CHIP is a $9 Linux Development Board Powered by Allwinner R8 (Crowdfunding)

It’s quite common to find MCU board for less than $10, but if you want to run Linux, you’ll need to spend a bit more, unlessit’s sponsored, and today, the cheapest you can get is probably the $20 Raspberry Pi Model A+, unless you go with some OpenWRT compatible routers. But there’s now a new board in development, called CHIP, with Allwinner R8 Cortex A8 processor, 512MB RAM, and 4GB NAND flash, as well as wireless connectivity, that will bring cost even lower, as you can pledge $9 on Kickstarter to fund its development.

C.H.I.P specifications:

  • SoC – Allwinner R8 Cortex A8 processor @ 1 GHz with Mali-400 GPU (Compatible with Allwinner A13)
  • System Memory – 512 MB RAM
  • Storage – 4GB NAND flash
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 4.0
  • Video Output – 3.5mm jack for composite video and audio (HDMI and VGA available via adapters)
  • USB – 1x USB host port, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Two expansion headers
  • Power – 5V via micro USB OTG or battery
  • Dimensions – 60 x 40 mm

The board is said to run a Linux distribution featuring the mainline kernel. There’s also some sort of portable gamedpad called Pocket C.H.I.P that integrates the board and that you can get for $49. The board should ship in December 2015, and Pocket C.H.I.P in May 2016….

The project looks exciting, but when you look at the details, it’s not quite as ground breaking as it may first seem. Shipping is $20, unless you live in the US ($5), so you’d buy a $29 board, which brings it very close to competitors. The internal flash, WiFi and Bluetooth are clear winners in this price range, but I assume few people will use composite output, so you’ll need to spend a few more bucks ($10 to $15) on adapters, and if you need these, you won’t get the board before May 2016… What do you think?

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62 Replies to “CHIP is a $9 Linux Development Board Powered by Allwinner R8 (Crowdfunding)”

  1. Is that an A13 plus DRAM in a module? That isn’t the standard Allwinner labeling on the CPU.

    I would have spent $2 more and used an A33 which is about 10x faster.

  2. Plus an A13 is a QFP – all of the leads come out as pins around the edges. That’s a BGA CPU in the photo. I don’t think that is a photo of the real product.

  3. For 9 USD I would dare to take the risk if/when CHIP is going to get delivered, knowing things look a bit vague. But not for 29 USD.

    So I pledged just 1 USD so that I can comment on kickstarter … 😉

  4. for me, it looks like an AllWinner disguised marketing campaign, a way to invade the Maker/DIY community by selling off their new R8 SoC (which is a A13 at the end) to Shenzhen-based accelerated start-up.
    There is no way the R8 module with memories cost way less than 9$. AllWinner want to beat the others on what they are best to: cutting price.
    And on the other hand, this is full open-source project and AllWinner need to regain points from FOSS community…

  5. @embedded_geek
    it’s easy to write “full open-source” both for HW and SW. Let’s see when they actually deliver the source code and the source files of the HW.

  6. Now I see what is going on this is an R8 module from Allwinner which is simply compatible with the A13, not an actual A13.

    I am getting CPU+128MB DRAM modules for $6 from another vendor. I see no reason why this R8 module couldn’t be priced at $4 if Allwinner chooses to price it that low. A company the size of Allwinner can make this for about $3. Maybe CNX can get a price out of them.

  7. > but if you want to run Linux, you’ll need to spend a bit more

    Nooo, look at those @Jon Smirl “I am getting CPU+128MB DRAM modules for $6 from another vendor”

    Wow, any details ? 🙂

  8. @ade
    Seems there is an issue on the formatting of my previous commment : I said firstly

    > but if you want to run Linux, you’ll need to spend a bit more

    Nooo, look at those sub-10$ AR9331 or RT5350 boards (e.g. with 64M RAM and 16M flash)

    And regarding Jon Smirl comment :

    > I am getting CPU+128MB DRAM modules for $6 from another vendor.

    Wow, any details ? 🙂

  9. @bruce
    ‘it’s easy to write “full open-source” both for HW and SW.’

    Exactly! Real open-sourcers follow the rule “Release early, release often”, even if it does not yet work or is not yet beautiful.

  10. Nooo, look at those sub-10$ AR9331 or RT5350 boards (e.g. with 64M RAM and 16M flash)

    though, this is a complete different mark we are looking at
    RPi, this one and all the other ARM SBCs can run a full kernel and fully featured distro,
    while AR71xx and RT limits you basically to OpenWRT and their stripped down kernel

  11. @ade
    Good chance you already own one and don’t realize what you have.

    See this HI3518e based camera board here for $11.50?
    http://www.aliexpress.com/item/Pre-order-2-0MP-IP-Camera-Module-1080P-HD-Support-Intelligent-Video-Analytics-Hi3516C-1-2/1838582703.html?spm=2114.32010308.4.2.HSkoTv

    That is actually a full Linux computer with uboot, USB, SD Card, GPIO, etc

    The thing that looks like an SOC – the Hi3518e is not chip, it is a module. Internally it has an ARM9 CPU and a 64MB Dram chip. All for $4.50. I use a similar chip from Grain Media that has 128MB for $6.

  12. TC :

    Nooo, look at those sub-10$ AR9331 or RT5350 boards (e.g. with 64M RAM and 16M flash)

    though, this is a complete different mark we are looking at
    RPi, this one and all the other ARM SBCs can run a full kernel and fully featured distro,
    while AR71xx and RT limits you basically to OpenWRT and their stripped down kernel

    How do you consider the OpenWRT kernel stripped down? They are built from the mainstream kernel plus some additional patches for switches and wireless nodes.

  13. So do we think the module has a MCP DRAM + eMMC or the DRAM is in the R8 package? Either way, would like to get some of those core modules.

  14. The more cheap linux boards the better!
    I’ll be extremely interested to see if the project and Allwinner can meet the full open source supposed commitment!

    It doesn’t sound like a standard distro, but a cut down custom one.

    I’ll get a couple (I’m a sucker for cheap linux boards).

    Give it a year or few and we’ll end up with dual A53 or A57 cores with ethernet and better specs for a similar price.

    emmc ? more likely flash

    Aren’t the delivery dates more due to Allwinners R8 shipment dates ?
    Plus it looks like they’ve given themselves some decent buffer times in there and its their second kickstarter.

  15. Ray Knight :

    TC :

    Nooo, look at those sub-10$ AR9331 or RT5350 boards (e.g. with 64M RAM and 16M flash)

    though, this is a complete different mark we are looking at
    RPi, this one and all the other ARM SBCs can run a full kernel and fully featured distro,
    while AR71xx and RT limits you basically to OpenWRT and their stripped down kernel

    How do you consider the OpenWRT kernel stripped down? They are built from the mainstream kernel plus some additional patches for switches and wireless nodes.

    they are custom build with only the required parts, as it has to fit 4mib or even 2mib devices, still containing luci. also, these patches make cross compiling or backporting modules hard to impossible sometimes. i tried making dvb-c work on ar9331, but even if it compiled and insmoded fine, it just segfaulted after connecting usb. building drivers for an 802.11ac stick even never suceeded. but both worked fine with the RPi on same 3.10.49

  16. @Al It’s not going to be full open source. The CPU has a Mali GPU which is locked down by ARM, Inc – not Allwinner. Allwinner does not have the power to release that code. Plus it is the CHIP people that said open source, not Allwinner.

  17. Jon Smirl :
    @deets I’m guessing the DRAM is in the R8 package and that is flash next to it.

    Allwinner has not put DRAM into any of its chips before. My expectation would be, that DRAM and flash are in the same package, like on Ingenic’s Newton2, which uses eMCP H9TP32A4GDCCPR.

  18. The C.H.I.P. FAQ says regarding Open Source: “We expect to be pushing files out publicly soon after the campaign.”.
    Ouch: *after* the campaign. So pledge first, and then you have to wait when and what happens.

    🙁

  19. @Sander I don’t see any mystery here. The open source code is going to be the sunxi A13 code. I doubt if this small company is doing any significant new software development. They just need to fix up the bootloader and enable support for their wifi chip. Maybe make some adjustments for TVOUT. So there will be no source for MALI and CedarX. The rest of the code is already available here: https://linux-sunxi.org Allwinner’s Android SDK is there too.

  20. I’m wondering how they get stereo out, composite out _and_ microphone on the same jack. Weird 4-pole or software maybe?

  21. the accessories are not cheap, however that $9 is great for a headless server or even a usb-camera-over-wifi.

  22. @Jon Smirl
    it’s $14.48 now.
    so you will need add a lens, an enclosure, power-supply to make it a diy camera.
    plus, not sure how you can load your own kernel/uboot/rootfs etc to this module, I think it has some secure-chip there to avoid tamper, in that case it has nothing to do with open-source
    plus there is zero documentation for that module?

  23. @Jon Smirl
    will be in shenzhen next week for most of the summer and will hunt for devices like this there. I set up a company there last year for embedded linux hw/sw.

  24. @onebir Those cameras have the HiSilicon Hi3518e in them. Hi3518e is a chip like the one used in a GoPro. It can run Linux but it is not going to run Android or Ubuntu. Hi3518e is interesting because it is a single BGA with CPU+64MB ram for $4.50. These boards are for experience hackers, CHIP is far easier to use.

  25. $9 if you dont want a video connection, its really $24 if you want HDMI.
    And if I want to get one, its and additional $20 to deliver.

    So $44 to get a $9 device, not such a great buy anymore huh??

  26. This thing looked great until up until I saw the pictures with a Realtek wifi chip. I have a MK808C which uses a Realtek 8723AU that is supposed to support Wifi and Bluetooth altogether. However, if you try to use both at the same time they interfere and fail. Also the Bluetooth seems to be very buggy (for what I wanted to use it for, any way). So, for a headless unit, the Bluetooth becomes pretty useless.

  27. @cnxsoft I think ‘hired’ is to strong a term. They said “work closely” – I interpret that as giving Free Electrons some free boards and then expecting back a finished software system. I am also suspicious that this is a pump and dump product. Ship all of those initial boards and then disappear.

    Allwinner does not pay Free Electrons. I don’t know who is funding them.

  28. cnxsoft :
    @miska
    @Jon Smirl
    OK, so more like some kin of partnership, and finally the board may not be mainlined at all. Disappointing (and confusing)

    Just like I said on IRC, the VPU and GPU glue drivers will probably not be mainlined but will run on top of it. The rest of the board support will.

  29. That is not a dual core or quad core.
    $20.00 shipping to Canada from USA. No way. May take 2 wks delivery instead of 2-4 days.
    The breakdown is: Chip for $9.00+$10.00(hidden profit) + Shipping $10.00 = $29.00.
    That board will only cost u $19.00.

  30. Supra :
    That is not a dual core or quad core.
    $20.00 shipping to Canada from USA. No way. May take 2 wks delivery instead of 2-4 days.
    The breakdown is: Chip for $9.00+$10.00(hidden profit) + Shipping $10.00 = $29.00.
    That board will only cost u $19.00.

    The worse is all the accessories are too expensive. If you add these and that, it becomes as expensive as a NIC cpu which is 100 times faster and better. A very slow chip only for internet web and minor science project. If it works as good as those liars said, Intel, AMD and all those big giants are all bankrupted. The main reason Chip success selling is through advertisements and marketings. I have surveyed for a month on Chip and found still many flaws on the designs and the community still too far away from comparable and support to raspberry.

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