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 Post subject: Thoughts on the new Firefly RK3399 (Libre Renegade Elite)?
PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2018 5:17 pm 
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It looks good to me, from what they've shown so far. The initial Indiegogo price tag of $100 US is a bit steep, though not outrageously so when compared to (e.g.,) the Tinker Board S (which is also US$100 on Amazon US at the moment) or the ODROID XU-4 (US$70, but it lags behind the Asus on video with an earlier version of the Mali GPU), which are probably it's closest competitors at the moment (the much less pricey Rock64 - US$45 for the top model - is also comparable in most regards, but the GPU isn't great), and significantly better than, say, the x86 SBCs such as the LattePanda (various models starting at US$130 and going up to $250) or the UDOO SB-02 (US$425, which is near the very top of the price range for maker-grade SBCs).

Admittedly, that article repeatedly compares it to the RPi 3B+, which isn't really in the same league. The comparison is inevitable, but it isn't really fair to either of them - the RPi may be the default simply due to ubiquity and price (though better deals do exist), but it is sort of the MS-DOS of ARM SBCs, a weak middle-of-the-road system that just happens to have most of the attention for reasons unrelated to its technical merits. While IMAO the RPi has its place - it sort of hits a butter spot in price, performance, and community support, and fits well with its intended academic audience - it isn't a particularly good series of boards in a lot of ways. Though it did sort of popularize SBCs in general, which is, uh, something I guess.

Mind you, I am still holding out for a decent MIPS based board, but that seems unlikely in the foreseeable future. Maybe I'll be happier if Tallwood decides to do more with their new IP toy, or if someone like Cavium, Baikal, or BLX make a move in that space, or even if someone like Codasip or SiFive makes a true-silicon (that is, not an FPGA) version of RISC-V that doesn't break the bank like the HiFive-Unleashed does at USD$1000 for the CPU alone (since RV seems pretty similar to MIPS from what I've read), but in the meanwhile as far as ARM systems go, I will watch what happens with this.

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Last edited by Schol-R-LEA on Tue Jul 03, 2018 12:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on the new Firefly RK3399 (Libre Renegade Elite
PostPosted: Tue Jul 03, 2018 2:30 am 
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Schol-R-LEA wrote:
Mind you, I am still holding out for a decent MIPS based board

There's a decent MIPS board, but it's not cheap (I don't know the exact price, though, it's not listed): ELISE board. It has a 1.2GHz dual-core MIPS32R5 CPU (out-of-order with SIMD), a few smaller single-core MIPS32 CPUs, PowerVR GPU and a bunch of other niceties in the CPU chip and on the board.

Perhaps the cheapest powerful MIPS board(-ette?) is LinkIt Smart 7688. $15 buys you a microcomputer with a 580MHz MIPS32R2 CPU capable of running Linux/OpenWRT, with some (GP)I/O ports besides WiFi and Ethernet.


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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on the new Firefly RK3399 (Libre Renegade Elite
PostPosted: Tue Jul 03, 2018 10:51 am 
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alexfru wrote:
Schol-R-LEA wrote:
Mind you, I am still holding out for a decent MIPS based board

There's a decent MIPS board, but it's not cheap (I don't know the exact price, though, it's not listed): ELISE board. It has a 1.2GHz dual-core MIPS32R5 CPU (out-of-order with SIMD), a few smaller single-core MIPS32 CPUs, PowerVR GPU and a bunch of other niceties in the CPU chip and on the board.


I wasn't aware of this one, I will have to look. Do you know of any suppliers who resell it in the US? I wasn't able to find any (or find a price; I gather you weren't able to either). Also, I get the impression that it is very definitely not intended for maker-grade applications, but more as a dev board for professional-grade ones (where the final hardware the chip will go on will be different, but they need a working version of the SOC for testing). How well documented is it, and are the docs available in English at all (and how much do they cost if they are)? Can it even be ordered in individual units anywhere, rather than lots of 1000+? Also, if it is meant as a dev board, do they require any sort of NDA or developer license agreement?

alexfru wrote:
Perhaps the cheapest powerful MIPS board(-ette?) is LinkIt Smart 7688. $15 buys you a microcomputer with a 580MHz MIPS32R2 CPU capable of running Linux/OpenWRT, with some (GP)I/O ports besides WiFi and Ethernet.


Yeah, I've been considering the Linkit Smart 7688, and some of the other Seeed SBCs, but I haven't gotten around to taking a closer look at them. I am also considering the VoCore2 as well.

As I said in an earlier thread, I'd also considered the Onion Omega2+, but I was warned off by people on their developer forum because of the proprietary wifi used in the MT7688 SOC. However, I get the impression that there really aren't any Wifi systems - on-chip or otherwise - that aren't proprietary (and AFAICT, all Bluetooth sub-systems are, as the protocol itself involves patented technologies), which is why none of the OSH SBC platforms such as those by Libre have on-board wifi.

There were other issues with the way the Omega2 locks down the boot process, but honestly, it isn't all that much worse than the whole 'booting through the GPU' nonsense on the RPi. Thus, I am reconsidering the viability of the Omega2 as a test platform, but since I am far from that stage right now anyway (and may never get there), I don't need to decide any time soon. However, you will note that while the listed price for the 2+ is US$10, in practice you need to either buy or build a docking unit for it, which is why that bundle is listed at US$30 on Amazon US.

At the moment, the only accessible SBC I have is an RPi 3B (not 3B+), but I bought that before I had looked deeper into the SBC market. I do mean to buy something heftier, preferably something that is OSH like the Renegade, but I am biding my time for now - again, I am nowhere close to having an ARM- or MIPS-based system I could test even in QEMU. The only thing I am using the RPi for so far is retrogaming (which it is adequate, but not great, for) and watching YouTube videos on a larger screen than my laptop's, so I am in no rush.

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Rev. First Speaker Schol-R-LEA;2 LCF ELF JAM POEE KoR KCO PPWMTF
μή εἶναι βασιλικήν ἀτραπόν ἐπί γεωμετρίαν
Lisp programmers tend to seem very odd to outsiders, just like anyone else who has had a religious experience they can't quite explain to others.


Last edited by Schol-R-LEA on Tue Jul 03, 2018 12:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on the new Firefly RK3399 (Libre Renegade Elite
PostPosted: Tue Jul 03, 2018 12:16 pm 
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I am just wondering how knowing about Rock64, you could miss RockPro64 with the same rk3399 as this Libre thing, but for 79.99$ for the top model with 4GB of RAM (LPDDR4 RAM!). Additionally, they have goodies as (very cheap) PCIe-SATA board, for attaching SSD/HDD to it, PCIe/M.2 adapter for NVMe, detachable eMMC modules etc.
I did comparison between all the SBCs with this rockstar guy rk3399, actively exciting nerd minds lately, and definitely RockPro64 is the best SBC with it by any means. They sell it cheap and the way, you could assemble your own set, whereas others sell packages they decide about what to be there. That's inevitably leads to the overpriced option.
The board you've found looks almost 1:1 as RockPro64, but I'm almost sure, it will end up much more in price.

Firefly sells the most overpriced variants. What you show looks like a "joint effort" of Libre Computer and Firefly, because there are these, as you can see, they sell their own rk3399 boards, and there are these.That lightbulb is the Firefly logo anyway. Firefly was probably the first that made rk3399 SBC, and it looks of a good quality (still, there are some problems reported at least supposedly problems, for somebody), but it costs a lot.

You also may want to take a look at Nano PC T4. There also should be Odroid N1/N2 over here, the speculations about it circle a long time, but it's still not there for reasons. Anyway, hardkernel is known for making decent and not over-priced products. But as I've said, in my opinion, - RockPro64 is the best among all of them. :)

I'd buy it should I have some spare bucks. But I decided to wait (honestly, these rk3399 boards are all too raw yet, let them fix bugs :D) and for now I am going to buy a smaller brother Rock64 4GB variant with rk3328, I am thinking about from the last year. in addition to my oldie android rk3368 set top box so unwilling to uncover its secrets. But when I will be about to buy an rk3399 board, it will be RockPro64. :)

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current smaller goal: efify - UEFI for a couple of boards (mips and arm).


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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on the new Firefly RK3399 (Libre Renegade Elite
PostPosted: Tue Jul 03, 2018 12:28 pm 
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zaval wrote:
I am just wondering how knowing about Rock64, you could miss RockPro64 with the same rk3399 as this Libre thing, but for 79.99$ for the top model with 4GB of RAM (LPDDR4 RAM!).


Yikes, I completely spaced on that. I forgot about the RockPro64 entirely, probably because I don't know much about it - as with the Libre system, it is still in pre-order, though it looks like the RockPro64 will be shipping a good deal sooner (the 12th of this month, in fact).

And yeah, the Renegade Elite seems to be a rebadge of the Firefly (which is already being shipped), which is why I mentioned both names. I believe the same is true of the Le Potato, the Renegade, and the Tritium - IIUC, Libre finds suitable OSH boards and sells them under their name. My impression is that they are mostly acting as vendors of systems which aren't otherwise sold as independent units, or whose manufacturers don't sell directly outside of China (both of which are common business models around the world), but I could be wrong.

The main thing with Libre is their 'always OSH' guarantee - they act as a retailer for others whose components are known to be openly documented, which saves some trouble in researching them yourself if OSH is a big deal to you (which it sort of is for OS-dev hobbyists, for practical reasons if not necessarily ideological ones). Your mostly paying for them to do that research for you.

BTW, I noticed that most of these are not in the RPi2/3 form factor (I don't think there is a formal standard, it just comes from people copying the RPi - not that it is a particularly good one, but it affects the prices of accessories). Do you know if they are in a standard form factor (e.g., 96board, COM Express, etc), or a unique one? It probably isn't significant to me personally, so long as I can get cases, heat sinks, fans, etc. that will go with them, but it could be to those looking to fit them into their IoT or embedded projects. I don't know enough about the various form factors in use to tell from the pictures (for example, I am pretty sure COM Express is the form factor for SO-DIMM type modules like the RPi CM3 or the Le Maker's CPU daughterboard, but I am not sure and haven't been able to find out from a cursory search).

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μή εἶναι βασιλικήν ἀτραπόν ἐπί γεωμετρίαν
Lisp programmers tend to seem very odd to outsiders, just like anyone else who has had a religious experience they can't quite explain to others.


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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on the new Firefly RK3399 (Libre Renegade Elite
PostPosted: Tue Jul 03, 2018 10:19 pm 
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Schol-R-LEA wrote:
alexfru wrote:
Schol-R-LEA wrote:
Mind you, I am still holding out for a decent MIPS based board

There's a decent MIPS board, but it's not cheap (I don't know the exact price, though, it's not listed): ELISE board. It has a 1.2GHz dual-core MIPS32R5 CPU (out-of-order with SIMD), a few smaller single-core MIPS32 CPUs, PowerVR GPU and a bunch of other niceties in the CPU chip and on the board.


I wasn't aware of this one, I will have to look. Do you know of any suppliers who resell it in the US? I wasn't able to find any (or find a price; I gather you weren't able to either).

It's possible that at the moment you can only find out the price and order the board only directly from them. I can find out the price but I don't think I can tell. At any rate, you may have an educated guess. Like I said earlier, it's not cheap, but it's not astronomically expensive either.

Schol-R-LEA wrote:
Also, I get the impression that it is very definitely not intended for maker-grade applications, but more as a dev board for professional-grade ones (where the final hardware the chip will go on will be different, but they need a working version of the SOC for testing).

I think, it might be used in production if you don't have tight size/weight & power requirements. Applications can be vastly different.

Schol-R-LEA wrote:
How well documented is it, and are the docs available in English at all (and how much do they cost if they are)? Can it even be ordered in individual units anywhere, rather than lots of 1000+? Also, if it is meant as a dev board, do they require any sort of NDA or developer license agreement?

I'd think there should be sufficient documentation in English. Mind you, MIPS, PowerVR and a few other things weren't invented in Russia. And it runs Linux just fine (as far as the MIPS32R5 cores are concerned, not tried anything else), so it's not like you get a brick or a black box that you can't bring to life nor have any idea how to.


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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on the new Firefly RK3399 (Libre Renegade Elite
PostPosted: Wed Jul 04, 2018 6:21 am 
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Quote:
BTW, I noticed that most of these are not in the RPi2/3 form factor (I don't think there is a formal standard, it just comes from people copying the RPi - not that it is a particularly good one, but it affects the prices of accessories). Do you know if they are in a standard form factor (e.g., 96board, COM Express, etc), or a unique one? It probably isn't significant to me personally, so long as I can get cases, heat sinks, fans, etc. that will go with them, but it could be to those looking to fit them into their IoT or embedded projects. I don't know enough about the various form factors in use to tell from the pictures (for example, I am pretty sure COM Express is the form factor for SO-DIMM type modules like the RPi CM3 or the Le Maker's CPU daughterboard, but I am not sure and haven't been able to find out from a cursory search).

Yeah, there is no accepted form factor standard among SBCs. Everyone has its own sets. Some try to follow RPi in details (expansion headers placement and pinout), some just for size - this "look, it's a credit card size computer!" bullshit. And of course, all these vendors sell accessoires - heatsinks, cases, PSUs etc. As I've said, with Pine, you could choose by item what you want, whereas others sell "all included", meaning more money. The heatsink for RockPro is a north-bridge like heatsink, so you could use that (checking for exact hole distance before).

But in the case of rk3399, it would be a very bad idea to put it on a so small board - it's a hot chip, comprising of 6 cores, dual-clustered, where the dual core cortex-a72 might run at something ~2GHz. FriendlyElec (Nano PC T4) for example even brags by the small size they decided to go with. I wouldn't be that excited, size matters, :mrgreen: but as always is with hot things, the bigger the better, :lol: not opposite. And what the hell is this pursuit for? for headaches when your board is melting down? Pine.org has two sizes - a big one (the original Pine64 came with), and small, RPi like. RockPro64 comes with the former and its good, thick metallic layers in the PCB themselves do great job of heat dissipation, I heard. Anyway my Pine64+ is quite cool without any cooling. Of course, it'd be better to still put something on it.

I don't know why these vendors don't accept PC form factors, like mini-ITX for example. But the 96 boards standards, seems, are kind of "meh" for them. Only a few boards exist following such. I actually undersand them. This is a little bit weird standard. For example for some reasons they don't like Ethernet, so it's not present on the most common 96 boards small factor, like Dragonboard 410c. Only a much bigger sized board could have it. And honestly, 96 boards look ugly somehow.

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current smaller goal: efify - UEFI for a couple of boards (mips and arm).


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 Post subject: Re: Thoughts on the new Firefly RK3399 (Libre Renegade Elite
PostPosted: Wed Jul 04, 2018 11:26 am 
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zaval wrote:
I don't know why these vendors don't accept PC form factors, like mini-ITX for example.


I would think that the reason would be obvious: because they aren't intended as stand-alone computers, but for use in a larger embedded system. The small form factor is the entire point of these devices.

The real issue is that the SBCs we're talking about aren't meant to be desktop PCs. They are made for use as training tools in schools (which, as I keep pointing out, and is the real intended purpose of the RPi), embedded mobile systems in things like drones, IoT controllers, drop-in systems for things like Media Centers (Kodi, etc.), retrogaming consoles (e.g., Retropie, Lakka, etc.), and other uses where the small form factor is a necessary part of how they are being used.

I would agree that it would be nice to see some mini-ITX form factor ARM and MIPS boards (actually, at least one ARM board, the Asus Jetson, does exist, but it is insanely expensive and even the newest model is now long out of date). There are some PowerPC ATX motherboards, or were at one time, but PowerPC itself is sort of a dead tech today (for better or worse).

However, you wouldn't really want to use a SoC for something like that, and the majority of ARM and MIPS CPUs made today are SoCs, and the ones which aren't are generally designed for server farm and HPC uses (and thus would not be really suitable for a personal workstation - server CPUs generally run at a lower clock rate than PCs, because cycles per watts is the primary metric used in both server farms and HPC supercomputers, with performance being achieved through the distributed use of dozens or even hundreds of CPUs). There is no real reason why a desktop-grade CPU couldn't be designed for those ISAs (there certainly have been in the past - the ARM was designed for one, after all), but that market segment is currently locked up by mass-market Windows systems, and while there is an ARM version of Windows 10, it is specifically for certain mobile uses, and is only available on systems it is specifically tailored for (and which are locked down into using only that version of Windows).

I should add that part of the issue is that there is no equivalent to 'standard PC' hardware which Windows could target; as with the various versions of Linux used on these SBCs (based on generic kernel ports), a version would need to be made for each different board, even if the CPU used in them were the same. Fans may be willing to work on such projects, and the manufacturers of the boards can do so given the existing OS kernels, but Microsoft is only going to do this if they benefit from it (either from profit-making sales, or from enhancing mind-share on their profitable markets).

(In fact, the real relationship is reversed: these consumer-grade SBCs really only exist because there is a generic FOSS OS kernel for those processors that they can be readily adapted to the specific SBCs. As wretched as Linux may be in some ways, no one would be making SBCs if they had to write their own OSes from the ground up. There would be maker-grade ones such as Arduino and Beagleboard, made with the expectation that the purchaser would be coding to the bare metal, but the larger market for SBCs with ready-use OSes wouldn't be feasible.)

As I've said before, unless you can convince the CPU manufacturers to build PC-class CPUs in volume, and convince several major mobo developers such as Asus, Gigabyte, and EVGA to develop and publish a standard hardware suite for a class of non-x86 motherboards (including the memory, video, and disk/SSD interfaces), and get major software vendors such as Microsoft, Oracle, etc. to support this hardware, desktop systems based on ARM, MIPS, RISC-V, or anything else are unlikely to emerge. The alternative is for the SBC manufacturers to make their own hardware standard (and agree to use it), then scale up over time - which would remain meaningless unless they can can get software vendors behind them.

Personally? I think that a third option is more likely - that the rise of mobile systems, on the one hand, and computer-like functions in Smart TVs (possibly with pluggable upgrades, but maybe not), on the other, will marginalize the desktop and laptop markets to writers, students, and programmers; end the viability of game consoles (since the Smart TVs will be more than capable of running games directly from Steam et. al.), and push SBCs back to being a fringe interest.

Oh, and make new hobby OS development next to impossible. I rather hope this won't be the case, but...
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μή εἶναι βασιλικήν ἀτραπόν ἐπί γεωμετρίαν
Lisp programmers tend to seem very odd to outsiders, just like anyone else who has had a religious experience they can't quite explain to others.


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