A13-OLinuXino has been featured in EDN: Top Single Board Computers for under $100


Yesterday, we noticed this article in EDN.

I have to say that this is a well-written and very accurate article, which uses the proper terminology unlike the bombastic article posted by Linux.com a few weeks ago, which was named “Top 10 Open Source Linux Boards Under $200” and 7 out of 10 boards quoted inside this article were not Open Source Hardware at all but closed source.

This often causes confusion – people assume that if a board runs Linux, it is open source but this is not the case. If this were true, I should call my laptop, which runs Ubuntu, Open Source Laptop which is obviously incorrect!

There is a very clear definition as to what Open Source Hardware is.

Open source hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design.

The hardware’s source, the design from which it is made, is available in the preferred format for making modifications to it.

Ideally, open source hardware uses readily-available components and materials, standard processes, open infrastructure, unrestricted content, and open-source design tools to maximize the ability of individuals to make and use hardware.

Open source hardware gives people the freedom to control their technology while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange of designs.

i.e. to name a board (hardware) Open Source Board (Hardware) this board should have non-conditionally (requiring registrations etc) publicly available CAD source files which allow these boards to be studied, changed, modified etc.

Having schematic in JPG or PDF format DOES NOT MAKE the design/board OPEN SOURCE HARDWARE.

Releasing PDFs and JPG schematics is like to releasing binary codes for the software, so you can’t use them to modify or change the hardware for your need.

And the Linux.com article is not alone with the confusions about Open Source Hardware.

If you search for Open Source Hardware in your top hits you will see this List.

Inside the list there are:

  • Cubieboard – low cost closed source hardware which have just schematic in PDF
  • GP32 – closed source board with no CAD files
  • Odroid – closed source board no CAD files
  • Simputer – closed source hardware
  • Raspberry Pi – low cost closed source ARM board even the creator of Raspberry Pi Eben say in his Circuil Cellar interview last month: “we are not open source hardware”, but this doesn’t stop one to list it there 🙂

If you look at the history of this Wiki page, you will see that at one time somebody removed some of these boards because they were inappropriate, but then another one returned them with the remark:  “reput some entries deleted by .., they are schematics available on these projects (google search guy !))”

This makes me think – just how trustworthy is the information in Wikipedia?

When somebody who has no knowledge for something is allowed to write whatever he/she wants on these pages and when one tries to correct him/her somebody else later again returns the incorrect information.

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. TradieTrev
    Aug 23, 2013 @ 15:31:00

    These little devices would be helpful building a open wifi community mesh to helping muti-route traffic I’d imagine?! Bond a few 802.11n cards and you’d have a powerful multi-redundant data link! Has anyone done such adventurous things? 🙂


    • Rira
      Aug 23, 2013 @ 20:58:42

      You’re a bit unclear; do you want just redundancy or also more bandwidth or range? What you describe sounds like what the local German Freifunk projects do. The OLinuXino boards are probably overkill for just this, since you should be able to find cheaper, used routers on eBay on which you can install OpenWrt (check the device compatibility list on the OpenWrt wiki). The Freifunk guys seem develop software to build and run mesh networks based on different protocols, such as OLSR or the newer B.A.T.M.A.N. (check the respective Wikipedia pages, which should have more info and links).

      There is also the OsmocomBB project, which implements GSM, but seems to require additional hardware (and to run your own GSM network, you will probably need a license from your local regulatory authorities). Otherwise, there are now also cute, tiny 3G modules, that I wish, Olimex would also design and release as open hardware similar modules in this tiny size (and preferably even cheaper, hehe) and have connectors for the modules on their boards: http://www.cnx-software.com/2013/08/21/sparqee-cellv1-0-devkit-adds-a-sim-card-to-your-arduino-raspberry-pi-or-other-hardware/


  2. beethakore
    Aug 23, 2013 @ 16:10:32

    Reblogged this on Bee thought this. and commented:
    Good collection of board under $100


  3. ma2008a
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 20:11:25

    Olimex is doing it the right way. In long term, the cloud over Open Source hardware will clear.
    Small groups like Cubieboard are Milking Allwinner for short term profitting.
    Cubieboard and Rhumbus Tech; call themselves Open Source just by giving a pdf file. One can not verify if the pdf is honest/truth or not without the design files!
    During last 100 years; many refrigerators and TVs had schematic sheets. They didn’t call themselves Open Source Hardware!!!
    These guys work in Allwinner and use internal technical info to gain advantage while limiting outsiders.
    Companies like Wits-tech and Allwinner fall into this trap.
    Allwinner said they gave all the A31 source files to Rhumbus-tech; but rhumbus tech dragged their feet in giving link to download!
    I am testing the Olimex’s opensource by building A13/A20 boards in USA.
    I will write an article about the credibility of it’s Open Source.
    Good Luck.


  4. Undone
    Aug 24, 2013 @ 23:25:30

    I think, any definition of open-source hardware is debatable. One cannot make a point about the trustworthiness of Wikipedia (WP) based on disputed definitions. WP is written by different people. It is obvious, that it cannot be trusted to be consistent at any arbitrary time. The very model that is used to create it does not permit this in the current implementation.

    I’d like to argue, that open schematics (including technical drawings that suffice to manufacture the design) in any viewable format could be considered open source. There are a number of aspects, that can be considered independently (like the availability of any design files at all, the actual format in which they are provided, whether they are provided (1) free of charge (2) for any purpose (3) with or without modifications, whether credit must be given to the original designer etc.). The same goes for open source software. There, you also find different opinions on what may or may not be called “open source”.

    Coming back to hardware, can a design really be called “open”, if not all its components are “open” as well? You probably wouldn’t call a software fully “open source”, if it uses binary blobs to implement its functionality. In the same way, one could argue, that “open source” hardware is not really open, if essential components, such as a CPU, are not also openly documented. And to what degree do you want to go here? Does it suffice to have a data sheet? Or a technical reference and programming manual? Or the lithographic mask to manufacture the processor? Or HDL files that describe the design?


    • OLIMEX Ltd
      Aug 24, 2013 @ 23:42:52

      if the board have no the CAD (source) files it can’t be modified, studied, etc. i.e it’s useless from the Open Source Hardware spirit, goals and definition – To have rights to study, learn, modify and re-produce this hardware.

      I don’t care if some component is not well documented as far as I can learn from the schematic and board files and I can modify them for my need to make derivative work.

      Do you care what is the internal schematic in one DCDC converter like SY8008 used as power supply component in our design? I don’t as this is not essential for my design to work – I have datasheet and reference schematic how to use it. I made schematic based on the info I got and tested the design – it works! so this is enough for me to use it.
      what changes the documentation of the chip itself – do you want to prduce the CHIPS or you want to make your board based on OSHW board design?


  5. ma2008a
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 02:50:11

    Open source== showing others how I made it myself. Even showing where I got that binary/closed source material; can be part of an honest open source process.
    The problem with Allwinner Cpus goes beyond open source. As Allwinner is trying to become more open; there are those who take the inside-the-company info and create a side business for themselves. Which is all fine. but taking the same schematic that Allwinner is putting out and calling it open source?!
    No; it’s mis-using the term.
    Remember under the initial open-source trick; they got a lot of free consulting, free advise, and we bought the boards to help a new open-source start up.
    But at the end; our hands are closed; since they have access to type of info that we dont. and I have to beg wits-tech to answer some emails!
    If in the beginning they would clearly say that they will never give any info beyond allwinner’s publish data; (Non-open source); then we wouldn’t expect any. But also we wouldn’t have invested in buy these boards neither.
    So; ‘Undone’ may be correct in that Open-source can be defined anything; but it must be defined in the start!
    It can be anything as long as the definition for each project is clear.
    And for software; printing installation manual does not make the software open-source!!
    many products that get FCC aprovals; have their schematic and images published by FCC. Most are not open-source (Government does not request or publish the design files!).


  6. Drago
    Aug 25, 2013 @ 17:42:56

    @Olimex, any plans to release boards with snapdragon CPUs? Adreno GPU has opensource linux 3D driver under heavy development, so I would like to see board based on it. Thanks.


    • OLIMEX Ltd
      Aug 25, 2013 @ 21:08:09

      we never did anything with Qualcom, they have no public info and from what I hear they want your to promise them your first born son to give you datasheet, so not quite good SoC for Open Source Hardware project as none would be able to buy their chips in small quanities


  7. did
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 02:50:00

    I like the ways which Olimex did. Sharing is getting. Although the Rasperi Pi board’s price is good, large community… But I really don’t want to use because of it’s closed Soc.


    • Luckusz
      Aug 26, 2013 @ 17:34:22

      Well, regarding the Socs, Allwinner and Rockchip are not much better. Their datasheets and manuals are also not generally available. What is available are leaked versions. Technical manuals for the many graphics processors are still not available. So you have a bunch of people more or less successful at reverse engineering some of the chips (read http://blog.emmanueldeloget.com/index.php?post/2013/03/08/The-SoC-GPU-driver-interview for an overview).

      And having open source drivers is not the same as having open documentation. What good is source code if you don’t have documentation. A lot of open source code is so bad that it lacks even the succinctest of comments. The RPi SoC is not completely closed. At least an abbreviated datasheet was made available before the Pi started shipping (see http://www.raspberrypi.org/archives/615). Still not open, but as I said, Allwinner and Rockchip SoCs are not open either.


      • OLIMEX Ltd
        Aug 26, 2013 @ 17:47:41

        Allwinner is cooperating with Open Source Community for more than year and they evolved a lot during the last 12-18 months. The reason they do not have datasheet/usermanuals for their processors is because they do most of the board development for these processors inside and nobody needs them hence they do not put effort in this direction.
        For the code Allwinner already gave everything they can without breaking 3rd party NDAs like the GPU VPU which are not property of Allwinner but ARM so people who rant about not having GPU/VPU info should address them to the right address 🙂
        I repeat this is not leaking info but info which Allwinner regulary send to us and we give to Linux-Sunxi developers, this is not unofficial or leaked info.

        Rockchip in other hand is one year behind, they are in same situation like Allwinner was in 12-18 months ago. Rockchipdo not care for Open Source, violate GPL intentionally or not intentionally, sell their SDKs which contain GPL code, but that’s they way they work, hopefully when they see the benefits to contribute to Open Source Community like Allwinner did they will change their minds.

        Having thousands of pages documentation do not automatically means better Open Source support, the most important is the community, if many people are interested to work with this device they will make together sooner or later good support and Linux-Sunxi community proves this.

  8. Drago
    Sep 02, 2013 @ 12:33:07

    @Olimex, Did you have some success using Lima driver? Currently it is in prototyping phase (e.g. it can run Q3A, but not part of the Mesa3D). I am very aware of the Lima project, but Freedreno seems, several steps ahaed.


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