Forums

Recommend a sub-$250 PowerPC SBC?

Started by Lewin A.R.W. Edwards November 6, 2004
I've been asked to write some articles about developing an example
Linux-based embedded app on x86 and porting it across to a PowerPC
platform. When I was contacted by the people that want these articles, I
said that I hadn't worked much with PowerPC because PPC-based SBCs are
so expensive that they've generally been thrown right out of the race at
the start. Unfortunately, that still seems to be true.

I've been pointed at the Kuro box,
<http://penguinppc.org/embedded/kuro/>. The price is ideal, but two
factors concern me about this appliance:

1. Lack of detailed documentation. It seems to have very ad-hoc support
in general, at least here in the US.
2. Apparently there is no way to reflash the board if you erase U-Boot.
I'll be experimenting with homebrewed kernels and other flashery, and
that's a totally unacceptable risk.

Could I have a recommendation for a PowerPC-based SBC that meets these
criteria:

* Must have wired Ethernet, at least one serial interface, and an IDE or
removable flash memory interface. 4Mb flash minimum. Host-side USB would
be nice.
* Flash must be programmable over JTAG with simple wiggler type
interface, ROMmed serial bootloader or other inexpensive kiss-of-life
mechanism. Or it can be socketed; I have a very versatile burner.
* Linux port must be supplied or readily available.

* Video interface - preferably VGA - would be nice but not essential.
* Performance isn't critical; 40-66MHz is enough.
* Ideally sub-US$250

It doesn't have to be a boxed appliance like Kuro, it can be a bare
board requiring external PSU etc. Size, power requirements, and so on
are not important at all.

Although the people who commissioned these articles WILL reimburse the
cost of hardware, they will only do so spread over the course of a
ten-article series. I don't want to be left too much out of pocket if
they decide not to complete the series (and I can't argue contract terms
with them because they are the hairiest 15,000lb gorilla with whom you
never wanted to argue).

Thanks for your erudite recommendations :)

Lewin A.R.W. Edwards wrote:

> I've been asked to write some articles about developing an example > Linux-based embedded app on x86 and porting it across to a PowerPC > platform. When I was contacted by the people that want these articles, I > said that I hadn't worked much with PowerPC because PPC-based SBCs are > so expensive that they've generally been thrown right out of the race at > the start. Unfortunately, that still seems to be true.
[...]
> Thanks for your erudite recommendations :) >
Not sure if it's erudite but have you taken a look at http://www.denx.de? AFAIK Wolfgang Denk is rather active at RTAI development and I guess at Linux too. I haven't checked their products but I guess it is worth a look at. Regards. Elder.
In article <om3jd.1651$_J2.690@newsread2.news.atl.earthlink.net>,
Lewin A.R.W. Edwards <larwe@larwe.com> wrote:
>I've been pointed at the Kuro box, ><http://penguinppc.org/embedded/kuro/>. The price is ideal, but two >factors concern me about this appliance:
>1. Lack of detailed documentation. It seems to have very ad-hoc support >in general, at least here in the US.
Yes indeedy. I have been wanting very much to find out what's actually going on on this board, or even the pinouts for the serial port, and had no luck.
>* Must have wired Ethernet, at least one serial interface, and an IDE or >removable flash memory interface. 4Mb flash minimum. Host-side USB would >be nice. >* Flash must be programmable over JTAG with simple wiggler type >interface, ROMmed serial bootloader or other inexpensive kiss-of-life >mechanism. Or it can be socketed; I have a very versatile burner. >* Linux port must be supplied or readily available. > >* Video interface - preferably VGA - would be nice but not essential. >* Performance isn't critical; 40-66MHz is enough. >* Ideally sub-US$250
>It doesn't have to be a boxed appliance like Kuro, it can be a bare >board requiring external PSU etc. Size, power requirements, and so on >are not important at all.
I'm pretty much agreeing with this list of criteria; I want one too! And I, too, have had no luck at all. -s -- Copyright 2004, all wrongs reversed. Peter Seebach / seebs@plethora.net http://www.seebs.net/log/ - YA blog. http://www.seebs.net/ - homepage. C/Unix wizard, pro-commerce radical, spam fighter. Boycott Spamazon! Consulting, computers, web hosting, and shell access: http://www.plethora.net/
Hi,

> >I've been pointed at the Kuro box, > > >1. Lack of detailed documentation. It seems to have very ad-hoc support > > Yes indeedy. I have been wanting very much to find out what's actually going > on on this board, or even the pinouts for the serial port, and had no luck.
Sheesh. I'm glad you posted this reply. I was about to put down my credit card for a Kuro (since it's the only thing that comes close to my wishlist). I was hoping that support is better for people who've actually paid.
> I'm pretty much agreeing with this list of criteria; I want one too! And I, > too, have had no luck at all.
I can find plenty of boards that meet all the technical criteria, but they are all at least twice my price cutoff. This is *precisely* why I have always wound up using x86 and ARM boards in my designs; the cost of entry for PPC is just too high. I guess my next step is to beg vendors of PowerPC SBCs for loaner units. The crazy part is that the company that's commissioning this can most certainly (and ultimately will) afford to pay for practically anything you care to name. But the mechanism by which they pay freelance writers doesn't have hardware budgeted into it.
On Sat, 06 Nov 2004 12:22:44 +0000, Lewin A.R.W. Edwards wrote:

> I've been asked to write some articles about developing an example > Linux-based embedded app on x86 and porting it across to a PowerPC > platform. When I was contacted by the people that want these articles, I > said that I hadn't worked much with PowerPC because PPC-based SBCs are > so expensive that they've generally been thrown right out of the race at > the start. Unfortunately, that still seems to be true.
There are cheap alternatives, but a little hacking may be required on your side. http://www.gc-linux.org/ These guys just ported Linux to the Gamecube, which has a 486MHz PPC and 40 MB of RAM at less than $100. The only problem still unresolved is the lack of booting capabilities from a standard CD/DVD or memory card, otherwise it may be a great cheap PPC platform to experiment on.
> > Linux-based embedded app on x86 and porting it across to a PowerPC > > platform. When I was contacted by the people that want these articles, I > > There are cheap alternatives, but a little hacking may be required on > your side. > > http://www.gc-linux.org/
I looked at this, but it seems to have all the disadvantages of going with the Kuro Box and none of the advantages. (Plus, it's a bit informal for the target audience; that doesn't bother ME, but it could quite likely bother them). I'm really looking for something off the shelf. There are dozens of ARM contenders, it's a mystery why no PowerPC.
On Sun, 07 Nov 2004 14:37:08 GMT, "Lewin A.R.W. Edwards"
<larwe@larwe.com> wrote:

>> > Linux-based embedded app on x86 and porting it across to a PowerPC >> > platform. When I was contacted by the people that want these articles, I >> >> There are cheap alternatives, but a little hacking may be required on >> your side.
He..He Have a look at Dream Media's DM7000 Set-Top Box , you can even watch Sattelite while running the Linux :-) http://forum.tuxbox.org/forum/ Remember its called Dreambox , the dbox2 is another hardware. Carsten
In article <MRfjd.2655$_J2.975@newsread2.news.atl.earthlink.net>,
Lewin A.R.W. Edwards <larwe@larwe.com> wrote:
>Sheesh. I'm glad you posted this reply. I was about to put down my >credit card for a Kuro (since it's the only thing that comes close to my >wishlist). I was hoping that support is better for people who've >actually paid.
Nah. But I have a contact who knows a LITTLE bit about the board, so I'm making progress.
>I guess my next step is to beg vendors of PowerPC SBCs for loaner units.
Yup. What I really want is a vendor with an SBC that has support from more than two OSs, so I can look at how different development kits work. -s -- Copyright 2004, all wrongs reversed. Peter Seebach / seebs@plethora.net http://www.seebs.net/log/ - YA blog. http://www.seebs.net/ - homepage. C/Unix wizard, pro-commerce radical, spam fighter. Boycott Spamazon! Consulting, computers, web hosting, and shell access: http://www.plethora.net/
> Nah. But I have a contact who knows a LITTLE bit about the board, so I'm > making progress.
Is this an official contact, or merely an expert user? I'm very unimpressed by the quality of this product, incidentally. The only "expert" feature one can really ascribe to it is that it's shipped without a hard drive and you have to install the drive yourself. The only documentation included with it, as you know, is a pointless series of photographs illustrating how to install the drive. It's an open-source product; it should come with schematics or at the very least connector pinouts for ALL headers and information on, for example, the serial protocol between the MPC8241 and the slave/watchdog micro. Plus even the "turnkey" software that comes with it is exceedingly flaky. I am just in the process of hacking up a USB-serial converter as being the easiest way of bringing that weird inverted 3.3V debug port into the PC, but my understanding is that U-Boot is configured to boot the OS off the hard disk if possible, or off the slenderized flash image if the HDD is missing or unformatted. Is that accurate? It makes my life easier if this is the case, since I won't have to touch the flash image at all.
Hi Lewin,

> I am just in the process of hacking up a USB-serial converter as being > the easiest way of bringing that weird inverted 3.3V debug port into > the PC, but my understanding is that U-Boot is configured to boot the > OS off the hard disk if possible, or off the slenderized flash image > if the HDD is missing or unformatted. Is that accurate? It makes my > life easier if this is the case, since I won't have to touch the flash > image at all.
Ask them for the sources of U-Boot they use and see for yourself. I just checked the current CVS and can't find a "kuro" (or similar) configuration - but as U-Boot is GPL they have to provide you with the sources when asked. Cheers Detlev -- Question : If you were redesigning UNIX, what would you do differently? Ken Thompson: I'd spell creat with an e.