Yesterday Acer announced convertible Chromebook R13, first MediaTek powered Chromebook. With AArch64 cpu cores. And PowerVR GPU.
As it was in the evening I did not notice PowerVR part and got excited. Finally some AArch64 Chromebook which people will be able to buy and do some development on. Specs were nice: 4GB of memory, 16/32/64GB of emmc storage, 13.3″ FullHD touchscreen display. But why they use that GPU :((
There are few graphics processing units in ARM/AArch64 world. Some of them have FOSS drivers (Ardeno, Tegra, Vivante), some are used with 2D units (Mali) and some just sucks (PowerVR).
Mali is kind of lost case as no one works on free driver for it (so-called “lima” looks like ARM Ltd secret task to get people from trying to do anything) but as it is paired with 2D unit users have working display. And there are binary blobs from ARM Ltd to get 3D acceleration working.
But PowerVR? I never heard about anyone working on free driver for it. I remember that it was used in Texas Instruments OMAP line. And that after few kernel releases it just stopped working when TI fired whole OMAP4 team so no one worked on getting it working with binary blobs.
So now MediaTek used it to make cpu for Chromebook… Sure it will work under ChromeOS as Google is good at keeping one kernel version for ages (my 2012 Samsung Chromebook still runs 3.8.11 one) so blobs will work. But good luck with it under other distributions and mainline kernel.
Heh, even Raspberry/Pi has working free driver nowadays…
During weekend I was in Puck, Poland at small conference called “Zimowisko linuksowe” (Linux winter camp) where I had a talk called “Dlaczego moje urządzenie nie jest obsługiwane przez dystrybucje” (Why my device is not supported by distributions).
In talk I presented how distributions (Debian, Fedora) handle ARM devices (one kernel for all, one image for all) and why it does not fit Raspberry/Pi or Chromebook. Also mentioned Roseapple/Pi as an example of how not to make support for device.
There were questions about suggested boards (most of people knew Raspberry/Pi and one or two other by name) and ARM powered laptops other than Chromebooks.
And then we went to celebrate birthdays of few friends who had them on same day.
You can download presentation in Polish or English (translation was requested by few folks from IRC after I annouced that there will be such talk).
I was mostly offline during last three days. You know — meeting long-time-no-see friends, walking tens of kilometres in other city looking at cellphone screen (aka playing Ingress) etc.
But even then it was hard to not notice that Raspberry Foundation announced new version of their product called Raspberry/Pi 3 — many friends asked me what do I think about it, is it worth buying now, will Fedora run on it etc.
So let make it short. No, it will not run Fedora 24 because there is no support for this device (I would not call it developer board as it would be insult to all developer boards) in mainline kernel, it still boots in insane way, has new binary blob without permissions to distribute etc… And since R/Pi 2 got released year ago there was no community effort to get this board supported and we have better things to do.
Is it worth buying? If all you want to do is connect few sensors to GPIO/I²C/SPI pins then maybe as it is cheap, but I would go for Beaglebone to get wide distribution support. If you want to make a desktop then forget it (1GB of memory). If you want to make anything related to storage/networking forget it too (storage on USB shared with all other USB devices as there is only one USB host port).
For years Raspberry Foundation did not learn that price is not the only thing which makes product worth using. BCM2835 was terrible but usable. BCM2836 got newer cpu core but rest stayed so resulting device was far behind properly made developer boards. BCM2837 should not happen.
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 ;(
Please people… stop asking me about Raspberry/Pi. I do not want it, do not plan to buy one (when they will be finally available for normal people) and for sure do not plan to support it.
Raspberry/Pi may look as interesting hardware to you but it does not have to mean same to others. Want to run desktop? 256MB of memory means really crippled one (last time I saw this amount of RAM in desktop computer right before opening it to add 512MB stick). Sure, for 25-35 USD it is proper range as memory is probably the most expensive part. Device may be good for using it in more embedded environment where GPIO/I²C/I²S/SPI/UART matter — expansion connector provides those signals.
But I would rather buy BeagleBone to play with peripherials connected to such pins. Someone may ask “why? it is more expensive”. Reason is simple — it is in production, already has expansions which adds things like video output, touchscreens. And it has ARMv7 cpu which allows me to run any ARM distribution available today — so Debian ‘armel/armhf’, Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Ångström (which is preinstalled with great IDE to play with device already) or anything other.
I do not need small device which can run XMBC or Quake — have private PandaBoard which can do that too and has few things more than Raspberry/Pi.
And I do not think that companies which do software should start working on <100USD hardware like article at Techblaze suggests.