plasma Workspaces. Improv takes advantage of the open EOMA68 standard to deliver a unique design: the SoC, RAM and storage live on one card (the 'CPU card'), the feature ports are on a PCB it docks with (the 'feature board'). The two dock securely together with the CPU card sitting under the feature board nestled in a pair of rails; they are undocked from each other by pushing a mechanical ejector button." Check out the specs and pictures. The card is available now for $75. Improv is open hardware, with the schematics licensed under the GPL and available soon.

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Open GPU? (1)

Elgonn (921934) | about 10 months ago | (#45520657)

Even the GPU is open? That seems to be the current problem child for being completely open. I can't tell from the summary and the site doesn't work without javascript. Anyone know?

Re:Open GPU? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45520837)

Not open, though there are reverse engineered open source drivers in development.

Re:Open GPU? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45520855)

It's a Mali GPU, so the Lima driver should work.

Re:Open GPU? (1)

weilawei (897823) | about 10 months ago | (#45521089)

If this were really, well and truly open, I should be able to get the VHDL, masks, you name it, for an A7 (without paying a dime), and every other supporting piece of hardware, and manufacture it from scratch, myself, if I were so inclined to invest that level of time, effort, and money. What these boards offer is a less-limited, but still ultimately closed approach to the core components.

Re:Open GPU? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45523903)

It's still shitloads more open than rasberry pi

Re:Open GPU? (1)

Narishma (822073) | about 10 months ago | (#45521311)

It's not an Intel or AMD GPU, therefore it's not open.

Re:Open GPU? (1)

RoboJ1M (992925) | about 10 months ago | (#45526517)

Roll on ARM Radeon SoCs!

Please? It would make an awesome desktop PC.

Re:Open GPU? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45521317)

I think this comment is supposed to say "Even the GPU is closed"

Re:Open GPU? (1)

citizenr (871508) | about 10 months ago | (#45523127)

over >half of devices on the SoC are closed
mali - closed
h.264 enc/dec - closed
TV-in - closed

no documentation in english, but somehow Chinese fly by night shitty tablet manufacturers are able to get full SDK and documentation from Allwinter.

They know something you don't (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45523519)

no documentation in english, but somehow Chinese fly by night shitty tablet manufacturers are able to get full SDK and documentation from Allwinter

If even those shitty fly by night Chinese tablets manufacturers can get full SDK and documentation and you can't, well ... they know something you don't ...

Isn't it time you start learning the Mandarin language ?

Lets try to clear up some missinformation here (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45524191)

Hey all,

I'm oliver, from http://linux-sunxi.org, the community revolving around the kernel development around this SoC.

First off, the BOARD is OSWH, not the SoC. Now, for those who'd only call it OSHW if the VHDL code would be available, while utopian, that's just plain silly. OpenCores is for that ;) So yeah, this is all OSHW goodness.

Then, documentation wise, yes we lack a lot. Allwinner hasn't released everything to anybody yet, some pieces haven't received any docs at all yet, most likely because it hasn't been written yet, some pieces they can't share the docs as they are under NDA themselves. But for most bits that's not important as we do have code for pretty much everything. The docs we do have, are the 'standard' usermanual, in english, with a lot (but as said before not all) register information. You can download and view them over at http://dl.linux-sunxi.org/ in the various subdirectories. The only closed blobs right now are GPS, GPU and VPU.

Now, the GPS isn't really that important and it hasn't been reverse engineered yet, is because there's no hardware using the GPS. Most platforms use UART or USB for GPS so this hasn't been on anybody's radar. We do have a gps.ko with debugging symbols so once the need arises, it's doable, nobody really just had a need for this.

The GPU, talented Luc Verhagen has been working for the past 1 - 2 years on the LIMA project. This allows a fully opensource stack to be used with the MALI GPU. Luc actually uses the A10/A20 as main development platform (amongst another one). While this is still very much WiP I'm sure we all seen the quake timedemo Luc did last year at fosdem where he actually beat the ARM binary mali blob. Here is his latest mesa work. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WOILEYAxWE but we have to be honest, it's not done yet, so for now we are still stuck with the mali blobs. But yeah, hold your breath for that one.

The VPU is also being reverse engineerd. This is much further behind of LIMA so I shouldn't talk too much about it and get people excited yet, but here's a decoding demo: http://linux-sunxi.org/Reverse_Engineering/Cedar_Status where you can see we can decode h264 video without using any proprietary blobs (mali isn't needed for this).

Then finally, compared to all other SoC's out there that do have some form of Linux support, the Allwinner chip is one of the limited ones, that actually have u-boot support. I'd almost say full u-boot, but MTD support is still WiP.

So to compare this to the Raspberry Pi, It's much faster (armv7 vs armv6, hard-float available, dual core CPU and dual core GPU, up to 2 GiB ram possible to name just a few).

Finally, is everything open? No, the BROM isn't open source, the BOOT-ROM, a 32k block embedded (unchangable) in the chip that performs initial boot. What it does is check the supported media (SPI, NAND, SD) for a valid signature and boots it. I'm quite sure the same blob is in any CPU on the market right now. Your AMD or Intel CPU also has a bootrom, that tells it to load the bios from SPI into ram and start executing it. So this is moot, but I do think it's fair mentioning it.

So hopefully I've put some things to rest here, if not I'll try to check back at a later date and reply appropriately.

If you want more info, I'm planning to hold a talk at FOSDEM 2014 so stay tuned over at http://fosdem.org

Re:Lets try to clear up some missinformation here (1)

hattig (47930) | about 10 months ago | (#45524459)

You should get an account, so your comment started out at +1, not 0 - your useful reply may be missed. Someone with moderator points please mod the parent up.

Re:Lets try to clear up some missinformation here (1)

hattig (47930) | about 10 months ago | (#45524481)

I thought the RPi had hard float. In addition the Broadcom GPU on the RPi is going to significantly outperform a Mali-400 MP2 - the GPU on the RPi is a beast, the poor little ARM11 is just a controller for it (except in the RPi where it's the main CPU!). But yes, the A20 is otherwise a far better SoC for a computer system - if only because the RPi is a two year old design now.

Was there any real reason for choosing the form factor you did, apart from it being quite neat? I know this was also asked over at Phoronix.

Re:Lets try to clear up some missinformation here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45524991)

The RaPi has hard float. The problem is that it's an ARMv6 CPU, and most ARMv6 CPUs don't have hard float. For this reason, practically all software which is compiled for ARMv6 is compiled with soft float, so you have to spin your own binaries to make use of the floating point unit in the RaPi.

Re:Lets try to clear up some missinformation here (4, Informative)

david.given (6740) | about 10 months ago | (#45525019)

The RPi is an ARMv6, while this (along with pretty much every other modern ARM device) is an ARMv7. The ARMv6 has hardfloat but implements a slightly different version of the spec. Most OSes have standardised on the ARMv7 version which means that their code won't run on the ARMv6. So Debian armhf will run on this but will not run on the RPi: you have to use Raspbian instead, which is a version of Debian specifically compiled for the ARMv6. (Of course, Debian armel will run on both, but then you don't get any hardware floating point support.)

The Broadcom GPU is significantly awesome. It is, however, almost totally undocumented. There's a reverse engineering project [github.com] which has mostly nailed down the instruction set, and there are even some C compilers for it (one of them is mine!) even though there's no gcc or LLVM support for it. You can write programs in C and run them on the bare metal. Unfortunately the GPU doesn't support double-precision float and the MMU is kinda weird, and it's probably going to be slower than the ARM for non-DSP-heavy code anyway, so it's unlikely you'll see Linux for it any time soon. But it's a beautiful, beautiful architecture to write code for. (And it's dual core! Not very many people know that...)

Re:Lets try to clear up some missinformation here (1)

hattig (47930) | about 10 months ago | (#45525399)

Luckily there are enough RPis out there to warrant maintaining RPi specific Linux distributions.

I'm rather hoping that Broadcom will be releasing a new SoC that will be used in a new RPi that will take the best aspects of the current SoC such as the GPU, and weld on a better CPU - even if it's only a dual-core A7 like the A20 in order to meet the price point.

Re:Lets try to clear up some missinformation here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45525683)

Do you have some data to back that up? All I've seen are some vague assertions[1] that they're about on par. It would be interesting to have some actual numbers.

[1] http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2190870

About the price... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45520681)

Isn't that the card that was supposed to cost even less than the RaPi?

Re:About the price... (4, Insightful)

foobar bazbot (3352433) | about 10 months ago | (#45522871)

Isn't that the card that was supposed to cost even less than the RaPi?

In the literal sense (i.e. that some people did suppose this would cost less than the Raspberry Pi), yeah, pretty much; an EOMA-68 CPU card based on an Allwinner SoC was widely reported to have an estimated price of $15.

However, this figure was (1) a BOM cost, not retail price, (2) an estimate before the design was finished (e.g. at that time, I believe the A10 SoC was being considered, whereas the now-available unit has an A20), and (3) only applied to relatively high volume (100,000 units, IIRC). It was never intended to represent a retail price at any volume, but some trigger-happy bloggers repeated the number without describing what cost it represented, some other bloggers assumed it was retail, and ever since there's been a steady stream of people whose only prior knowledge of the EOMA-68 project is that "a CPU card is supposed to cost $15, so it's cheaper than a Raspberry Pi!", and who are consequently disappointed and frustrated to learn that it costs more than that.

OK, "open hardware" (1)

Burz (138833) | about 10 months ago | (#45520685)

To what extent is this Cortex A7 open source??

Re:OK, "open hardware" (2)

exomondo (1725132) | about 10 months ago | (#45520863)

Their blog links to this page [oshwa.org] of the Open Source Hardware Association providing a definition.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (1)

Neuroelectronic (643221) | about 10 months ago | (#45520901)

Thanks, My blog is now open source as well!

Re:OK, "open hardware" (1)

Neuroelectronic (643221) | about 10 months ago | (#45520959)

It can run open source software like Linux so it's practically Paul Revere. It today's Misinformation Economy, that means it's a hot start-up in the trillion-dollar emerging-market of overpriced-yet-cheaply-manufactured-junk-of-dubious-value-with-tons-of-positive-press set to emerge as the chief export of 1st world nations everywhere.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (0)

weilawei (897823) | about 10 months ago | (#45521205)

This is closed. You need to pay ARM a big bundle of money to license the A7 core. Unless I can get the source (VHDL, masks, what have you) for FREE, and then manufacture, modify, and redistribute it (for free) myself, then there's no way this can even vaguely qualify as open.

I won't dignify linking to their definition, because this is more false advertising. Hardware is not open simply because you provide a pinout for attaching stuff to it. Otherwise, you might as well consider Windows open-source, since you can link against it for free.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45521333)

Interesting point, but what does it mater? Allwinner chips are cheap as dirt. You can't get them cheaper, and allwinner is generous with the documentation because they have a business model that involves selling chips to anyone and everyone, including those that want well documented chips.

Even if you had "VHDL, masks, what have you" you'd never be able be able to make a chip because that requires a chip fab. The information is literally useless to you. Allwinner pays arm for specialized support and knowledge to make things that would otherwise be impossible without arm's support.

Allwinner doesn't make opencore based chips because the opencore designs are inferior. It would be a waste of time and chip fab materials.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (0)

weilawei (897823) | about 10 months ago | (#45521437)

Really? Nobody with home tools can do simple chip fab? Wow, I suppose you don't realize that photolithography isn't actually as hard as you seem to think it is. In fact, this is an area I actively spend time on as a hobby, and university students often manufacture their own transistors and simple chips.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45521565)

This is one case you need to show your source. The average person on most forums so far I have seen can't even solder a prepackaged SMT chip properly.

It is hard enough to make doubled side PCB with vias. How the heck you make a modern day chip and not to mention the multiple metal layers of interconnect and how the heck you break out the chip to a usable connections to the outside world?

Making a transistor is not the same as being able to compile the HDL down to a netlist, do the necessary placement, routing, create mask, do all the chemical processes at home.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (0)

weilawei (897823) | about 10 months ago | (#45521727)

I was NOT speaking to the HDL side of things. I do in fact perform the chemical processes and make my own photoresist. Silicon is dirt cheap, literally.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (0, Troll)

weilawei (897823) | about 10 months ago | (#45521769)

Replying to myself, one last time, since I don't feel like arguing with a defeatist who thinks that everyone should be as incompetent or incapable as them. It is not a question of being able to do it. That's well established. It is a question of dedication, in time, effort, and money. I have bent over backwards and spent years of my life learning to do these things, to purchase and build the tools, to source the materials, to learn the necessary chemistry, and to actually go ahead and do it. It's marginally more complex than making your own PCB, and smaller processes require correspondingly more expensive equipment, different resist formulations, etc., but it is 100% doable for your average educated hacker to do this on his or her own. I'm really fucking sick of being told that I "can't" do something, because I'm not . It's just not true, and I strongly dislike people that produce these bald-faced lies.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (0)

weilawei (897823) | about 10 months ago | (#45521775)

Slashdot stripped out my "because I'm not -insert Fortune 500 here-".

Re:OK, "open hardware" (1)

Burz (138833) | about 10 months ago | (#45522261)

Thank you for driving your point home. Often I feel the same way when reading screenfulls of (indeed) defeatists telling us not to worry about system intrusion or privacy because 'why would NSA/mafia/whomever be interested in a speck like you'?

I haven't gotten over myself and I'm glad you haven't, either.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45522579)

So you can make mask. Big F deal. Making the mask is one of the many many processes to be making chips. Do you have an accelerator to be doing ion implants or the ovens or the steppers or even a wire bond machine?

You don't have even the home CAD tools to do design, simulation, place & route, libraries that are design for your "process" and finally to generate the CAD files for your masks at home.

Some of us DO know a thing or two to making chips. Don't make us laugh at what you claim to be able to do complex chip as ARM chips at home.

Come back when you made a chip comparable to the cheapest ARM chip under $1 complete out of open source tool & source code at home and verify the timing specs. Until then, you are just beating your chest like an angry ape.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45522773)

Then design your own chip, the manufacturing process is well defined and just following a set of instructions and anybody with patience can do that. The bit that is actually difficult is chip design itself which is why it costs billions of dollars in R&D, Im sure you would like that all to be done for free for you so that you can just then build it but who do you expect will go to that much effort to design a free and open chip? Who is going to pay for all that R&D?

Re:OK, "open hardware" (2)

hattig (47930) | about 10 months ago | (#45524511)

You own a 40nm process fab? Are you a multi-billionaire?

Face the facts, you'll either be stuck running your hardware on very very expensive $1000+ FPGAs in order to get 1/10th of the performance of a $10 Allwinner SoC, or you'll be getting 1/100th the performance on a mere $200 FPGA dev board.

In the mean time, most people are happy to just use free software on the hardware. The software enables the hardware, but it's important that it is free so that problems can be fixed, code can be made more efficient, etc, by the people who run the hardware. This board is "open" in the sense that the aim to have no binary blobs for the functional units.

As a comment above says, they still have work to do on the GPS unit, the GPU (open source LIMA driver) and the VPU (can currently play H.264 only). In addition there is a boot ROM that is very much a ROM and which scans the various buses for a boot image.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45525115)

"VPU (can currently play H.264 only). In addition there is a boot ROM that is very much a ROM and which scans the various buses for a boot image."

and MPEG2 and JPEG also, H.264 is the most interesting one at this moment.

As for the boot-rom, I cannot stress this enough, while it may in theory be GPL infringing, it's true hardware really and every single CPU/SoC has this. I just thought it was only fair to mention it. That said, I think lkcl was starting to pressure them to release the code for it, as it appears to be GPL infringing (on a extremly minor scale) but even RE-ing it isn't really that much work, as we have the binary for it already, with some annotations added. https://github.com/hno/Allwinner-Info/blob/master/BROM/ffff0000.s

Re:OK, "open hardware" (2)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 10 months ago | (#45527377)

You own a 40nm process fab? Are you a multi-billionaire?

Face the facts, you'll either be stuck running your hardware on very very expensive $1000+ FPGAs in order to get 1/10th of the performance of a $10 Allwinner SoC, or you'll be getting 1/100th the performance on a mere $200 FPGA dev board.

You don't have to be a multi-billionaire to own a fab. You also don't need millions to use a fab, either.

And 1/10th speed on a $1000 FPGA? Forget it. You're looking at 1/300th speed on a $250K FPGA (seriously - the ASIC I used ran at 1GHz on silicon, and 3MHz on the FPGAs). Granted, if you spend $1M or so, you can get maybe a 1/50-1/100th speed FPGA system (the FPGAs themselves cost $35K in 1000 quantity, and the system had 4-8 or more of those - yes, easily over a quarter mill in FPGAs alone).

In fact, university students routinely crank out ASICs relatively cheaply - so cheap that they're basically "free" so they run experimentation on the fab process including transistor matching, transistor performance qualifications, etc.

Granted, we're not talking 40nm here, as the student budget is closer to 1um - no deep sub-micron here. And the largest cost after that is well, the package. But such ancient fab equipment is basically free at this point in time, and you can still use basic photolithography systems so your masks don't have to cost $100K each (yes, masks are around $100K, and you need 20-30 depending on how many processing steps and layers you choose - that means taping out costs anywhere from $2M-3M.).

If you ever wonder why you have A0/A1/A2/B0 style steppings - it tells you what masks changed - you can do a full set from transistors to metal layers (A->B->C), or just modifications to the metal layers only (x0->x1->x2). The latter is often done because there are always spare transistors that are not connected to anything, so fixing bugs by wiring up those unused transistors saves a number of masks. Do it carefully enough and you can really minimize the number of new masks you need to wire up additional logic. Transistor density is often so low as wire density is the issue (which is why we have 10+ metal layers), so making a whole pile of spare gates in the unused areas means you can easily edit significant pieces of logic without needing a transistor level mask change. Heck, you can make them of different sizes in case the old logic lacks sufficient drive capability.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45523691)

You are a self-righteous little prick, aren't you?

Do you believe that everybody owes you? And that you need a photocopy of the engineers butt before you can justify putting open on a name?

This is just me, but wouldn't it be better if you crawled into the little RMS styled hole you came from and leave the rest of us live a happy life without bitching about every little fucking thing?

Just sayin'

Re:OK, "open hardware" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45524491)

Oh FUCK OFF.

Fucking zealots.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45521369)

Their open source hardware is the board, not the CPU.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (1)

Burz (138833) | about 10 months ago | (#45522149)

Their open source hardware is the board, not the CPU.

Hmmm... The board design is just the tip of the iceberg in the overall operation of these systems. Almost insignificant.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 10 months ago | (#45526575)

Almost insignificant.

Almost but not quite.

Sort of like a kernel is an almost insignificant part of a modern operating system. Sure the majority of the code is elsewhere but you try (a) running without a kernel or (b) making one which is remotely worthwhile.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (1)

Burz (138833) | about 10 months ago | (#45528585)

I think from the point of view of trusting one's hardware, the board design does rank pretty low and in the case of having closed ICs it doesn't matter at all... it can't protect the users from malicious microcode.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (2)

stilborne (85590) | about 10 months ago | (#45523083)

The announcement and website clearly state that the feature board which the EOMA68 docks to is open hardware; yes the A20 is not open hardware, and that was never stated otherwise.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (1)

lkcl (517947) | about 10 months ago | (#45525647)

The announcement and website clearly state that the feature board which the EOMA68 docks to is open hardware; yes the A20 is not open hardware, and that was never stated otherwise.

there's nothing to stop anyone from creating OSHW EOMA68-compliant CPU Cards. a good starting point for anyone wishing to do so would be Dr Ajith Kumar's work on a GPL-compliant KiCAD board, or any one of the boards from TI or Freescale which have full schematics and even CAD/CAM PCB files - complete - available.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (1)

fatphil (181876) | about 10 months ago | (#45524203)

"The documentation for the hardware must clearly specify what portion of the design, if not all, is being released under the license."

I somehow doubt the entire ARM core is open source hardware, for example. It might be almost nothing, it's a rather meaningless designation.

Re:OK, "open hardware" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45524375)

To what extent is this Cortex A7 open source??

Why should Cotrex-A7 processor be open source?
This is open source hardware (board) which you can study, modify, re-create, if CAD files are available all this is possible -> the board is open source hardware.

That it uses closed source components like EOMA68 which have no CAD files is not problem. EOMA68 is not OSHW, just the base board which plugs is OSHW.

The demand to call something open source if every bit of it is open source is ridiculous, in this case Arduino is not Open Source Hardware as well, because the AVR VHDL files and masks are missing? Then nothing on earth could be called Open Source as there are no Open Source silicon vendors.

What is the point to have VHDL files, masks etc for the processor? you will study, modify and make one yourself at home?

How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 10 months ago | (#45520689)

How is this thing compared (hardware wise) to Raspberry Pi ?

I do know that the ecosystem of Rasp Pi is very developed, and there is none on this new kid in town, but I'm still interested to know how well (or otherwise) it compares to the well established Rasp Pi.

Thanks !

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45520733)

what is it with black people and the bus stop? anytime you see a bus stop, there is always a black person there.

i would bet money that if you put a bus stop in the middle of sibera, hundreds of miles from anyone and left it for a few hours, when you return there would be black people in it. stereotypical black people too. there will be an old man holding a bicycle tire on the rim, muttering to himself. there will be a fat black girl on her cellphone talking too loud and shaking her finger while doing the "mmmhmm" thing. lastly there will be a 20-something thug-life wanna-be with bloodshot eyes.

black people and the bus stop, it's a mystery.

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45520847)

what is it with trolls and slashdot? anytime you see slashdot, there is always a troll there.

i would bet money that if you put slashdot on the internet, hundreds of hops from anyone and left it for a few hours, when you return there would be trolls in it. stereotypical trolls too. there will be an AC holding a mouse by the top, clicking submit. there will be a fat racist on his keyboard posting too much and laughing to himself about how clever he is. lastly there will be a 20-something virgin with sticky palms.

trolls and slashdot, it's a mystery.

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45521327)

I realized something while at the mall recently. This large black woman had her cell on speakerphone and was yelling to a person on the other end while it was playing rap music. The amount of technology required to this would have been mind boggling a decade ago.

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45520845)

Do you ask if there's a software ecosystem for a particular model of PC before you buy one? These ARM devices run Linux. You can run anything that can be compiled for Linux on ARM. The biggest obstacle for users of plug computers was that there was no way to attach a display, which can be a bit daunting if you've never worked with a headless system. But the latest round of ARM systems all come with HDMI, so they're really just small PCs with a different CPU. You'll feel right at home if you've ever run Linux on a PC.

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45520907)

...oh, forgot to add: The CPU on this one runs circles around the slowpoke Raspberry Pi CPU. It's a much more recent design, at a higher clock speed and with two cores instead of one. (Somebody's going to respond and say that the Raspberry Pi is much cheaper, so it's not a fair comparison. Well, boohoo.)

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45521457)

And it runs Ubuntu. Who wants more? (not)

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (3, Funny)

SiggyTheViking (890997) | about 10 months ago | (#45522433)

It runs Ubuntu? Crap. I thought it ran Linux.

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45522201)

the Raspberry Pi is much cheaper, so it's not a fair comparison.

(as you wish since nobody yet fulfilled your expectation :D)

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (4, Insightful)

stilborne (85590) | about 10 months ago | (#45523125)

> How is this thing compared (hardware wise) to Raspberry Pi ?

RPi is a single core 7o0 MHz ARM11 with 512 MB RAM and no on-board storage; Improv is a dual core 1Ghz Cortex-A7 with 1GB RAM, 4GB NAND flash and a more powerful GPU. Improv is also modular so you can swap out the CPU card as well get feature boards with additional features in future. So Improv is several times more powerful and quite a bit more flexible. You also get things like SATA with the Improv.

As for software, anything that runs on the RPi run on Improv, while the reverse is not true. Some ARM Linux OSes require hard float, such as Ubuntu, which RPi does not provide but Improv does

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45524253)

Errr... The RPi *does* provide hard float - they spent some time getting Raspbian recompiled for hard float. It's true that not all ARMv6's have hard float - but Raspberry Pi is one of them.

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45524309)

the ARM11 used in a RPi definately has hard floats, so if it has issues running ubuntu that is not it

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (4, Informative)

Narishma (822073) | about 10 months ago | (#45524391)

As others have said, the Pi has an FPU and supports hard float. The issue with running Ubuntu on the Pi is that they only support ARMv7 while the Pi is ARMv6. I also don't think the Mali 400 MP2 in this thing is more powerful than the Videocore IV in the Pi.

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45524421)

Two things about RPi:
    1) It only uses an SD card for storage.
    2) It has an extremely powerful GPU.

    The advantage of using the SD card only is that you can't brick it. If something goes terribly wrong, just remove the card, put in another and reboot the device. It comes up completely from ROM. Trust me - building unbrickable designs is difficult; they've solved it mechanically with a SDcard.

    The GPU is really excellent on the RPi, and it is a shame that Broadcom is not more open about it. That 2D DSP is capable of easily decoding h264 at high definition without performance issues - and this is very surprising for such a small/low power chip.

    In fact, the chip should really be viewed as a GPU with an ARM 11 co-processor.

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (2)

libv (2845927) | about 10 months ago | (#45525149)

Allwinner SoCs are also absolutely unbrickable. This with or without an SD card. You can always get it to show up over USB by holding a device specific button at boot, and then you can get it to boot whatever you want.

The big advantage of the Allwinner chips (especially the mali based ones) is their very high degree of freedom. The GPU and VPU are the two bits which require work still, but progress is good. There is full u-boot source, there is full linux kernel source, and parts are making it upstream. All there is that is not free and that cannot be made free is the tiny bit of code in some microcontroller to make it act like a USB device during its special unbrickable boot mode.

Given that the RPi has a massively powerful DSP running the show on a 2MB large RTOS that is absolutely closed, the allwinner devices are _unbelievably_ free.

Re:How is it compared to Rasp Pi ? (2)

hattig (47930) | about 10 months ago | (#45524549)

Faster CPU, and two of them. Note that the A7 is not amazingly faster (maybe 2x) than the ARM11 in the RPi, but it's more up to date (ARMv7 instead of the very old ARMv6) - and two of them does help a lot.

Slower GPU. The RPi uses a very advanced SoC in terms of GPU. The ARM11 is actually just a microcontroller for the GPU. The SoC was aimed at video applications, and is pretty darned amazing, for the price.

1GB RAM instead of 512MB.

4GB of flash storage, instead of none. Not to be sniffed at, but most people would just stick a fast SD card in anyway.

SATA support, versus no SATA support.

Open form factor, versus custom. Two boards (SoC board, EOMA68 I/O board) versus one board. Higher cost.

No software ecosystem versus an ecosystem of 2 million sold devices.

How is it compaired to Cubieboard2 ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45520793)

It appears to be the exact same thing.

Re:How is it compaired to Cubieboard2 ? (2)

stilborne (85590) | about 10 months ago | (#45523135)

They are similar in hardware capacity, except that Improv is modular (not everything is hardwired on one board) and is not a sold-and-forgotten piece of hardware but has an active Free software and hardware devel community around it.

Like a cubieboard... (1)

hamster_nz (656572) | about 10 months ago | (#45520803)

I'ld rather have a Cubietruck [cubietruck.com] to have with (or even a Cubieboard V2, which is the same price point).

Being able to replace the core of your tablet doesn't fix sctrached screens, aged batteries, and general wear... and any tablet that you can replace something on is going to be thicker and less "tablet like" than a 'nice' current tablet.

Re:Like a cubieboard... (1)

stilborne (85590) | about 10 months ago | (#45523145)

What makes you think this is a tablet? It isn't. It's an engineering board.

Re:Like a cubieboard... (1)

fatphil (181876) | about 10 months ago | (#45524443)

> which is the same price point

But is it the same price?

Re:Like a cubieboard... (2)

lkcl (517947) | about 10 months ago | (#45527895)

Being able to replace the core of your tablet doesn't fix sctrached screens, aged batteries, and general wear...

... but with a modular tablet you'd be able to transfer - in seconds - the entire applications and data over to a replacement unscratched tablet chassis with a new battery which would cost you *less* money than the equivalent monolithic product.

you need to remember to view this from both sides. it's possible to replace *either* the CPU Card *or* the chassis, and in each case you have significant advantages and lower costs.

when did you ever buy a hermetically-sealed product that you could upgrade? the clue is in the word "hermetically-sealed".... :)

and any tablet that you can replace something on is going to be thicker

true. i have a design which uses PCCARD 3.3mm. if you have around $250,000 for the tooling costs for all the parts (assemblies, housings, sockets, casework) i can get it done... maybe in about 6 months time. or... we could use off-the-shelf parts and get immediately into production.

which would you prefer? perfect waffle-ware - more expensive due to the investment and NREs - or actual product that's reasonably-priced because there's no investor overheads?

and less "tablet like" than a 'nice' current tablet.

simply not true.

Extremely capable? (0)

Guspaz (556486) | about 10 months ago | (#45520807)

It's a dual core Cortex A7, the thing is less capable than a three year old smatphone. It's not clear from the summary or the article what the point of this thing is.

Re:Extremely capable? (1)

Neuroelectronic (643221) | about 10 months ago | (#45520977)

Extremely capable of selling ARM Cortex chips to misinformed hobbyists.

Re:Extremely capable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45521049)

Because installing Debian on a Samsung Galaxy is even possible.

You utter fucking moron.

Re:Extremely capable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45521427)

Because installing Debian on a Samsung Galaxy is even possible.

Yep, totally impossible [whiteboard.ping.se] ...

You utter fucking moron.

NO U

Re:Extremely capable? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45522705)

It's a dual core Cortex A7, the thing is less capable than a three year old smatphone. It's not clear from the summary or the article what the point of this thing is.

You are really ignorant about the capabilities of a Cortex A7. Go back to your basement closet.

Re:Extremely capable? (1)

Guspaz (556486) | about 10 months ago | (#45526529)

The A7 is a lower power and more performant derivative of the A8, which performs worse than the A9. I understand well enough. There are more powerful dev platforms available for this price.

Re:Extremely capable? (4, Informative)

stilborne (85590) | about 10 months ago | (#45523163)

This is an engineering board, not a smartphone. If you look around what is available for prototyping and developing projects, you'll find that single core ARM is actually the common case. This is a significant amount of hardware for the market category. This is also considerably more powerful than what smartphones were shipping with 3 years ago, though today's high end phones do come with more cores.

VGA port? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45521015)

Last time I checked, there are already monitors that only use digital inputs. If compatibility is such such a big deal, it should have at least a DVI-I port.

Re:VGA port? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45521185)

Last time I checked a mini-HDMI port (which this has on the eoma card) is a digital output. Of course if you believe this thing will appear on time, work and ever see another module which is compatible with it I have a nice bridge here to sell you. I you want an a20 and care about OSHW and the like, just go buy an olimex now.

Re:VGA port? (3, Interesting)

stilborne (85590) | about 10 months ago | (#45524135)

" Of course if you believe this thing will appear on time, work and ever see another module which is compatible with it I have a nice bridge here to sell you"

So, it works. How do we know? We already have finished pieces in hand and use them.

Other modules: are alread add-ons such as VGA connectors and keyboard kits in prototyping; I've already seen two more feature boards; as for other CPU cards, those are further away but on the roadmap.

Who peed in your cereal?

I know it's easier to be cynical than to be helpful, but if you support projects like this they actually do go further.

Re:VGA port? (4, Informative)

lkcl (517947) | about 10 months ago | (#45525631)

as for other CPU cards, those are further away but on the roadmap.

they are indeed. tracking down a cost-effective desirable SoC from - and this is also a really important bit - a fabless semiconductor company that respects the GPL - is very very hard. let's go through the list so far of CPU Cards that i've 30-98% made the PCB CAD/CAM drawings for (the A20 one is the only one that's reached 100% completion so far)

* AM3389 CPU Card. GPL-compliant: yes. cost-effective: most definitely not. desirable: well, it turned out that there was a proprietary blob for HDMI, and it was to be an FSF-Endorseable CPU Card, so no.

* iMX6 CPU Card. GPL-compliant: yes. cost-effective: at $35 for a quad-core SoC in 1k volumes when the competition is $USD 12: mmmm.... no. desirable: yes.

* Ingenic jz4760 CPU Card. GPL-compliant: yes. cost-effective: yes (around $7). desirable: as it's only a 1ghz single-core MIPS with no HDMI output... mmm... no not really.

* Rockchip RK3188 Quad-core CPU Card. GPL-compliant: no. only "leaked" source code is available. cost-effective: yes (around $12. for quad-core! amazing). desirable: yes (good features). but, the GPL-compliance nixes it. that and the huge NREs demanded by rockchip for their development board details.

the list keeps going on and on like this. much of these issues go away once we have some sales. so if you'd like to see this project succeed, help out by buying one of these engineering boards. in the future you'll be able to re-purpose the old CPU Card by getting an alternative chassis (just the chassis), or you'd be able to sell the old CPU Card on ebay.

Re:VGA port? (2)

stilborne (85590) | about 10 months ago | (#45524119)

There is HDMI out, which is digital.

I hope the laptop shell's monitor is LED. (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about 10 months ago | (#45521895)

I've had a number of laptops where the CPU was doing just fine but the monitor died due to fluorescent lamp end-of-life.

Re:I hope the laptop shell's monitor is LED. (1)

adolf (21054) | about 10 months ago | (#45522157)

I've had a number of laptops where the CPU was doing just fine but the monitor died due to fluorescent lamp end-of-life.

So, um. Why didn't you just, uh, you know, fix them?

Replacing a fluorescent tube in a laptop is not exactly rocket surgery. It just takes a bit of time, and surprisingly few dollars.

Re:I hope the laptop shell's monitor is LED. (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about 10 months ago | (#45534017)

I've had a number of laptops where the CPU was doing just fine but the monitor died due to fluorescent lamp end-of-life.

So, um. Why didn't you just, uh, you know, fix them?

Because they belonged to my, um, employer, who by then had handed me a later model for my primary machine.

I've only had one of my own die so far, and it wasn't the screen backlight that failed.

I intend to pop that one open and see if it is something simple, like a loose connection. But it was one of two identical ones I bought used for like $50 or less, and had already run for me for two years. So I swapped the disk into the other one and I'm not in a big hurry.

One nice thing about Linux: It runs just fine on older hardware, as long as you don't need the extra crunch of a new model for some application. (Better, even, since the driver guys have had time to figure out the peripherals.)

Re:I hope the laptop shell's monitor is LED. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45522227)

Because replacing a CCFL lamp or inverter is rocket surgery.
Personal experience: on ~50 dead backlights, it's always been either a bad solder joint or the resonant cap dying and taking out the inverter, not one actual lamp failure.

Re:I hope the laptop shell's monitor is LED. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45522979)

Is laptop repair even a thing anymore? Where are you located? How are you set up? How do you diagnose and repair them? Can you make a living this way?

Re:I hope the laptop shell's monitor is LED. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45523209)

Yes, laptop repair is a thing, and one of my best friends makes a living doing exactly this.

Re:I hope the laptop shell's monitor is LED. (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | about 10 months ago | (#45524301)

My daughter trod on her Samsung NF310, breaking the LCD.

I bought a new LCD on Ebay and replaced it myself.

Pretty easy, instructions on YouTube.

She has the crappy Samsung 'cos she spilled champagne on her Macbook Air. The Air decided it would only work in caps, but it was usable with a USB keyboard. Like an idiot I took it to the Geniuses to fix. Now it doesn't boot and Apple want more tnan the purchase price to fix it.

So, my experience is that if it isn't Apple, you can fix it.

(Ok, not a fair comparison I know, but who wants to be fair to Apple?)

Re:I hope the laptop shell's monitor is LED. (4, Insightful)

foobar bazbot (3352433) | about 10 months ago | (#45523195)

The whole idea of the EOMA concept should (if/when it takes off big) mean that you won't have to "hope the laptop shell's $ATTRIBUTE is $VALUE". There's two reasons for this.

First, you can build your own laptop, because a lot of the complexity that makes designing your own laptop mainboard a ridiculous proposition for almost every hobbyist is now inside the CPU card -- some professionals designed, built, and tested that 6-layer PCB, and then millions (eventually, in the big picture) were run off. For your special laptop, you could if you put your mind to it do most, if not everything, with a 2-side PCB and old-school through-hole components, the main obstacles being not that you can't fit it in a full-size laptop without SMT, but that you can't find some components in through-hole versions. You can pick whatever display you want, slightly tweak the PCB design from some other EOMA-68-based laptop to suit, and have one made. And all this is much more practical than it sounds because you invest the effort once, then keep that laptop for life (ok, realistically for a decade or more) and just swap CPU cards when you need more performance.

The other, and even bigger, reason, is because some manufacturer, somewhere, will make a shell with the characteristics you want. Sure, your concern might only occur in a fraction of a percent of consumer (actually, your concern about the backlight is IMO a horrible example, because the whole industry is moving from CCFL to LED for a number of reasons), but when some small Chinese factory is looking for a profitable niche to exploit, that fraction of a percent is a prime target. Because of EOMA, they
(1) have less design work to do to make a new model (just like the hobbyist)
(2) can keep selling that model without investing in a periodic redesign, and without it becoming obsolete and unsellable due to last year's CPU -- just every year buy a load of the hot new CPU cards and receive a magic spec bump, or ship it without a CPU card and let the user slot their new or old card
(3) even if/when they go out of business (or just abandon your market segment) and stop selling new shells, all the used ones keep going (until they break/wear out) without obsolescence.
(1) and (2) mean less cost to pick up tiny market segments, which means niches will be more profitable and thus better served; (3) means that even if you're part of a niche market that looked big enough to make a good profit, but turned out not to be, you get to reap the benefits of some company's "mistake" in pursuing that niche long after the company's learned and moved on.

Regarding the last point particularly, contrast that to the Fujitsu U820 I bought a few years ago, because I really loved the form-factor and the high-PPI screen. At the time, the 1.6GHz Atom processor was slowish and the soldered-on RAM was cramped; it's flat-out obsolete now. The "successor" UH900 is a straight clamshell, lacking the flip-screen which lets the U820 become a paperback-sized tablet, and I'm left casting about amongst gadgets like the Asus Transformer series looking for a near-enough equivalent. If the U820 had been EOMA-based, then Fujitsu could go their way, selling UH900s with better mass-market appeal, but I could keep going mine, swapping up to (say) a quad-core 1.8GHz ARM card in that same delightful chassis.

Re:I hope the laptop shell's monitor is LED. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45524237)

Microsoft holds several patents in defense of its win8 strategy that encourage ARM manufacturers to make every single piece of their end product modular. From the screen shell to the GPU to the CPU. How they accomplish that is left to the manufacturer, but the idea is, yea, if you want to swap out your keyboard, go ahead. put in whatever win8 will allow you to. and if you want to swap out your ram, or add ram, or cpu, or whatever, then go right ahead.

I have been waiting for what seems like forever for a "swappable" ARM device that uses win8 on arm. And it has not appeared, anywhere, that I know of. I don't understand why no one has made such a thing yet.

so I don't know why EOMA is a game changer. aside from marketing to hobbyists, there's no real price difference to end-users who purchase a complete product whether they go win8 on arm or some form of supported linux distro. clearly hardware mfg are just stubborn on the point of "I manufacture all components or I manufacture none". The concept of cpu board isolatuion and other modular features is not one the industry is willing to adopt, regardless of the OS, at least not at the consumer market level.

Re:I hope the laptop shell's monitor is LED. (2)

lkcl (517947) | about 10 months ago | (#45525715)

The whole idea of the EOMA concept should (if/when it takes off big) mean that you won't have to "hope the laptop shell's $ATTRIBUTE is $VALUE".

you know what? whoever you are, foobar bazbot, i'm amazed and delighted to see that you clearly Get this concept. there are a couple of things that you left out:

1) from a CPU Card manufacturer's perspective, they love the fact that a short-lived SoC in a ready-to-go pre-packaged product can be sold in much bigger volume because it's shared - for the relatively short duration that the SoC has its day - across potentially dozens of mass-volume products.

2) from your perspective (1) translates into cost savings due to the CPU Card manufacturer being able to take advantage of stable huge volume pricing, as well as the Foundries, having larger orders, being able to dedicate and optimise a fab to get the yields up. both the volumes and the better yields automatically (one might hope!) translate into lower pricing

3) from a cost perspective, the fact that there is about an extra $6 on the BOM when compared to a monolithic product... this is *completely* dwarfed by the immense cost saving when you buy one or more EOMA68-compliant "chassis" and share a single CPU Card between them. laptop and tablet are the two obvious examples, with the clear additional benefit that applications and data transfer conveniently *between* the products.

4) from an environmental waste perspective, EOMA68 significantly reduces e-waste by making it possible to re-purpose older CPU Cards down a chain. today's latest-and-greatest laptop/tablet CPU Card becomes tomorrow's router/NAS/SoHo server CPU Card.

so there is an enormous amount going on here in what appears to be an otherwise unobtrusive "wtf??" moment. i haven't begun to describe the benefits to the linux kernel developers yet (but have posted a number of times on LKML explaining the N CPU Cards plus M products instead of N*M monolithic designs.)

"schematics available soon" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45523497)

translation: you'll never see them, sucker

Re:"schematics available soon" (2)

stilborne (85590) | about 10 months ago | (#45524145)

No, translation "we've been working very hard on this device, and will be releasing them at shipping time". We've put the Open Hardware Logo on the feature board and everyone who has participated in this project has licensed their contributions under the GPL. We're not about to start our first product by violating each other's licenses. Please, give us a bit more credit than that. Most of the people involved have been releasing things far more valuable and work intensive than this as Free software/hardware over the years, after all.

Again, Javascript-only site. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45523757)

Thanks, there are other boards out there.

OpenGL ES (1)

jones_supa (887896) | about 10 months ago | (#45524247)

and a powerful OpenGL ES GPU.

Which OpenGL ES version?

Re:OpenGL ES (1)

Narishma (822073) | about 10 months ago | (#45524411)

Since it's a Mali 400, I would say 1.1 and 2.0.

Re:OpenGL ES (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45524525)

From the article:

Mali400MP2 with OpenGL ES 2.0/1.1

What I want is simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#45525373)

"upgrade e.g. a tablet without having to pay for a new screen shell" Who cares. All I want is to be able to change out my battery. I cannot find one single table that allows this. I like having three batteries - one that I am running on, one charged and ready to go and one charging. And hell, in a couple of years, I might even what to use a new one!

PCMCIA (1)

mako1138 (837520) | about 10 months ago | (#45530477)

You seem to be pushing an awful lot of signals across the PCMCIA connector, with hardly any ground pins. Is signal integrity okay?

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