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PCMCIA Computer Project Aims Even Higher (and Cheaper) Than Raspberry Pi 161

Posted by timothy
from the concept-that-can-be-turned-into-an-idea dept.
lkcl writes "An initiative by a Community Interest Company Rhombus Tech aims to provide Software (Libre) Developers with a PCMCIA-sized modular computer that could end up in mass-volume products. The reference design mass-volume pricing guide from the SoC manufacturer, for a device with similar capability to the Raspberry Pi, is around $15: 40% less than the $25 Raspberry Pi but for a device with an ARM Cortex A8 CPU 3x times faster than the 700mhz ARM11 used in the Raspberry Pi. GPL Kernel source code is available. A page for community ideas for motherboard designs has also been created. The overall goal is to bring more mass-volume products to market which Software (Libre) Developers have actually been involved in, reversing the trend of endemic GPL violations surrounding ARM-based mass-produced hardware. The Preorder pledge registration is now open (account creation required)." Of course, the Raspberry Pi is not only only much further along, but has recently announced an expansion module (the Gertboard).
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PCMCIA Computer Project Aims Even Higher (and Cheaper) Than Raspberry Pi

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  • Great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hatta (162192) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @10:36AM (#38408316) Journal

    I'll buy one of each.

  • Exciting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by inglorion_on_the_net (1965514) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @10:38AM (#38408328) Homepage

    This is really exciting. Personally, I can't wait for the Raspberry Pi to start shipping and I will definitely get a few, but if Rhombus can pull this off, that will be fantastic, too!

  • Why PCMCIA? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bcmm (768152) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @10:39AM (#38408332)
    Why use the PCMCIA form-factor? It appears they aren't actually using it for PCMCIA. Is it very difficult to design a connector, or is it to do with using existing manufacturing tools originally designed to make PCMCIA cards?
  • Re:Why PCMCIA? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nerdfest (867930) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @10:44AM (#38408354)
    PCMCIA seems to be what happens when a marketing droid forces design constraints on something. "It needs to be the size of a credit card"! If if smaller and thicker, connectors would have been much sturdier.
  • No competition, yet (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LtGordon (1421725) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @10:46AM (#38408360)
    The Raspberry Pi is expected to ship to mainstream customers early Q1 2012. Per the summary, this group is still in the "could end up in mass production" phase. They can hardly compete if this one isn't being sold.
  • Re:Why PCMCIA? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 17, 2011 @12:03PM (#38408674)

    I think they're just using the physical PCMCIA connector, not the PCMCIA pin-out. I think it's so that the entire thing can be plugged in to a variety of hardware devices: small form-factor computers, TVs, tablets, whatever. There are benefits to that approach. Wouldn't it have been nice, for example, if you could have upgraded your original iPad by simply ejecting the motherboard and inserting a new one? There might not have been any reason to replace the screen and battery. This sort of modular approach resolves that. And it opens up opportunities for hardware manufacturers if they know they can get a whole computer in a known form-factor. It would relieve them of an otherwise huge part of the product design.

  • Open platform (Score:4, Interesting)

    by unixisc (2429386) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @12:04PM (#38408678)
    Had it been running an open spec hardware, it would have been more expensive. If you want an open CPU, ARM is not it - the only one I can think of is OpenRISC. One idea - take the OpenRISC CPU (essentially Verilog code that one would implement on an FPGA), take another FPGA to contain all the interface and support logic it needs, and then add whatever the appropriate amount of RAM and Flash it needs. Once all that is there, port something like Minix on top of it (so that the resource consumption is not much) and you'll have a purely open system.

    However, it will not be anywhere near as cheap as $35, at least initially. First of all, it's not something just a couple of guys will do - one would need whole engineering teams to do various things
    • Write a complete spec on both the hardware and the software
    • Make the tweaks to the design that are necessary for it to be supported on any fab, process & lithography, and work w/ the fab on ensuring acceptable yields
    • Procure the other supporting chipsets or design needed to make a complete system
    • Port an existing FOSS platform to this reference design - the OS, the UX, and everything else
    • Produce bundles based on different requirements - from low price to high functionality - which can then be sold in the market
    • License that entire design - hardware & software - to whoever wants to manufacture, market and sell it
    • Work on price reductions

    The above exercise would enable a company to produce a bunch of products that can be spec'ed @ difference performance points, and targeted towards various market segments - from home hobbyists and education going right up to smart phones and tablets.

  • Re:Why PCMCIA? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Saturday December 17, 2011 @12:20PM (#38408766) Homepage

    http://rhombus-tech.net//faq/#index4h2 [rhombus-tech.net] - re-use of *existing* connectors, housings and assemblies keeps the price right down. yes you're absolutely right: expecting a complete new design of connector to be reasonably affordable is impossible.

    the whole initiative is based around leap-frogging over the normal barriers to entry for products. use Software (Libre) Developers for the software engineering. use off-the-shelf parts as much as possible. do a deal with the factory ["we won't charge you for software engineer time if you won't charge us for hardware engineer time"]. use pre-existing casework designs from China-based Industrial Flea Markets (don't get the wrong idea, here - these Markets are the size of football pitches and 7 stories high!) and so on.

  • by lennier1 (264730) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @01:03PM (#38409002)

    I work in a company where some of our products are basically Full-HD TFT displays with integrated ARM-based computers (glorified nettop components) running a company-internal Linux distro.

    Having one of these to replace/upgrade their computer like you'd switch the optical drive in a business laptop would certainly cut down costs.

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