As the onward march of technology delivers ever more powerful semiconductors, it can be instructive to keep an eye on the periphery of the system-on-chip market for niche-application devices which may have an application in our sphere. Just such a chip is the Mstar MSC313E, a SoC designed for use in IP cameras that packs an ARM Cortex A7 and 64 MB of memory, 16 MB of flash, Ethernet, USB, and all the other usual interfaces you’d expect from a microprocessor. It’s available in a QFN package which makes it tantalisingly within the reach of the hardware hacker community, so naturally there is significant interest in unlocking its secrets. A cheap and accessible part with enough power to run a stripped-out GNU/Linux operating system has to be worth a second look!
QFNs are not the easiest packages to hand solder, but if you also find yourself in that position there is at least the prospect of a ready to go development board. The BreadBee is a small PCB that packs in the chip with all its interfaces including Ethernet and USB brought out for experimentation. If you don’t fancy building one, you don’t even have to: it’s soon to be crowdfunded.
One might ask what the point is of Yet Another Linux Capable Microcontroller Platform, given the plethora of Raspberry-pi and competitor boards. The answer to that is simple enough and contains within it the essence of hardware hacking: because it is there. We might never see it again save for in a few outlying projects, or perhaps it might find a niche in our world and become popular, without this early work we’ll never know. While we’re at it, this isn’t the first such SoC that’s emerged; we’ve previously seen an action cam chip give us a hand-solderable Linux single board computer.
Thanks [anonymouse] for the tip.