Custom PC, Issue 224

Custom PC Issue 244In this month’s Hobby Tech I take a look at the PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit from Microchip, the 16 Megapixel Autofocus Camera Module from Arducam, and what Martin Paul Eve bills as the first-ever academic treatise on the topic of the infrastructure and aesthetics of piracy: Warez.

The PolarFire SoC Icicle Kit is a single-board computer, but not of the type usually seen in the magazine. First, its four processor cores are based on the free and open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture. Second, they’re very much secondary to the real star of the show: a powerful yet low-power field-programmable gate array (FPGA), designed to run any sort of workload you fancy. Add in a full-size PCI Express slot to one side and a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports and you’ve got a very interesting device.

I’d like to thank everyone at Microchip for working with me on this review: initial testing revealed some issues with the on-board Linux distribution, which the installation of an updated software image largely resolved: performance of the four SiFive-provided RISC-V cores was dramatically improved, though at the time of publication a few issues still remained with memory allocation and storage space causing one or two problems.

Speaking of problems, the Arducam 16 Megapixel Autofocus Camera Module proved a difficult device to test: on arrival, the high-resolution yet surprisingly small MIPI CSI camera, designed for use with the Raspberry Pi range of single-board computers, refused to play ball with a fully-updated Raspberry Pi OS “Bullseye” installation due to a lack of compatible kernel drivers – and the review ended up being completed only by rolling back to an earlier, deprecated and insecure, version of the operating system.

Since the issue went to press, however, Arducam has released updated drivers and committed to as rapid a turnaround as possible on drivers for each updated Linux kernel – aiming for around a five-day turnaround. The company is also working with the libcamera team to add support upstream, which would come as a great upgrade to what proved to be an excellent camera with fantastic colour reproduction and fine image quality.

Finally, Warez: The Infrastructure and Aesthetics of Piracy is an interesting one-person academic treatise on a topic which is all-too often overlooked: software and media piracy. Eschewing direct interviews, author Martin Paul Eve instead mines previous publications and a large database of communications and release files from the turn of the century. The result is a surprisingly entertaining, if somewhat scattershot book, which is available as a free download from the publisher’s website for the curious to investigate.

Custom PC Issue 224 is available at all good newsagents and supermarkets, online with global delivery, or as a free-of-charge PDF download via the official website.

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