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I received my Alpha unit of the C.H.I.P. from Next Thing Co recently:

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(the blue tape at the top is just cause i found the bright power and activity LEDs annoying... I'm weirdo )


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I loved the little detail of QC pass sticker featuring adorable doge with the words "Such Pass"

 

C.H.I.P. did very well on Kickstarter earlier this year:


  • 39,560 backers
  • $2,071,927 pledged


I choose the Kernel Hacker reward level, so I got this Alpha C.H.I.P. hot off the assembly line:

kernel-backer-reward.png


Full shipment to backers should start in Spring 2016:

chip-timeline.jpg


The performance specs are similar to the Beaglebone Black (minus the PRUs):

chip-spec.jpg

chip-cpu.jpg

The Allwinner R8 module is a new part from Chinese SoC desginer Allwinner Technology in 2015.  It bundles together a processor similar to the Allwinner A13 with 512MB DRAM and 4GB NAND Flash.


CHIP also includes on-board WiFi and Bluetooth via a Realtek chipset:

chip-radio.jpg

CHIP can easily be powered by micro USB or a Li-Po battery:


chip-batt.jpg


The only built-in video output is low-res Composite analog video:

chip-video.jpg

But there will be HDMI and VGA capes in the future:

chip-video-cape.jpg


Anyways, I'm perfectly happy with a UART .  I was able to connect to the Linux console using a FTDI USB-to-serial cable:

CSSHt0eVEAAFZ-6.jpg

(the blue tape on the right is just cause i found the bright power and activity LEDs annoying)

 

I found the pinout and other details on this page:

Flying Blind with C.H.I.P. -- SSH, Serial, and USB OTG

 

I am very pleased that Next Thing Co. shipped my Alpha CHIP with a fresh Linux 4.2 kernel (which is the current stable kernel):

15 - 1.jpg

15 - 2.jpg

 

Here's a GitHub Gist with the full console log of the CHIP booting:


https://gist.github.com/pdp7/e5399035be37d13ec1ca

 

Basic system info after booting up:

 

/home/pdp7 # cat /proc/cpuinfo 
processor : 0
model name : ARMv7 Processor rev 2 (v7l)
BogoMIPS : 1001.88
Features : half thumb fastmult vfp edsp neon vfpv3 tls vfpd32 
CPU implementer : 0x41
CPU architecture: 7
CPU variant : 0x3
CPU part : 0xc08
CPU revision : 2
Hardware : Allwinner sun4i/sun5i Families
Revision : 0000
Serial : 162542c709417353


/home/pdp7 # uname -a
Linux chip 4.2.0-rc1 #1 SMP Sat Sep 19 03:24:28 UTC 2015 armv7l GNU/Linux

/home/pdp7 # df -h 
Filesystem Size Used Available Use% Mounted on
ubi0:rootfs 3.6G 21.1M 3.6G 1% /
devtmpfs 245.3M 0 245.3M 0% /dev
tmpfs 245.4M 0 245.4M 0% /dev/shm
tmpfs 245.4M 68.0K 245.3M 0% /tmp
tmpfs 245.4M 40.0K 245.3M 0% /run


/home/pdp7 # cat /proc/meminfo |head
MemTotal: 502500 kB
MemFree: 466800 kB
MemAvailable: 468492 kB
Buffers: 0 kB
Cached: 8784 k










So that is all well and good, but why am I writing about CHIP on this Open Source Hardware group blog?

 

Well, that is because CHIP is 100% Open Source Hardware:

chip-open-source.jpg

Kickstarter Update #9: All about Open Source

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1598272670/chip-the-worlds-first-9-computer/posts/1247188



The design files are licensed as CC-BY-SA and linked from this centralized documentation page:

 

http://docs.nextthing.co/

chip-docs.png

 

The CHIP Hardware repo on GitHub:

 

https://github.com/NextThingCo/CHIP-Hardware

 

contains:

 

  • Schematics

chip-sch-1.png

  • PCB Layout

pcb.png

  • Bill of Materials (BOM)

Screenshot from 2015-10-28 19:56:01.png

 

The repo even has datasheets for components in the BOM:

 

https://github.com/NextThingCo/CHIP-Hardware/tree/master/CHIPv0_21-BOM-Datasheets

r8ds.png

r8ds2.png

 

The goal of Next Thing Co for CHIP is to be a happy and healthy member of the Linux open source community!

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This means CHIP needs to:


  • Run official and current version of Linux kernel
  • Build new Linux drivers for on-board hardware
  • Merge changes into Linus Torvald's tree in a process called "Mainlining"

 

Mainlining the kernel changes necessary for C.H.I.P. is no small task.  Takes huge and ongoing community effort.  The amazing Linux-Sun-Xi community has already made great progress on kernel support for Allwinner SoCs:

 

linux-sunxi Community Wiki

https://linux-sunxi.org


A huge smile crossed my face when I learned that Next Thing Co contracted the ARM Linux kernel experts at Free Electrons to support CHIP in mainline:

free-electrons1.png

Free Electrons contracted for the $9 C.H.I.P. computer

 

Free Electrons has been supporting Allwinner processors in the mainline Linux kernel for several years.  Free Electrons engineer Maxime Ripard is the maintainer of the Allwinner SoC support in mainline.  You can follow their progress on Google+:

 

Free Electrons on G+

https://plus.google.com/+FreeElectronsDevelopers/posts/g9Pjvw8P4Pt

 

Here's an example of how audio support for CHIP was add to the mainline Linux kernel:

 

  • Maxime Ripard finished the initial work done by Emilio Lopez during a Google Summer of Code on supporting the audio codec built into the Allwinner A10 processor.
  • Maxime sent the patch series to the ASoC maintainers:
  • v1 got merged directly by Mark Brown, one of the two ASoC maintainers!
  • “For a completely new driver, it is quite an achievement to get it merged without having to do additional iterations”
  • CHIP now has audio support in mainline!

 

Another exciting update from Maxime Ripard:


“Debian 8 and XFCE running on the CHIP, on top of the DRM / KMS driver!”

https://plus.google.com/107357811086496166266/posts/Bu4VSsKSPuC

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You can also follow the progress of the Linux kernel development for CHIP with this NextThingCo repo on GitHub:


CHIP-Linux

https://github.com/NextThingCo/CHIP-linux


So what about software beyond the kernel?  My CHIP Alpha arrived with a root filesystem that Next Thing Co created with Buildroot: "a simple, efficient and easy-to-use tool to generate embedded Linux systems through cross-compilation."


Buildroot repo for the CHIP:

https://github.com/NextThingCo/CHIP-buildroot


Here's what the rootfs build that shipped on my CHIP Alpha looked like from the console:

chip-term-info.png


Next Thing Co created CHIP-SDK with everything needed to develop software for CHIP, including creating a custom rootfs with buildroot.

 

CHIP-SDK

https://github.com/NextThingCo/CHIP-SDK

 

As this MAKE blog post described, the SDK is easy to install and run because it uses Vagrant to manage a VirtualBox VM:

 

With Linux and Creative Commons, The $9 CHIP Computer Reveals Its Open Source Details

http://makezine.com/2015/07/22/with-linux-and-creative-commons-the-9-chip-computer-reveals-its-open-source-details/

written by David Scheltema [interested1]

Screen-Shot-2015-07-22-at-4.15.17-PM-620x496.png

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However, I love the vast array of packages that Debian GNU/Linux has to offer, so I am happy the Debian is now available for CHIP:


Debian on C.H.I.P

https://bbs.nextthing.co/t/debian-on-c-h-i-p/789


I was able to easily flash Debian onto my CHIP and then boot it!

chip-flash-debian.png

chip-debian-booted.png

 

I think I will next look at what I can do with the GPIO pins on the CHIP:

 

Simple GPIO Experiments

https://nextthingco.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/212269688-Simple-GPIO-Experiments

pins.png

 

Some extra pinout docs

https://bbs.nextthing.co/t/some-extra-pinout-docs/219

Assuming you don't want to use the camera or LCD ports it looks like you get 1 UART, 2 I2C, 1 SPI, 1 PWM & 32 i/O (some with interrupt)

 

So that's it for now... I think CHIP will only get more exciting as it gets into more and more hands!

 

Here's some additional links I've found useful:

 

 

And finally, slides from my talk about CHIP at Chicago hackerspace Pumping Station: One earlier this week:

 

Slides from hackerspace talk about C.H.I.P.

 

 

cheers,

drew

@pdp7