Growing Up Collaborations: May 2020 Updates

Picture Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In the last post we mentioned that a new version of the electrical schematics is in the works. After a few rounds of internal reviews and changes, that new version is now finally ready to be publicly shared.

We publish a PDF version of the schematics exported from the ORCAD software that is being used by the designer. You may navigate through the document and investigate each component, but unluckily, due to the complexity of the document some PDF viewer may be unable to correctly visualize its content, if that happens just change the viewer you are using.

After receiving these new schematics, we already requested a new round of changes to the designer, in particular we would like to raise the motherboard power consumption footprint up to 90W in order to support higher ends  MXM 3 video cards that consume a maximum of 55W. As an example, the AMD Radeon E9174 (GCN 4.0) has a TDP of 50W. The idea is to obtain a new version of electrical schematics before the end of May. 

If you think a TDP of 90W is too much for a laptop, I can tell you that while I am typing this post on my laptop (a DELL XPS 15 9570, released in 2018) I have attached a power meter to the power brick and the power consumption bounces between 40W and 90W (dunno why is going up and down, I have only a browser turned on). I have also tried playing some 3D games on my DELL laptop, and the power consumption reaches picks of 110W, and sometimes even higher, up to the limit of the power brick, which is 130W.

The current version of the  motherboard, as you can see in the electrical schematics at pages 3 and 4 of the PDF, there are two SO-DIMM DDR3L slots that can host DDR3L non-ECC (max 1866 MT/s, PC3-14900). We opted for non-ECC modules as they are way easier to find on the market and are less expensive than ECC ones, so it will be easy to have 32GB of RAM (2x16GB), up to a limit of 64GB of RAM, if you can find 32GB SO-DIMM modules.

PowerPC Notebook Block Diagram May 2020

In the block diagram and in the schematics you can find a GPIO Extender. This element will be extremely useful for debugging only the prototypes, and it will be removed in the production units.

Thanks to the project’s supporters  (here a list of donors) and in spite of the current difficult times due to the coronavirus impact on everyone’s life, we reached 60% of the goal of the current step, making us confident that it will be possible to obtain the PCB design in a reasonable time frame.

Still, we still have to raise the remaining 40% (€7600 / $8400) to reach the current goal and we kindly ask any of you to continue supporting the donation campaign.

We also invite anyone that is capable of helping us in the technical review of the hardware schematics to contact us, as that would help us to speed up the design process as well as improve the overall quality of the final motherboard. 

We finally would like to stress that the PowerProgressCommunity association behind this project has the long-term goal to lower the existing barriers for accessing and sharing technological knowledge. Being able to freely share a laptop motherboard schematics will dramatically improve the current situation where access to these kinds of data is difficult for who is working in the field, let’s imagine how difficult it is for who is just approaching the topic like students and hobbyists. In addition, by stressing on alternative, non-mainstream technologies, will help spread a culture of diversity, so much important in a flattening world where younger generations don’t even imagine that a different architecture from x86 or ARM exists.

Working on U-Boot

Our NXP T2080RDB devkit boots with AMD RadeonHD video cards using GNU/Linux PPC distros. So far we have successfully tested Debian 10, OpenSuse, VoidLinux, and Fienix. However, due to a lack of involved people expert on U-Boot, we are still lacking support for video output during the boot process, just before the linux kernel kicks in. Very recently, a couple of supporters experts in this field contacted us and joined the group. Thanks to their help, we are confident to solve the current situation, and even update U-Boot from the latest sources. Hopefully, we will be able to publish a new post with some good news in the not-so-distant future.

Working on Unreal Engine PPC64 (big endian) on VoidLinux

Thanks to JT from the VoidLinux group supporting PowerPC, we understood that the current problem of ABI we are facing while trying to build UnrealEngine 4.23 on our Debian SID PPC64 system, is that under debian PPC64 the clang compiler supports abiv1, the lld linker does not. As this was just not enough, JT told us that the Mesa library on big endian supports OpenGL 3.2, but unfortunately Unreal seems to require a more recent version of OpenGL.

This ABI build problem can only be solved either by obtaining somehow an abiv2 userland or by replacing the used linker  (e.g. ld.bfd). It is currently difficult to say if UE actually requires it for anything. The old abi v1 is not very good anyway, as it has some awful quirks like function descriptors making library calls slower and making function pointers larger than 8 bytes, requiring a double indirection, whereas the new ABI v2 is much better by design and it works even on big endian systems even if it was designed in 2013 with little endian system in mind.

VoidLinux supports the new ABI v2, so our intention is to setup VoidLinux on our Power9 VM on OSU, replacing the current system based on Debian. Only by solving the ABI issues we will be able to finally build Unreal on a PPC64 big endian machine.

As  the Power9 machine we are using on OSU relies on OpenStack, we now have to create a VoidLinux image for OpenStack.At the moment VoidLinux miss the cloud-init package that is required by OpenStack, so we started working on it by following the cloud-init documentations.

Running cloud-init integration test on VoidLinuxPPC64 running on QEMU on G5 Host

We will appreciate any help from you to support us on this important effort, particularly those of you with some knowledge on setting up cloud-init. An additional problem we are currently facing is that our  member that is working on this task does not have any PPC64 hardware, and is relying solely on a slowly emulated VoidLinux PPC64 using QEMU version 4.2.0 on a  X86 hardware.

VoidLinux PPC64 running on QEMU under X86 host

In search for additional systems supporting the ABI v2, we have investigated also Adelié Linux that recently released version 1.0RC1 in February 2020 for PPC64. Unfortunately, it does not have any cloud-init package built in.

Collaboration with Libre-SOC

We very very much like the works our friends at Libre-SOC are currently doing, and our two projects seems to have multiple point-of-contact, therefore we approached them in order to establish a good relationship aimed at supporting  the common Open Hardware effort.

Libre-SOC is a Libre Hardware-Software project that aims to deliver a physical POWER compliant SOC that comes complete with a CPU, GPU, VPU, and DDR controller. All the software and hardware from the drivers down to the RTL and VLSI cells are libre-licensed. Libre-SOC is also providing the necessary drivers amongst which include Kazan (a Vulkan 3D driver) and the full on-board boot ROM firmware source, as well as a full zero-ROM cold-boot method for added trustability.

The intended market includes customers who desire acceleration in the embedded space without relying on ARM or 3rd party proprietary drivers that have been known to break in the past.

The first iteration of Libre-SOC targets a single-core at 180nm. Subsequent generations target SMP cores at a smaller node size, for typical use in SBC designs.

Interview to Roberto Innocenti about our project thanks to Charbax of ARMDevices

At the end of April, thanks to Charbax of Armdevices.net, there was an interview with Roberto Innocenti, the first creator of the idea of building a PowerPC laptop and co-founder of the PowerProgressCommunity. The interview was about the laptop project and other activities carried out by the not-for-profit association. Below you may find the topics touched in the interview. We think that the interview is interesting and contains many hints on the approach we are following, even if the spoken English of Roberto is sometimes difficult to follow. During the interview one person asked about the Manjaro distro for PowerPC, and after some check, it seems that  such a distro lacks a PowerPC support.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kM2zqTEHa8

0.13 Self-introduction of Roberto Innocenti
0.45 Power Progress Community non-profit association
1.34 PowerPC notebook project
3.15 PowerPC architecture history
6.13 OpenPOWER Foundation
7.11 Why NXP CPU and not IBM
9.40 PowerPC on Linux
11.35 Linux distributions runnable on PowerPC
13:36 Future of embedded PowerPC
15:21 Cell processor interesting facts
18:27 Schematics and diagrams of PowerPC notebook project
19:31 NXP CPU specification
20:13 Upgradable AMD Radeon MXM GPU
21:02 Contribution of Power Progress Community and ACube Systems Srl
22:24 TDP, commercial usage and capabilities of NXP CPU
27:40 Supported kinds of storage
28:28 More about AMD Radeon MXM GPU
30:14 Old PowerPC MacBook performance compared to PowerPC notebook dev kit
31:41 Is Roberto Innocenti is better than Steve Jobs? 😉
32:25 People behind the PowerPC notebook project
34:07 PowerPC compared to ARM
37:35 More about OpenPOWER Foundation
40:43 Donation campaign details
43:52 Slimbook Eclipse chassis
46:50 What about small-desktop/NUC style device?
48:44 Estimated price of PowerPC notebook
51:55 Manufacturing of components
52:50 COVID-19 situation
56:23 Young people involved in PowerPC notebook project
57:11 Diversity of hardware designing, production and distribution
1:04:50 Transparency of NXP CPU
1:06:13 More about manufacturing of components and dependence on China
1:09:21 Ubuntu and Debian on PowerPC
1:11:03 Manjaro and other Linux distributions on PowerPC
1:12:30 Current phase of donation campaign
1:14:00 Potential successor of NXP CPU

Educational Activities

Under these complicated times due to the many restrictions imposed by coronavirus  schools are closed, at least in Italy. As a consequence, students heavily rely on digital peripherals to keep up with lessons, and when trying to keep a social life with their friends. Not all families can afford a PC or a tablet for every child, and sometimes students are forced to study long documents on their mobile phones, when they have one. We are contributing  to help the online education system run by Schools by providing recycled notebooks, and we named this project “Relive with Scratch” (“Rivivo con Scratch” in Italian).

At Schools with our project “Relive With Scratch”

Regenerated notebooks are those we have collected during 2019 and 2020 (all based on more or less old x86 cpus), and initially meant for the coding courses using the Scratch software and for learning math with Gcompris. To better suit the activities of the students,  we opted for providing a Linux system equipped with  ChromiumOS that has small footprints which is suitable for our old regenerated notebooks and moreover works well with the Google Gsuite which is heavily used in the classrooms, especially in the primary schools which is the main focus of our project.

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