Over year ago I wrote post in which I complained about cheap developer boards but concentrated on ones supported by Linaro. This time I want to write about boards which I did not even had occasion to play with.

Most popular one was Rasperry/Pi. But as I already wrote why I’m tired of it I prefer to not discuss it too much. In short: old cpu core (ARM11), not enough memory (256MB), requires closed binaries even to boot (the GPU binary also contains the first stage bootloader).

Then we have a lot of boards based on AllWinner A10/A13 cpus. Single core Cortex-A8, no Linux kernel support in mainline. Fun is that there is Serial ATA controller in SoC but most of the boards does not offer that so users have to use SD or USB storage which is slower. Example devices: Hackberry, Cubieboard, Mele A1000.

Fun stuff starts to appear from Freescale area. i.MX6 cpu has potential and many options available. There are Wandboard, Sabrelite with second one providing interesting addons like mini PCI-Express slot (with PCIe signals) or small board with buttons (Android oriented).

Quad A9 boards are also available with Samsung s3c4412 cpu — like ODroid-X which I described when it was released. But no Serial-ATA in this processor.

So which one to choose? All depends what you want to do with it. Few days ago on debian-arm mailing list someone asked “Workstation based on ARM motherboard, good idea ?” which got me to conclusion that it possible to setup low specification desktop today with ARM cpu.

I wonder how much would I have to pay for mini-ITX compatible board (can be smaller but has to be mountable to normal PC case) with 2-4GB of memory (SO-DIMM preferred) with quad core cpu and Serial ATA. So I could connect usb mouse/keyboard, monitor though HDMI, speakers with 3.5mm jack, Ethernet (1GbE preferred) and boot Debian/Ubuntu straight from SATA hard drive or ssd. 2D/3D acceleration working and recent (max 2 versions old) Linux kernel working with not insane amount of patches. But such day probably will not happen.

UPDATE: Looks like VIA had such idea with their APC board. Neo-ITX format but components few years old ;(

Let’s take a look at ARM boards again

21 thoughts on “Let’s take a look at ARM boards again

    • 28th September 2012 at 11:30

      I ignore all devices with ARM cpus which do not have ARMv7-a instruction set. Never mind how good they are — I need Debian/Ubuntu armhf running.

  • 28th September 2012 at 11:06

    most (if not all) modern mobile SoCs have binary only rom code which is required to boot. It’s not as if the BCM2835 is any special in this regard

    • 28th September 2012 at 11:34

      But I can boot AT91, i.mx3/5, omap3/4 with card which has only U-Boot on it. For R/Pi I also need start.elf, bootcode.bin and loader.bin files which are closed.

      “1. On initial powering of the raspberrypi, the GPU reads and executes bootcode.bin, which then loads loader.bin which inturn loads start.elf.”

  • 28th September 2012 at 11:14

    The OpenBlocks device is close to what you are looking for Marcin: http://openblocks.plathome.com/products/obs_a/ Sata, 2Gb (1Gb in sodimm), Armada XP, which is Quad-core (A9?), Mini PCI express. The only thing you don’t get is an HDMI connector, or Audio, as it;’s aided at being a server not a desktop. Also I think these people have some work to do on upstreaming, although I understand that is happening. And they are expensive, as well as hard to get outside Japan right now.

    The Solidrun Cubox is currently a better bet for a desktop machine (SATA, HDMI, USB), but then you only get 1Gb RAM and one core.

    Still, our choice increases deaily, and I’m certainly looking forward to a nice little tiny desktop box.

    • 28th September 2012 at 11:35

      Yeah, I know about those Japanese ones. But decided to cover cheap (<300$) devices.

    • 28th September 2012 at 13:07

      I played with it in February. Nice small cube for those who needs such.

  • 28th September 2012 at 15:28

    Thanks for the hint! The Wandboard dual looks really interesting. Nice features and really good price πŸ™‚

  • 28th September 2012 at 19:20

    I met people from Allwinner in Hong Kong during Linaro Connect, but they did not speak English, so it was rather hard to talk about upstreaming their code. My impression is that they are not planning to do it anytime soon.

    However, there are a few hobbyists working on https://github.com/amery/linux-allwinner/commits/linux-sunxi-3.4 and I think it won’t be too long before we have some upstream support, probably 3.8 or 3.9. The power management implementation is a bit unconventional, and I guess they will have to leave that part out, but the base support should all be doable.

    Now if we could get the people that are paying for Jon’s work to also pay for speeding up the upstreaming process.

    • 29th September 2012 at 22:43

      We are using A13s in a headless audio device. It is a cheap way to get a lot of FPU power. The product is still under development. GPU is ignored, we use NEON.

      The more interesting part to use is the Cedar video encode/decode hardware. Allwinner has licensed that from a chip firm and does not have source code rights.

      From what I can get out of AllWinner, it is Arm Holdings closing the source to the Mali400 not AllWinner.

  • 29th September 2012 at 05:16

    I was really interested in the Odroid-X but I think (maybe wrong) that they do not yet have graphics drivers for Ubuntu.

  • 29th September 2012 at 17:38

    Hey Marcin, Yes, a lot of the boards are pretty low spec – very few that have multiple ethernet for example or PCIe The kontron board looks nice, but there is no price.


    Cogent ( http://www.cogcomp.com/csb_csb1726.htm ) do a bunch of Marvell and iMX6 boards; but again no prices and they’re modules for mounting in other systems ( e.g. their Armada XP board is used by http://www.baserock.com/ )

    While I think you may be correct that the Odroid-X/Exynos 4412 doesn’t have sata, it’s little brother, the Exynos 4210 does have, but from Odroid’s prices seemed much more expensive.

    I’ve been watching the A10 boards for a while (and put my name down for a cubieboard and rhombtech boards); the onchip ether and SATA is the big plus point, and while the code isn’t upstream it’s at least out there and there are people trying to clean it up. The other advantage of the A10 is it seems small producers can buy it – a lot of the other SoCs just aren’t available for the small producers to make boards with .

    • 29th September 2012 at 20:22

      Dave: you are right. There are interesting systems out there (ArmadaXP or i.MX6 based) but usually more pricey.

      I was surprised when 4412 was released without SATA. But that’s probably because of small amount of users of it in 4210 line.

      And speaking of A10 — I wait for Allwinner A15 (dualcore A7) as this may change situation a bit.

  • 2nd October 2012 at 20:05

    I thought you had a kindle? πŸ˜‰ Kindle Touch could probably squeeze a basic desktop client back out via liberal wangling… Ah go on… you know it makes sense. : )

    Linux, check, Freescale, check, Cortex A8…etc.. πŸ˜‰ hehehe

  • 27th October 2012 at 16:07

    martin, hi,

    i began the rhombus tech initiative a couple of years ago, and have since developed the EOMA-68 standard. the allwinner a10 cpu was the first one that we started, because allwinner responded instantly to our request for GPL source code. now that this CPU Card is on the way (first 10 samples being assembled now), we’re moving on to the 2nd one.

    i’m looking specifically at the AM3892 because it has SATA-II, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, is perfect for EOMA-68 compliance and also has a stonking DDR3 interface which can go up to 1600mhz. also, picking the AM3892 it can be used in FSF Hardware-Endorseable products. the 1.2ghz CPU speed is quite reasonable for use as an engineering board and for use in a FSF-Endorseable tablet or laptop.

    i’d like to hear yours and other peoples’ thoughts on this, especially as this is quite preliminary, we still have to decide the pin-outs of the expansion header, if in fact an expansion header can fit onto a 75x45mm (appx) PCB. it’s very tight.


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