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Pandaboard EA3

ARM platforms were always important for the Ubuntu ecosystem - even more so since the start of the 13.04 cycle. For testing Unity on ARM I'm using an OMAP Pandaboard from the EA3 series. It's a very interesting platform to play with - quite powerful, high-level and good-looking! By no means it's a novelty, but something I have only recently got my hands on. Here's my really quick look on the Panda in my possession.

2013-01-18 20:32

RB433AH board photo

When releasing new Unity versions into Ubuntu, we usually want to make sure everything works on both the standard x86 related architectures and also ARM. Since 13.04 we're targeting mobile as a future form-factor. The Google Nexus 7 is the platform of preference of course, but a Pandaboard can do fine as well.

First some basic info: the board offers two HDMI ports, 2x USB 2.0, 1x USB 2.0 OTG (UC-E6 slot), 10/100 Ethernet, a wireless chipset (with bluetooth), RS-232, audio input/ouput, SD card slot and a 5V power supply connector. Besides that, there are also expansion, LCD, camera connectors - and a standard JTAG interface.
The insides: an Elpida B8064B2PB-8D-F8 SoC - OMAP4430 1GHz (up-to 1.2GHz) dual-core Cortex-A9 MPCore + 1GB DRAM DDR2 with Hardware accelerated graphics (1x 3D, POWERVR SGX540) a TIWI01 Wireless Module (with WL1271). A rather solid piece of hardware.
One instantly visible problem - Ethernet and USB is provided by the same controller. Too bad.

Of course, there is no preinstalled system on-board. We have to use external storage (SD-Card, USB) to run our own system of choice. The two most popular ones that are pre-built for this platform are Android and Ubuntu. I only tested Ubuntu - the system runs fine, Unity is usable when using the pvr-omap4 drivers that are installed by default. Running from a standard USB 2.0 pendrive is a bit of a bottleneck, even when swap is disabled and some other optimizations performed. I think that there might be also something wrong with the quantal Unity stack for ARM, but I'm not sure - since probably I should get better performance with this hardware. I wonder.
There are two custom LED's on board are used by the system. Ubuntu, by default, assigns STATUS1 LED as the heartbeat diode, while STATUS2 is triggered during the activity of the SD card. These are assigned by the kernel.

The Pandaboard is a very fun device. The other good thing about it, besides the ability to use it as a normal dual-core ARM system (with all the Unity and autopilot madness running there), it can be extended by using the Trainer-xM board for experiments. It includes a nice prototyping area, along with a nice ATmega328 processor and other goodies.

The pricing is nice. The old Pandaboard can be bought for $174, while the more powerful, newer Pandaboard ES (with a OMAP4460 inside) for around $182. That's certainly a bit more than the Raspberry Pi, but of course the use-cases for both are different.

A small note to everyone. The Pandaboard is powered by a 5V power supply. The 'original' (recommended) provides up to 4 Amps. It will also run with anything that has at least 3 Amps, just be sure not to use a weaker one - since the board will simply not run. If you see the over-voltage diode light up (D3, small red diode near the power connector), it can either mean that wrong voltage is given or not enough current is provided - so simply check your power supply once again.

From other news, we recently announced the Ubuntu Phone. Fun thing - I have some things to say about that, but let's leave that for another post in the nearest future.