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.

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

  1. 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

  2. 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.

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

    1. 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.

  4. 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.

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