The C.H.I.P Returns, Maybe

Remember the C.H.I.P? The little ARM-based and Linux-capable single board computer that was launched in 2015 at what was then a seemingly impossibly cheap price of $9, then took ages to arrive before fading away and the company behind it going under? Like a zombie, it has returned from the dead!

So, should we be reaching for the staples of zombie movies, and breaking out the long-playing records? Or should we be cautiously welcoming it back into the fold, a prodigal son to the wider family of boards? Before continuing, it’s best to take a closer look.

The C.H.I.P that has returned is a C.H.I.P Pro, the slightly more powerful upgraded model, and it has done so because unlike its sibling it was released under an open-source licence. Therefore this is a clone of the original, and it comes from an outfit called Source Parts, who have put their board up for sale via Amazon, but with what looks suspiciously like a photo of an original Next Thing Co board. We can’t raise Source Parts’ website as this is being written so we can’t tell you much about its originator and whether this is likely to be a reliable supplier that can provide continuity, so maybe we’d suggest a little caution until more information has emerged. We’re sure that community members will share their experiences.

It’s encouraging to see the C.H.I.P Pro return, but on balance we’d say that its price is not the most attractive given that the same money can buy you powerful boards that come with much better support. The SBC market has moved on since the original was a thing, and to make a splash this one will have to have some special sauce that we’re just not seeing. If they cloned the Pocket C.H.I.P all-in-one computer with keyboard and display, now that would catch our attention!

It all seemed so rosy for the C.H.I.P at launch, but even then its competitors doubted the $9 BoM, and boards such as the Raspberry Pi Zero took its market. The end came in March this year, but perhaps there might be more life in it yet.

Thanks [SlowBro] for the tip.

Hackaday Links: June 24, 2018

What do you do if you’re laying out a PCB, and you need to jump over a trace, but don’t want to use a via? The usual trick is using a zero Ohm resistor to make a bridge over a PCB trace. Zero Ohm resistors — otherwise known as ‘wire’ — are a handy tool for PCB designers who have backed themselves into a corner and don’t mind putting another reel on the pick and place machine. Here’s a new product from Keystone that is basically wire on a tape and reel. It’s designed to jump traces on a PCB where SMD zero ohm resistors and through-hole jumpers aren’t possible. I suppose you could also use it as a test point. They’re designed for high current applications, but before we get to that, let’s consider how much power is dissipated into a zero ohm resistor.

By the way, as of this writing, Mouser is showing 1,595 for Keystone’s 5100TR PCB jumpers in stock. They come on a reel of 1,000, and a full reel will cost you $280. This is significantly more expensive than any SMD zero ohm resistor, and it means someone bought four hundred of them. The electronic components industry is weird and you will never understand it.

There’s a new product from ODROID, and you want it. The ODROID-GO is a Game Boy and Sega Master System emulator running on an ESP-32, has a fantastic injection molded case, and looks phenomenal.  You can buy it now for $32. Does this sound familiar? Yes, a few months ago, the PocketSprite was released. The PocketSprite is the tiniest Game Boy ever, and a project [Sprite_TM] introduced to the world at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference.

This week, the speaker schedules for two awesome cons were announced. The first is HOPE, at the Hotel Penn on July 20th. Highlights of this year? [Mitch Altman] is talking about DSP, [Chelsea Manning] will be on stage, someone is talking about HAARP (have fun with the conspiracy theorists), and someone is presenting an argument that [Snowden] is an ideological turd. The speaker schedule for DEF CON was also announced. The main takeaway: god bless the CFP board for reigning in all the blockchain talks, the Nintendo Switch was broken wide open this year, but there’s only a talk on the 3DS, and there’s more than enough talks on election hacking, even though that was a success of propaganda instead of balaclava-wearing hackers.

The C.H.I.P. is no more, or at least that’s the rumor we’re running with until we get some official confirmation. When it was introduced, the C.H.I.P. was a Linux system on a chip with complete register documentation. It appears the end of C.H.I.P. is upon us, but have no fear: there’s a community building the PocketC.H.I.P., or the C.H.I.PBeagle. It’s a single board computer based around the OSD3358 from Octavo, the same system found in the PocketBeagle. Source in KiCAD, and people are working on it. Thanks [smerrett79] for the tip.

IoT Garage Door Opener from Scrap

[Hans Nielsen] has a couple roommates, and his garage has become a catch-all for various items. And like any good hacker’s garage, it boasts an IoT controlled garage door opener. It had a problem though, it used a Particle Photon – a popular IoT board that required internet access and a web server to operate. So [Hans] raided his roommate’s spare parts bin and set-forth to rebuild it!

One of his main goals was to make something that did not require internet access to operate. Anyone connected to the local WiFi should be able to open and close the door via a web interface, and he would give our good friend [Linus Torvalds] a call to make it happen. The key component in the build is the C.H.I.P SBC that made the news a while back for being ridiculously cheap.

Be sure to check out [Han’s] blog if you’re at all interested in working with the C.H.I.P. He does a fantastic job of documenting the ins and outs of getting a project like this working.

Hackaday Links: February 12, 2017

Taking small LCD screens, a tiny computer running Linux, and a 3D printed enclosure to build miniature versions of old computers is a thing now. Here’s [Cupcakus]’s tiny little Apple II, complete with Oregon Trail. This Apple II is running on a C.H.I.P., uses a 3s lithium battery from a drone, and works with a Bluetooth keyboard and joystick. Yes, the power button on the monitor works.

At Hackaday, we get a lot of emails from people asking the most important question ever: “how do you become a hardware hacker?” [Tex Projects] lays it all out on the line. All you need to do is to buy five of something every time you need one. Need some header pins? Buy five. A sensor? five. Come to the realization that anything you build could be bought for less money.

Are we still doing low-poly Pokemon? [davedarko] has an idea for the Sci-Fi contest we’re running. He’s going to give children seizures. He’s refreshing a project of mine by putting lights, blinkies, and noisy things in a 3D printed Porygon, the original 3D printed Pokemon. Porygon was the subject of that one episode of the Pokemon cartoon that sent 635 Japanese children to the hospital. The episode was banned in America, but it was actually Pikachu that caused the flashing lights.

‘Member Clickspring? He’s the guy who made a fantastic mechanical clock using nothing except a few bits of brass, a blowtorch, a tiny mill and lathe, and a lot of patience. Now he’s building the Antikythera mechanism. The Antikythera mechanism is a 2000-year-old device designed to calculate the phases of the moon, the motion of the planets, and other local astronomical phenomena. This is going to be a masterpiece, and will eventually end up in a museum, so be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel.

CES2017: Complete Register Documentation For The C.H.I.P.

Last October, Next Thing Co., makers of the popular C.H.I.P. platform unleashed the C.H.I.P. Pro, a very capable Linux system on a tiny board. The goal of the C.H.I.P. Pro is to be the brains of a project or product, similar to the Gumstix boards from an ancient era long before the Raspberry Pi.

Introduced alongside the C.H.I.P. Pro was a fantastic little device. The GR8 module is a complete Linux system on a chip, with an ARM Cortex-A8 processor and 256 MB of RAM, all on a relatively small BGA chip. This is a drop-in part that gives any piece of hardware a Linux brain.

There was a datasheet at the time the C.H.I.P. Pro and GR8 module were released, but a datasheet can only go so far. What you really need to use a Linux system on a module is a massive tome filled with descriptions of registers and all the hardware nooks and crannies needed to get the part working. At CES this week, Next Thing Co. brought what everyone has been asking for: an NDA-free complete register documentation for the core they’re using on the GR8 module. This is 400 pages of spiral-bound goodness that will tell you how to do everything with this chip.

Using the C.H.I.P. for products

When the C.H.I.P. was first released, it was easy to write it off as a board glomming on to the popularity of the Raspberry Pi. However, Next Thing Co. didn’t start with the C.H.I.P. – they started with Otto, an animated gif camera built around the Raspberry Pi compute module. The Otto was successful, but the compute module is a little expensive, so Next Thing Co. turned their attention to building a modern, inexpensive version of the old Gumstix boards.

The C.H.I.P. Pro and GR8 is the culmination of this work, and already a few companies have used it in production. At the Next Thing Co. suite, they showed off a new version of the Outernet base station powered by the C.H.I.P. Pro, and the TRNTBL, a wireless, Bluetooth, Airplay, and Spotify-connected turntable.

To illustrate how easy using the C.H.I.P. Pro in a product is, the guys at Next Thing Co. removed the Pi-powered guts of an Otto and replaced it with a C.H.I.P. Pro. There wasn’t much inside – just a battery, camera module, and a few bits and bobs. That’s great for anyone who wants to build a product that needs a relatively fast chip running Linux, and the stuff from Next Thing Co. makes it easy.

NextThingCo Introduces C.H.I.P. Pro, GR8 System On Module

NextThingCo, makers of the very popular C.H.I.P. single board Linux computer, have released the latest iteration of their hardware. It’s the C.H.I.P. Pro, an SBC designed to be the embedded brains of your next great project, product, or Internet of Things thing.

The C.H.I.P. Pro features an Allwinner R8 ARMv7 Cortex-A8 running at 1 GHz, a MALI-400 GPU, and either 256 MB or 512 MB of NAND Flash. The Pro also features 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, and is fully certified by the FCC. This board will be available in December at supposedly any quantity for $16.

The design of the C.H.I.P. Pro is a mix between a module designed to be installed in a product and a single board computer designed for a breadboard. It features castellated edges like hundreds of other modules, but the design means that assembly won’t be as simple as throwing down some paste and reflowing everything. The C.H.I.P. Pro features parts on two sides, making reflow questionable and either 0.1″ headers or a cutout on a PCB necessary. As a single board computer, this thing is small, powerful, and a worthy competitor to the Raspberry Pi Zero. A C.H.I.P. Pro development kit, consisting of two C.H.I.P. Pro units, a ‘debug’ board, and headers for breadboarding, is available for $49, with an estimated ship date in December.

A $16 Linux module with WiFi, Bluetooth, and no NDA is neat, but perhaps a more interesting announcement is that NextThingCo will also be selling the module that powers the C.H.I.P. Pro.

The GR8 module includes an Allwinner R8 ARMv7 Cortex-A8 running at 1 GHz, a MALI-400 GPU, and 256 MB of DDR3 SDRAM. Peripherals include TWI, two UARTS, SPI (SD cards support is hacked onto this), two PWM outputs, a single 6-bit ADC, I2S audio, S/PDIF, one USB 2.0 Host and one USB 2.0 OTG, and a parallel camera interface. This isn’t really a chip meant for video out, but it does support TV out and a parallel LCD interface. A limited datasheet for the GR8 is available on the NextThingCo GitHub.

Putting an entire Linux system on a single BGA module must draw comparisons to the recent release of the Octavo Systems OSD355X family, best known to the Hackaday audiences as the Beaglebone on a chip. Mechanically, the Octavo chip will be a bit easier to solder. Even though it has almost twice as many balls as the GR8, 400 on the Octavo and 252 on the GR8, the Octavo has a much wider pitch between the balls, making escape routing much easier.

Comparing peripherals between the OSD355X and GR8, it’s a bit of a wash, with the OSD coming out slightly ahead with Ethernet, more RAM and fancy TI PRUs. Concerning pricing, the GR8 wins hands down at $6 per chip in any quantity. That’s significantly less than the OSD355X.

The original C.H.I.P. has been exceptionally well received by the community NextThingCo is marketing to, despite the community’s distaste for Allwinner CPUs, cringeworthy PR, and questions concerning the true price of the C.H.I.P.. The C.H.I.P. Pro will surely see more than a few uses, but the GR8 is the real story here. A jellybean part that contains an entire Linux system has been the fevered dream of a madman for years now. The GR8 makes putting the power of open software into any project much easier, and we can’t wait to see the applications it allows.

Hackaday Links: April 17, 2016

There have been really cool happenings in the CNC world for the past few years. There is a recent trend of portable, handheld CNC machines. Yes, you read that correctly. This SIGGRAPH paper demonstrated a handheld router with a camera and a few motors that would make slight corrections to the position of the router. Load in a .DXF or other vector file, and you become the largest CNC machine on the planet. We saw it at one of the Maker Faires, and about a year ago the team soft launched. Apparently, the Shaper router is gearing up for production and [Ben Krasnow] got the first look with a full 17-minute demonstration of [Ben] fabricating parts out of aluminum. It looks like a great tool, and we can’t wait to see this thing in production.

Octoprint is the best way to give a 3D printer a web interface. The dev for Octoprint, [Gina Häußge] used to have a sponsor for developing Octoprint. They’re gone now, which means it’s time for [Gina] to start a Patreon. If you use Octoprint, you know it’s worth more than a dollar a month.

Really bad USB power supplies are nothing new around these parts. There are cheap USB supplies that don’t have any fuses, don’t have any circuit protection, and are noisy as hell. This is the worst USB power supply the Internet has to offer. It’s from one of the relatively new designs of USB power supplies that steps down mains voltage to five USB A ports. [bigclive]’s teardown revealed this was passing half wave mains voltage to the USB ports. It can light up a light bulb. It can kill your phone. The fault? A pinhole in the insulation between the windings of the transformer.

Electronic conference badges are getting excessive, but they can be so much cooler. Here’s Atmel’s take on a high-end conference badge. It has a display, sensors, WiFi, Bluetooth, runs Android, and has 512MB of RAM, 4GB of Flash. It’s a freakin’ mini tablet meant to last for three days.

Speaking of Atmel, they’re having a few growing pains in the merger with Microchip. Employees coming to Microchip from Atmel are getting their severance benefits cut in half. Apparently, the severance benefits given to Atmel employees were not communicated to Microchip before the merger.

Raspberry Pi Zeros are back in production. There’s also going to be a mysterious new feature. Is it WiFi? No, it’s confirmed not to be WiFi. How about Ethernet? Bluetooth? an RTC? Full size HDMI port? Actual pin headers? Audio port? Improved CPU / RAM? No, children. It’s none of these.

C.H.I.P., the nine dollar computer that made some waves last summer, has on-board Flash storage. That means you don’t need to put an image on an SD card. The folks behind C.H.I.P. have recently improved the method for flashing a new OS onto their tiny board: a Chrome plugin. Yes, this sounds completely bizarre, but Chrome plugins are becoming increasingly popular for USB gadget wizardry. You can program an Arduino with Chrome and log USB power profiles with a USB tester and Chrome. You will ride eternal, shiny and chrome.