A64-OLinuXino 64-bit ARM OSHW designed completely with KiCAD is live!

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This is the first prototype of A64-OLinuXino. The first complex board we made completely with KiCAD.

You can see on the picture above the full configuration with 1GB RAM (2GB is possible) and 4GB fast SLC eMMC Flash, with WiFi+BLE4.0 module.

It was a while until we found free window to run it on the assembly line, but this week we succeed.

Android is build and run from the Allwinner SDK, Dimitar Gamishev managed to make some quick and dirty Linux image, based on Allwinner uboot and kernel, but things are far from complete.

The good news is that A64-OLinuXino boots fine, here is meminfo and cpuinfo.

The bottom line – KiCAD is tested and can produce working complex boards with controlled impedance.

 

A20-OLinuXino OSHW Linux computer is doing hard 24/7 work at Mining industry

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Noac Engineering is Bulgarian company which makes engineering automation, GPS fleet tracking, dispatching and monitoring systems in one very specific niche: the Mining industry.

There are working *huge* machines which cost *a lot of money*:

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and work in *extreme* conditions:

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to optimizing their work is something which pays off very quickly!

Every hour of non working cost lot $$$ so they should run 24/7 in the best optimized way possible.

This is how the control room looks like:

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NOAC engineering has chosen to use OLinuXino for their systems running Debian.

They put OLinuXino in the vehicles, so they had to make metal robust box to protect the board from dust, vibrations, shocks etc. as these machines works in really hostile environments.

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Needles to say the boards run 24/7 non-stop.

Retro Computer Puldin – the only Bulgarian 8-bit computer developed from scratch

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The first lecture at our Workshop in January 10th was about Puldin retro computers, so I will take this opportunity and write few words about it.

Puldin is big sentiment for me at least, because this is 100% pure Bulgarian development, while the “Pravetz” brand was copy of Apple ][ (Pravetz 8A, 8C, 8M), Oric (Pravets 8D) and IBM-PC (Pravetz 16) the Puldin computers were build from scratch both hardware and software and were produced in Plovdiv!

Puldin was produced in 4 modifications 601-A/U/M/T, the RAM memory was 64KB, the ROM was from 4KB up to 68KB depend on the model, the video output could be connected to normal TV, there was LAN card, Printer centronics output, Cassete input, RS232, Floppy disk, etc.

Back in 1987 the General Manager of the state owned factory for membrane keyboards ZSSU (“Zavod za Senzori i Senzorni Ustroistwa”) Slavei Papachev start looking for suitable device to manufacture to fill the factory capacity and decided that computer would be something worth to make. He asked the government agency “State Committee for Science and Development” for help and they connect him to NIPL “Programno osiguriavane” – small company within Sofia University. Together ZSSU and NIPL made joint venture named Abacus and start working on new computer with name PULDIN ( Puldin is ancient name of Plovdiv where ZSSU is located).

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This membrane keyboard was the reason Puldin computer was designed and produced🙂 unfortunately this also is the worst user experience keyboard I have worked with🙂 there was no tactile click feed back so you basically don’t know if you pressed the key, fortunately later models had connector for external IBM-PC keyboard with keys, which make the work easier.

As you can see Puldin was born very late in 1988 there are already lot of computers on the market including IBM-PC with 16 bit processor running at the remarkable 4.77Mhz🙂 but the goal which ABACUS sets is to build computer with components which are produced completely in Bulgaria, at that time the Semiconductor Plant in Botevgrad is producing Motorola 6800 copies named CM601, so the choice was obvious the computer will be 8-bit and using CM601 (6800) family.
In the communist times there was no free currency exchange so to buy components from outside was expensive and unreliable. The designs had these choices:

  1. Designers must use Bulgarian components only
  2. If this is not possible for some reason, then they should try to use Russian components
  3. if still not possible they must try to use components from other communist countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, East Germany, etc.
  4. only if nothing else is possible then designers can use components from Taiwan, USA etc., but this will make the later production and components sourcing incredible complicated process.

Four engineers start working on the hardware: George Ginov, Ventsislav Gatev, Svetlozar Peichinov and Spas Georgiev. For one year they passed through prototypes and the computer hardware was ready for production.

On our workshop I invited George Ginov (the guy with the mustache at left side on the picture below), who still works in Plovdiv and he spoke how the PCBs of Puldin were made🙂 it was interesting to hear about the problems they had, both in the design stage and later in production (manually matching memories with same timing to may work together) the quality of the Bulgarian semiconductor components was not the best.

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The real masterpiece work on Puldin was done though in the software. There are six heroes who did this and the interesting thing is that all they were students when they wrote the firmware for peanuts and just to prove that they can do it. These are: Orlin Shopov, Ivo Nenov, George Petrov, Todor Todorov and Leonid Kalev.

The software team got one decission – to make Puldin compatible with IBM-PC, so to may read IBM-PC disks they made UniDOS which basically do same like MS-DOS does on IBM-PC, then made their own Assembler, BASIC, Pascal, Editor, Diagnostic tools, even DBase equivalent, which worked same way on both IBM-PC and Puldin, so one could develop on any of these computers and then to move the code across these two platforms using Pascal P-code long time before Java portability was invented!

Interesting thing is that all software was written on Assembler and Pascal, and the Puldin Pascal compiler was written itself on Turbo Pascal for IBM-PC which was the best compiler for PC at that time.
Here I found Russian site which backup information for Puldin computers and have the sources for all compilers and tools used in Puldin http://pyldin.narod.ru/software.htm

Puldin production started in 1988 and between 30 and 50 000 pcs were shipped mostly to Russia. Then came 1989 and the communist system collapsed, the whole economy stopped working as it used to be in the old times and most of the factories were closed.

Sure in ZSSU worked many talented people who lost their jobs, but started new ones in the private sector: George Ginov with 3 other ZSSU employees made Slectra PCB small company which designs and produces PCBs, another ZSSU employee – Dimitar Filipov made Philiks-M company which now produces membrane keyboards and actually duplicate what ZSSU did producing before the collapse, another ZSSU employee Encho Pondev made Taurus93 company which also makes membrane keyboards and panels.

From the team who made the software I can find that only Orlin Shopov seems to have stay in Bulgaria – this guy used to be legend, he wrote Eagle DOS for Apple ][ (Pravetz82) and UniDOS for Puldin, duplicating what Bill Gates did for Apple IBM :))) unfortunately he was born at the wrong place in the right time, so he now is selling computers http://www.eagle.bg/ instead to run billion USD software company. I will try to contact and invite Orlin on one of our next workshops I’m sure he have lot of interesting stuff to share for the old times🙂

The guy who wrote the Assembler BIOS and Basic ROM for Puldin – Todor Todorov became more famous with his virus works instead of what he did for Puldin http://virus.wikia.com/wiki/Dark_Avenger

Here are more pictures of Puldin:

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UPDATE 13-01-2015: After the blogging I sent e-mail to Orlin Shopov and got his reply today, he confirms that he can attend one of our next workshops!

A20-OLinuXino-LIME Dual Core Cortex-A7 Open Source Hardware Board for EUR 33 in stock

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A20-OLinuXino-LIME is same as A10-OLinuXino-LIME but with Dual Core Cortex-A7 processor.

The result is A20-OLinuXino-LIME works x1.9 times faster than A10-OLinuXino-LIME but consumes 30% less power. All other functionality is same. Android 4.2.2 and Debian Linux images are ready.

A20-OLinuXino-LIME-4GB is the version with 4GB NAND Flash.

 

Qt5.2 running on A13-OLinuXino-WIFI OSHW Linux computer

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Miroslav Bendik posted again nice video with Qt5.2 running on A13-OLinuXino-WIFI and A13-LCD7″TS

 

 

A10-OLinuXino-LIME EUR 30 Open Source Hardware Linux SBC first prototypes

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In September we blogged about upcoming LIME. Now the first prototypes of A10-OLinuXino-LIME are assembled.

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This is little compact board with dimensions only  84 x 60 mm a bit bigger than credit card size, but full of features:

  • A10, Cortex-A8, 1Ghz, NEON, VPU, GPU
  • DDR3 512MB
  • microSD card
  • optional 4GB NAND Flash
  • SATA + power supply
  • HDMI 1080p
  • USB-OTG
  • USB Hosts x2
  • Ethernet 100Mbit
  • Lipo battery managment and connector
  • 200 GPIOs on 0.05″ connectors
  • PWR jack +5V only

When we designed it this time we selected proper enclosure from the start:

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And here is the final result:

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Once everything is tested with the software we will continue with mass production and if everything goes smoothly we will have LIME in stock in December.

Price will be EUR 30 for the base model without NAND Flash and enclosure. The Plastic box will be available for +EUR 5.00

RETRO COMPUTER MEMORIES: Acorn BBC Micro model B and Acorn BBC electron

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BBC Micro and Acorn Electron – I like these two computers from my retro vintage computers collection as there is interesting story around them.

Everyone has heard for ARM processors, the fastest growing architecture, they are everywhere: in phones, tablets, handheld devices, GPS navigators, media players, set top boxes and in most of Android devices. Nova days we have even Cortex-M0 ARM processors for $0.30 which penetrates the holy territory of the 8-bit processors.

If you now ask yourself What ARM processors do have with the above retro computers, the answer is simple, because of these computers ARM processors were designed in first place.

How this happend:

Back in 1970s Chris Curry is Cambridge University professor with interest in the microprocessors, he launched together with his friend Herman Hauser two companies: first with research in the microcprocessors named Cambridge Processor Unit Ltd (CPU) and another named Acorn Microcomputer with aim to make mini computer based on the CPU processors.

According to Curry the Acorn name was choosen so it appear before Apple in the telephone directory, which show which company they were influenced at that time.

Some engineers joined to work in Acorn Computers and one of them Sophie Wilson designed few computer systems there. These were primary laboratory oriented kits with LCDs, keyboards, processors which allow laboratory exercises to be completed with students – looking same as Olimex’s development boards now🙂

In 1979 Curry influenced by ZX81 computer launch decided also to move to home computer design and this is how Acorn Atom was build. Based on 6502 as any other home computer at that time.
After the Atom was released Curry and the team started thinking for more powerful processor, Hauser suggested compromise 6502 with enhanced peripheral co-processor which to unload 6502 from the part of the tasks so they designed the next version Proton.

BBC in 1981 selected Proton for their educational program and the computer was renamed to BBC micro. Acorn sold more than 1.5 million BBC microcomputers and this helped the company to make enough profit to start working on their own processor. With the launch of IBM PC in 1981 and the Apple Lisa Acorn saw that they need more powerful processor, first attempt was to contact Intel to licensee 268 and improve it, but Intel refused so they as University professors decided that its not so hard to make their own🙂

At that time everyone has put efforts to make processors which machine language is close to higher level programming languages i.e. so named CISC (complex instruction set computing) processors. The idea was that programming language would be easy to translate and execute faster if the machine language instructions are close to it. This lead to very complex implementation of the processor, long signal paths, which didn’t allow high frequencies (most processors at that time run at 1-2Mhz) and it was taking about 100 man years to develop something like 6502. Acorn had no such resources so they went to different route – to make RISC (reduced instruction set computing) processor which was easier to develop with smaller budged and team. Sophie Wilson set about developing the instruction set, writing a simulation of the processor in BBC Basic that ran on a BBC Micro with a 6502 second processor. Another benefit from the RISC architecture came the smaller paths to implement and the higher frequencies and lower power supply the RISC processor required compared to CISC processor. First RISC processors were running at 4Mhz and the power consumption was less than CISC.  Smaller size also means less cost to manufacture.

It convinced the Acorn engineers that they were on the right track. Before they could go any further, however, they would need more resources. It was time for Wilson to approach Hauser and explain what was afoot. Once the go-ahead had been given, a small team was put together to implement Wilson’s model in hardware.
The official Acorn RISC Machine (ARM) project started in October 1983, with Acorn spending GBP 5 million on it by 1987. VLSI Technology, Inc were chosen as silicon partner, since they already supplied Acorn with ROMs and some custom chips. VLSI produced the first ARM silicon on 26 April 1985 — it worked first time and came to be known as ARM1. Its first practical application was as a second processor to the BBC Micro, where it was used to develop the simulation software to finish work on the support chips (VIDC, IOC, MEMC) and to speed up the operation of the CAD software used in developing ARM2. The ARM evaluation system was promoted as a means for developers to try the system for themselves. This system was used with a BBC Micro and a PC compatible version was also planned. Advertising was aimed at those with technical expertise, rather than consumers and the education market, with a number of technical specifications listed in the main text of the adverts. Wilson subsequently coded BBC Basic in ARM assembly language, and the in-depth knowledge obtained from designing the instruction set allowed the code to be very dense, making ARM BBC Basic an extremely good test for any ARM emulator.

In 1982 Acorn released budged version with lower cost of BBC micro called BBC Electron, it was with co-processor IC ULA which had inside all logic and peripherals of BBC implemented.

Unfortunately Electron come to the market late as meantime Commodore 64 wiped all competitors in 8-bit scene, Atari and many others went in bancrupcy in 1985, Apple was about to sink also, same happen with Acorn. Olivetti take it over, but the new processor activity was kept in such secret that Olivetti even didn’t know that they buy it.

Good move from Acorn management was to present the new ARM processors to Apple and they decided to use it in their handheld Newton device as were impressed by the price, power and performance of this new chip, so Apple and Acorn began to collaborate of developing the ARM so they formed new company ARM Ltd in November 1990 where Acorn Group and Apple had each x 43% and the VLSI was both investor and first ARM licensee.

Now back to our retro computers:

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Here is how BBC Micro looks on bot:

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and back:

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Note the many peripheral chips, this was one of most advanced computers at that time, it had, LAN, Graphics co-processor, Audio co-processor, needles to say some of most interesting games were on BBC micro😉

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The BBC Electron

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bot:

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inside:

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as you can see all glue logic and peripheral were fit inside custom chip :

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which allow BBC Electron to be sold under 200 GBP, sure this didn’t help to complete the mighty Commodore 64 which wiped all 8-bit market, but the research to make newer faster better processor for the Acorn computers lead to the design of one of most successful architecture at our time ARM

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