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Ready to switch to Open Hardware GNU/Linux PowerPC notebooks.
The game has changed, now GNU/Linux is everywhere running on every CPU architectures and devices. It's the right time to make new choices, an Open Hardware PowerPC Notebook designed around GNU/Linux, make it happen!
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Our passion on innovation and for our Open Source project have already motivated and joined Acube Systems for the design of the mobo and future production and Slimbook for the notebook body.
Your participation make the difference to complete the design and production.
We are making Donation Campaigns to pay the design of our Open Hardware PowerPC Notebook motherboard designed around GNU/Linux.
We will build a solidarity based purchasing group, with a fair price for everyone (manufacturer and customer).
In September 2020 we have published on our gitlab repository the Orcad source file with the latest version (v0.6) of the Electrical Schematics, you can go more deep on these board layout starting from the Orcad source.
The tentative deadline for Phase1B is 2th November so there are two weeks left to donate the remaining 3660 euros. If we will reach the goal, the PCB with SI bus simulation should be ready by the end of November.
In this case in December 2020 we will work on production of the Prototypes together with the Prototypes Donation Campaign.
We have to give a name to the motherboard, suggestions still remain open few days more on our forum
Finally we have published on our gitlab repository the Orcad source file with the latest version (v0.6) of the Electrical Schematics.
This file is at base of the PCB Design which is currently being worked on using Mentor Xpedition. The previous version of the schematics required some updates in order to accommodate minor changes to match the Slimbook chassis internal spaces. In addition, the schematics are now compatible with the I/O expansion board and the position of the external ports found on the “Elipse” chassis model, that was kindly provided by Slimbook.
After achieving the goal of Phase 1A (thank you all!!), we have just started Phase 1B of the donation campaign targeting the “Fast SI bus simulations”, in other words, an in-depth analysis of the integrity of signals of the PCB that came out from the previous campaign.
After discussing with the engineers currently working on the PCB, we were told that publishing an incomplete and potentially buggy PCB does not have much sense, as there might be major problems that will be solved after carrying out the SI bus simulations. At the end of these long discussions, we agreed on publishing the PCB only after reaching the end of Phase 1B, when all checks will be done.
At this point we cannot fix a deadline for publishing the PCB, as the end of the work on the PCB largely depends on when we will reach the goal of Phase 1B donation campaign and when the SI simulation will help solve all electrical problems that may come up.
The tentative deadline for Phase1B is 16th October so there are two weeks left to donate the remaining 4000 euros (around 4700 USD). If we will reach the goal, the PCB with SI bus simulation should be ready by the end of November .
On the 8th of September 2020 we have reached the previous goal targeting to collect the needed donations to complete the design our Open Hardware PCB (Printed circuit board), a big thanks to all supporters!
In the last 9 days, we received more than 2000 euros. It allowed the campaign to reach its goal 7 days prior to its deadline, wonderful! Thank you all!
This new campaign (Phase 1B) aims at the “Fast SI bus simulations”, in other words, it will pay for an in-depth analysis of the integrity of signals of the PCB that came out from the previous campaign. We have started the collection of donations right after reaching the 100% of the previous campaign.
Around 6 years back, we started as a group of FOSS, PowerPC and Open Hardware enthusiasts, with beginning to work on PowerPC Notebook project which was designed around GNU/Linux using Open Hardware. We had very limited funding with limited skills to work. But our enthusiasm and motivation led us to reach fabrication stage for the motherboard. Finally this year we could successfully design its PCB with the help of collaborators and limited funding from donors. There were many challenges faced in this process. Since PowerPC processors have been around for more than 2 decades, but the current implementation on Notebook was difficult to take in the market. Coming to the performance in Big Endian mode is maximized in this with many software need to be patched. In future we plan to upgrade our PCB design to the more recent packaging technology for the processor. Also, with increasing collaborators, it would be possible to design more smaller and cheaper PowerPC board.
Thanks to the donations already received, the work on the PCB design can move forward and we estimate it could be completed by the End of September 2020. The date of publication of the PCB design will heavily depend on the results of the internal review process once we receive the first draft, hopefully it will not take long. The design of the PCB is meant to fit inside the Slimbook Eclipse body.
As we were unable to reach the goal by August, we are forced to postpone the deadline of the current Donation Campaign (Phase 1A) to the 15th of September 2020.
We kindly ask all followers, friends, and donors to concentrate their donations before the 15th September 2020, to ensure the end of Phase 1A to avoid an additional delay.
The plan is to deliver the PCB design with the end of Phase 1A, and right after that start Phase 1B “Fast SI bus simulations” on the 16th of September with a goal of € 5000 (around $ 5600). As a consequence, there will be no interruption in the donation campaign, it will transparently fade from Phase 1A to Phase 1B seamlessly.
The PCB design is in progress even if August is a holiday season in Italy. ACube Systems was able to engage an engineering firm available to work in August to develop the PCB based on the electrical schematics, a pretty difficult task because everyone is on holiday at this time in Italy.
In addition, Slimbook has provided us additional parts of the schematics useful for reviewing the connection of our motherboard design to the native Eclipse Expansion I/O Board. Resulting from these efforts, we can confirm our envisioned tentative schedule that set the delivery of the PCB design by the end of September 2020.
Interview with Riccardo Mottola, the main contributor to the ArcticFox web browser
In our PowerProgressCommunity association website we just published an interview with Riccardo Mottola, the most active developer contributing to the most advanced browser available for the PowerPC big endian platform
We have just published in our repo arcticfox 27.10.2(beta) compiled for PPC64
Freedesktop for Big Endian ported 350 package out of 470 to PPC64 big endian
Another step ahead on freedesktop-sdk on ppc64 big endian: libvpx and nss are gone. From 470 packages almost 350 are passed. Now the big challenge starts with ffmpeg, some sdl2 related component and mesa extension.
Suggest a Name for our PowerPC Notebook motherboard
Its time to give a name to our motherboard, we already have in our PPC forum few suggestions, please add yours.
Thanks to the donations already received, the work on the PCB design can move forward and we estimate it could be completed by the End of September 2020. The timing is somehow unfortunate, as August in Italy is time of vacation, nevertheless, we will do our best to avoid interruptions. The date of publication of the PCB design will heavily depend on the results of the internal review process once we receive the first draft, hopefully it will not take long. The design of the PCB is meant to fit inside the Slimbook Eclipse body.
As we were unable to reach the goal by July, we are forced to postpone the deadline of the current Donation Campaign (Phase 1A) to the 30th of August 2020.
The plan is to deliver the PCB design with the end of Phase 1A, and right after that start Phase 1B “Fast SI bus simulations” on the 1st of September with a goal of € 5000 (around $ 5600). As a consequence, there will be no interruption in the donation campaign, it will transparently fade from Phase 1A to Phase 1B seamlessly.
We kindly ask all followers, friends, and donors to concentrate their donations before the 30th August 2020, to ensure the end of Phase 1A to avoid an additional delay.
Our PPC64 Big Endian Patches
Flatpak binary is running on Debian 10 PPC64 Big Endian but need the Freedesktop layer to prepare the flatpak packages strating from hundreds of manifests.
After importing bootstrap on a native ppc64be, the build process stops on package https://github.com/google/boringssl.git it doesn’t have ppc64 support, “magic” debian repo solve a lot of problems related to dep…back on track on porting!
Once copied the bootstrap to target, rename bootstrap/powerpc64 to bootstrap/current Execute these commands to compile:
MintPPC running on the T2080RDB Devkit
We are in close contact with Jeroen, the creator of the Debian based MintPPC distro (see a post about the new 2020 version of MintPPC here). We have successfully tested it on our T2080RDB Devkit that has the same NXP T2080 cpu of our laptop project (64bit, 4 cores, 8 logical core, up to 1.8Ghz).
We very much like the work that our friends at Libre-SOC are currently doing. Our approach have multiple similarities as we both aim at supporting a similar effort in pushing Open Hardware further. Below some update from their team.
Libre-SOC ran its first “hello world” little-endian binary a few weeks ago. This shows us that Load, Store, Branch (and return) and many other POWER9 instructions are operational. With help from Florent of Enjoy-Digital.fr the next main task is to add Litex integration which will provide access to peripherals, both on FPGAs and in simulation. At the same time, Jean-Paul from Sorbonne University has been helping with the layout of the 180nm test ASIC
If anyone would like to assist we have funding thanks to NLNet under their Privacy and Enhanced Trust Programme http://nlnet.nl/PET
In the last PCB update post we mentioned that a new version V. 0.5 ( June 2020) of the electrical schematics is in the works. After a few rounds of internal reviews, that new version is now finally ready to be publicly shared.
We have published in our repository this new version of the schematics.
Thanks to the project’s supporters (here a list of donors) we reached 76% of the goal of the current step.
Roberto asked me to write a little bit about myself and my project. First I want to thank Roberto for the opportunity to speak about what I like doing, which is creating Linux distributions.
I started with Linux around 1999 with an iMac DV and Linux PPC2000 I think it was called. I moved from Yellow Dog Linux to Mandrake / Mandriva and ended up with Ubuntu and Debian. I have been using Debian ever since. Around 2008 I found out that LXDE as desktop is very suitable for old hardware. It even ran fine on my beloved Pismo. At that time I got an idea of porting the beautiful graphical layer that Linux Mint LXDE had to Debian powerpc. The idea at that time was to create a good looking, fast and stable Linux distribution wherein powerpc hardware (like airport cards) works out of the box. I think I succeeded with that then. MintPPC 8, 9 and 11 were released. At that time my first son was born and I had other things on my mind. I had no idea that it was such a success.
In 2019, as I was sick lying in bed, I found an old PowerBook. I thought, let’s try Debian on this thing, I have nothing better to do. While lying in bed I started reading and found out that people really liked MintPPC! I had no idea! So, then the idea was born to do the same trick again. During my illness I ported Linux Mint Tricia code with old Linux Mint LXDE to PPC. It is now again possible to install MintPPC in 2020. MintPPC comes in a 32-bits and a 64-bits version. Both versions are looking exactly the same. They are now based on Debian sid and code from the latest linux Mint version with an LXDE desktop. It runs pretty snappy on Apple machines, especially at the high end. My project has a website and installation instructions can be found there. It is all pretty straightforward, just like the “old MintPPC”.
Since a couple of months I began to develop interest in the powerpc-notebook project. I was very pleased to see that people are trying to get a new PowerPC powered laptop on the market. I was even more pleased to read that the project will be open source and that Linux will run on these machines. Then I read on and found out that Debian is one of the candidates. Wow, that is cool I thought! Well, then I immediately developed my idea to port Linux Mint Debian Edition 4 (LMDE4) to ppc64. LMDE4 is a very nice looking distribution, with cinnamon as desktop manager. Running this on G3,G4 would be almost impossible and maybe it would work on G5 I thought. But with an e6500 core this would make sense absolutely. In a nutshell, that is my idea. I started with Debian sid ppc64 and ported some of the Mint code. We will have to see how well this will perform on the new platform. I am in the early stages so anything is possible.
I think it will be good if there is more choice in distributions for the powerpc-laptop project. Not everyone likes the same stuff. I hope that this laptop project will be successful and that some nice distribution will be placed upon it in the future.
The progress of donations is going well and we reached 71% of the goal.
A big thanks to all donors!
New Version of Electrical Schematics
We just received a new version of the schematics (v0.5) that raise the power consumption footprint up to 90W in order to support higher end MXM 3 video cards that may reach a maximum of 55W under heavy load. As an example, the AMD Radeon E9174 (GCN 4.0) has a TDP of 50W.
We will publish in our repository this new version of the schematics ( pdf format and Orcad source) as soon as we finish an internal round of checks in close collaboration with ACube Systems, as we would like to ensure that it can be considered finalized.
PCB Design Timeline
In the next few days the engineer taking care of the motherboard design will concentrate on the PCB, as the Electrical Schematics are now stable enough.
Thanks to the donations already received, the work on the PCB design ( done with Mentor pads ) can move forward and we estimate it could be completed by September 2020. The timing is somehow unfortunate, as August in Italy is a month where anybody is on holiday, nevertheless, we will do our best to avoid interruptions.The date of publication of the PCB design will depend on the results of the internal review process once we receive it, hopefully it will not take long. The design of the PCB fit inside the Slimbook Eclipse body.
We will export the Orca electrical schematic design even to EDIF format, to make easier for new volunteers to convert it to Kicad Format. To convert from EDIF to Kicad we have found edif2kicad tools https://github.com/svn2github/edif2kicad but we are sure you will find other tools or even you will be able to create a new one
In case you are able to convert our PCB Mentor Pads design to Kicad you are welcome to do it. If you have any issue when doing so, contact us and we will be happy to provide some help.
More time for Donations
After an internal discussion, we decided to postpone the deadline of the current Donation Campaign (Phase 1A) to the 30th of July 2020.
The plan is to deliver the PCB design with the end of Phase 1A, and right after that start Phase 1B “Fast SI bus simulations” on the 1st of August with a goal of €5000 (around $5600). As a consequence, there will be no interruption in the donation campaign, it will transparently fade from Phase 1A to Phase 1B seamlessly.
We kindly ask all followers, friends, and donors to concentrate their donations before the 30th July 2020, to ensure the end of Phase 1A without further delays.
We also kindly invite any of you that is capable of technically reviewing the hardware schematics to contact us, as that will help speed up the design process, as well as improving the overall quality of the final motherboard.
You can now donate from any country thanks to Stripe Payment Gateway
Potential donors from Countries such as Lebanon and China were unable or had serious difficulties to donate via Bank transfer and PayPal. The issue is now solved thanks to the addition of Stripe Gateway among the payment methods, they applied for us a discounted rate being a non-profit organization and they charge a commission on each donation of 1,2%+0,25€ inside the EU, and 2,9%+0,25€ outside the EU.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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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