EOMA-68 cards could lead to upgradeable tablets (and other computers)

You know how you can upgrade some components in your computer when they start to feel stale instead of going out and buying a whole new PC? That’s a lot harder to do with a laptop than a desktop, and the only “upgrade” most mobile tablets offer is the option to add a microSD card.

Rhombus Tech wants to change that by developing a platform that lets you swap out the CPU, memory, and other vital components of a tablet (or laptop, or desktop) when you want to upgrade — without requiring you to buy a new display, case, or other components.

This week the first working samples of the EOMA-68 cards were demonstrated.

eoma-68

EOMA stands for Embedded Open Modular Architecture, and 68 stands for the number of pins on the interface. Basically, an EOMA-68 card uses the same interface as a PCMCIA card.

Not only is the goal to create upgradeable devices (allowing tablets and other gadgets to have a much longer useful life than they might otherwise enjoy), but the group is also focusing squarely on hardware with support for free and open source software.

Only CPU from manufacturers that comply with the GPL will be used, which means that you should be able to run GNU/Linux as well as Android on a device with an EOMA-68 card.

eoma-68_01

The first prototypes feature an Allwinner A10 ARM Cortex-A8 single core processor. That chip is starting to look a little dated, but this project has been in the works for a long time. In fact, it was the folks at Rhombus Tech who first made us aware of the Mele A1000 hackable Android TV box a year ago, thanks to its Allwinner chip and support for both Android and Linux.

Rhombus Tech is also exploring other chips, including Freescale’s i.MX6 ARM Cortex-A9 processors, Allwinner’s A20 and A31 ARM Cortex-A7 chips, and the Ingenic jz4760 MIPS chip.

And one of the first devices that could be designed to use an EOMA-68 card is a tablet called the Flying Squirrel. It’s currently in development, and it’s expected to have a 7 inch,  1024 x 600 pixel display, a camera, WiFi, and KDE Plasma Active software.

As a sidenote, the Flying Squirrel may end up being the long-anticipated Vivaldi tablet.

via Slashdot

 

  • http://profiles.google.com/imroykun Ian Tester

    How does a CPU comply with the GNU GPL? There are some Open Source CPUs but nothing spectacular.
    Or do you simply mean that they need Linux and drivers licensed under the GPL?

  • obarthelemy

    Color me dubious:

    Even on much more modular PCs, a motherboard/CPU upgrade never actually made sense to me (over the last 20 years), because by the time the CPU is obsolete,so are the motherboard, the hardisk, the memory, the graphics card… yep I can keep the PSU and the casing…. or sell/pass on my old computer in its working state, and get a brand new one. Same thing with tablets: by the time the SoC board is obsolete, the battery will be dying, the screen obosolete, the casing will be bumped and the connectors loose… probably cheaper to resell/gift the old tablet and buy a new one, rather than hunt for a compatible replacement board, battery, and pray the casing and connectors hang on for a few more years.

    • Jon

      I agree, even the dying DIY PC building community hardly replace parts unless they break. Sometimes by then you’d have to get a used part since all the new stuff aren’t compatible. Like you said it’s sometimes better off just replacing the whole thing.

      I’m sure there’s a market for this but it’s probably small. Rhombus Tech probably doesn’t mind a small audience right now.

      • me

        Yeah, they or the OEMs they supply to will probably have the most success in having a configure-to-order model like existing PC companies where users can choose the SoC, RAM, GPU, screen, connectivity, etc. at order time.

        There are rumors of Motorola doing something like this with their upcoming X Phone line.

      • UnOfficiallyDNG

        I think comparing this to how a PC is upgradeable is wrong, this board is essentially a new PC, not an upgrade of one, it’s the memory, processor and graphics (APU) and half the motherboard

        This could work well if they partnered with Samsung and their upgradeable TV’s… I’d buy a nettop now if I thought I could upgrade it in the future to a quad core arm cortex A57 and also upgrade the 10″ display to 1080p and then maybe put the old card in the telly!

      • Luis

        But would you just buy that new ARM Cortex A57 device anyway at that point?

        How many of your PCs are still being used for something? That is if they’re still working. For example, Linux based router, file server,etc. I do this but there aren’t a lot of people who do these things. At least not enough for Samsung or some other big company.

      • UnOfficiallyDNG

        most people I know when asked what operating system they are using look puzzled for a second and then say office 20xx, do any of them upgrade their computers, no

        if they didn’t know what IDE, AGP, SATA, PCI, Socket FM1, 1156, 1155, FM2, 771, AM3, 1136, 940, f, i3,5,7, PCI-e etc.
        but they could press a little button and a board popped out, could they swap that? maybe

      • Anderson

        As already mentioned, it’s very likely that by the time you’re ready to upgrade, they’ll probably have moved onto a new physical interface.

        This is the same issue with PC building like others said. Once you choose your hardware, you can’t really upgrade to anything new a couple years later. Pretty much everything needs to be replaced.

      • TK42

        I fully expect there will angry users when they find out in a couple of years that new card won’t work on their device.

        I doubt they’ll stick with the long outdated PCMCIA interface.

      • UnOfficiallyDNG

        Whether the PCMCIA interface is the right interface to go with I don’t know (odd that’s it’s only 32bit) it’s above my technical pay grade ;)

        Would an interchangeable, industry standard, open source, slot in computer board that would work in a laptop, tablet, TV, fridge freezer and more, be a good idea… I’d say resoundingly yes

      • jerome

        It is not using the PCMCIA interface. It uses a PCMCIA connector, but there is no other compatibility with PCMCIA. They chose PCMCIA because it is a connector suited to the application that is still available in large quantities.

      • Alan

        I agree, when it’s time to upgrade the module, the new modules likely won’t be compatible with your existing tablet.

      • UnOfficiallyDNG

        New ARM processors are appearing a lot faster than Intel
        CPUs, in maybe 18 months you would able to go from a quad core arm cortex A9 to an A15
        to an A57

        The Lenovo Yoga 11 is a lovely piece of kit and if it’s
        still in excellent condition in 6 months time I’m sure people would be
        keen to upgrade it to an Nvidia Tegra 4

  • http://twitter.com/mikecane Mike Cane

    This is an idea that is long overdue. The screen in an iMac (or any AIO machine), for example, will outlive the usefulness of its computer components by a factor of 4 to 5. Why have to ditch a perfectly good screen just because the guts are outdated? This would be especially great for tablets which can sometimes depend on style. Like putting a more powerful engine in an old Chevy.

  • nwhenry

    This should be a no-brainer. Upgradability should always be preferable to built-in obsolesce. I love my original Nook Color and apparently quite a few other people do also, (I’m in my comfort zone). I do not believe the manufacturer meant for it to be so PC like; with the ability to choose an OS, memory upgradability, OnTheGo attachments, and now even Bluetooth connectivity. I for one would love to have another device that’s even half as, “die hard” as this piece of hardware. With the Jelly bean update I may even be able to get another year of use from it. Like
    a, “comfortable pair of jeans” use it until it wears out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sam-Curcio/100001739982933 Sam Curcio

    This is a great idea. I see it as a not so great an idea for the display and case makers.

  • Michael Thompson

    I love the concept, but like so many other things success is in the implementation.
    Give me a “build your tab” website that gives a broad spread of quality options and I’d totally buy in both figuratively and literally.

  • andrew

    the interface does not expose a parallel (csi) or serial (mipi) camera interface. So unless you use a usb camera, it won’t do any good for video chatting

    • CyberGusa

      GPIO, RS232, SD/MMCx2, SPI, SSP, etc aren’t routed through the main connector but on the board itself.

      This is why the HDMI and USB are shown connecting through the bottom…

  • Mat

    This is the board for the vivaldi tablet. See Aaron Siego’s *Luminosity of Free Software* Episode 10

  • HELLO

    hmmmm, that is ingenic, not injenic, ^.^

  • http://soltesza.wordpress.com/ sola

    This is a great development and very much overdue.

    Tablet processors are still evolving at crazy speeds while I don’t expect retina screens to get obsolete any time soon.

    I would love to have upgradeable devices. Imagine a $250 ARM Chromebook that have the option to have its memory and SOC upgraded in a couple of years.