Technology
With Linux and Creative Commons, The  CHIP Computer Reveals Its Open Source Details

ntcosp

We’ve been wondering exactly how open source CHIP, the $9 computer, is. Turns out, it’s really freaking open!

These are the files you are looking for…

Open hardware files and the general Next Thing Co.docs page.

chip

The initial launch of CHIP from the Oakland, California-based Next Thing Co. made big waves a few months back with its capabilities (1GHz R8 ARM processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of NAND storage, and WiFi and Bluetooth built-in) and crazy-low price (just $9, but international shipping pushes that higher for some). Ultimately, the team raised over $2 million dollars through crowdfunding and got the attention of Makers and mainstream media alike. Yet, much of the excitement surrounding CHIP has stayed focused on the low cost and technical specifications.

Today, Dave Rauchwerk, CEO of Next Thing Co. shared more details on their board, and we’re impressed with what we heard: CHIP is licensed as Creative Commons ShareAlike, the R8 data sheet is available, Next Thing Co. is joining the Linux Foundation, and CHIP is getting even more interesting than just a low cost board.

While inexpensive hardware is nice, and high clock rates move bits and bytes faster, these mean nothing without a robust software stack for Makers to develop in. To those ends, Rauchwerk and his team have partnering with Free Electrons, to add their embedded Linux engineering talents to the mix, and that partnership is beginning to show with today’s announcement of CHIP’s Linux support.

This is noteworthy. As of today, CHIP runs the 4.2 Linux kernel. That’s the absolute most current version of the Linux kernel and comes with all the latest and greatest features. Typically, embedded systems running Linux do not use the latest kernel. Instead, the kernel is downloaded and patched with software which enables the board to boot it.

Rauchwerk says this will not be the case with CHIP. He and his team are pushing towards mainlining all of CHIP’s code. That’s a fancy way of saying the they are working on getting their code for CHIP into the main branch of the Linux kernel. Their new relationship with the Linux Foundation will certainly help them accomplish this.

The biggest benefit of CHIP becoming mainline is to the users and developers of the board. All the latest features of Linux will be available to developers. You will not have to patch the kernel with custom board files — a laborious process — and it will be significantly easier for distributions of Linux to port their code to CHIP.

hacker

In addition to announcing that CHIP is currently running Linux with latest 4.2 kernel, Rauchwerk unveiled their software development kit (SDK).

Thanks to the way that Rauchwerk structured the shipping dates for CHIP, the first 1,000 CHIP boards are heading to kernel developers. While the kernel developer tier is simply a name, Rauchwerk is confident that many of these backers are in fact hardcore Linux kernel hackers. Releasing the boards to developers allows for any potential Operating System level issues that might arise on a new board to get sorted out before the majority of backers even get CHIP.

C.H.I.P. SDK setup

In fact, installing the SDK is quite straight forward. You grab a copy of VirtualBox 4.3( which is free), download and install an extension package to enhance VirtualBox, and then clone Next Thing Co.’s git repository.

git clone https://github.com/NextThingCo/CHIP-SDK

Once you begin the installation of vagrant, the software will pull all the necessary files from the Internet and configure the development environment. Compared to many development environment setups, it’s sort of magical.

“It’s not fair to the kernel hackers to make them do all this dev/ops” says Rauchwerk, “Here is an out of the box turnkey build system and hardware.”

The SDK is not the only new software from Next Thing Co. They released a version of U-Boot (which has been heavily modified to support the NAND onboard CHIP), a Linux build, buildroot, and scripts to flash CHIP with the custom Linux compiled by the SDK.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 5.15.04 PM

Today, Rauchwerk took steps to deliver on the open source promise he made to all his crowdfunding backers and we applaud the move. The most exciting thing about CHIP is not that it is the first $9 computer, but that it is the first truly Open Source $9 computer.

29 thoughts on “With Linux and Creative Commons, The $9 CHIP Computer Reveals Its Open Source Details

  1. Cute, but no cigar.

    1) This is certainly still not open hardware. There’s no sign whatsoever of the schematics for the board, other than some vague promise to release it in a few months (!). NOT cool.

    2) Chip will be a “$9 computer” when one can buy ten of them for $90 with ~$20 shipping or less. As it is, shipping is more than the alleged cost of the Chip, and you’re not allowed to order more than one. Actually, you’re not allowed to order even one right now, or more exactly you can’t even PRE-order one – you’re only allowed to “reserve” one.

    Until all that changes, this is called “proprietary vapourvare with actual costs hidden into shipping”.

    1. Well said. Another article swallowing the will be Open Source pill. It is or it isn’t – at time of writing. It isn’t. When it is then lets call it Open Source. Until that time it’s Openwash…

      1. I stand corrected (although not been able to open the .brd file yet). This does appear to be Open Source Hardware.

    2. It’s actually NOT TRUE. As a backer I was able to order 2 units, with the same shipping costs.

      1. I backed the Kernel Hacker edition and can’t wait until I get my alpha board in September. I also backed 2 additional PocketCHIPs as well.

        As for shipping, yes.. it does cost to ship stuff. This isn’t some cheap device sold on eBay from China with free (if it arrives next month) shipping.

        I have a Cubieboard1, RPi, and a ODROID-C1. The only one that comes close to the CHIP is the Cubieboard1. It was rather simple (to me) to build Gentoo from scratch, and it runs it quite well.

        So, don’t bash the project. It hasn’t even shipped yet.

  2. If ARM would provide a standard platform for OS.
    ARM boards wouldn’t have to add their own code to the Linux kernel constantly.

    Server Base System Architecture (SBSA)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Server_Base_System_Architecture
    ARM Ecosystem Collaborates to Deliver Initial Server Platform Standard
    29 January 2014
    http://www.arm.com/about/newsroom/arm-ecosystem-collaborates-to-deliver-initial-server-platform-standard.php

    ARM and Partners Deliver First ARM Server Platform Standard
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/7721/arm-and-partners-deliver-first-arm-server-platform-standard
    ARM finally defines a platform as it sets its sights on the server room
    “Server Base System Architecture” defines the building blocks of an ARM server.
    http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/01/arm-finally-defines-a-platform-as-it-sets-its-sights-on-the-server-room/

    http://www.datacenterdynamics.com/it-networks/arm-opens-up-with-new-platform-standard-for-socs/84776.fullarticle

    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2430047,00.asp

  3. i’m still a pretty big newbie to linux.. I’ve already bought a raspberry pi a+ but only tinkered with it a little bit. I backed a $9 chip because.. well it’s $9. Seriously, it’s crazy to think how cheap hardware has gotten. A desktop computer equivalent to this speed and ram size wasn’t even available to most people 10 years ago. Now it’s a $9 fanless tiny little device that can run the latest linux OS.

  4. == casafRead this ebony< I'm making over $7 a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

    This is what I do sign up Free jobs

  5. Allwinner chip means no linux support, no open source, only android, binary blobs. See Banana Pi or other projects.

  6. I haven’t a clue,”Just thought (WOW) cheapest computer I’ve ever seen.” Stuck with it now and if I can’t do anything with it my niece will. YAY Shes A NERD

    1. Anyone can put their Chinese manufactured chip under the microscope (literally and figuratively) and see everything that is and isn’t in the chip, hardware and firmware. So the evil ****ers here are those spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt. You included.

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I love to tinker and write about electronics. My days are spent building projects and working as a Technical Editor for MAKE.

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