EOMA-68 PC-on-a-card goes dual-core, supports Debian Linux, has new accessories in the works

Rhombus Tech‘s EOMA-68 project involves cramming all the key components of a PC onto a small board out the size of an old-school PCMCIA card. Then you can slot that card into a desktop, laptop, or tablet dock to function as the brains of a computer, and when you want to replace or upgrade you can just swap out the card for a new one.

One of the first devices expected to use an EOMA-68 card is the upcoming Vivaldi “Flying Squirrel” tablet which will run a Linux-based operating system with the KDE desktop environment.

Up until now the team’s been working with EOMA-68 cards featuring relatively slow Allwinner A10 ARM Cortex-A8 chips. But now there’s a new version which has a faster Allwinner A20 processor.

The A20 chip is a dual-core ARM Cortex-A7 processor with dual-core ARM Mali 400 graphics. It’s still not exactly a speed demon, but it’s a big step up from the A10.

Allwinner’s new chip is also pin-to-pin compatible with the A10 though, which means that the new dual-core EOMA-68 cards are virtually identical to the single-core versions. They just have faster chips.

There are also plans for a model based on the Allwinner A31 quad-core chip, but that version requires a new design since it’s not pin-to-pin compatible with the other models.

One of the developers behind the project has posted a video showing a bit of what the new dual-core card can do. It’s running Debian “Wheezy” Linux and the Midori web browser, and the system seems reasonably responsive — especially when you consider it’s a full-blown desktop GNU/Linux operating system running on an inexpensive, low-power ARM-based processor.

In related news, Rhombus Tech is working on designs for a new “Micro Engineering Board,” which is basically a dock that lets you use an EOMA-68 card as a full-fledged desktop computer.

Rhombus Tech Micro Engineering Board

The dock has SATA, Ethernet, and USB connectors, a 5V power supply, and GPIO pins. Plug in an EOMA-68 card, power cable, mouse, keyboard, hard drive, or other peripherals, and you’ve basically got a desktop computer.

On the card itself you’ll find a micro HDMI port, microSD card slot, and microUSB cable for hooking up a monitor, storage, and more.

At a time when it’s becoming normal to buy a whole new computer or tablet every few years rather than upgrading existing hardware, it’s interesting to see someone taking a modular approach.

micro engineering board2

While the desktop dock is pretty nifty, the idea behind EOMA-68 is that you’ll be able to upgrade tablets, notebooks, and other devices just as easily as a desktop PC by simply upgrading the card. Of course, that’s assuming your keyboard, display, and other components are worth saving.

A notebook or tablet can accumulate a lot of wear and tear over the course of a few years, and now that we’ve finally moved past the point where every single device ships with a 1366 x 768 pixel display, a tablet you buy today might not have a screen you want to use a year or two from now — so you may want to upgrade more than just the CPU and memory.

But while the EOMA-68 project isn’t necessarily going to appeal to everyone, it’s at least as interesting from a technical standpoint as the work being done by the folks behind the Raspberry Pi project. It just gets a lot less attention.

  • Michael Thompson

    Awesome concept and nice render.

  • digi_owl

    Would love to see someone do a 4-5 inch PDA/PMP “shell” for this!

  • Tacra

    Interesting article but I see a much better application than upgrading your card with the same old tablet. I see an easy way for the end users to replace his/her broken tablet without having join the new tablet onto the account and go do a restore of some kind. Just unplug from broken tablet, insert into new tablet, power up, and go.

  • udptcp

    the allwinner 10 got my attention because of it’s open specs. Will the Allwinner A20 and A31 be GPL as well?

    • John Morris

      Except for video. No Arm device seems to have supported video. Yet.

      Notice what port isn’t on this dock. Not sure how you use it for a desktop with no video and not a lot of server applications for a device with one USB2.0 and a 10/100 Ethernet. Although I think the newer AllWinner parts give GigE and this board seems to support that. Point still stands that it ain’t much of a server.and no display unless you count pins on the expansion header.

      Problem is you apparently need actual components to get video and they set a goal of easy to hand assemble; meaning all through hole, all easy to obtain parts. Except the render shown includes a surface mount part. Of course that same part is also available in pdip so lets wait to see what is actually released.

  • Will Maitner

    This is dumb. IBM had a patent for an exchangeable core that would go from desktop and notebook. Kind of like the PadFone, but more. Give me a Lumia 920 type phone, with a Snapdragon 800, 8gb ram, 256gb storage, PadFone style tablet with Surface style keyboard. Windows RT merged with Windows Phone in your pocket. This is the logical next step in computing.

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

    Sounds interesting and may make the Vivaldi tablet more marketable.

    The first Vivaldi version was planned with abysmally old SOC and this new dual-core plan is also quite behind the times.

    However, with the EOMA-68 capability you will have the option to hw-upgrade the Vivaldi at least one time so its usefulness may be extended and you are safer for the happenstance of a new, improved Vivaldi software which can only run on stronger hw.

    I am all for the widespread use of EOMA-68