Efika MX SmartBook hacking day 3

Today I spent some time on hacking Efika MX Smartbook to be more useful.

First thing which got fixed was display panel placement — one kernel compilation later I had it working. Kernel is provided in my Efika MX download zone. No warranty etc of course. Sources available on request (or you can fetch them from gitorious repository).

Then I got rid of initrd — kernel has everything built-in to boot from internal drive so why bother with reading few megabytes on each boot? Here I looked at /boot/ and after few reboots I got into system which does not need initrd to start.

But editing “/boot/boot.scr” by hand was not what I would call handy. So I checked flash-kernel modifications done by Genesi, cleaned it up and proposed for merge. Resulting package is also provided in download zone.

What next? Time will show. Maybe will look at USB suspend/resume problem or again at making KDE fly (this needs some rebuilds done first).

I got Efika MX Smartbook from Genesi

Yesterday Konstantinos Margaritis from Genesi USA was giving out about 40 Efika MX Smartbooks and few Efika MX Smarttops. I had that luck to became owner of one of those Smartbooks.

That’s nice device. Powered by 800MHz Freescale i.MX515 cpu with 512MB ram has enough juice to be used as web/email netbook. After charging I got nice message from kernel’s power supply subsystem: 427 minutes of battery life — nice value for just 3-cell battery (6-cell is an option according to box informations and website). What else inside:

  • 10.1″ TFT-LCD, 16:9 with LED backlight, 1024 x 600 resolution
  • 3D Graphics Processing Unit
  • Multi-format HD video decoder and D1 video encoder
  • 16GB Nand Flash
  • External MMC / SD card slot (up to SD v2.0 and MMC v4.2)
  • Internal MicroSD slot
  • 802.11 b/g/n WiFi (with on/off switch) – Ralink chipset
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • 2 x USB 2.0 ports
  • Phone jack for headset (audio in / out)
  • Built-in 1.3MP video camera
  • Built-in microphone
  • Built-in stereo speaker

That “16GB Nand Flash” in reality is 15GB Flash-on-module connected to PATA controller. According to “hdparm” tests it makes 22-24MB/s which is quite for this type of devices. My class 10 SD card managed to get 14MB/s (compare it with 5.3MB/s in BeagleBoard) so storage options are nice. Ah… there is also MicroSD slot behind the battery but I did not tested how fast it is.

Note one thing: by default Smartbook boots from internal PATA drive but if there is SD card in slot then it is used for booting. This allows to test development kernels without need of getting to U-Boot. I got hit once by that because card which I used to transfer some data had OMAP3 kernels on it… As you can imagine it did not booted properly…

After I think hour or two I got it upgraded from Ubuntu 10.10 “maverick” to “natty” and got hit by some modifications done by Genesi. After copying “/boot/” from other Efika MX I got it working again. Next days will bring me working KDE 4.5.2 desktop (will have to rebuild some packages for it).

My plans for it? Mobile ARM test platform + laptop replacement for events where I do not need more then email + web + IM.

What defines good laptop?

Currently I am using Dell D400 laptop. It has few years and battery holds just for about 40 minutes. But it works still and is fast enough even to make OpenEmbedded builds.

During LinuxTag I played with different machines to check which things bother me most. As a result of that I created some kind of list of things which good laptop needs to have (order do not define priority):

  • 1Gb ethernet card
  • wifi which works ok with mainline driver
  • hardware wifi switch handled by rfkill subsystem
  • wifi status indicator
  • bluetooth built-in
  • hardware bt on/off switch
  • bluetooth status indicator
  • touchpoint (touchpad can even not be installed)
  • comfortable keyboard layout (Fn not first key, cursors under right Shift key)
  • WXGA resolution
  • grapics chip with framebuffer in native resolution + working X11 driver
  • backlight supported by mainline driver
  • card reader (at least SD/MMC)
  • 3 USB ports
  • 4 hour on battery
  • battery used also in few other models
  • everything supported in mainline kernel

I can live without serial port because I have nicely working FTDI USB-serial dongle and most of time I do not use laptop to connect to developer boards. From the other side I do not like to waste precious port for Bluetooth dongle. FireWire, infrared, pcmcia, expresscard or smartcard are not required — I do not remember when last time I used any of those things. Integrated video camera and microphone are bonus but also do not required (but should work if present).

It can have any graphics as long it will provide me working framebuffer and X11 (at same time). But after fighting with my current one I would think twice before buying something with Intel chipset… I am afraid that they can forget about it existance like they did with 855GM which I use now (intelfb supports it but refuse to work with it). So it looks more like I need to check how situation looks like with ATI Radeon chipsets.

What to buy and when to buy is other thingy… Many people recommend Thinkpads, market will also be filled with ARM based netbooks soon which will rather do not cover most of requirements but should give much longer battery live. The choice will be hard but I have few months before my next conference trip.

My opinion on next Nokia tablet

There is a new set of rumours on websites about next Nokia tablet. Name it N900 (speculation name) or Rover (which is internal name) or famous N00 which probably is on prototypes (Nokia uses N00 on proto phones and tablets).

As Jamie Bennett wrote on his blog it will be hard to sell this tablet. He compares it to netbooks but I see other device to buy instead — Touchbook which has similar internals but higher resolution (1024×600 instead of 800×480) on bigger screen (8.9″ instead of 3.5″). OK, it will not have GSM like N900 but I do not care about it — my current phone is good enough.

And then goes other problem — Maemo. I used Maemo 2005/6/7/8 on Nokia 770 and N810 and ok, it is fine and working system but… It is niche system — small amount of applications available and no other environments then Hildon one (chroot with KDE which runs in window under Hildon does not count).

And question is how open will it be for other operating systems/distributions — I hope that Nokia will not follow 770/n8x0 way.

Moblin 2.0 User Interface

Yesterday Moblin team released new UI for their system. And most of “Moblin team” are my colleagues from OpenedHand times. It is nice to see what they were working on during time when we no longer worked in same team.

I have to admit that I did not tried Moblin 2.0 beta. None of my machines use Atom cpu and I do not plan to check how it works on my desktop machine (1920×1080 is bigger then 1024×600 used by netbooks so results could be strange). I read Ars Technica review and watched introduction video on YouTube. But they show how many projects were used to produce one product. Maybe not finished yet but impressive enough to track it’s future.

Will I use it one day? Hard to tell — it looks like lacking some components like mail or IRC client (I do not like being forced to use IM client for IRC).

New interesting devices

Recently few interesting devices appeared on a market. And they have high geek factor D:


SheevaPlug from Marvell contains MV88F6281 cpu running at 1.2GHz with 512MB of DDR2/800 memory. Other nice things are:

  • 1GbE network controller
  • 512MB of NAND for storage
  • USB 2.0 controller (up to 480Mbps speed)
  • RS232 serial port
  • SDIO slot
  • U-boot as bootloader

Everything in small package and for only 99 USD. I think that this will be nice addon to my collection of ARM devices (it is also one of fastest available ones).

Touch Book

Few days ago Koen Kooi wrote on his blog about Touch Book. It is ARM (TI OMAP3) based combination of tablet and netbook. Composed from two detachable parts it can be tablet (one part) or netbook (two parts connected).

There are few things in it’s design which make it special:

  • 8.9″ 1024×600 touchscreen
  • up to 15h on battery (in netbook mode)
  • two internal USB connectors to hide dongles inside
  • six USB connectors in total
  • just 0.9kg
  • no fans, no moving parts
  • opensource design
  • runs Ångström based distribution

Total price is 399 USD for netbook or 299 USB for tablet. Too bad that they offer selling to US only — but this can be handled by US friends D:

To get one or to not get one is tricky question. Current design lacks any video output so using it instead of laptop will be hard (no way to show presentation slides) but size, weight and battery time are interesting. I will definitely track their progress.

BeagleBoard C2

At the end of March new version (C2) of BeagleBoard has to be released. It has 256MB ram compared to 128MB of currently sold B7 version and also working EHCI USB port (B7 offers only one OTG port). I planned to buy this version but now I am not sure about it — Touch Book looks too interesting D: