Linux-Rockchip Developers Community Up, Rockchip Development Boards Coming Soon?

Companies like Freescale and Texas Instruments provide good software support, and documentation, which is why they can be found in many embedded devices, because without documentation or source code low-level customization is nearly impossible or extremely time consuming. They also usually open most of the documentation and code, because they understand this can foster the use of their chips. On the other hand, Chinese-based SoC manufacturers focus on high-volume platforms such as tablets and smartphones, and usually management don’t understand the advantage to make documentation and GPL source code available, or even may consider it bad for business.

Some individuals and small companies do not see it that way however, and they either want to access to the source code to improve existing mobiles devices, or use low cost Chinese SoCs to provide highly customizable hardware and software solutions. So source code and documentation have started to leak, and tools (reverse-engineered or leaked) are also available. The most active community is linux-sunxi with members working on AllWinner SoCs. They have a wiki, a source code repo, and IRC channel and mailing list for communications. Their work helped the proliferation of AllWinner based development boards (Cubieboard, A13-Olinuxino, pcDuino…)  that people now use for all sorts of things. It’s not exactly perfect, especially when it comes to documentation, but it’s a massive progress compared to just one or two years ago, and AllWinner now even post source code release news on their own website.

Following the GPL source code releases, there has been several individuals working on Linux support for Rockchip RK3066 and RK3188 SoC, which saw the release of PicUntu, initial Linux support on RK3188, and even basic mainline support. I’ve also found out that the full RK3066 Technical Reference Manual (1142 pages) has been leaked recently. With Rockchip SoCs becoming popular again, and since source code, and some documentation are now freely available, linux-rockchip community has recently been put together. They have a wiki, and communicate via #linux-rockchip IRC channel on Freenode. They are not quite as organized as linux-sunxi community yet, with no specific community repo or mailing list, but hey, you have to start somewhere, and if you want to get involved join them on IRC.

Beside individuals working on the software, I’ve seen people behind the Cubieboard (Tom Cubie), and Olimex (Tsvetan Usunov) openly interested in Rockchip RK3066, RK3168, or RK3188 SoC, so it’s very possible CubieRock or/and RK3188-OlinuXino boards (I made those names up) could become available in the next few months, provided there’s no road block.

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32 Replies to “Linux-Rockchip Developers Community Up, Rockchip Development Boards Coming Soon?”

  1. Yes,it will be true, now we are working with one factory,and they are planing to release the developer board base on the rockchip RK3188 and 3168. 🙂

  2. @cnxsoft

    Of course, we will, and the factory will open the SDK for all of the users. the develop board business is not the same as tv sticks, it need the factory to offer much more tech support,i think.

  3. @Eric
    Nice! Yes, you’d need to provide an SDK, software and hardware documentation for a development board. Otherwise it’s basically just a useless brick, unless people use it for things like Android app development.

  4. I think a distinction needs to be made between “development board” and “hobby board”.

    The difference between these two —- the availability of a good, open SDK and documentation but also availability of hardware parts in quantities (100s to 1000s) needed for small production runs.

    Example: The Raspberry PI is strictly a “hobby board”. Supply is limited and any sort of production/volume use is discouraged. The critical component (the SOC) can’t be sourced in small quantities. Basically, you can’t buy it and you can’t build it. About all you can do is play with a unit or two so by definition, it is a “hobby board”.

  5. Is the Vcodec doc around anywhere? From manual…

    For detailed information about VCODEC, please refer to RK30xx VCODEC.pdf。

  6. @Jon Smirl More pieces missing, not going to get full Linux support without this….

    For detailed information about CRU, please refer to RK30xx CRU.pdf。
    For detailed information about PMU, please refer to RK30xx PMU.pdf。
    For detailed information about system security, please refer to RK30xx system security.pdf。
    For detailed information about NandC (Nand Flash Controller), please refer to RK30xx NandC.pdf。
    For detailed information about eMMC Controller, please refer to RK30xx eMMC Controller.pdf。
    For detailed information about GPU(graphics process unit), please refer to RK30xx GPU.pdf。
    For detailed information about VCODEC, please refer to RK30xx VCODEC.pdf。
    For detailed information about IPP(Image Post Processor), please refer to RK30xx IPP.pdf。
    For detailed information about RGA,please refer to RK30xx RGA.pdf。

  7. @Jon Smirl
    Alright, I hadn’t checked the details, so the reference manual is not as “full” as it seems.
    I’ve noticed this with Freescale documentation too though (for the GPU part).

  8. @JQPABC123 The last time I looked, Raspberry Pi was available in quantity and the Foundation supports buying hundreds or thousands of board for commercial applications. It is true, that you can’t make your own board, but you wouldn’t be able to do so at $25 a piece anyway.

  9. @cnxsoft Why do they keep this stuff secret? All it results in is not getting any software support for their CPU. Why don’t they make another version without these pieces and save on the IP licensing cost? Without documentation those transistors are worthless.

  10. @Jon Smirl
    I’ve read on Olimex blog, Rockchip asks $5000 and an NDA for their Android SDK (mainly binary). So that’s at least one reason to only provide documentation to customers who purchase their SDK.

    Other reasons may be they are concerned with IP theft and/or legal issues.

  11. That “Reference Manual” is virtually worthless. Most of the registers are either not documented at all, have vague descriptions, or just provide example values. We need something like the manuals provided by TI or Freescale if you intend to actually write any drivers or modify existing ones.

  12. It is strange there is no community around the amlogic based devices, although it seems they are more open then rockchip and allwinner.

  13. @cnxsoft Chinese companies worried about IP theft and legal issues? Is that a joke?

    I think it is an educational problem. They are hiding the docs because the US/EU companies hide them. The US/EU companies might
    have some IP concerns, but Intel and AMD have documented their GPUs now and the sky didn’t fall. Tell these Chinese vendor to show some courage and release the docs. Or at least leak them like every other bit of documentation in China has been leaked. Providing this documentation will increase their sales and increase their profits.

  14. cnxsoft :
    Other reasons may be they are concerned with IP theft and/or legal issues.

    LOL – you say that like the chinese did not steal a lot of “their” stuff from others or give a damn
    about paying license fees for certain technologies 😉

  15. Been using RK3066 and first RK3188 arriving soon with both first with PicUntu, and now fully compiled Gentoo from stage3 (+ emerge -e world), and have to say even the RK3066 is already very capable system (running full blown KDE 4.10.90).

    I really would LOVE to see two different kind of form factors come out for these chips, one an microserver/cluster board with USB 2.0 -> Gigabit Ethernet on one channel, other left as the norm host/otg, and the other form factor being very stripped down developer board (that seems to be coming now according to this).

    And of course get rid of those sad WiFi variations (only the Realtek 8188EU have worked fine, and still lacks dual band), as neither of those form factors would need it, and there are way better discrete USB/Ethernet WLAN adapters available all over for cheap.

    And SHAME on manufacturers using LINEAR REGULATORS!!!

    But yes, I have personally got rid of all my x86 systems as I can directly root/flash whatever stick with any of the other sticks (mess about freely with NAND partitions). 🙂

  16. Also get rid of those USB hubs on board, everyone should use active hubs with those sticks anyway…

  17. @onebir
    Yeah, sure I used such stuff for two first sticks (Winblows with 2dark4u/finless custom ROM), but after learning how install PicUntu on them, then of course compiled both Galland’s rkflashtool and olegk0’s mkbootimage, while the olegk0 stuff worked, the Galland’s tools did compile but segfault, so then found the rkflash from rktools that worked.

    So just after adding rk30xxnand.ko to the picuntu alok+ base, I could read/write/mod the NAND directly off the PicUntu, so all you have to do to have such PicUntu (or in my case Gentoo) with those rkutils + olegk0 tools + rk30xxnand.ko for your kernel, then you can root/flash other sticks by simply making the target stick go to the Flash Mode.

    How you get that of course differs, unrooted UG802 I had would need to short two pins off the NAND (8 + 9 if I remember correct, did it two times), while others like MK808 and MK802IIIS have an hole that have a button how it… I have only real experience with those, but the procedure is exactly the same for all RK3066 devices, and I believe the RK3188 will be virtually the same.

    Some devices also have few pads to short on their PCBs, but for that too you need to open the case.

  18. @anon
    Sounds like material for a tutorial or two on something like ‘Dumping x86 for good: use ARM-based tools to root/flash your ARM devices’ :p

  19. @cnxsoft
    Cheap — by comparison, Actions Semi (manufacturer of the ATM7029) asks for a $30,000 up-front commitment plus NDA. For any small manufacturer, that’s a massive risk to front up — when you don’t even know if the platform will even support your end goal.

  20. @Anonymous
    Those fees may really be an issue for some companies, but they may be negotiable.
    I worked for a small company developing STB and Digital Signage application based on Sigma Designs. I understood at the time that management got a cheaper license fee by basically forfeiting support, or rather asking for very limited support.

    The company save money there, but many issues were left to us, the software and hardware engineering department (poor souls), and we had to find out what may go wrong with VPU binaries by ourselves. At the end of the day, development time has certainly be prolonged as a result, and I’m not sure the company saved that much, if anything at all.

  21. @cnxsoft

    Even if you pay Sigma Designs full SDK price, you still get very limited/poor support. 🙁

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