The Open Pandora project has been an amazing project to follow. We first reported on the product, an OMAP-based Linux mini-laptop primarily focused on gaming emulation (but kitted out with some interesting features for anyone interesting in mobile computing) in Dec 2007 and in the last 4 years the product has gone through some amazing ups and downs with spec changes, production issues and community financing but it looks like they’ve made a break-through and that Open Pandoras will be shipping soon.
Update: The first devices off the production line are now being shipped. [9th March 2012]
The story would make a great book. We saw an update in Dec 2008 showing a prototype build and an Angstrom OS build and after a year of refinements it finally went into limited production in May 2010. 4000 units should have been produced before Feb 2011 but it didn’t happen.Â â€œ[The production company] communication has been terrible, the missed all the deadlines they set themselves and they have a failure rate of at least 25%.â€
On 12 July 2011 ‘EvilDragon’ the lead developer for the project wrote a post entitled ‘A fresh new start’ explaining how production was being stopped as a result of problems with the Texas-based production company. The search started for a new production company and by 27th of the same month they had found a candidate. Soon after, 70 investors had stepped forward and pledged nearly half a million Euros. Contracts were prepared and pre-orders started again.
The next months updates are worth reading in full over at the Openpandora news forum. There’s snow, hacking, sad news about a community member, delivery problems, contracts and more. It’s an amazing story that ends up with this fantastic post and video entitled â€œ100% success.â€
What a joy to watch.
The OpenPandora story isn’t over yet though. Mass production is due to start next month and after 4 years of waiting, the specifications don’t look as good as they used to. There’s software to write too. What you’ve got here though is an open-source, very efficientÂ handheld PC with a strong community behind it. It’s also a bit of history.
In support of the Open Pandora project I’ve put in an order andÂ I’ll do my best to give it airtime on UMPCPortal when it arrives. You can place a pre-order here. I’m sure there are many readers here who already have their orders in.
No-one really knows much about ARMs Eagle CPU design yet. I spotted it on a slide at Computex earlier this year but the only real info available is from a presentation back in 2009. It’s the next-next generation high-end core and likely to be produced in a 28nm process but based on the standard lead-time for an ARM architecture to get into an end product I’d say we’re looking at 2012 and 2013 for this one. Cortex A9 hasn’t been introduced in any products yet and Cortex A8 still has a way to go too. To give you an idea of the end-end timescales for a new CPU design, Ti are only now announcing that they have the license. The deal was made in 2009!
If we project our thoughts 3 years into the future we’re going to be in a time-period where Intel CPU’s are likely to be in smartphones and ARM are likely to be in laptops. We could be looking at MeeGo and WebOS or something completely new. Google OS perhaps? Will Windows still be as dominant or will Android or IOS develop to become a truly productive operating system? I wonder if I’ll still be blogging?
This article is updated from Jan 2010. See below for history.
The ecosystem around ARM, its designs and licensee products can be difficult to understand so I’ve been researching the current status and have summarized the important products, brands and technologies in the article below. You’ll find details on all the important keywords and technologies, links to all the important CPUs and platforms, a reading list and some ‘tip’s’ for CES2010 which starts this week. All the information is based on my own knowledge and research so if you spot any errors, please be sure to let us all know in the comments. I know there are some CPU designers and ARM partners reading this site so again, if there’s anything that needs changing or adding, please help us all by adding a comment below.
Overview of processor architectures in current ARM products
For the purposes of this article I’m ignoring anything other than ARM v7 architecture CPUs. In my opinion and experience the previous (ARMv6, ARMv5) designs don’t provide the processing power needed for the quality web experience expected inÂ MIDs. Note: Tegra (current version 2009) is an ARM11 multi-core CPUÂ implementation based on ARMv6 architecture. I expect Nvidia to move to ARMv7 in their next Tegra product.
ARM v7 is a CPU architecture, not a CPU.
ARM V7 is a processor architecture. It’s a design that belongs to ARM and it can be used to build CPUs that can process around 2 Dhrystone MIPS/Mhz. (Wikipedia â€“ Dhrystone) That’s about 2000 DMIPs/Ghz which is not far from the processing power achieved by simple, non-hyperthreading Intel Atom cores also used in MIDs. DMIPs processor performance is not the only measurement of device speed but it’s a good starting point and is relevant to web rendering and web applications.
In general, the architecture is being used to make CPUs and platforms running at between 600-1000Mhz (about 1200-2000 DMIPs) although there is one known implementation that has been tested at over 2Ghz. Power consumption per core is said to be around 300mw per 2000DMIPs using the latest manufacturing processes although this figure can vary greatly depending on implementation.
Remember that the CPU core takes only a small percentage of the power drain in a working device where the total in-use power budget including screen lighting, radios, audio, gpu, storage and DC components can span from 2W to 10W. (Texas instruments thinks that a 1W MID is possible though)
In comparison with the Intel Atom CPU the ARM v7 architecture can be used to make CPUs that consume about 1/3 â€“ 1/5th of the power of an Intel Atom CPU for the same DMIPs computing power.
ARMv7 can also be used to make multi-core CPUs where up to 4 cores can be used to provide over 8000 DMIPS of computing power. (Assuming the software is built to handle multi-processing hardware)
(Further note: All these figures based on research, marketing figures, experience, testing and technical documents that I have read during this research.)
ARM does not manufacture CPUs.
The architecture created by ARM is used to do two things:
The architecture is used by ARM themselves to make a complete processor implementation which may include other ARM property. The CPU implementation is then licensed out to third parties who can either mass produce the CPU or build and manufacture complete computing platforms including graphics, sound, power, memory, etc. One example is the Ti OMAP 3 and 4-series platforms.
The architecture gets licensed out to third parties who make their own processors and platforms based on it. One example is the Qualcomm Snapdragon platform.
ARM have a number of processors that they’ve built using ARMv7 architecture and all fall under the ‘Cortex’ brand. There are real-time and highly embedded versions but the ‘A’ versions are the ones that interesting for general mobile computing tasks. ARM have three versions of the CPU. The A8 (currently in products), A9 (high end, multi-core capable due in products in 2010) and A5 (small, low-cost, due in products in late 2010) versions
When final products are completed by licensees you will often see them marketed under different brands. This is where it gets very confusing so I’ve listed most of the main players below along with notes and links to their various products and brands. Note that some ARM licensees are not made public and therefore no information is available.
I had a chat with ARM at CES and they followed up by sending me a PDF. Here’s one slide from that PDF that is directly relevant here. It lists ‘candidate’ platforms for Mobile Computing. We listed all of these platforms above but it’s good to know what ARM sees at potential platforms.
Click to Enlarge.
Note to PR agencies for ARM ecosystem partners. Put one twitter/web address in the comments and we’ll add it to the further reading list.
If you find the information useful for your work, please consider a small donation to help us continue the work. UMPCPortal is independent and funded purely through donations and advertising revenue.Â Many thanks
Updated: 14th Jan 2010
Updated: 18th Jan 2010 (added ARM slide)
Updated: 28 Jan 2010 (added possible Apple licensee (for A4 processor) information.
Updated: 12 May 2010 with more product information
Bringing a computing device to the market is, quite frankly, a nightmare. 90% of the work is in the last 10% of the detail and timescales will always slip. For the first-timer, the success rate must be pretty low. For a community project, the success rate must be even lower so we’re truly happy to see that the Open Pandora project is just a few steps away from the finishing line. (Actually, a new starting line!)
Production of the cases was due to start in time for Christmas shipping but a hiccup on the case has held things up. Fortunately, some production sample units are out there and the videos keep rolling in.
The Open Pandora product is aimed at hobbyists and hackers who want a relatively high-powered product for gaming-focused software projects. The device is just 140mm wide but contains a relatively powerful TI OMAP 3 board inside. That’s as good as the best ARM-based devices on the market right now!
Encompassing much of what the MID market stands for and reaching out in terms of screen size and CPU power to become a very interesting contender in the ‘non-PC’ mobile computing space is the Verizon / Motorola Droid.
$300 + a 24 month commitment brings you the ‘phone’ and you’ll get $100 back if you remember to mail-in the coupon.
OMAP3430 500/600 Mhz processor (same as Palm Pre â€“ Cortex A8 based)
5.0 MP Carl Zeiss camera with dual-LED flash, autofocus, and sliding cover
1GB total virtual runtime memory
Wi-Fi, HSPA, GPS, accelerometer
The camera, GPS and web-focused software will give Intel Moorestown based devices a close run. With the OMAP 3430 it should fly too.Â Note the 3.5â€ screen. Some rumours indicate that this device will have voice capability. If so, is it just one of a range of Maemo 5 devices? Will Maemo drive the new high-end series of devices from Nokia. Will there be a higher-end version with a 5â€ screen and bigger battery?
Looks like the MID market is about to get a big shake-up!
ZDnet posted some information about a rumored ‘Chassis 1′ specification for Windows 7 mobile phones yesterday and although it’s great to see, it looks like a list of the hardware that many of us in the ultra mobile PC and MID community have been been talking about for the last few years. It’s basically a list of currently available mobile technology and includes ARMV6+ processor, 800×480 multi-touch, 3MP cam, compass, accelerometer, light Sensor, high speed USB, BT2.1 and fast SSD. The other interesting spec is a screen size of 3.5â€ or more.
ARMV6 is not exactly thrilling but the ‘+’ would indicate that Microsoft are going to build WM7 for the Cortex architecture meaning ARMv7 and high-end platforms like Snapdragon, Tegra and OMAP.
What we don’t know is what the software layer is going to be like and that’s arguably the most important element.
The Omnia HD is something that all MID fans should be taking a close look at. It highlights how close the ARM-based platforms are to Intel’s MID platforms. In fact, in many ways, the Omnia HD looks like one of the best MIDs so far with longer battery life, smaller form factor, 720p video recording and a mobile-focused software suite that addresses new mobile markets. It’s an incredibly converged product but at the same time, you could call it a tweener. Neither a 24/7 phone or high quality mobile internet device.Â I intend to re-visit the Omnia HD by testing it in full in the near future but in the meantime, take a look at the specifications when placed side-by-side with the most popular tablet MID of the day and lets think about how the Omnia HD highlights that there is no such thing as a tweener.
Omnia browsing will fall way short of a desktop experience.
3D graphics: Power VR SGX
3G Graphics: Power VRÂ SGX
Good for navi, web, ereading
A useful, very low power information source. (Local Traffic, news, music, events)
Component, S-video out, VGA
Digital output on Omnia turns it into a better set top box.
Best USB device support
Limited USB device support
If you have USB devices, they are likely to work better with the Viliv S5
Full desktop software capability
Mobile-focused software capability
Viliv S5 allows you to carry on using your desktop software. Desktop software is, however, expensive.
Availability: Limited roll-out
Omnia HD will be widely available
Brand unknown outside Korea
Top-tier global branding.
Provides consumer confidence.
Clearly the Samsung Omnia HD has specifications that are very close to one of the best Intel-based MIDs on the market. You’re looking at an extremely capable hardware platform that provides consumer-focused MID, PMP, PVR and PND-like capabilities in a 24/7 voice-capable form factor.Â It’s also got mature, consumer-friendly mobile-focused software that tackles new mobile usage scnearios and it’s reached the market before anyone else could with Intel-based MIDs that are targeted at the same usage scenarios.Â For some it’s going to be seen as the ultimate converged device and one of the best ‘MIDs’ on the market.
Look at it from another angle though and you see a different story.Â If you want a 24/7 phone,Â the Omnia HD is very very expensive and for most people, too big.Â If you’re looking for the best quality mobile web browser, PND, PMP or microblogging device, it falls short on either screen size, keyboard or software. As with most converged devices, it takes new, exciting usage scenarios and lever’s them into compromised form factors.
What I see with the Samsung Omnia HD is a device that underscores exactly the emergingÂ scenarios that MIDs are targeted at. It’s providing a taster of things to come.Â If these scenarios develop, the new ecosystems created could support dedicated devices that fit in the space between the smartphone and the netbook. With technology like the Texas Instruments OMAP 3 platform and Intel’s Moorestown available to OEMs, it will only be a matter of tweaking the design, the software and applying the right marketing to slot the variants into the new ecosystems.
How about dropping the Omni HD’s internals into a Nokia N810-like form factor and increasing the screen to 4.8â€ with 250 DPI to improve the focus on mobile geo-enabled social networking? How about adding a powerful photo flash and video editing software to enhance mobile photo capabilities and add how about adding a daylight-readable 6″ screen for a move into the ebook market? Think about an iPod Plus, a Kindle with a fast browser and think about the next Nokia Tablet. A Techcrunch Crunchpad orÂ a Google Lattitude SocialÂ Tablet.Â A Canon/YouTube deviceÂ or even a dedicated Vodafone/BBC iPlayer.Â I don’t propose that all of these are winning business opportunities but I bet there are a few opportunitues in that list for dedicated devices that people have called ‘tweeners’ in the past.
The real story here is three-fold. The Omnia HD highlights how advanced and flexible the latest smartphone platforms are.Â It highlights that new usage models are emerging and that if these ecosystems grow, there will be opportunities for dedicated devices. Thank-you Samsung for highlighting that the MID concept is on the right track and that the end of the Tweener-era is nigh.
I feel sure there’s a few similar projects lying around on lab benches around the world as OEMs test out the capabilities of the next generation of ARM-based platforms and think about MID-focused products but it’s great to see a company, HY Research, take the time to write up such a project in so much detail. If you fancy making your own MID, you now have more inspiration then ever!
The MID uses the Beagle Board, $150 OMAP 3530-based development board and adds the interfacing, power, screen, buttons, connectors and casing to turn it into a fully working MID.
The whole project was done in around 80 hours of work. Information on the build process can be found here along with other Beagle Board projects here.
While it’s very exciting to be thinking about OMAP 4 and Sparrow, they are a long, long way away from being a reality in a device. More interesting today are the Cortex A8-based products. Texas Instruments have the OMAP3 platform which includes a Cortex A8 core and you can find it in a number of leading-edge computing products like Open Pandora, the BeagleBoard and, when it launches, the Palm Pre. As these and other OMAP34xx devices reach the market, Ti will be feeding in a new range of OMAP3 platforms known as the OMAP36xx series. The platform doesn’t change much in terms of building blocks but there are important incremental improvements all round. The platforms will be available for sampling in Q3 2009 which probably means 2010 production and products.
Most important are the improvements brought by moving to a 45nm process (as the Intel Atom uses) which are said to improve efficiency by up to 25%. An extra 30 minutes mobile browsing time here and there is never a bad thing! Key features reported on the press release are shown below.
45 nm CMOS process technology delivers higher performance with lower power consumption versus the OMAP34x family, including an approximately 25% reduction in power and 75% improvement in graphics performance.
Robust multi-tasking platform that supports running multiple applications in parallel by simultaneously exercising the CPU, multimedia performance and 2D/3D graphics engines.
Dedicated 2D/3D graphics hardware accelerator, enabling more immersive user interfaces and compelling graphics for applications like realistic 3D gaming.
Smart pixel technology via OpenGL ES 2.0 delivers stunning imaging capabilities through advanced reflection effects and life-like facial features.
Supports multi-standard 720p HD functionality for HD video recording and playback.
Integrated image signal processor (ISP) supporting up to 12 megapixel (MP) imaging for enhanced photographic image quality and fast shot-to-shot camera performance.
Pre-integrated support for mobile connectivity, including TI’s current and future combo WiLinkTM Wi-Fi solutions, NaviLinkTM GPS solutions, and BlueLinkTM Bluetooth(r) solutions.