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Tiny UMPC runs Linux

Jan 7, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive

A Chinese firm will introduce a line of Linux-based ultra-mini PCs (UMPC), one of which is said to be the size of a pack of playing cards. LimePC says its self-named product suite will be based on Freescale Semiconductor's MPC5121e system-on-chip (SoC).

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Although details are sketchy, the LimePC products will include “UMPCs, pad-style PCs with large touchpad LCD screens, notebook and desktop PCs, and mini-ITX developer kits,” says Beijing-based Tsinghua Tongfang (THTF). THTF's Korean subsidiary, LimePC, is designing the products. The products will all be equipped with one or more MPC5121e processors, and will offer USB 2.0, 802.11g WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1, as well as 10/100 Ethernet for the desktop models.


Various views of LimePC's deck-of-cards sized “M1” handheld
(Click any to enlarge)

THTF provided a few additional details about the LimePC M1 handheld computer, an early version of which will be demonstrated at this week's CES at the THTF booth. The M1 is described as “by far the world's smallest full desktop class PC.” Measuring 4.3 x 2.3 x .6 inches (110 x 58 x 15.9mm) and weighing 4.6 ounces (130 grams), the M1 is said to be equipped with a full PC desktop, touchscreen interface, up to 16GB of NAND Flash, 802.11g WiFi, v2.1 EDR Bluetooth wireless, and four-plus hours of Lithium Polymer battery power.

The LimePC devices all run LimeOS, based closely on the LimeFree OS maintained by the LimeFree.org open source community. LimeOS is described as a full-screen HTML rendering environment that runs on top of a single-user Debian Linux OS and server stack. LimeOS and LimePC's LimeSuite applications are said to be designed to support multimedia and Web 2.0.

Demonstrating the increasing blurring of consumer electronics categories, the MPC5121e was pitched as a processor for automotive telematics applications when it was announced in May. In October, Freescale and Wind River announced they were collaborating on a reference design for the MPC5121e and had “merged their ecosystems for Linux OS support” around the SoC for use with automotive applications.

Fabricated with 90-nanometer low-power CMOS technology, the 32-bit PowerPC e300-based multimedia SoC is clockable up to 400MHz. It integrates an XGA (1024 x 768) LCD controller, along with a PowerVR MBX Lite 2D/3D graphics core from Imagination Technologies. Its separate “AXE” (audio acceleration engine) core is a “fully programmable, 200MHz 32-bit RISC core for real-time acceleration tasks, such as audio,” says Freescale. I/O options include USB, CAN, Ethernet, and SDIO, all packed into a card that is smaller than an iPod Nano.


Freescale MPC5121e block diagram
(Click to enlarge)

The initial release of LimeFree is available now for free download. It is said to include the following components, in “fully functional and stable” form:

  • Single-user Debian Linux for the MPC5121e
  • LimeFree desktop environment
  • LimeFree Frameworks
  • Multimedia player/manager application
  • Web browser
  • POP email client/manager
  • Networking services (WiFi + Bluetooth)

A more stable release will be available on January 20, says LimeFree.org, with the official release of LimeFree OS v1.0 due March 15.

Stated Mike Bryars, manager of Freescale infotainment, multimedia, and telematics, “The MPC5121e processor is the right embedded processing platform at the right time for emerging UMPC designs like LimePC's innovative ultra-mobile offerings.”

Stated John Q. Wang, CTO of THTF, “Our goal with LimePC is to use the incredible efficiency of Freescale's new PowerPC microprocessor and a fresh approach to tightly optimized software to create a breakthrough price versus performance benchmark in the low-cost personal computer category.”

Availability

The LimePC products will ship “later in 2008” says THTF. The company expects the tiny M1 model to sell for $300. Although initially targeted at the Chinese market, THTF says the LimePC will appear in U.S. stores for the 2008 holiday season.

THTF is majority-owned by Tsinghua University and the Chinese government. It claims to be the number-four OEM/ODM manufacturing firm in China, and to offer the number-three PC brand and number-four consumer electronics brand. The company calls the LimePC its first product line designed for a global market.

More information about Freescale's MPC5121e processor is available here. More information on the LimeOS and and LimeFree initiative is available at LimeFree.org.


 
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