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.
We are near the 50% of the goal of the PCB Donation campaign, and we thank each of you that allowed reaching what many thought was impossible, “the key to what you do is in the heart of what you believe” (cit. by Mario Luis Rodriguez Cobos).
Like anybody else, most the volunteers, collaborators and donors involved in our project, we all have some very negative impact from the covid-19 that lead to a massive slow down of the donation rate.
On the other hand, many people are taking the opportunity of being in a lockdown at their homes to spend more time with their families, with their hobbies and to develop their aspirations. For many, it meant to spend more time thinking, developing and using Open Source Software, thanks to the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, customize and improve their software. For others, it meant to have more time for developing Open-Source Hardware, Open Source Design of the mechanical aspects, and other important social, cultural, scientific activities, and eventually, to give them back for free to the community.
However, the financial impact of the situation meant to have less cash in our disposal, others are the current priorities in our lives.
After some internal discussions, we decided to postpone the deadline of the Donation Campaign to the 30th of June 2020, hoping that we all will be back soon on track, and meanwhile we will try to do our best to keep the project going.
Next round of the updated Block Diagram and Electrical Schematics
Since January, we have transferred to ACube Systems 8500 euros (roughly 9200 USD), so the design is in progress for a while now.
We have recently received from the engineers a newer revision of the Electrical Schematics that takes into account the recent developments, and it is currently under evaluation prior to its publication, most probably in a week or so.
Among a series of minor revisions, we have upgraded the Pericom PCIe Packet Switch from the previous model PI7C9X2G608GP to the more powerful PI7C9X2G612GP that offer 12 lanes instead of 8 lanes. This switch connects the motherboard to the Eclipse Expansion I/o Board via a PCIe, and allows to drive the Ethernet port based on the Realtek RTL8111F chip, the SD-card reader based on the Realtek RTS571x and to connect two USB3 ports.
The new revision of the schematics also brings an additional USB 2.0 Hub managed by the MicroChip USB2514 that will be connected to one of the T2080 USB 2.0 ports. To this USB Hub, we will connect the SK5126 Keyboard matrix and with an SD card reader controlled by the Realtek RTS571x of the Eclipse Expansion I/O Board and with the M2 WLAN and M2 LTE.
A MicroSD port will be connected directly to the T2080 eSDHC controller interface.
Below the new updated Block Diagram.
Overall, the above mentioned changes will decrease the number of components in the motherboard, will reduce the production costs, and will shorten the debug time.
Unreal Engine PowerPC64 Building progress
Recently, new collaborators joined the ongoing activities and are helping the laptop project and other side activities in our association. As an example, thanks to these recent collaborations we made progress in the compilation of the Unreal Engine on PowerPC 64 Big Endian, a great piece of software we are working on in order to have it running on our notebook.
The first step is to get a clang toolchain needed by the Engine builder script. As a PowerPC toolchain is not available from Epic repository we have to build it by ourselves.
The main script that does all the job is build_linux_toolchain.sh located at the path Engine/Build/BatchFiles/Linux/Toolchain/DockerOnWindows/build_linux_toolchain.
Based on ppc64le branch this script downloads and builds gcc 9.2.0 through crosstool-ng and then do the same for clang. Our reference version is 8.0.1 from the official git repository https://github.com/llvm/llvm-project.git.
We have some problems during final toolchain copy, when gcc and clang libraries are moved to one common path (sysroot). After this action the binaries inside sysroot generate a segmentation fault.
Updates on Schematics are being transposed to the PCB design
In February the designer analyzed the Pericom PI7C9X2G608GP PCIe Packet Switch with the direct support of Pericom staff. Now, the Pericom PCIe Packet Switch is fully tested and all the needed setup is completed, so the designer has completed the inclusion of all required information in the updated version of the schematics and is starting to unravel the PCB.
The designer has updated the SerDes connections following our suggestions taking into account the notes we have provided, so a new version of the schematics is expected soon.
Arctic-Fox 27.10.1 PPC64 in our Repo
The main contributor to Arctic-Fox – Riccardo Mottola – member of our Power Progress Community association – has released the new version 27.10.1+b0 that we have compiled and packaged in our Debian PPC64repo. Riccardo says: “Session Store, code greatly improved compared to past releases, performance improvements in both the html engine as well as a new build system imported from Firefox. This release is definitely a great improvement compared to 27.9.19 right at start”
Repository moved to our Power Progress Community GitLab group.
We have created a Gitlab group called Power Progress Community and we moved all our gitlab repositories under https://gitlab.com/power-progress-community. What is important to know is that all URLs have changed and any cloned repository must be rebased. If you have cloned our repositories you should update git remote origin.
We have modified the original scripts to compile for PPC64 Big Endian but so far, we still have to solve multiple errors leading before being able to generate a working binary. You can find our fork and ppc64 branch here https://github.com/robyinno/UnrealEngine/tree/4.23-ppc64 ( to access it you need to accept Epic Games EULA). We are building the source using both a Power9 virtual machine provided by Open OSU and OpenPower Foundation, as well as on our NXP T2080-RDB development kit using Debian PPC64 SID unstable. If you want to help us on fixing the compilation errors, you can start from our UnrealEnginePPC64 Wiki, please contact us.
As we stated in a previous article, we have already contracted ACube Systems and the PCB design work has started. This post is a first report about the work in progress in relation to the PCB design.
These days, the designer is analyzing the Pericom Switch with the direct support of Pericom personnel.
The Pericom PI7C9X2G608GP is a PCIE Gen 2 Switch that provides one upstream port supporting x4 or x1, and 4 or 5 downstream ports that support x1 operation. This chip has a Power Dissipation of 1.2 W.
In our mobo the PI7C9X2G608GP is essential as it allows to connect one 4x PCIe 2.0 controller of the NXP T2080 CPU with four 1x PCIe chips/cards: M.2 3G/LTE card , M.2 WiFi card, 1x Renesas USB3 Controller and 1x C-Media Audio chipset.
Four months have passed since we started our donation campaign aimed at the PCB design and we are now at around €6500 (27%) of the goal €24000 for the entire phase 1 of the design, and we must admit that the rate of donations is slower than what we had hoped for.
Phase 1 is subdivided in two subtasks:
1A) PCB Project € 19000
1B) Fast SI bus simulations €5000
In other words, we reached an encouraging 34% of what is required for subtask 1A.
As we really want to speed up as much as possible the activity, we decided to formally split phase 1, and not to wait to reach €24000 to start the design of the PCB.
To do so, we signed a contract with ACube Systems (company we rely on for the design) just for subtask 1A. Doing so gives the chance to start right now the PCB design. At the time of signing the contract, we paid €6000, the amount required by the designer to start working.
One of the reasons forcing us to speed up the planned activities, is linked to the availability of the Slimbook model “Eclipse” that will not last forever, very much like any other commercially available products such as the electronic components we selected during the electrical schematics design phase. In fact, the electrical schematics are customized for the pinouts of that specific Slimbook model, and the PCB design will be specifically shaped to fit in the Slimbook Eclipse chassis. Because of these constraints, we have to finish the PCB design (phase 1A), the fast SI bus simulations (phase 1B) and the prototypes (phase 2) around this summer.
We fixed the end of April 2020 as the time-limit for phase 1A, so we have 3 months left to raise the remaining €12500. As you may well understand this goal is quite ambitious, but it is necessary if we don’t want to risk to fail.
At the end of August of 2019 we published the first version of the schematics in pdf format. Then, in October we uploaded the second version and after that the 13th of November we released the Orcad source, accomplishing what we promised.
Schematics Source in EDIF published and ready to be converted to KiCad
Now we have exported it 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
For the second time we were giving a talk to the GNU/Linux Valencia Group, a local Linux group located in the city of Valencia, Spain, which is doing a great job promoting Linux and open source in general. Guillermo gave a brief explanation of the project from the beginning to the present, the objectives, technical specifications, other related projects of the Power Progress Community association, FAQs about the project and so on.
In particular the group was updated about everything that has occurred in the project since the last time we visited them. One of the key points was the collaboration with Slimbook, this collaboration started just because of last year meeting with the group as this company is located at the same city and his CEO is one of the founders of this Valencian group. The company will provide the laptop body and is supporting our team giving all specifications we need.
You can find an article covering this meeting in the GNU/Linux Valencia group page (in Spanish):
Linux Day Milano – Italy 26th October 2019
This year we have as expositor our running DIY wooden desktop case with the T2080rdb devkit, with our new Power Progress Community T-shirt, with our Posters with our “Revivo with Scratch” manifest , searching notebook to recondition.
People are quite exited using our PowerPC 64 Desktop based on the same CPU NXP T0280 of our future notebook motherboard.
Many young people reach our table and talk with us.
Open Hardware release of the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design for the motherboard of the GNU/Linux PowerPC Notebook.
The initial 2,703 euro of donations of this campaign arrive most from recurring donations that continue to arrive from the old campaign after reached the old campaign goal.
Our hardware group identified in early 2017 a desirable list of components and a set of features of the laptop. In June 2017 we launched a first donation campaign that was aimed at paying ACube to design the electrical schematics and a year later, in June 2018 we reached the goal of collecting €12,600 and finally started finalizing the design. Here you may download the resulting schematics of the 1st donation campaign.
As of today, the notebook specifications are the following (subject to change):