Linaro Connect: interesting hardware

Before going for Linaro Connect I had a plan to look at all those 96boards devices and write some complains/opinions about them. But it would be like shooting fish in a barrel so I decided against. But there were some interesting pieces of hardware there.

One of them was Macchiatobin board from SolidRun. I think that this is same as their Armada 8040 community board but after design changes. Standard Mini-ITX format, quad core Cortex-A72 cpu (with upto 2GHz clock), one normal DIMM slot (max 16GB, ships with 4GB), three Serial-ATA ports, PCI-Express x4 slot, one USB 3.0 port, microSD slot.

UPDATE: SolidRun confirmed – this is final design of their Armada 8040 community board.

Photo (done by Riku Voipio) shows which goodies are available:

Network interfaces from top to bottom are (if I remember correctly):

  • 10GbE (SFP + RJ-45)
  • 10GbE (SFP + RJ-45)
  • 2.5GbE (SFP)
  • 1GbE (RJ-45)

When it comes to software I was told that board is SBSA compliant so any normal distribution should work. Kernel, bootloaders (U-Boot and UEFI) are mainlined.

Price? 350USD. Looks like nice candidate for AArch64 development platform or NAS.

Other device was Gumstix Nodana 96BCE board which is 96boards complaint carrierboard for Intel Joule modules.

On top it looks like typical 96boards device (except USB C port):

But once reversed Intel Joule module is visible:

This is first non-ARM based 96boards device. Maybe even one of most compliant ones. At least from software perspective because when it comes to hardware then module makes it a bit too thick to fit in 96boards CE specification limits.

Note that 96boards Consumer Electronics specification does not require using ARM or AArch64 cpu.

Waiting for 96 boards with MIPS or Arduino?

Linaro Connect in progress. Bubblegum 96 announced and present at 96boards website. But I am waiting for MIPS version…

Why MIPS? Looking how earlier Consumer Edition 96 boards devices got released it looks to me that compliance to specification is optional. And as there is no information that cpu has to be ARM (“Design is SoC independent (targets 32 or 64 bit SoCs)”) so let make MIPS one.

I thought about Atmega first but kernel support shall be provided and video output. On the other side — both (Linux kernel on AVR and video output) were already done in past on that platform so maybe it could be done.

You can run any random kernel release, have own set of ugly patches for bootloader. And you will get “96 boards officially certified” stamp on it.

In my opinion 96boards project should enforce “your SoC should have at least minimal support in linux-next kernel tree” rule before even looking at products. Actions Semi maybe is good in producing chips but looks like they have no idea how to take care of software.

Cello: new AArch64 enterprise board from 96boards project

Few hours ago, somewhere in some hotel in Bangkok Linaro Connect has started. So during morning coffee I watched keynote and noticed that Jon Masters presented RHELSA 7.2 out of the box experience on Huskyboard. And then brand new board from 96boards project was announced: Cello.

Lot of people was expecting that this Linaro Connect will bring Huskyboard alive so people will finally have an option for some cheap board for all their AArch64 needs. Instead Cello was presented:


Compared to Husky (below) there are some hardware differences to notice but it is normal as 96borads enterprise specification only tells where to put ports.


I suppose that both boards were designed by different companies. Maybe it was a request from Linaro to ODM vendors to design and mass produce 96boards enterprise board and Husky was prototyped first but Cello won. Or maybe we will see Husky in distribution as well. Good part is: you can preorder Cello and get it delivered in Q2/2016.

Have to admit that I hoped for some industry standard board (96boards Enterprise specification mentions microATX) instead of this weird 96boards-only format which I ranted about already. Anyway 299 USD for quad-core Cortex-A57 with SATA, UEFI, ACPI, PCIe (and maybe few more four letter acronyms) does not sound bad but good luck with finding case for it ;(

96boards goes enterprise?

96boards is an idea from Linaro to produce some 32 and 64-bit ARM boards. So far there were two boards released in “consumer” format and few more announced of rumoured. The specification also lists “extended” version which has space for some more components.

But during Red Hat Summit there was announcement from AMD with mention of “enterprise” format:

How would you like an affordable and compact 160x120mm board to jump start your development efforts with AArch64? AMD and Linaro have been collaborating to develop a 96Boards Enterprise Edition (EE) specification that is ideal for the individual developer. Targeting the server and networking markets, the board will feature a 4-core AMD Opteron A1100 Series processor with two SO-DIMM memory slots, PCIe®, USB, SATA, and Gigabit Ethernet capabilities. Popular operating systems such as CentOS, Fedora, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux Server for ARM Development Preview are targeted for use with this particular board. Additional software downloads, updates, and a forum for software developers will be available via the 96Boards web site. The board is slated to be available in 2H 2015 from distribution partners worldwide and it will be supported through the Linaro Enterprise Group’s site.

I do wonder where from they took idea to name yet-another-crazy-non-standard board format “Enterprise Edition”. In my understanding what enterprise user like is something which just works and comes with support and does not require crazy embedded nonsense hacks.

So when I saw post from Jeff Underhill with photos of the board I noticed few arghs.

Top view of AMD "Enterprise" board

Bottom view of AMD "Enterprise" board

First of course is board format. 160x120mm does not sound like any industrial format. Nano-ITX is 120×120, Mini-ITX is 170x170mm. But everyone knows that enterprise people love to be creative and make own cases. Why it was not done as 170×120 with partial compatibility with mini-itx cases?

Second thing (related to first) is connectors placing. With PCI-Express x16 slot (with x8 signals) I wonder how it will look when some cables go one side or the other while card sticks out of board. With SATA ports moved to the other side there would be space for USB and Ethernet ports so all cables would be in same area. Note also molex connector to give power to SATA disks.

Nice that there are two memory slots (DDR3 ECC SO-DIMM). But with second on the bottom we probably can say goodbye to all PC cases as it would not fit. Yay for creativity when it comes to cases (again).

There are holes to mount heatsink above CPU. From quick look I think that those for FM2 socket may fit.

HDMI connector suggests some graphics to be present. I did not heard about Radeon core inside AMD Seattle CPU but it could change since last check.

But even with those “issues” I would like to have that board 😉

96 boards again?

During Linaro Connect 2015 Asia there was announcement about new Linaro project called “96boards”. It is about making cheap ARM/AArch64 boards in same form factor and same placement of ports. And first board named HiKey was presented. Today third one — from Qualcomm. So we have two boards now (2/96 was not yet announced).

I prefer not to comment on form factor, lack of Ethernet, mobile phone cpus and other things people do not like but about software requirements.

96boards specification v1.0 says:

Minimum Software requirements for 96Boards certification will include:

  • Boot architecture (open source implementations are strongly recommended)
    • Support for bootloader such as U-Boot/FDT, UEFI/ACPI, UEFI/FDT
    • Support for a secure execution environment (optional)
    • Support for ARM Trusted Firmware (ARMv8), including PSCI APIs (optional)
  • Accelerated graphics support
    • Accelerated graphics drivers need to be fully supported either with open source code, or through royalty free binary drivers. If binary drivers are utilized, the vendor will provide support to provide updated drivers/libraries to support new mainline Linux kernel features.
  • Kernel
    • A kernel based on one of the following that is buildable from source code and any required binary blobs:
    • latest “mainline” or “stable” kernel
    • The latest Google-supported Android kernel version
    • One of the last two LTS kernels (for example Linaro LSK)
  • Operating system
    • The latest released (stable) version of one or more of the following open source distributions shall be made available for a 96Boards CE compliant design:
    • Android
    • Debian or Ubuntu
    • Fedora or Red Hat
    • An OpenEmbedded/Yocto build of a Linux distribution

I hoped that Linaro will be a place where free/open source software would matter. But it looks like “let release whatever you want as long as size and ports match” deal. Any blob as bootloader, binary graphics drivers (does someone remember TI OMAP line and PowerVR? Those boards run with raw framebuffer nowadays).

And that kernel requirement… HiKey uses cpu which is not in mainline kernel, so does Qualcomm one. Are they in AOSP kernel? Maybe. But does someone else than Android uses those trees for serious work? Latest I see in kernel-msm (which may not be proper place to check) is 3.10 which was released (in mainline) nearly 2 years ago…

I really wonder how “latest released (stable) version” of Debian/Fedora/Ubuntu can be made available for those boards when all those distributions use mainline kernel only (I do not count user generated remixes which are not supported by anyone).

So I wonder will 96/96 board came with mainline support, open bootloader and open drivers for everything. Time will show. Until that I am not so interested.


So today Linaro announced their first board from 96boards project. It is named HiKey and is based on HiSilicon cpu for mobile phones.

I had an occasion to see that board during FOSDEM and decided to write something about it after it land on my desk (which will happen sooner or later). But I have read specification for this and next boards and decided to write few words from my perspective.

First thing? Footprint. Good that two sizes are available for designs as not everyone may want to squeeze into small one.

Second? Ports. 2015 year and no Ethernet, no SATA? Sure, first board is based on SoC from a mobile phone but there is no place on small board for them and extended version looks like not allow for extra ports too.

Next? Power supply. 8-18V in a world where everything is on 5V already. The only place where 12V is mentioned in spec is “external fan power”.

So as we are on voltage… Serial at pins and 1.8V level. Nice way of forcing everyone to buy new serial dongle (Arduino ones are 3.3 or 5V).

But assume that we got it powered and have serial connected. How to boot it? According to specs mainline kernel (or AOSP one or LTE one) has to be used. I wonder how HiSilicon cpu is supported in any of those. From what I read during day (on quite slow connection) it is still not in a kernel…

Graphics situation is still shitty. Vendor is allowed to provide binary blobs to get display working. Did they not learnt from OMAP? PowerVR again someone? But sure, plain framebuffer is all you need. OpenGL is for weak.

I prefer not to discuss about selection of signals on low/high connectors. There are more capable people for it. I only wonder why 2mm raster where nearly all boards I had played with had 2.500 one.

I like list of distributions listed as ones to choose. No longer Android/Ubuntu but also Debian, Fedora or OpenEmbedded based one

But give them time. It is just first board and next ones are announced. Marvell will produce one (they are in a Linaro group for it), other will (probably) follow. Hope that there will be something better.