Mele A1000: AllWinner A10 (Cortex A8) Based Hackable Android STB

The Mele A1000 is an Android 2.3 IP Set-top Box (STB) powered by AllWinner A10 (Cortex A8) CPU with 512 MB RAM and 2 GB NAND Flash.  AllWinner A10 is the CPU to be used by the 15 USD (BOM Cost) Rhombus Tech Linux Computer, an alternative to the Raspberry-Pi. Since they do not have an alpha board yet, the Mele A1000 STB is apparently the development platform chosen by developers involved in Rhombus Tech low cost board while they wait for the hardware.

Allwinner A10 IPTV STB
Mele A1000 Android IP Set-top box

Let’s have a look at the device specifications:

CPU:ARM CortexA8 1GHz (AllWinner A10)
Memory:DDR3 512MB RAM / 2 4GB Nand Flash
OS System:Android 2.3
External Storage:Supports SD card up to 32GB, supports 2.5″ SATA HDD up to 1TB, Supports max 16GB USB flash disk
Video coding:HD MPEG1/2/4.H.264.HD AVC/VC-1,RM/RMVB, Xvid/DviX4/5/6, RealVideo8/9/10, VP6
Video Format:ts/m2ts/tp/trp/mkv/mp4/mov/avi/rm/rmvb/wmv/vob/asf/flv/dat/mpf/mpeg
Audio Format:MP3/WMA/WMV/OGG/FLAC/MKV
Subtitle Format:SRT/SMI/SSA/ASS
Network interface:RJ45(10/100Mbps)
WiFi:802.11b/g/n
Interfaces:SD/SDHC + 3 x USB HOST + OPTICAL + LAN + HDMI + VIDEO + L + R + VGA
Features:Internet TV box, Software application supported, 1080P media player, QQ/MSN/Skype etc.
Language:Simplified Chinese/Traditional Chinese/English
Accessories:1 x 2.5 HDD cover
 1 x AV cable (130cm)
 1 x AC 100~240V power adapter (2-flat-pin plug / 110cm cable)
 1 x Remote controller (2 x AAA batteries not included)
 1 x Chinese & English manual

The device is available for 100.70 USD at Hong Kong based dealextreme.com with free shipping worldwide and 469 RMB (75 USD) + shipping on taobao and other Chinese websites. You could also buy it for 70 USD + shipping on aliexpress.com it’s not available anymore. I’ve just bought it on dealextreme.com (Bear in mind that delivery can be very slow with this company, like a few weeks or months…).

Since it has VGA output and Wifi support it may be cheaper than the Raspberry Pi for some people, as they may not need to buy an HDMI capable monitor and/or a WiFi USB dongle. I also like the fact that since it is based on Cortex A8, we should be able to run Ubuntu on it and possibly make use of the work done by Linaro.

As mentioned in the title, the Mele A1000 is hackable and has already been hacked with instructions available on Rhombus Tech wiki. The only  inconvenience with hacking this device is that you need to make 2 cables: one to connect to the UART port to see the console and another to connect to the internal USB connector to use ADB. At first since we need to update u-boot in the flash, I thought it would be brick-able, but A10 devices hacking instructions on elinux.org seem to confirm the device can always be upgraded via USB.

[Update: On the mailing list:

Summary: the A10 machines are unbrickable.
1. you can always update nand with livesuite, even the nand flash is blank.
2. you can use a special sd card image to flash nand no matter firmware  on nand is ok or not
3. The sd card boot priority is higher than nand, so if there is a bootable image  on sd card, nand is ignored.
You may not need the 2 cables. The USB cable is not really needed (unless you want to debug Android app and/or update the bootloader) and the UART cable might not be needed once/if the framebuffer console is enabled (It does not work for now). ]

You can get further development resources at the end of the post “AllWinner A10/A1X Processor Resources, Development Board and SDK” and in arm-netbook mailing list where developers hacking the Mele A1000 discuss.

If you are interested in the media player itself, you can see some screenshots of the user interface on Mele A1000 page.

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