Dummy board being finalized

It is with great joy that we present you the first tangible result after years of spending time on planning, ideas, projects and schematics. Below you see pictures of the dummy board, a non-working prototype that was printed with a two-layers PCB that was paid thanks to the ongoing donation campaign.

Top side of the dummy board.
Bottom side of the dummy board.

The primary use of this dummy board is to perform mechanical checks in conjunction with the Slimbook notebook chassis. The board is not finished yet, the PCB designer still has to mount additional mechanical components such as connectors to ensure the final working prototypes will fit perfectly in the Slimbook Eclipse chassis.

The PCB designer in charge of the job is carefully working to fine tune the gerber design files and already adjusted some minor details, proving that a preliminary dummy board was very much needed.

We would like to thank Gerard Schneider that kindly offered us a ATI Radeon 7970 MXM card, it will surely help us testing the working prototypes that will be produced later on. We welcome anybody else willing to send us other Radeon MXM cards that may lay unused in a corner, we would like to start as soon as possible to test various GPUs in the upcoming working hardware.
[UPDATE 2021-04-22] Unfortunately our notebook board is set to work exclusively with MXM-A 3.0 (type A) with a size of 82mm x 70 mm and with a maximum power consumption of 55W, whereas the MXM card provided by that Gerard Schneider is an MXM-B (type B) with a size of 82mm x 105mm and a maximum power of 200W. Thank you anyway Gerard, your card will be useful to check and eventually fix the video drivers but it will not be used inside the prototypes.

ATI Radeon 7970 MXM card.

Even if it is “just” a dummy board, this is a great milestone, and we are really happy about it because we can finally touch something with our hands. We would like to thank all the people that made it possible to reach this point, and we really hope that the donation campaign financing the final prototypes will speed up because now we all want to see more!!

Are you willing to help?

Being part of a project like this could be an amazing experience, you meet new people, volunteers of other projects, companies devoted to open source and everyone is willing to help. We are continuously giving examples of this in our blog posts but, in the last weeks, we are especially grateful about the support received from KiCad developers and Slimbook.

Two additional enclosures for our prototypes.

Slimbook is a company making a huge effort in promoting an Open Source environment. They produce notebooks, mini-PCs and desktop computers targeting mainly Linux users. As an example of their commitment to the open source community, they have a very have a good relationship with the KDE project and together they collaborate on the creation of laptops meant to use primarily KDE. Despite being a small company, they are having success selling their products worldwide and these are very appreciated by the Linux community.
As you may know, we started our collaboration with Slimbook more than two years ago and they have been always quite helpful promptly responding to our requests and providing information about the enclosure design or the related components that will be also used in our notebook (screen, keyboard, dissipation devices, etc.). All their support and time was kindly offered for free. Besides that support, we have received two Slimbook Eclipse enclosures to continue our tests. This will make possible to assemble three prototypes of our PPC Notebook. Again, they did it for free. We have no words.

A Slimbook Eclipse enclosure kindly donated by Slimbook.

Export our PCB to KiCad, a difficult journey

At the very beginning of this adventure, we were trying to find hardware experts to design the motherboard but the level of expertise required for such type of hardware made this challenge unachievable for us. Of course, we have experts on that field but the complexity of this design demands quite a lot of time, impossible to carry out solely using the volunteers spare time. So we opted to look for a company experienced in motherboard design and even more difficult, a company that was experienced with the PowerPC architecture.

We were lucky enough to meet ACube Systems and its circle of collaborators. However, as most for-profit companies do, the ACube System subcontractor company had its own proprietary software tools which generates file encoded using non-open outputs formats. In our case we end up with files created using Mentor Xpedition, a software that cannot exporting to KiCad. To convert our Mentor Xpedition source files we were told to import them into Altium, and import the converted Altium files into KiCad.

Unfortunately, the KiCad importer for Altium files is still heavily under development, and it is far from being complete. We contacted the KiCad developers and they kindly accepted to perform some testing with our Altium PCB files and that helped spotting various errors in the conversion procedure. These error were identified by the developer in charge of the Altium import module for KiCad and he is currently addressing the encountered issues. Regarding the BOM (Bill Of Materials) the guys at KiCad recommended to import the Altium schematics to KiCad, and generate the BOM from there.

Obtaining an open source format for publishing our motherboard PCB is very important for us, as it allow anyone to easily access the result of our efforts to deliver a truly and fully compliant Open Hardware design.

After a few attempts, the guys at KiCad suggested another option: instead of converting the original Mentor Xpedition files to Altium, they suggested to load them using FabMaster. In fact, KiCad has another importer dedicated to FabMaster (for the board only) and the result of this import module should be useful to understand the level of accuracy of the Altium importer. In theory, the Altium import should produce better results with respects to the FabMaster importer as it is a newer. We are currently investigating if we can follow this path, as it seems to require a full Xpedition license, therefore we are in the process of contacting the subcontractor engineer to explore this solution.

An AmigaOS4 AHI driver for our sound chipset

Our notebook motherboard is open to any operating system supporting PowerPC. Among the operating system that could possibly work, there is AmigaOS 4, a closed-source system that already works on the E-AON AmigaOne X5000 that mount either a NXP P5020 or a P5040, which are both PowerPC Book3e e5500 CPUs. These CPUs can be considered the previous generation CPUs with respect to our T2080 (PowerPC Book3e e6500), one of the main differences is that they lack the Altivec unit, which the T2080 has.

On the April 1st the Dutch developer H. Kanning (nickname “geen_naam”) announced the availability of an AHI sound driver supporting HD Audio compliant chips, and explicitly supporting the C-MEDIA C8828 that we selected for our motherboard. At first we though it was an April fool, but then it was confirmed to actually exists and work, meaning that another operating system is one step closer to being supported. Great job!

PCB Complete sources published! Mentor Expedition, Altium and Kicad formats

At the beginning of March the consultant engineer paid using the donation campaign provided us with the Mentor Xpedition source files of our PCB. Providing source files created with a proprietary software is not ideal, therefore we have worked to convert the sources to the Open Source KiCad format.

To achieve the porting of the sources, we first tried loading the Mentor Xpedition sources using the PCB Design Software Altium, and from there, export the sources to KiCad.

We were pleasantly surprised by members of the KiCad team that promptly answered our call for volunteers able to help us in the source translation process, thank you guys, it was really much appreciated!

In our task, we found a very useful post on the KiCad blog that explains how to import an Altium PCB design file in Kicad.

Apparently the Altium Importer is not available if you start PCB window from the KiCad project manager window, you have  to start it from the command line as pcbnew-nightly to get the KiCad import feature for loading alien formats.

KiCad eeschema-nightly currently does not support importing Altium schematics. There is an ongoing discussion, so perhaps there are some alpha/beta-testers of it.

For BOM – we are finding information in the Altium database as well as KiCad. The KiCad export info we obtained in our first attempt is simplistic, and it does miss instance identifiers (c43, u17, r9 sorts of designators, which are present in Altium info). We do not see anything yet about enabling/disabling details types from the KiCad BOM export, so we are unsure whether more detailed columns can be obtained.

our gitlab repository with motherboard design sources

You may find the original Mentor Expedition sources in our GitLab repository. We were unable to run the visECAD Viewer as even the provided free license version doesn’t seem to work. In fact, visECAD Viewer appears to be withdrawn from the market and it not anymore available to download, and we did not not receive any answer to our requests of support from the Siemens team.

We were able to view the Altium import with the Altium online viewer thanks to the support of the Altium team.

After all our attempts, we are now pleased to announce that it is now possible to load the source files of the notebook motherboard PCB in KiCad using its kicad-nightly version.

Another recent news about the PowerPC notebook project, is that Slimbook will kindly provide us with two additional Slimbook Eclipse empty chassis. These will be used to test that our prototypes will correctly fit. At the same time, the guys at ACube Systems are investigating  suitable MXM video cards mounting AMD chips that could be used in the prototypes. We are investigating how we could collect  the additional funding required to pay for the various MXM video cards that will be used for testing and for the two additional Slimbook Eclipse chassis.Thanks to the kind contribution of the donors, the preparation of all components for the prototypes is progressing well.

We would like to reach the 50% of the final goal of the current campaign as soon as possible to avoid slowdowns in the current prototypes production phase. We currently need your financial support more than ever!

  1. Slimbook Eclipse Notebook

    Donation Campaign for Production of three working Prototypes

    €6,333.00 donated of €12,500.00 goal

PCB gerber files published, Updates on the Prototypes

We have published the first version of the gerber files of the notebook motherboard PCB on our GitLab repository!

The engineers in charge of the design used the software Mentor Xpedition to carry out the design, and in a couple of weeks we will publish their original sources of the PCB from which the gerber files were exported. The cause of the delay in the publication of the sources is because the PCB simulations still are being performed, and until then the sources -and consequently the gerber files- might change. The simulation of the PCB that was successfully financed with the previous donation campaign is currently being finalized. As nobody in our association has the required tools, ACube Systems is taking care of supervising the entire review process for us.

We are perfectly aware that providing source files created with proprietary software is not ideal, therefore we are investigating how we could provide the PCB sources for the Open Source KiCad software. A first attempt we are testing is to load the Mentor Xpedition sources using the PCB Design Software Altium, and from there, convert the source to Kicad. We are looking for volunteers that could help us in the source translation process.

While interacting with ACube on the simulation process, we were faced with the fact that the verbal agreement we made on the prototyping costs dated back to mid-2017 and the world went through great changes. Back then, they estimated a total cost of €10.500, consisting of a first € 3000 for the initial equipment, and € 1500 for each prototype motherboard, multiplied by 5 motherboards. However, after detailing and updating all involved costs using today’s market quotations, it appears clear that most of the components costs have increased since then, maybe because of the pandemic, who knows. Take for example the NXP T2080 CPU, since 2017 its price has simply dubled, and most of the other components have increased their price too. We discussed extensively with ACube Systems, the initial equipment is still € 3000, but the final cost of each prototype motherboard has increased to € 3000, doubling the initially estimated price of 4 years ago.

Because of this dramatic increase in the production cost we decided to make 3 working prototypes only, that makes € 9000. On top of these we add another € 500 to make a dummy board (not working board), printed with a two layers PCB and all mechanical components correctly mounted. The scope of such a dummy board is to ensure that the working prototypes that will be produced later will mechanically fit in the Slimbook Eclipse. As a result, the ongoing campaign goal will be increased to € 12.500.

  1. Slimbook Eclipse Notebook

    Donation Campaign for Production of three working Prototypes

    €6,333.00 donated of €12,500.00 goal

We are currently investigating the impact of the increased production costs to the final product, but we do not have an answer so far. We will keep you informed as soon as we have a reliable estimation.

Another success: PCB completely financed! It’s time for the prototypes campaign!

Thanks to the kind contribution of the donors, we just reached the goal of the campaign for financing Phase 1B “Fast simulation bus”.

The PCB (Printed Circuit Board) design is currently being finalized, as soon as we have reviewed it, we will publish it in our GitLab repository. This last phase was of fundamental importance as we could test the correctness of the design, paving the way for the next campaign.

We got through the hardest parts with regards to the Research and Development choices. We past the uncertain ground with its many open challenges and many solutions have been explored. We also past the economical goal of previous campaigns that were quite heavy, and thanks to many people we have managed to get this far, again, thank you all!

We are now ready to launch Phase 2 “Production and delivery of five working prototypes” with a goal of 10500 Euros (around 12720 USD).

  1. Slimbook Eclipse Notebook

    Donation Campaign for Production of three working Prototypes

    €6,333.00 donated of €12,500.00 goal

Our target is to complete this new campaign by Spring 2021, and we are working again with the patient guys at ACube Systems that will assist us in making the five prototypes.

printed circuit check

These prototypes will be very important as they will be used to

  • put the PCB design to the test
  • learn how to correctly initialize the hardware
  • fine-tune the configuration of U-Boot
  • fit the motherboard in the Eclipse Slimbook body

So far, we worked with U-Boot on the NXP T2080 RDB Devkit but that is quite different to our motherboard, which is quite more complex. We have to fine-tune U-Boot directly on the final hardware, and the prototypes will be essential for this. In addition, work on U-Uoot is still required even with the Devkit in order to correctly set up the framebuffer. Right now we can access the U-Boot console in serial mode only. ACube Systems will assist us on this task.

The motherboard is designed (screw and ports positions) to fit inside the Eclipse Notebook body that the prototypes should be mounted on.

Moreover, we need to redesign the dissipation heat pipes that will be slightly different from what was originally in place for the Eclipse Notebook.

Maybe some of you didn’t even think it was possible but we are progressing. The journey is still not finished. We need you to tell about this project all around you as we need more interested people, more donations.

2021 is our year! Let’s make this project a reality!

PCB Design nearly complete, preparing for the next campaign aimed at working prototypes

The campaign aimed at the “Fast simulations bus” is nearly complete, and we will receive the resulting PCB design before the end of 2020. As soon as we have reviewed it, we will publish it in our GitLab repository. Here a screenshot with the PCB design currently being finalized.

our PowerPC Notebook Motherboard design screenshot from Mentor Xpedition

Similarly to what we did for the current campaign, the next donation campaign for financing the “Production of five working prototypes” will start as soon as the current campaign will reach its end. In coordination with ACube Systems, we fixed the cost of the five prototypes to 10.500 euros, and we aim at delivering them during late Spring 2021.

Freedesktop-sdk for PPC64 Big Endian Compiled!

We have patched freedeskop-sdk to compile perfectly on PPC64 so now we are preparing, according with Freedesktop-sdk teams, the merge requests to send to the mainline repository.

So we have successfully compiled 432 packages that it involves even the last version of go lang.

We thanks OSU Open Source Lab and OpenPower Foundation to provide us a Power9 VM with 8 cores and 16GB of RAM that permit us to compile Freedesktop-sdk for PPC64.

Now thanks to [email protected] we have a Power8 VM to recompile freedesktop-sdk for PPC64 in Continuous Integration for gitlab freedesktop-sdk pipeline.

As Flatpak binary is running on Debian 10 PPC64 Big Endian and need the Freedesktop-dsk layer to prepare the flatpak packages starting from hundreds of manifests, now we are a step closer to see flatpak packages prepared for PPC64 .

Orcad source of Electrical Schematic v0.6 published and other news

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 .

Open Source Summit + Embedded Linux Conference Europe 27 Oct 2020

Continue reading

Signal Integrity Analysis of the PCB Design

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!

Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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.

The PCB Design , designed with Mentor Xpedition that came out from the previous campaign will be published here soon, a first public draft should be ready by the end of September.

After the in-depth analysis of the integrity of signals of the PCB will be performed, thanks to the current Donation Campaign, an updated version of the PCB will be published.

Our Speak at OpenPOWER Summit NA 15 Sept 2020

On 15th September at OpenPOWER Summit NA, there will be many interesting speaks and projects, our speak will be at 5:35pm ( Europe/Rome Time Zone).

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.

August full activity in PCB Design

Picture of Albrecht Fietz da Pixabay

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

arcticfox 27.10.2(beta) PPC64 running on Debian PPC64 on G5

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.

Extended time for Donations

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.

Slimbook Eclipse Notebook
Slimbook Eclipse Notebook

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.

Freedesktop stripper now it’s patched for cross-endian check (ppc64 branch) . We thanks Flatpak team for the gentle collaboration and helpful guidelines.

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!

sudo apt-get install python3-grpcio libgirepository1.0-dev python3-cairo-dev libcairo2-dev gir1.2-ostree-1.0 python3-gi gyp node-gyp lzip locales-all

pip install BuildStream
pip install git+https://gitlab.com/buildstream/bst-external
pip install cython
pip install ostree
pip install PyGObject
pip install vext.gi

Once copied the bootstrap to target, rename bootstrap/powerpc64 to bootstrap/current
Execute these commands to compile:

export XDG_CACHE_HOME=<path/to/build/dir>
make IMPORT_BOOTSTRAP=true

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).

MintPPC running on the T2080 Devkit, which is based on the NXP T2080 CPU.
MintPPC running on G5

LibreSOC updates

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

The NEW 2020 MintPPC version

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.

MintPPC screenshot

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”.

Mint PPC – June 2020

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.

Best regards,

Jeroen Diederen

http://mintppc.nl