Tag Archive for APU

Custom PC, Issue 148

Custom PC Issue 148My regular Hobby Tech column is undeniably review-heavy this month, with three separate items spread across its five pages: the CompuLab Fitlet, the Bare Conductive Touch Board Starter Kit, and the Widdop.

To deal with the latter first, the Widdop is a bit of an odd thing to review at first glance as it was available exclusively to those who attended this year’s Wuthering Bytes festival. There’s method in my madness, though: it’s a variant of the Cordwood puzzle designed by Saar Drimer at Boldport, and a review of the Widdop is equally applicable to its predecessor. In short, it’s a soldering kit sans instructions: two artistically designed and matching circuit boards are supplied along with a fistful of components, and it’s up to the user to not only work out how it should be assembled but then how to interface it to a microcontroller or other controlling system – great fun!

The Bare Conductive Touch Board, by contrast, is readily available. I had previously experienced the delights of the Touch Board, an Arduino-compatible microcontroller with built-in capacitive touch sensing and audio playback capabilities, at the Manchester MakeFest where the Manchester Arduino group were demonstrating Touch Board-powered musical food bowls. The Starter Kit, though, is something else entirely. Packed in an oversized box it contains everything you need to get started, from the conductive paint which made Bare Conductive famous to the Touch Board itself pre-loaded with a voice-led 12-step tutorial.

The booklet is the real prize, though. Walking the user through three projects, it’s one of the best I’ve seen: well produced with exciting photographs and a great attention to detail. The primary project, too, is innovative: a stencil and overlay in the shape of a house demonstrates how the conductive paint can be used to create interactive art, with the remaining two projects offering an intruder alarm – for bare-footed intruders, at least – and a look at adding interactivity to household objects.

Finally, the Fitlet. I’ve been a fan of CompuLab’s tiny Linux-compatible PCs for a while, but the Fitlet is the first I’ve had a chance to review. Supplied in its top-end form with an AMD A10-Micro6700T quad-core processor, it has the grunt of a low-mid-range office desktop but in a passively cooled form factor little larger than a cased Raspberry Pi. Compared to the already diminutive Intel NUC, it’s absolutely tiny: the smallest NUC has a volume of 0.417 litres, while the Fitlet is just 0.215 litres in volume.

Despite its size, there’s a bit of everything: as reviewed, the Fitlet offers on-board Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, dual gigabit Ethernet ports, three USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, powered eSATA, and even a GPIO connector – which, sadly, lacked driver support at the time of my review, an issue CompuLab has now resolved with the release of an official Software Development Kit (SDK). Running Linux Mint 17.2 but compatible with most any operating system that would run on an x86-64 desktop, the CompuLab is definitely one of the most exciting devices I’ve had the privilege to test recently – although that excitement is tempered by a £300 selling price in the UK, putting it on-par with the more computationally powerful Intel NUC.

All this, plus interesting stuff written by people who aren’t me, can be found between the covers of Custom PC Issue 148 at your nearest newsagent, supermarket, or from the comfort of your own home via digital distribution services such as Zinio.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 153

Linux User & Developer Issue 153In addition to my regular four-page news spread at the front of the magazine, this month’s issue of Linux User & Developer includes a review of the Gizmo 2 single-board computer – a powerful follow-up to the original, which I reviewed back in Issue 125.

Like its predecessor, the Gizmo 2 is based around an AMD Accelerated Processing Unit – specifically, the G-Series GX210HA dual-core chip running at 1GHz – in an open-hardware 4″-square board. Offering improved performance over the original model, the new Gizmo 2 is also available for the first time as a stand-alone system – although this does mean the death of the Explorer Kit, a bundle which included a handy-dandy break-out board for the PCIe-style low-speed expansion connector at the front of the board.

During my review, which took place a few months ago, I did encounter one issue: the BIOS refused to boot from the USB 3.0 ports, limiting OS installation to the Micro-SD Card slot or USB 2.0 ports. As the device offers so much performance – around 85 gigaFLOPS including the integrated Radeon HD 8210E graphics chip – that was a disappointing limitation, but one an updated BIOS has since resolved.

I was a big fan of the original Gizmo, which was significantly better than Intel’s rival MinnowBoard. Although the MinnowBoard Max has since levelled the playing field, I have to say that the Gizmo 2 would still be my board of choice for SBC tasks requiring high graphics performance or x86 compatibility – despite the addition of an annoying active cooling fan – but for my thoughts beyond that you’ll have to pick up a copy of the magazine.

If you do, you’ll find the review, my news spread, and a bunch of stuff written by other people. Linux User & Developer Issue 153 is available from all good newsagents and supermarkets now, or digitally via Zinio and similar services. My work will also appear in the translated Inside Linux magazine in France in the coming months.

Custom PC, Issue 140

Custom PC, Issue 140In this month’s Hobby Tech column I interview my friend and talented maker Bob Stone, review the ZoomFloppy accessory, and review the Gizmo 2 single-board computer, in roughly that order.

Looking at the interview first, I arranged to quiz Bob after bumping into him at an event a while back. Bob was present as a representative of York Hackspace, showing off a project they had been working on dubbed Spacehack. Inspired by a mobile game, Spacehack gives players the job of keeping a rusty old spaceship in one piece by performing various tasks on a physical control panel which remaps everything between rounds. If that weren’t confusing enough, the instructions that appear on your panel may be for a control on someone else’s – leading to plenty of frantic shouting.

Talking to Bob is always a pleasure, and interviewing him was likewise. He’s a man who knows his stuff and isn’t afraid to inject a little bit of humour into proceedings, and that hopefully comes across in the piece. Having played Spacehack, I can attest to both its difficulty and its brilliance and if anyone local builds their own – the hardware and software are both permissively licensed, naturally – I’d be up for a tournament.

The ZoomFloppy is a natural extension to the KryoFlux I reviewed back in Issue 131. Where the KryoFlux offers a means to connect old-fashioned floppy drives to a modern computer for archival-grade access, the ZoomFloppy is a little different: it’s designed specifically for Commodore devices. Its most common use, as the name suggests, is to provide an interface between a Commodore 1541/1571 floppy drive and a modern PC but it also offers the ability to talk to any Commodore-compatible serial device: printers, plotters, even modems. Better still, you can talk to these devices from directly within an emulator – I couldn’t help but grin when I loaded an Infocom game into the Vice emulator from the original floppy on an 1571 drive.

Finally, the Gizmo 2. I reviewed the original Gizmo in Issue 125 of Linux User & Developer, and was suitably impressed by its performance. The Gizmo 2, I’m pleased to say, blows its predecessor out of the water but isn’t without its own foibles. During my review, I ran into an issue in the firmware which prevented it from booting any device connected into its USB 3.0 ports. Although USB 2.0 worked fine, this had a negative effect on speed – and while the issue was still outstanding at the time of publication, I’m pleased to say a new BIOS has been released as a result of my feedback which fixes the problem and makes the Gizmo a great choice for anyone who needs x86 compatibility and impressive compute performance from a single-board computer.

All this, plus a bunch of stuff written by people who aren’t me, can be yours with a trip to your local supermarket, newsagent, or from the comfort of your own home via Zinio and similar digital distribution services.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 125

Linux User & Developer Issue 125This month’s Linux User & Developer magazine is the place to go if you want to read a UK-exclusive review of the Gizmo Explorer kit, an open-source project of Sage Engineering that looks to bring a bit of x86 power to bear on the Raspberry Pi et al.

Based on an AMD embedded-series accelerated processing unit, the Gizmo is a microcomputer par excellence: its powerful 64-bit processor is, in real terms, around five times faster than that found on ARM-based rivals, while the 1GB of RAM is fairly generous as single-board computers go. Better still is the presence of a SATA port for high-speed storage, something criminally overlooked by many rival devices.

For developers, the board includes high-speed and low-speed expansion ports based on PCI Express connectors – and the kit includes an example board with detachable matrix keypad and soldered-down LCD panel to demonstrate how the low-speed port can be used, as well as providing a prototyping area for your own circuits.

Engineers are Sage’s target audience: the bundle, which costs $199, comes complete with a powerful JTAG debugging unit and advanced integrated development environment (IDE) – the same environment, in fact, that Sage has sold separately for thousands of dollars. Sadly, both are time-limited: you get 25 hours of use with the JTAG debugger and 30 days with the IDE before you’ll be asked to splash out for a licence, although non-commercial users do so at a significant discount.

I certainly had fun with the Gizmo, and it blows any other passively-cooled SBC I’ve seen out of the water when it comes to performance – but if you want to know if it’s worth the $199 asking price, you’ll have to pick up a copy of the magazine.

Linux User & Developer Issue 125 is available now, in both dead-tree and digital formats, with more information available on the official website.