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Get your Kodi on! LibreELEC for AML-S905X-CC by kszaq and Image Preview Release 6

LibreELEC fork developer kszaq recently made images for AML-S905X-CC (Le Potato) based on LibreELEC 8.x. He hopes that his work will eventually be upstreamed to LibreELEC. This is wonderful news as it features hardware acceleration built around Linux kernel 3.14. This is a nice Christmas present for everybody and we greatly appreciate your work kszaq! You can now get Kodi media center on Linux running on our boards.

Community is a hard thing to get right and we are glad to have people contribute to the ecosystem. We are focused on proper upstream support for the technologies we use in hopes that the work will have a great impact on the open-source community and people building on top of it.

We hope to have Wayland and V4L2 support in mainline Linux with BayLibre’s assistance in 2018 so that we can run the latest and greatest like Ubuntu 18.04. Ubuntu Linux preview image 6 is available based on Linux 4.14.7 LTS.

Hope you all have a jolly holiday season and see you next year! We will be seeing what’s new at CES 2018. Hopefully we will see you there!

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Raspberry Pi 3X, Raspberry Pi 0X, Raspberry Pi 4, Broadcom, and Qualcomm

Raspberry Pi is currently dominating the ARM single board computer market in terms of volume and dollar amount. It is the only ARM SBC to be selling in the millions of units. Raspberry Pi 3 Model B is turning two years old and is starting to show its age. It would seem strange that the Raspberry Pi Foundation would reduce their reliance or abandon hardware since they maintain the foundation through licensing fees. Quite to the contrary, we believe that the Raspberry Pi Foundation is making a play with Broadcom to take a controlling stake of the future computing market. Let us elaborate.

There has been a lot of interesting work over at Broadcom on the VC4/VC5 GPU architecture including the open-source OpenCL implementation done by Eric Anholt. It would be difficult to justify such an investment in a legacy architecture unless there will be renewed investment. Broadcom’s recent play for Qualcomm put the pieces together for us.

Qualcomm has a monopoly on 4G technologies and the phone market with their Snapdragon SoCs in the western hemisphere. You cannot realistically sell a phone without paying them licensing fees. Qualcomm’s Adreno GPU architectures (based on their acquisition from AMD) have working support for the latest OpenCL standards. Adrenos are ahead of ARM’s own Mali-G series in field available platform with OpenCL 2.0 support. OpenCL and neuro-network acceleration are cornerstone technologies for future SoCs along side current superscalar CPUs. Huawei and Samsung are racing to embrace those technologies in their latest and greatest but, in error, only working with the largest of companies. Merging Qualcomm and Broadcom would create interesting synergies that would mate computing and connectivity with a community model in a way that has not happened before.

This brings us back to how Raspberry Pi plays a role. Raspberry Pi was able to prove the model of community innovation through great marketing. They were able to democratizing computing innovation that hasn’t been possible ever. They control it by making the components exclusive to their platform, giving illusory openness while not actually being so. Broadcom only sells chips to Raspberry Pi so you can only buy what Raspberry Pi sells you. While driving open source software work is great, it is gated by the availability of the hardware components.

We expect the Broadcom to manufacture two new SoCs for the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The first chip, which we can call BCM2838, will merge the Raspberry Pi 3 and Raspberry Pi 0 product lines since the BCM2835 is obsolete and BCM2837 is too power hungry. This chip will form the basis for a Raspberry Pi 3X model and a Raspberry Pi 0X model. Since the SoC will be dual-use, it will probably be powered by ARM’s new Cortex-A35 SoC built on 28nm to avoid the power consumption and heat issues of the Cortex-A53 cores. To offset the performance decrease going from Cortex-A53 to Cortex-A35, a clockspeed increase is likely for the CPU, which should fall between 1.5GHz and 1.8GHz as that is the limit of the fabrication process. The GPU should be a higher clocked VC4 to support 4K. By sticking with VC4 GPU, they can use the same boot code and software infrastructure that has been built up for the Raspberry Pi 3 without extensive rework. The SoC may support up to 3GB of LPDDR3 DRAM but the Raspberry Pi board will probably come in 1GB and 2GB models. Whether they will integrate or include onboard Gigabit PHY and/or WiFi/BT is unclear and most likely model specific. With the recent announcement of Google’s Android Go and the partnership with Google, the new SoC will serve as the platform and play a vital role for years to come.

When Eben Upton mentioned that there won’t be new hardware until 2019, we understood it to be a whole new class of hardware. The above is an extension of the Raspberry Pi 3 since it still uses the same GPU and will have similar performance. We expect the Raspberry Pi 4 to be based on a new Broadcom SoC based on Cortex-A55 built on < 28nm fabrication process. We can call this BCM2839 and it will feature the much alluded to VC5 GPU and a new form factor. Since that hardware is more than two years away, it is difficult to predict the direction of the industry and thus the exact specifications. We expect such a Raspberry Pi 4 board to utilize dual 32-bit LPDDR3 or LPDDR4 to cope with the bandwidth requirements of OpenCL and neural network acceleration. The exact release date for such a specimen can vary dramatically depending on Broadcom’s tapeout schedule. It should be relatively soon if the Raspberry Pi Foundation expects to release hardware in 2019.

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Libre Computer Board Renegade SBC for $35+

The enduring spirit of innovation is to keep them coming. Renegade is our latest board with up to 4GB of DDR4, Gigabit Ethernet, and USB 3.0, enough to power a Linux desktop experience. As with all of our boards, both Linux and Android are available. This board is 4K capable like all of our previous boards and performs on par with our AML-S905X-CC. You can find (and back) the Indiegogo campaign here.

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Performance and Power Consumption Comparison for AML-S905X-CC (Le Potato) and Raspberry Pi 3 Model B

We ran a few benchmarks before to demonstrate the design and performance improvements of the AML-S905X-CC (Le Potato) platform over the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. Although we’ve released the numbers, we never quite gave any visual presentation of said improvements. Here are some graphs to help you understand the differences.

All tests were done on the latest Raspbian 4.9 Stretch for the Raspberry Pi 3 and Ubuntu 16.04 LTS for the AML-S905X-CC.

The Sysbench CPU test is an useless benchmark for comparing relative hardware performance when using different distros but it does demonstrate architecture advantages of a modern ARMv8 ecosystem over legacy ARM ISA ecyosystems. Raspberry Pi 3’s throughput in combination with Raspbian does not perform well since it is based on ARMv6. AML-S905X-CC with ARMv8 Ubuntu takes less than 1/10th the time to complete the same task.

AES is fundamental to securing communication on the internet and at home. When you browse the websites, transfer files, or use web-enabled applications, you are most likely to be invisibly using AES. AML-S905X-CC supports ARM’s Crypto Extensions for accelerating AES encryption and decryption. With the core crypto extensions, AML-S905X-CC performs 20 times faster than NEON-accelerated AES on the Raspberry Pi 3.

AML-S905X-CC is equipped with DDR3-2133 RAM to cope with the high bandwidth requirements of 4K HDR content. Although Raspberry Pi 3 is advertised as LPDDR2-1066, the performance is reflective of LPDDR2-1333. It is possible that newer batches of Raspberry Pi 3 use quicker DRAM or the foundation updated the firmware to increase the DRAM clock speed since launch.

Two optimized C applications enjoy significant performance improvements. You will see a 25%-50% speedup on most applications due to the increased clock speed. Real world performance will show even greater improvements due to the thermal headroom from the significantly lower power consumption of the AML-S905X-CC. We ran into multiple issues with the Raspberry Pi 3 which we will covered later.

Java throughput increases signficantly on AML-S905X-CC with Ubuntu than with Raspberry Pi 3 with Raspbian. Some of the performance increase can be attributed running in ARMv8 64-bit mode.

Raspberry Pi 3 does not support voltage switching on the MicroSD card. It is not able to enter the SDR104 UHS mode supported by most high performance cards. AML-S905X-CC unlocks this capability and allows read and write operations to be performed more than 3X as fast.

Incredible performance is moot without proper power or thermal budgeting. We cut the power consumption of our boards in half as compared to the Raspberry Pi 3. We carefully optimized the power input circuitry to reduce power consumption and increase stability. Where as Raspberry Pi 3 needs a 5.5V power supply to maintain stable 5V rails during cpuburn-a53, AML-S905X-CC will work without issue even with 4.1V power supply! You don’t have to source an exotic tailor made power supply. Almost any MicroUSB power supply will do.

While running these benchmarks, we noticed significant deficiencies of the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. At first we thought it was our specific board but it was repeatable on every Raspberry Pi 3 Model B we purchased. Using a programmable DC power supply set for 5.1V was not sufficient to prevent the nasty rainbow square issue at full load. The polyfuse on the Raspberry Pi 3 experienced unexpectedly high voltage drop at just 1.5A. This caused huge inconsistencies in its benchmark results until we determined the cause. We had to drive the MicroUSB plug at 5.55V in order for it to achieve the necessary voltage levels on the 5V rails to prevent firmware clock throttling at full load. This is a startling design flaw for a board that has sold several million units. The design issue is the source of numerous complaints online.

Please note that this is partially comparing Raspbian against Ubuntu so the first sysbench numbers do not characterize the overall CPU performance of the Raspberry Pi. The Raspbian distro is using newer compiler toolchain since it is based on Debian Stretch. When Ubuntu 18.04 with Wayland arrives, we plan to upstream more support for the AML-S905X-CC and do an apples-to-apples comparison based on Ubuntu rather than Raspbian for the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B.

AML-S905X-CC (Le Potato) is available on Amazon USA and via our reseller LoveRPi.

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Ubuntu Linux 16.04 LTS Preview Image 4 with GUI and Linux 4.14.3

Overview

After weeks of hard work, we are finally able to release preview image 4 based on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS with the latest mainline Linux 4.14.3 and u-boot with some out-of-tree patches. The u-boot is based on the latest 2017-11 release due to upstreaming work by Neil Armstrong from our partner BayLibre. The image is designed for >4GB SD cards at the moment. eMMC has not been tested (and definitely will not work). Support for eMMC will come on the next version.

Changes from Preview Release 3

  • Upgraded Linux kernel from 4.13.3 to 4.14.3
  • Switched from Amlogic’s u-boot to mainline u-boot 2017-11
  • Added automatic filesystem resize on boot to expand to full MicroSD card size
  • Added ssh host key regeneration on boot
  • Disabled CVBS in the device tree to reduce the occurance of HDMI resolution-unsupported/no-video
  • Utilize the latest zstd compression feature of BTRFS for faster read/write
  • Increase MicroSD card bus speed
  • Faster 2D performance
  • Added a bunch of WiFi and Bluetooth drivers so USB based dongles should all be supported

Outstanding/Known Bugs

  • SSH is enabled and there’s a default password for the libre user
  • OpenGL ES 2.0 is not enabled since performance of xf86-arm-soc hinders the GPU performance
  • There may be an issue with ethernet PHY
  • Kernel and other packages need to be deb’ed
  • Missing 4K support in the mainline kernel

Image Download Link

AML-S905X-CC Ubuntu Images

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Libre Computer Board Tritium SBC for $9+

It is our pleasure to announce the Kickstarter for our second Linux/Android single board computer Tritium. This cost-effective solution is form factor compatible with the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and our previous AML-S905X-CC (Le Potato) SBC. It enables new embedded solutions across a whole range of applications. Based on Allwinner’s popular H2+, H3, and H5 SoCs, three distinct boards leverages the extensive software contributions of the open-source community around Allwinner designs.

General availability for the ALL-H3-CC is scheduled for February 2018.

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AML-S905X-CC (Le Potato) Ubuntu Linux 16.04 LTS Preview Image 3

Our third Ubuntu 16.04 LTS preview image based on mainline Linux 4.13 can be found on the AML-S905X-CC product page. This release incorporates the following features:

You can download it and flash it to a 4GB+ MicroSD card via Win32DiskImager. If you run into any issues, please do not hessitate to let us know via our partner’s forum. There are some known issues that will be addressed before final images:

  • I2S is not functional
  • OpenGL ES 2.0 is bottlenecked by an unoptimized xf86-video-armsoc xorg driver
  • Monitor must support 576p since CVBS is enabled or you will get no video
  • Missing 4K support in the mainline kernel
  • Missing automatic filesystem resize
  • SSH host keys are not automatically regenerated
  • SSH is enabled and there’s a default password for the libre user
  • Kernel and other packages need to be deb’ed

We will re-spin the image to fix many issues once Linux 4.14 LTS is released. Android 7.1 running on MicroSD card will be released next week.

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Armbian Love

Due to the great work of the Armbian community, we have work-in-progress images for the Libre Computer Board AML-S905X-CC. They released two images, one for server and one for desktop. The server image is based on mainline Linux while the desktop image is based on Amlogic’s Linux.

Please note that not every feature is ironed out and we will be steadily improving the mainline kernel and images to be more user friendly. If you run into issues please use the LoveRPi Forum for kernel and image issues or the Armbian Forum for Armbian issues.

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Wrapping Up Linux Plumbers Conference and Preview Image

Linux Plumbers Conference was a great resource for us to meet the people who play critical roles in getting Linux to where it is today. We received a lot of input on the future direction of numerous technologies we use. We also sponsored the LPC T-Shirts for this year and we hope to do more in the coming years.

Our partners have helped us complete a preview image based on Linux 4.13 mainline and Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. You can find the details and instructions here: http://forum.loverpi.com/discussion/6/linux-libretech-4-13-0-preview-image#latest

Please try it out and give us some feedback. There’s a lot of changes coming to the ARM world like EBBR, ASBA, and SBBR. We will continue to refine the software releases to be standards compliant as they are released.