Dual Core VolksPC Android and Debian Mini PC Gets Crowdfunded

Last months, I tested VolksPC’s Android/Debian unified distribution on MK808 mini PC, which runs both operating systems at the same time, and allows you to switch instantaneously and seamlessly between the two. I was impressed by the performance and stability of the system, although there were still a few software bugs, as well as issues related to MK808 hardware (Wi-Fi disconnection), and possibly its 5V/1A power supply (system reboot when inserting SD card reader or flash drive). The company has now started a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo to manufacture dual core Android TV box with their unified distribution.


VolksPC specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3066 dual core ARM Cortex-A9 processor @ 1.4Ghz with Mali-400MP4 GPU
  • System Memory – 1GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8 GB NAND Flash (for Android),  8GB MicroSD card (Debian Wheezy)
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.3, AV jack
  • Audio Output, HDMI, AV jack, and optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi with external antenna
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0, 1x micro USB OTG
  • Dimensions – N/A

The device runs Android 4.4.2 and Debian Wheezy with XFCE desktop environment with resolution set to 720p (1280×720). The idea with having both operating systems at the same time is to avoid the annoyance that is dual boot, depending on the application you want to run. This leverages desktop applications running in Linux, and Games & video streaming on Android. In the sample I tested (MK808) both operating systems reside in the NAND flash, but in the Indiegogo PC the company opted to run Android in the NAND flash, and Debian in a micro SD card. The class of the SD card is not indicated, but based on my experience, it really matters as with a Class 4 micro SD, Debian may be frustrating to use, whereas a Class 10 micro SD will provided a much better user experience, very close to running the OS from the NAND flash. There’s no 2D/3D GPU hardware acceleration in Debian, but I found out this is not really critical to the performance of the system, at least much less than the storage device performance. VolksPC’s guys even claim that 2D acceleration actually reduces system performance due to the overhead setting up the GPU.

The company tried to raise $80,000 for mass production. The first 100 pieces can be had for $119 (Early bird), after which the pledge will be $129. The device comes with an HDMI cable and a power supply. Since I understand they are using an existing TV box, there’s now hardware development to be done, and they’ll be able to ship the box to backers in October. Shipping is free to the US, but you’d need to add $30 for other destinations. The cost is significantly higher than an equivalent Rockchip RK3066 based Android only TV Box, but if you are the kind of user that frequently switches between Android and Linux, it could be worth it, as both OS run at, or close to, native speed.

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14 Replies to “Dual Core VolksPC Android and Debian Mini PC Gets Crowdfunded”

  1. Too bad all of those sticks still come with that same over produced garbage 5V, 1A/2A (dual/quad core) wall warts, those “power supplies” are not worth the shipping weight they are…

    Personally after few months of trying to figure out what made the USB storage, and other, devices be so flaky (especially when compiling stuff as running generic Gentoo Linux), found out it was all about the 5V stability, so overkilled into 5V, 26A, electronics lab power supply, and connected not only all sticks, but also all active USB hubs directly to it… No more hair pulling sessions. 🙂

    And they really should STOP using those damn (LDO) regulators, stop wasting energy as HEAT, as those stick cases are all about being small, stuffing known heating components inside of them is simply nuts, or wet electrolytic capacitors on TV boxes… Shame on you designers!

  2. It seems somewhat retro to be embarking on a production run of RK3066 based product in late 2014. I presume they allocate one CPU core each to Android and Debian and that their kernel is not able to productively employ more than 2 cores. If so, that’s an unfortunate limitation in a world where clock speeds beyond 2GHz are still relatively rare but quad and octa core CPUs are rapidly proliferating.

  3. @anon
    Apart from (and as well as) the power supply problems, I believe thermal problems are widespread. Since a hot SoC becomes more sensitive to power supply variation, the two problems will combine to cause instability. To make matters worse, the TV sticks and boxes are generally engineered to run Android in an interactive setting, a relatively undemanding context where the CPU loads rarely persist for more than a moment in response to sporadic user activity. Thermal dissipation that is designed to be just adequate for those circumstances will probably be quite inadequate if you install your own Linux, possibly with aggressive clock and governor settings and then offer persistent CPU loads like compilations, creating/extracting compressed archives etc. I did some experimenting last year with an MK808 running Picuntu and found that, even at clock speeds as low as 800 MHz, the SoC quickly become very hot under a sustained CPU load.

  4. @Curmudgeon
    I get over 10,000 in MK808 (RK3066 @ 1.2 GHz) with their image, so I’m pretty they use both cores. Android/Debian are just competing for the same resources like separate processes.

  5. @cnxsoft
    So why are they not using a more up-to-date SoC such as RK3188 or Allwinner A31?
    Perhaps they were made a very attractive offer by somebody who’s desperate to clear an inventory of last year’s product.

  6. I use MK808B with Arch Linux ARM. Everything works fine except: no hw video, no new kernel available and … USB. Firstly I’d connected an old IDE drive by IDE2USB converter but the storage was disconnecting randomly – sometimes it worked for few days, sometimes the drive was disconnected after a while.

  7. @Curmudgeon
    I can’t explain why. Maybe their implementation is hardware specific, and requires a lot of work for different SoCs. So I’ve done all this work on RK3066, but not yet on RK3188 or A31. You also have to pay to obtain for Rockchip SDKs, and they are different between RK3066 and RK3188.

  8. Based on all the feedback we have received we now offer a $99/- version of VolksPC . This will require user installation into internal flash. It fairly painless.

    Also we evaluated RK3188T and did not find it much faster than RK3066 in real world applications. I think the RK3288 will be much faster with 64bit wide memory and 1MB L2 cache. We will do a port to RK3288.

  9. @cnxsoft
    Well, I tried few USB PSU 5V/2A and 5V/3A. I’ve tested also active USB hub with its own 5V/2A PSU. The significant is that when I touch the plug in a socket (no matter if it is directly connected into MK808B or to USB hub) it disconnects immediately. Such behavior doesn’t exist i.e. in my PC netbook with same USB devices. The last chance I gave to run MK808B with use of regular ATX PSU when it is the best source of power as I can get for reasonable price (but off course it won’t be effective on such low power device).

    I’m afraid that the plug touch issue which I’m facing is rk3066 hardware problem and exists in all devices. The difference is that I tried to use rk3066 with storage device when mouse or keyboard even can’t be noticeable when is quickly disconnected and connected again.

  10. @mac
    ATX PSUs do NOT have switching regulation on 5V (modern ones anyway), only the 12V is rock solid, the 5V is flaky at best on ATX.

    Your problems are NOT “exist in all devices”, your setup might be having grounding problems, but it is no way of design problem on MK808B/RK3066 in itself.

    Are the connectors loose? You got an “Monday Item” with bad soldering?

    Try jumper wiring the USB shielding to other USB power sources, i.e. wire all different USB power supplies’ shields you have, the one for MK808B and all active hubs.

  11. @anon
    Anon could you provide some contact to you? Jabber, hangouts or email? I wish to clarify the USB disconnect issue with you because I have some questions.

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