EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" computer

EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" computer

Postby onpon4 » 03 Aug 2016, 14:36

I'm a little surprised that this hasn't been mentioned here already:

https://www.crowdsupply.com/eoma68/micro-desktop

This video is worth watching as well:

https://www.crowdsupply.com/eoma68/micr ... /hope-2016

This is a really neat, and possibly very important project. Basically, it's a standard where there's a small "computer card" holding the actual computer, and that plugs into any compliant housing. This means you can upgrade your computer very cheaply (keep the housing, just upgrade the computer card), and there are tons of possibilities that would be unthinkable normally.

First offerings are a computer card using the Allwinner A20 SoC (which, before you ask, is not GPL-violating), a "micro-desktop" wooden housing, and a 3-D printed laptop housing. The micro-desktop ends up costing a total of $120, while the laptop ends up costing $565 (or you can pay more if you want it pre-assembled for you). But because of the design of the standard, the $500 cost for the laptop housing is flat; when an upgrade is available, you just buy a new computer card for ~$50. You can even very cheaply have several different computer cards for several different purposes and just swap them out through the same laptop housing.

You can also get a set of cables to use an EOMA68 computer card without a housing at all, or a "passthrough card" that lets you use an EOMA68 housing (currently the laptop housing) as a peripheral (e.g. to add a keyboard and bigger screen to your phone, or to use the laptop housing for the screen, keyboard, and mouse of your desktop computer).

If this takes off, it can pave the way to solving the massive problems we have getting even remotely decent hardware for libre software today. I'm really excited about it (I backed it right away when I found out about it, then backed it a few more times after that), and I hope it succeeds! The campaign ends on August 26 and 39% of the funding goal has been raised as of the writing of this post.
Last edited by onpon4 on 03 Aug 2016, 23:56, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" comp

Postby Lyberta » 03 Aug 2016, 18:19

Can it be connected to monitor which uses old D-Sub VGA connector? I'm certainly interested in hardware designed for free software.

EDIT: Ok, I ordered Debian card and desktop housing. This campaign needs to succeed.
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Re: EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" comp

Postby Julius » 04 Aug 2016, 12:40

While this sounds good, I suspect this will end up like most energy saving utilities, e.g. instead of actually saving energy people on average end up using more different tools.
Same for easy upgrade-ability, yes in theory you do not need to replace everything, but since it is so easy to replace parts of it, people will end up replacing parts more often, ending up with an overall worse eco-balance.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” - Buckminster Fuller
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Re: EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" comp

Postby dulsi » 04 Aug 2016, 12:54

They haven't solved the Mali 400 driver problem. You probably can't run any opengl programs on the machine with reasonable speed.
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Re: EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" comp

Postby onpon4 » 04 Aug 2016, 12:58

I suspect this will end up like most energy saving utilities, e.g. instead of actually saving energy people on average end up using more different tools.

I don't know, the power usage difference between these computer cards and typical x86 computers is extraordinary. Running several of these in the most inefficient way would probably result in less energy usage than even the most frugal single x86 computer's energy usage.

In any case, saving energy is not one of the primary goals of this project; keeping it low power is mainly there to prevent the need for active cooling systems and therefore make more form-factors possible, from my understanding.

Same for easy upgrade-ability, yes in theory you do not need to replace everything, but since it is so easy to replace parts of it, people will end up replacing parts more often, ending up with an overall worse eco-balance.

You mean that you suspect people will upgrade the computer card more often? That could be. But at the very least, it will be much easier to pass down these computer cards to someone else (Luke has mentioned people renting out server space as an example) and at least some people will do that rather than throwing the old cards away.

Anyway, even if it doesn't reduce e-waste, it will still take us to a place where we can more easily make our computers respect our freedom more, because we can mix and match as we want and someone wanting to produce a freedom-respecting computer will only have to worry about producing the card, not all the other stuff.

They haven't solved the Mali 400 driver problem. You probably can't run any opengl programs on the machine with reasonable speed.

I seriously doubt that desktop applications only using OpenGL as a way to display graphics are going to have a problem with the software rendering. I had no trouble running Tiled on Pandian on the Pandora (original model), which for technical reasons doesn't have any hardware acceleration support at all from my understanding.

It's true that you're not going to be able to play 3-D games very well on this, though, and 3-D modeling is probably out of the question (but a better computer card can come out later addressing this, as long as the crowdfunding campaign is successful).
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Re: EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" comp

Postby andrewj » 04 Aug 2016, 14:32

I looked at the specification and I think a big limiting factor in the concept or a "CPU card" is heat dissipation -- more powerful CPUs generate more heat, and that heat needs to be removed otherwise the CPU will literally burn out. I suspect that is the main thing preventing the inclusion of a GPU on a CPU card (even a CPU/GPU combined chip).
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Re: EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" comp

Postby lkcl » 04 Aug 2016, 15:05

dulsi {l Wrote}:They haven't solved the Mali 400 driver problem. You probably can't run any opengl programs on the machine with reasonable speed.

OpenGL-ES. whilst it's not recommended (due to the fact that it's a proprietary driver, therefore cannot be audited, trusted for security, stability or in fact trusted at all), you *can* compile up mali.ko, and follow the various instructions that have been online for years now, and get it up and running without difficulties. we just won't be shipping by default with mali enabled as it's not something that we want to endorse.

other types of hardware-related acceleration that do actually work however include 1080p60 full screen video playback thanks to the Cedrus Reverse-engineering team, and G2D (2D accelerated graphics) so that you don't end up with just a plain raw framebuffer. big discussion on phoronix about this a couple weeks back.

anyway, yes: OpenGL-ES - fine... you're on your own, there, but it's definitely doable.
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Re: EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" comp

Postby lkcl » 04 Aug 2016, 15:14

andrewj {l Wrote}:I looked at the specification and I think a big limiting factor in the concept or a "CPU card" is heat dissipation -- more powerful CPUs generate more heat, and that heat needs to be removed otherwise the CPU will literally burn out. I suspect that is the main thing preventing the inclusion of a GPU on a CPU card (even a CPU/GPU combined chip).


detailed answer here: https://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=94 ... d=52615973

so, basically, the hard limit on EOMA68 computer cards is set at 5 watts. anything beyond that and the Housing is permitted to simply cut power WITHOUT warning. so it's the card maker's responsibility to ensure that that limit is respected.

up to 3.5 watts heat dissipation is not a problem at all. the A20 processor maxes out at around 2.5 watts flat-out so it doesn't even need a heat-sink. up to around 4.0 watts you can use the exact same graphite paper that's commonly used in mobile phones. up to just under 5.0 watts and you'd be looking at sealing the card and flooding it with thermal gel.

then, also, the computer card is a METAL case, which is in direct contact with the aluminium of the keyboard housing.

in short: anything that's going to *be* a problem is simply *NOT PERMITTED*. setting this rule therefore *ALLOWS* us to use passive cooling. dead simple.
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Re: EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" comp

Postby lkcl » 04 Aug 2016, 15:25

onpon4 {l Wrote}:In any case, saving energy is not one of the primary goals of this project; keeping it low power is mainly there to prevent the need for active cooling systems and therefore make more form-factors possible, from my understanding.

... pretty much, yeah. it's about simplicity. what can *i* bring you - as an intelligent person willing to teach themselves PCB design - that *you* stand a chance of indefinitely repairing or having someone repair for you or teach you to do it (google "right to repair" organisation), that also stands a chance of not breaking on account of it *being* simpler and also lower power therefore doesn't have active cooling...

... the motivations are therefore slightly different, based on a different chain of logic, but you got the point :)


Same for easy upgrade-ability, yes in theory you do not need to replace everything, but since it is so easy to replace parts of it, people will end up replacing parts more often, ending up with an overall worse eco-balance.

You mean that you suspect people will upgrade the computer card more often? That could be. But at the very least, it will be much easier to pass down these computer cards to someone else (Luke has mentioned people renting out server space as an example) and at least some people will do that rather than throwing the old cards away.


please don't throw the older computer cards away, sell them on ebay or during the early days contact us on the mailing list, people *will* take them off your hands. the server example will be extremely familiar to people who have heard of "raspberry pi colocated hosting" - you can earn $EUR 3/month doing that. now put 1,000 into a rack...


[quote]
Anyway it will still take us to a place where we can more easily make our computers respect our freedom more, because we can mix and match as we want and someone wanting to produce a freedom-respecting computer will only have to worry about producing the card, not all the other stuff.
[quote]

just to make this clear: i'm aware that many people actually really don't understand what "freedom respecting" is genuinely about. they think it's a religious nut-job or paranoia conspiracy thing, it DAMN well isn't. this really didn't hit home for me until i started having in-depth conversations with my sponsor, chris, from thinkpenguin. chris's business model is IT JUST WORKS. and it just works because the SOURCE IS AVAILABLE.

he sells hard-modems (ttyACM) that work even on windows computers. he has USB3 PCIe expansion cards for people that he's tested thoroughly. they reflash the BIOS on their laptops so that all the whitelisting is gone where you can't install anything other than "approved" WIFI cards. they were the ones that were directly responsible for walking atheros through the process of releasing the firmware source code for the 9271 chipset (ath9k_htc).

so now if you have hardware that they provide, if you upgrade the OS you know it's GOING to keep the internet connection and not break due to driver-firmware incompatibility.

make sense?
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Re: EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" comp

Postby lkcl » 04 Aug 2016, 15:28

FaTony {l Wrote}:Can it be connected to monitor which uses old D-Sub VGA connector? I'm certainly interested in hardware designed for free software.

EDIT: Ok, I ordered Debian card and desktop housing. This campaign needs to succeed.


thanks FaTony. yes the Desktop unit has a $1 worth of 6 bit D-to-A components VGA conversion circuit, i wanted to keep the cost of the Micro-Desktop down. there is also a 2nd output, HDMI, on the EOMA68-A20 computer card - you can do dual-screen.
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Re: EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" comp

Postby onpon4 » 04 Aug 2016, 16:09

andrewj {l Wrote}:I looked at the specification and I think a big limiting factor in the concept or a "CPU card" is heat dissipation -- more powerful CPUs generate more heat, and that heat needs to be removed otherwise the CPU will literally burn out. I suspect that is the main thing preventing the inclusion of a GPU on a CPU card (even a CPU/GPU combined chip).

No, what's preventing having 3-D acceleration (note: 2-D acceleration and h.264 decoding acceleration do work) is that the GPU requires a proprietary driver for 3-D. It would have to be reverse-engineered, and that would require an estimated 3 years of full-time work for the guy who could do it (he would need to get paid for it, of course).

EOMA68 does account for heat dissipation concerns. See here:

http://elinux.org/Embedded_Open_Modular ... iderations
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Re: EOMA68, the freedom-respecting and "Earth-friendly" comp

Postby andrewj » 05 Aug 2016, 12:10

onpon4 {l Wrote}:No, what's preventing having 3-D acceleration (note: 2-D acceleration and h.264 decoding acceleration do work) is that the GPU requires a proprietary driver for 3-D. It would have to be reverse-engineered, and that would require an estimated 3 years of full-time work for the guy who could do it (he would need to get paid for it, of course).

There are fully open source drivers for the Voodoo3 chipset and old(ish) Nvidia or ATI chipsets.

BTW there was an article on Phoronix recently about a project to create an open GPU chipset -- seems it never reached the crowdfunding goal, but the design specs have been released anyway. An interesting article.
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