Earth-friendly EOMA68 Computing Devices

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Jul

10

Picking a Processor

We’ve had a lot of people asking about alternative processors; a lot of suggestions on what we should be making available in EOMA68 form-factor, as well as quite a lot of criticism for only having a Dual-core ARM Cortex A7 1.2ghz. The list of checkboxes needed to be ticked for an ethical eco-conscious Computer Card is really quite long: no NDAs, full sources, no spying built into the hardware, reference designs available, datasheets, and much more, so we thought we’d take you through some of the top ones…

Processor Ingenic jz4775 Rockchip RK3188 Allwinner A64 Qualcomm Snapdragon 410c Allwinner A20 Freescale iMX6 Any Intel Atom SoC
Power consumption 2 watts Est 4-5 watts Est 5 watts (clock-limited) Est. 4 watts Max of 3.5 watts 6 watts TOO MUCH
NDA NO YES YES YES YES (most info is public) No YES
Datasheets YES Sort-of Yes Mostly YES Yes Yes
PMIC Available YES Yes Yes Yes YES Yes Yes
Reference Schematics YES Yes (thank you Tom Cubie) Yes Yes YES Yes NO
Reference PCB YES Yes (thank you Tom Cubie) Yes NO (PDFs only) YES Yes NO
Tech support Community-based Community-based Community-based NO Community-based Yes NO
GPL-compliant bootloader YES MAYBE (have to check) NO (libdram) YES YES Yes Under NDA only
GPL-compliant u-boot YES Yes YES (sort-of) YES YES Yes NO (contains spying hardware)
GPL-compliant kernel YES Yes YES YES YES Yes Yes (but with spying software)
GPL-compliant 3D GPU YES NO (MALI) NO (MALI) YES (Freedreno) NO (MALI) Yes (Etnaviv) YES
GPL-compliant Video Engine YES NO NO (reverse-engineered partly) NO NO (part rev-engineered) NO (proprietary) YES
Example OS (full source) Yes (but none “Libre” (too old) Yes Yes YES YES (huge!) Yes YES
Estimated time 2-3 months 2-3 months 2-3 months 4-6 months 2-3 months 2-3 months 8-10 months
Estimated cost $10,000+ $10,000+ $10,000+ $25,000+ $10,000 appx $10,000 appx $100,000+

Other SoCs such as the Allwinner A31 and many like it were excluded from this list because of restricted video output resolutions (the A31 and other budget processors can only handle 1280x800). EOMA68 requires a minimum of 1366x768. It was only through persistent questioning of Ingenic tech support that the Ingenic jz4775 was included because it turns out it’s the VPU that is only able to do 1280x720 whereas the LCD controller can handle 1920x1080. Samsung Exynos processors are off the table completely because Samsung won’t deal with anyone outside of Korea: Hardkernel are based in Korea, and they enable the e-fuses to blow a proprietary bootloader into the internal NAND which only they have control over. Texas Instruments OMAP4 and OMAP5 processors are off the table because they are considered to be “Weapons” - just like those 100-foot long tapered “oil pipes” - and so are restricted under U.S. BXPA munitions laws, despite the fact that they’re manufactured in the Far East.

So we are left with those on the above table, and it should be clear that there really is only one winner here: the A20. It should also be pretty clear that there is literally not a single processor that checks every single box! As in, there is not a single processor in the world that is eco-conscious, respects software freedom, is ethical and accessible. This is a pretty insane situation to be in, in the year 2016. Let’s highlight the issues with each:

  • The A20 is now entirely libre with the exception of MALI and its VPU (CEDAR) which has only been partly reverse-engineered. The range of OSes available are enormous: it even has the L4 Microkernel OSes L4Linux and L4Android.
  • The Ingenic jz4775 is entirely libre but it is only a single-core 1.2ghz MIPS, with performance being somewhat lacking. The only decent OSes left for it are Debian, but the Libre variants were abandoned years ago due to lack of available MIPS32 hardware.
  • The Intel Atom-based SoCs basically tell us that Intel is completely out of their minds. 17 mm SoCs with 1380 pins means that 12-layer PCBs are needed, with track clearances almost 3 times narrower than any reasonable factory in China can manage, and VIAs required to be made with laser drilling (which is incredibly expensive). Most notably, Intel has forgotten to make available a Power Management Chip. What’s the point of giving people access to a processor - under NDA - if there’s no way to power it? And, how are we going to bring you a long-term eco-conscious design where the processor is only available from its manufacturer for under one year and it takes longer than that to design the board? No wonder Intel have shut down their tablet and smartphone division!
  • The Allwinner A64 team (which we have learned is completely independent, just like all the teams inside Allwinner) seem to have not got the memo about the fact that they’re a hardware company. If you sell hardware, stop trying to make the software proprietary. Give us the 200 lines of code in libdram, we’ll make the board. Don’t give us the full source, we won’t!
  • Qualcomm appear to be actually trying really hard with the 410c. They’ve clearly taken Linaro’s advice to heart and come up with the goods: even created an example developer board (the DragonBoard). The only things left are that they need to provide a full reference design (PCB CAD files) and to provide the full source of the VPU: they would then take absolute first place as being the fully-libre, ethical, eco-conscious fabless semiconductor company. Despite rampant spyware-capable, NSA-friendly hardware in the past. Huge irony there, but we don’t judge them on past performance, as they might get scared and stop doing the ethical stuff.
  • The Freescale iMX6 is great, but as it’s a Cortex A9 it’s a bit of a power-hungry monster, and it’s expensive. The inrush (startup) current is a whopping 4 amps, which is of huge concern. Also, the VPU is still not free. Let’s see what they do for the iMX8.
  • The RK3188 is not ideal, it’s 28 nm Cortex A9 so not as power-hungry as the iMX6, but we bought a dev board: it has a heat-sink on top, which is a bad sign. There is some concern about the VPU and also the 1st stage bootloader. Also the GPU is MALI. In its favour is the fact that Tom Cubie’s team have released full PCB CAD files.

The long and short of it is we’re going with the one processor on the list that is “good enough,” respects your privacy, respects your freedom, and that we feel comfortable to offer in an ethical and eco-conscious way.

Update 17 Jul 2016: We’ve kindly been contacted by someone who has investigated the Qualcomm 410c as they were seeking a processor that did not have arbitrary untrusted code execution as part of the boot sequence. On close inspection of the installation guide for the 410c they learned of a whopping 25 MB of arbitrary untrusted boot-sequence-level binaries which are RSA-signed and thus cannot be replaced even if people had the source code and associated compilers.

What is particularly disappointing is to find that Linaro’s 96 boards compliance specification is “realistic” in its acceptance of this approach to permit arbitrary boot-level code execution. Twenty-five megabytes of boot-sequence-level blobs is however pushing even Linaro’s “realism” a bit too far.

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Product Choices

$5

Support EOMA68


$15

EOMA68 "R/E-volution of Computing" bumper sticker

Parody the parody with an EOMA68 "R/E-volution" bumper sticker: have fun explaining all the jokes to both friends and strangers alike.


$65

Libre Tea Computer Card

An EOMA68-compatible computer card with an Allwinner A20 dual core processor, 2 GB of RAM, and 8 GB of NAND flash pre-installed with the Parabola GNU/Linux-libre operating system. We expect the Libre Tea Computer Card to receive the Free Software Foundation's Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification before the first units ship.


$65

Practically Perfect Computer Card

An EOMA68-compatible computer card with an Allwinner A20 dual core processor, 2 GB of RAM, and 8 GB of NAND flash pre-installed with the Debian GNU/Linux operating system.


$65

Numero Uno Computer Card

An EOMA68-compatible computer card with an Allwinner A20 dual core processor, 2 GB of RAM, and 8 GB of NAND flash pre-installed with the Devuan GNU/Linux operating system.


$65

Getting Ahead Computer Card

An EOMA68-compatible computer card with an Allwinner A20 dual core processor, 2 GB of RAM, and 8 GB of NAND flash pre-installed with the Fedora 24 GNU/Linux operating system.


$55

Micro Desktop Housing for Computer Card

This is a Micro Desktop base unit and power supply unit with a beautiful laser-cut stack of 3mm plywood panels that creates an aesthetically attractive tiny base unit for your Computer Cards. Excludes Computer Card, keyboard, mouse and VGA monitor.


$450

PIY Laptop Housing Kit for Computer Card

This Print-It-Yourself (PIY) kit includes all the parts, cabling and boards (main, power, and controller, assembled and tested), and battery, charger, keyboard, LCD, and CTP-LCD for trackpad that are needed to build a complete Libre Laptop once you 3D print the enclosure from the freely available GPLv3+ licensed plans. Excludes Computer Card.


$500

PFY Laptop Housing Kit for Computer Card

This Printed-For-You (PFY) kit has everything needed to create a full EOMA68 Laptop, including a 3D printed set of casework parts, bamboo plywood panels, tested and assembled PCBs, cables, battery, charger, keyboard, LCD, and CTP-LCD for trackpad. Available in a variety of colors and materials. Excludes Computer Card.


$1,200

Completely Assembled Laptop + Computer Card

A meticulously hand-assembled and fully-tested laptop. Includes your choice of EOMA68-A20 Computer Card and 3D-printed casework.


$10,000

On-site Consultation, Presentation, and Workshop + Laptop + Computer Card

For those people who would like the opportunity to meet the designers and have them personally go over the project's development, history, future direction and much more, a week's time can be made available to meet with you personally, to do a hands-on workshop to help you (and any number of additional attendees) through the process of putting together your own fully-functioning laptop and even take you through the process of building and installing the software. Also included will be one Laptop with a Computer Card which will be assembled on-site. You must provide travel, accommodation, tools and a suitable workshop and presentation space. Contact us directly for details.


$20

PCMCIA/EOMA68 Breakout Board

One PCMCIA/EOMA68 Breakout Board with one surface mount PCMCIA header, and tracks to some convenient 2.54-mm-spaced through-holes. Added by popular demand, for access, tinkering, development work, testing, etc.


$35

Pass-through Card

A simple card that takes in HDMI and USB and passes them on. Turns a Laptop Housing into a portable, battery-powered dock for your smartphone, USB-HDMI dongle computer, and tablet, or a second screen, keyboard, and mouse for your existing laptop or desktop PC.


$15

USB + HDMI Cable Set for Standalone Operation

Includes a Micro HDMI Type D cable and 3-way USB-OTG Host-Charger cable tested and known to work with EOMA68 Computer Cards. These are the cables you need to run a Computer Card as a standalone device without the need for a housing. Also useful with the Micro Desktop or Laptop Housing to add a second screen and extra USB port.

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Credits

EOMA68


Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton

Developer

Christopher Waid

Sponsor

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