Linux User & Developer, Issue 148

Linux User & Developer Issue 147As well as my usual four-page news spread, this month’s Linux User & Developer includes a two-page review of the CubieBoard 4 single-board computer and a chunk of work I did for the Ultimate Distro & FOSS Guide 2015.

Looking at the guide first, it’s a natural follow-on to the work I’ve done in years past for the magazine. Each year, a multi-page round-up of the ‘best’ Linux distributions is published; this year, deputy editor Gavin Thomas asked for something a little different. The result: a write-up of picks for ‘best’ distribution in a variety of categories, but also covering free and open-source software (FOSS) packages which can be installed in any distribution to extend its capabilities in a given category.

Some of the feature was written in-house by the magazine’s staff writers, but I was given four categories relevant to my expertise: Linux for developers, for enterprises, for security professionals, and for those looking for a distribution with rolling-release development methodology. In each case, a top pick was selected along with three alternatives. Five FOSS packages relating to the category were also highlighted, except in the rolling-release section where instead I highlighted five general-purpose FOSS packages which have received my personal seal of approval.

My review of the CubieBoard 4 from low-power computing specialist New IT takes the perspective of a Linux-confident user, as is usual for the magazine. As a result, some of the software-related disadvantages I highlighted in my review of the same hardware for Custom PC don’t apply – although it’s still fair to say that CubieTech should spend a little more time on polishing the sharp edges of its software releases before it brings out yet another new product.

For those unfamiliar, the big selling point of the CubieBoard 4 is that it packs eight ARM-based processing cores into a low-power fanless design. Using ARM’s big.LITTLE design paradigm, four are high-performance cores while four are low-power cores. Unlike its rivals, however, the CubieBoard 4’s AllWinner A80 chip provides the host OS with access to all eight cores simultaneously – making for a seriously powerful machine for multi-threaded use. While heat builds up quickly if you’re thrashing all eight cores, it’s one of the most powerful SBCs I’ve tested besting even the £199.99 Nvidia Jetson TK1 on CPU-bound multi-threaded tasks.

All this, plus my regular four-page look at upcoming events and everything interesting in the open source, open hardware, open governance and anything-else-open-I-think-of world, is available now at your local newsagent or digitally via Zinio and similar services. As always, my content will be republished translated into French in the coming months as part of Inside Linux Magazine.

UPDATE 20150130:

Since writing the CubieBoard 4 review, which was based on the v1.1 hardware revision, CubieTech has modified the board and released v1.2. New IT has kindly sent out an updated model, and there are numerous changes for the better: the Wi-Fi antenna no longer pushes up against a case bolt, the glue-on heatsink has been swapped out for a push-pin version with a tube of thermal interface material (TIM) and an air-gap between the fins and the top of the case, and the case itself has been revised to accommodate the push-pins. The GPIO header also now comes with a pin mapping table silk-screened directly onto the PCB for quick reference. While none of these improvements are dramatic enough to alter the overall score, they’re certainly welcomed.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 133

Linux User & Developer Issue 133In addition to my regular four-page news spread, this month’s Linux User & Developer includes my in-depth two-page review of the Fuze Powered by Raspberry Pi – possibly the most interesting Raspberry Pi accessory-stroke-bundle I’ve yet seen.

Aimed primarily at education, the Fuze couples a locally-manufactured metal chassis with a built-in keyboard and a diode-protected general-purpose input-output (GPIO) breakout board to create something more suited to school use than the bare board of the Pi itself. Provided with a version of Gordon Henderson’s modified BASIC, white-on-black for the true BBC Micro experience, and educational materials in PDF format, it’s undeniably an interesting package.

If that all sounds familiar, it should: I reviewed the same kit, but from a hobbyist’s perspective, in Custom PC Issue 124 earlier this month. During this more detailed review, however, I had the benefit of having spoken to the device’s inventor Jon Silvera. Having spotted some criticisms I had made on Twitter – using the social networking service, as is my usual habit, as a combination notepad and teaser vehicle during the review – he got in touch to discuss how my feedback would affect the product’s future development.

The result is that, even before the review was finished, many of the more niggling criticisms I had were fully addressed. This is reflected in the final review score, which was posted prior to the magazine’s publication on the Linux User website.

The review is, as usual, joined by four pages of news from the worlds of free, libre and open source software, open hardware, open governance and the surrounding communities – but to see those, you’re going to have to pick up a copy from your local newsagent, supermarket or online via digital distribution services including Zinio.