The DragonBox Pyra is a handheld computer that’s been under development for more than six years, but it’s finally almost ready to ship.

Designed to run free and open source software, the little computer has a 5 inch display, a keyboard for thumb typing, and built-in game controllers.

A small number of prototypes were sent out to beta testers last year, and now the final production hardware designs have been finalized. But DragonBox Pyra creator Michael Mzorek says the software still needs some work. So he’s enlisted help from a community member who’s helping bring support for hardware accelerated graphics to the Pyra.

That user, who goes by daveshah in the Pyra forums, is sharing progress in a forum thread, as well as initial thoughts about the new hardware, since he’s one of the first people to use it.

DragonBox Pyra
daveshah

The little computer now supports 3D graphics, and daveshah has posted short videos that show a PlayStation 1 emulator running at 60 frames per second, and the Extreme Tux Racer 3D video game running smoothly.

As for the hardware, it has the kind of specs you might expect from an open source handheld computer project that’s been in development since 2014.

Display 5 inch, 1280 x 720 pixel LCD
Resistive touchscreen
CPU TI OMAP5432
2 x ARM Cortex-A15 @ 1.5 GHz
GPU PowerVR SGX544MP2 @ 533 MHz
RAM Up to 4GB
Storage 32GB eMMC
2 x SD card slots (full-sized)
1 x microSDXC (internal)
Wireless 802.11n
Bluetooth 4.1
3G/4G modem (optional)
Ports HDMI
2 x USB 2.0 Type-A
1 x micro USB 3.0
3.5mm audio
Battery 6,000 mAh (user replaceable)
Keyboard Backlit, QWERTY
Game controllers D-Pad
2 x analog sticks
4 x shoulder buttons
6 x face buttons
Dimensions 139mm x 87mm x 32mm

The hardware looks kind of dated when compared with modern handhelds from companies like GPD or One Netbook. But neither of those companies specializes in open hardware and open source software.

The DragonBox Pyra will ship with Debian Linux and support alternate operating systems. The schematics will be released to the public. And the little computer is designed to be repairable and/or upgradeable.

You’ll be able to open up the case with a screwdriver. Nothing is held in with glue. And there are three main internal components:

  • Mainboard
  • CPU board (with processor, RAM, and storage)
  • Display board

Given the pace of development, I wouldn’t necessarily hold my breath waiting for an upgraded CPU board to hit the streets anytime soon. But theoretically once the original DragonBox Pyra begins shipping to customers, work on a new board with a more recent processor could begin.

More realistically, if you need to replace a broken part, it should be relatively easy to do that with this sort of design.

The Pyra is available for pre-order from the DragonBox website for 500 Euros ($580) and up (excluding VAT) and it should ship… eventually.

 

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  1. Really, as much as I thought this might be changing with some of the recent UMPC type devices, there still isn’t anything like the Pandora/Pyra available. If my Pandora still worked correctly, I would still be using it, despite it’s limitations for browsing the Internet (I wouldn’t be doing much browsing on it).

    I am looking forward to receiving a Pyra and seeing what it develops into over time. In my experience, the light weight nature of a dedicated Linux solution (not Android, that includes a lot of virtual machine related overhead) can make good use of hardware that would otherwise be considered outdated. It’s just handy for me in a way that a smart phone or tablet can never be. Although I do have an Android tablet running on an SoC that is just about as old as the one in the Pyra, and I see a fair number of 2013 Nexus 7 tablets still in operation.

    Of course, none of this means that the Pyra is a good device for a mainstream user, but I never claimed to be one of those.

    The biggest issue for me with the Pyra hardware is that it could have better open source support. Perhaps if the timing had been a bit different, it would have been designed around the Raspberry Pi compute module and it would have better open source support, though there would be downsides to that approach as well.

    Assuming that this works out reasonably well for EvilDragon, the likely time frame for a new CPU board from the start of development would seem to be about three years. However, there is no guarantee when development might start, even assuming it does.

  2. @Robert

    I am happy the device does what you want but when people are talking about there being much better options for most people take the gpd win max for example. It has a legitimately good CPU that could be used as a mini desktop backed by 16gb ram and 512gb SSD. There are a ton of ports on it so you shouldn’t have problems with connectivity and you get a keyboard that you can touch type on rather than thumb typing on a physical keyboard that loses to typing on a smartphone these days.

    You could also just grab a Note10, android is capable of 99% of things people would want out if a pocket device on the go and the s pen is very handy. You can buy a razer kishi for physical game controls as well.

    As another person noted. The pyra is going to struggle just WEB BROWSING. Immediately it is not useful for many people due to that, add in the lack of games outside of emulation due to it being an arm linux machine and it is easy to see why it isn’t on people’s radar for $580.

  3. I applaud ED and the volunteer dev team on not giving up. However, after so long, I wonder if ED will even break even on this product. Certainly, it’s a Swiss army knife of features but, to me, other than some low end emulation, I don’t think it’s going to do much else well enough for many people given the far outdated hardware and TBD level software. It definitely won’t for me.

    Sure, there’ll be some who want all those features in one device and don’t mind suffering through performance issues. Heck, some of them will actually think it’s “fast” due to their low performance standards. However, I think that group is small given the cost of developing and producing the Pyra.

    If ED doesn’t make a profit or break even on this, will he even work on a CPU board upgrade? I don’t anyone else will pick it up no matter how open the hardware is.

    I’m definitely not getting that Pyra 4G I was eyeing many years ago but I’ll continue being interested in the news about it. If that CPU board upgrade actually gets produced before it becomes outdated by a decade, then I may reconsider a purchase. For now, I’m enjoying my GPD MicroPC (gaming isn’t a feature I’m interested in) even though I have to tape a USB 4G modem to it for a poor man’s “built-in” 4G. My battery and hinge have been great so far too.

    1. @ram

      Yeah, I wonder how many Pyras they need to sell to make a profit. From reading the progress over the years, several issues not only delayed the project but cost a lot of money.

      I agree that the people who would want all the features this has in a single device and are okay with the very lacking hardware is a very small group. For the Pyra’s and ED’s financial sake, I hope this group is big enough.

      For me, I’d rather use 2 separate devices for mobile gaming/emulation and UMPC stuff that’re far more capable for each use case.

  4. Is the CPU slower than a Cherry Trail Atom? That’s the minimum performance I’m willing to put up with for my use cases.

    The primary draw for me are pocketable, desktop OS, LTE, keyboard and mouse but that CPU is a major concern.

    1. This is likely to be much much slower than a Cherry Trail Atom. I was eyeing the Pyra a while back for non-gaming UMPC purposes because it has the rare built-in 4G but with how heavy many websites and some local applications I use are nowadays, a Cherry Trail Atom is just barely adequate. This TI OMAP is likely going to be much much worse.

      I guess if someone wants an emulator device that can act as a PC every now and then, it’s a good buy but if you’re looking for an emulator device only or a UMPC only, there are better cheaper options for those use cases (albeit without 4G).

      1. Yes its definitely going to be much less powerful than a Cherry Trail Atom. The CPU in this thing was designed in 2013, and the GPU was designed in 2010.

      2. The main board that has all of the keyboard + usb + other components is totally separate from the CPU BOARD. The cpu board “clips” into a slot on the main board on the Pyra making it fully upgradeable.

        Upgrading the Pyra will be as simple as releasing a new cpu board and installing it in the port.

        1. Yes, I’m sure it will be relatively simple to upgrade but you have to actually have a cpu board to upgrade it to and development of a potential upgrade board could well take many years and as a result also release in an essentially obsolete state.

        2. I don’t know why I cannot reply to nephatrine, so responding here.

          In response to nephatrine: Full disclosure: I have ordered two Pyra units. I am not associated with the project in any way. I have followed the project from the beginning.

          Look, fair point. If you think it is going to take 10 years to see a cpu expansion board, I guess you have made your decision. Right? You do you.

          Obviously, we don’t know how long it will take to develop a new cpu board. But, we can look at the results thus far:

          This is a one man project pushed by an ambitious and stubborn German that has never given up and never backed down.
          He could have failed at any point along the way and he has not.
          He managed to design and bulild a device that has a modular battery so I can buy spares.
          He has managed to design and build a device that has a cpu board which I can replace as necessary.
          He has managed to design and build a device that is fully modular and, I expect, I will be able to buy parts including lcd screens if I break them or cases so that I can paint them.
          The software is working pretty well already and there are people working on ironing out a few bugs here and there.

          The answer is, wait and see. I have waited 20 years for this device and it does everything that I originally wanted and more. Most important to me is native Linux support, everything else is an extra.

          Will ED manage to make an upgraded replacement cpu board? I don’t know, it depends on a lot of things. However, his track record so far is 10/10. He has never given up and continues to push and push and push.

          Remember, with these project, you are betting on the person behind it. If anyone can produce the cpu board it is ED.

          And, besides, the schematics are open source. There is no reason a third party won’t jump in to provide an upgrade if ED doesn’t for some reason.

    2. @dias (pointing who I’m commenting to because the comment system has been problematic for a while now) ,

      If you need at least Cherry Trail level of performance, then it’s safe to pass on the Pyra.

      As for a potential CPU board upgrade, don’t bother waiting for it and postponing getting an alternate device if one meets your needs. It could take 1, 5, 10 years or never.

      1. Why wait? Buy a couple of Pyras and when they arrive, you can crowdfund a cpu board your self if you like.

        The documentation is open. Get enough money, hire a couple of engineers, do the testing and voila.

        Hell, ED may release his alongside yours and you can make yours EXACTLY how you want. Or, you can probably even sell yours on EDs store and everyone wins.

        I am bugging you a little bit. I get your point, but building a cpu board for the device will be FAR FAR easier than the entire Pyra.

  5. Hey, just a few corrections.
    The CPU is 1.5GHz, not 2.
    There are 2 full size SD card slots in the front and 1 micro SD card slot under the battery.

  6. Websites are so gimped now, they can bring down high-end supercomputers (this is what we are running now).

    This is all in order to display some text, graphics and allow input on forms. The web is an abomination from hell, from a waste-of-cpu-cycles view.

    The problem is made worse by cartelization: websites optimized to chrome, to android, to browsers with hardware-graphics acceleration etc. If you want software freedom and privacy, you will be /punished/ by the kartel.

    Because of this, it’s foolish to expect an arm handheld to run 15 tabs of ‘anything i feel like opening in a browser’.

    The solution is to block javascript by default, suspend unused tabs and limit your use of evil websites.

    Learn about your performance requirements. The pyra is absolutely fast enough for sane computing. But, sadly… we now live in an insane world…

    1. You’re right, web content these days is very heavy on system resources. Most users would be disgusted to see a list of all the web software that runs in the background on the average webpage.

      A concern I have for the Pyra is that the only web-related performance tests that we’ve seen are in regards to “how many tabs it can have open”, which is meaningless. I’d be interested to see how quickly it can load and run webpages with medium to heavy content.

      If web content is going to be an important thing for you, it would be crazy to consider buying a $580 device that runs an SOC that was released in 2013.

      Media playback is also going to be a problem for a device like this. The GPU in this device is the PowerVR SGX544MP2, which was released in June 2010. This GPU is over 10 years old. At that age, there is no chance whatsoever of it having any support for h265 video compression or Google’s VP9 codec. In 2020, this is painfully outdated, and insufficient for a large amount of web video content.

      1. The cpu board and main board are totally separate. Upgrade of the device means just buying a new cpu board and plugging it into the main board and voila.

        The batteries are replaceable as well. You will be able to buy spares if you want, as well as spares of anything else (I assume, have not heard about any decisions yet).

        1. In response to nephatrine: You do know the Pyra is not released yet either right? Patience young one, patience.

          ED has been plugging away at this project for 6 years. He has managed to overcome tremendous obstacles, the least of which is the human nature to get lazy and just give up and scrap everything.

          Give it a bit of time. Let’s see how things go.

        2. In response to nephatrine: When it is available.

          I understand your perspective but you aren’t fully appreciating the nature of what the Pyra is actually about at this point in time.

          This is a ONE MAN project who has NOT GIVEN UP IN 6 YEARS OF WORK. You really need to think about this. Anyone that has started a business from scratch KNOWS what this means. Anyone that has actually tried to build a business BUILDING ELECTRONIC DEVICES fully understands how unbelievably difficult it is.

          I build and deliver software. That is hard enough. Watching ED build a piece of hardware and get it ready for market has been eye opening.

          Your perspective is correct, but it is not rich with enough experience. Will we have a cpu board to upgrade to? Who knows. Will GPD Win exist for another iteration so you can get the privledge of buying a full device and throwing one out again? Who knows.

          Life is short, enjoy more of it.

    1. As mentioned above, the CPU board is replaceable as well. The main pyra board with the keyboard + usb components is one board, the CPU BOARD is separate and clips into the main board.

      You will be able to upgrade this for a good number of years.

      1. Sure, it’s theoretically possible but is it practically probable? I doubt it. Not only would that require extra staff and effort to develop those modules, but require extra funding too. Not to mention it’s likely to be too expensive. And after all that, you still won’t be able to do it as stock would be extremely limited.

        The appeal of the OpenPandora was great in 2007, or upto 2010. And similar, the appeal of the Pyra was great in 2010 and upto 2013. Both are too expensive, but more importantly too late.

        Imagine during the 2010 hayday of the N900/OpenPandora, ergo before the Samsung Note, imagine you had the option of buying the GPD Win (x86, 64bit, Windows7, 4GB, 64GB eMMC, 720p). Would the N900 or OpenPandora still have a cult following? Certainly not.

        Imagine during the 2016 hayday of the DragonBox Pyra, ergo during the iPhone 6+ and Samsung S7+, imagine you had the option of buying the GPD Win2 (x86, 64bit, Windows10, 8GB, 256GB SSD, 1080p). Would the DragonBox Pyra still have a cult following? Definitely not.

        What’s next? Probably around 2020-2022, an ARMv9, 32GB, 1TB, 4K, and running a much more polished OS (either Linux, Android, or something proprietary like Hackintosh or Windows11).

        … Though currently, instead of using any of those Pandora/Pyra options, you’re better served via buying the cheap Hardkernel Odroid Go Advance Black Edition (aka clone RK2020 Handheld Console). It too is Linux/open-source and uses a low-powered ARM chipset. Though the Odroid is certainly better hardware, software, and processor thanks to an actual dedicated team/company/funding at the helm.

  7. Congratulations on the team for not giving up. Depending on the result of the production hardware and software, I’d still get the Pyra with 4G as a UMPC. A mobile OS like Android/iOS on a touchscreen only phone isn’t enough for me.

  8. As far as a UMPC with built-in LTE, I’m still considering getting this as well despite how slow it is compared to other modern UMPCs that can run a Linux distro but without LTE.

    Gaming wouldn’t personally be my use case for this since the games it’ll be capable of running wouldn’t be ones I’d play.

  9. This was a really cool device when it was first conceived. However, in the meantime there has been dozens of competitors released in the Emulation scene, many of which are offering very similar emulation results for a price-point of $50 to $75. Some of them are actually offering really nice IPS screens too.

    The Odroid Go Advance, the RK2020, and the RG350 are all great options that offer great N64, Dreamcast, and PSX performance.

    The Pyra obviously is far better quipped to act as a portable computer, with its larger screen and Qwerty keyboard. However, I feel like emulation is the main attraction for most users, because I think most of the UMPC folks already jumped ship for the many offerings made by GPD and friends.

    The idea of buying one of these for gaming is laughable. Their competitors are 10x cheaper.

    I have to commend their persistence though. Most people would have given up, for better or worse.

    1. Full disclosure, I own the GPD Pocket, GPD Win and OpenPandora (the predecessor to the Pyra). I’ve owned a few of the new wave GBA landscape profile Chinese emulation devices as well.

      The OpenPandora and Dragonbox Pyra are extremely niche devices. Yup, you could emulate up to PSX games on a sub $100 dollar handheld. They are really nice for that. If you want to run vintage PC software, good luck. DOSbox without a keyboard for certain games? Pass. Want to run the firmware for a vintage HP calculator or maybe an Amiga rom? Won’t work. MSX? Nah. There are so many more things than just emulation that a handheld arm device with a keyboard can do.

      Making the case that the GPD is cheaper and faster is fair. But keep this in mind:

      I can’t charge GPD devices while they are playing a resource heavy game.

      I can’t leave the GPD Win charging overnight.

      Both of these restrictions are because of the very real (and proven hundreds of times over by the community) fear of bloating batteries. I had to take the GPD Win apart to charge the battery using a standalone Li-Ion charger because it ran itself dead and based on BIOS settings, would not power up and charge the battery.

      Yes, both GPD devices run circles around the OpenPandora, and will have better performance than the Pyra. The lifespan of the devices suffers for this; the heat dissipated by the CPU is too much for the battery. The production quality is poor and the engineering for the product is terrible. Charging is STILL an issue with the latest revision devices (GPD Win 2). They’ve been doing iterative manufacturing for like 6 devices (only counting the Win/Tel stuff, if I included the XD devices, it would be way more) and they still can’t get it right?

      Do I have to worry about the OpenPandora sitting on the charger for a day or two? Nope! It’s had the same battery for the life of the device, which at this point is almost 10 years. The device was designed with serviceability and lifecycle in mind as well. User accessible battery, without having to take out a screw driver.

      If you need an x86/x64 architecture in your pocket for some reason (which is legitimate) then by all means, get a GPD device. Of all the recent chinese mini pc manufacturers, they are the best. But expect a device that has to be babied to prevent it from inevitably failing in a way that you either have to take it apart or return it (failed batteries, failed hinges, etc).

      1. Thanks, I didn’t know about the battery issues. The one of my One Netbook OneMix 2S bloated just yesterday after 1.5y.

      2. The OpenPandora was a very cool device, and was certainly worth the price when it came out. I was a GP32/GP2x owner and community member for years, and I followed the OpenPandora development out of that community.

        Unfortunately for the Pyra, there are just far too many options out there for their combination of specs and price to seem attractive in any way.

        Your points about charging the GPD products might be true, but it doesn’t matter to me because I won’t be buying any of them. I won’t pay $700+ for a device from China with no warranty.

        I have no desire for a non-X86 UMPC these days, and my emulation needs are handled by my $59 Odroid Go Advance. The Pyra is an impossible sell to someone like me.

        1. I should clarify that when I said “there are just far too many options out there”, I don’t mean in this exact niche that the Pyra fills. I just mean that there are far more products out there filling many different niches in 2020, and also there are better general purpose devices (smartphones and tablets) compared to what was around in 2010 when the OpenPandora launched.

          When the OpenPandora launched, I owned an iPhone 3G, and a bulky laptop with 3hr battery life. The idea of a UMPC was absolutely amazing. The very high pricepoint was expected, and not an issue.

          Today, I own several devices that cost under $200 that do everything that Pyra can do (software-wise). Most of them outperform the Pyra by a LOT. The extra niche features of the Pyra (keyboard, gamepad, etc) are non-issues for me. An Xbox One controller paired to my tablet or smartphone is a flexible solution for a device that I already carry everyday.

        2. Well, I have looked, and I have found ZERO devices with the featureset of the Pyra. Show me one single device that comes even close to the number and types of ports, keyboard layout, controller layout (and features) AND native Linux support.

          All of those devices are great for the users that want them.

  10. I’m actually still keeping an eye on this even though I got a GPD MicroPC (with a broken hinge and dead battery) because of the built-in LTE for non-gaming UMPC purposes.

    The MicroPC is much more powerful than what I need but I’m not quite sure the Pyra would be powerful enough. Hoping to see more updates on the SW side and some general use case tests.

    1. I have a MicroPC with a broken hinge too. The battery still works though. Not going to get it fixed since I gave up trying to communicate with GPD for warranty support. Just goes in circles.

      I’m definitely concerned about the Pyra’s performance for desktop OS type tasks too. At the rate things are going, I’m going to assume a new faster CPU board will be out in 2030 (if at all). Looking forward to more user tests of the production Pyra and hope it’s powerful enough for what I want to do.

      1. Before hardware acceleration was even working, the dev board with only 2gb of ram was running gimp, Firefox with 15 tabs, two psx emulators and a few other things.

        I wouldn’t be worried about the capability

        1. Are there videos of this running? I’m always skeptical of what people consider as running well. Especially from other Linux users who sometimes have high pain thresholds for putting up with things.

          I’ve seen people claiming running dozens of tabs on low-end devices and they were all very light sites with not much javascript or other resource heavy processing. Then I see others have a horrible experience for the sites they visit and their use cases.

          I use my GPD MicroPC similarly with OpenSUSE Tumbleweed and, to me, it’s just okay performance-wise. If the Pyra with LTE really is decent, then I’d definitely replace my MicroPC with it since I really want LTE.

    2. Same. Even now, a pocketable handheld UMPC with 4G doesn’t exist for our niche market so I’d still buy the Pyra if it goes into production with decent software support and there are no alternatives at the time.

      Let’s see how the software work goes and what early users report on general performance.

      1. One Netbook makes 4G handheld UMPCs, but I do not think any are pocket sized. Their competitor to the the MicroPC is supposed to have 4G and 5G models. It is going to be 7 inches which is too big for a lot of pockets and bigger than the Pyra, but I am ok with the size.

        1. Yeah, the OneGX1 4G seems to be the closest thing and Linux runs well on it. I’m considering getting it and just giving up on the pocketability.

          With how bloated many websites are even after blocking ads and some programs I run, I’m not sure the Pyra’s CPU can handle it adequately enough for me.