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Cortex-A8 gaming handheld runs Linux

Sep 17, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 29 views will start taking orders this month for its developer-friendly Linux-based handheld gaming device. Set to ship in November, the $330 device runs Angstrom Linux on an ARM Cortex-A8 processor with OpenGL 2.0 graphics and a 4.3-inch, 800×480 touchscreen.

(Click for larger view of Pandora)

The Pandora player is billed by the developers as being “by far the most powerful handheld in the world, both in terms of raw CPU power and 3D graphics capability.” It will initially offer full-speed PlayStation 1 emulation, says OpenPandora, but the group cannot yet commit to potential future N64 emulation. The UK-based development group goes on to say, “It will be able to handle things such as Firefox3 or Quake3 with ease.”

Much of that power derives from its Texas Instruments (TI) OMAP3530 system-on-chip (SoC), which is based on ARM's Cortex-A8 core clocked at 600MHz. The SoC also integrates Imagination Technologies's PowerVR SGX GPU (graphics processing unit) core. Compliant with OpenGL ES 2.0, the GPU offers graphics processing power as high as several million polygons per second, says OpenPandora.

The Pandora measures only 5.5 x 3.3 x 1.1 inches (140 x 84 x 28mm)
(Click to enlarge)

The Pandora is equipped with 128MB of DDR SDRAM and 256MB of internal flash, and sports a 4.3-inch display offering a 5:3 aspect ratio. The device includes 802.11g WiFi, a USB host, dual SDHC slots, and a serial port. It includes a QWERTY keyboard and microphone, as well as TV-out, A/V-out, and headphone/microphone input. Game controls include a directional pad and two analog nubs, with rubber grip and click function.

Specs for the final version of the clamshell-format Pandora, which measures only 5.5 x 3.3 x 1.1 inches (140 x 84 x 28mm), or slightly smaller than Nintendo's DS Lite, appear to be almost identical to those published in March when the open source Pandora was announced. New information on the Pandora includes the addition of Bluetooth, and a claim for ten-hour battery life. The ship date may have slipped by six months, but the expected price has risen only $10, to $330.

Pandora's box, opened and closed

OpenPandora has also provided more hints about the Linux distribution. The latest from the Pandora wiki is as follows: “We derive our current filesystem from Angstrom with lots of custom Pandora buildrules, and string the whole lot together with Open Embedded.” (The Angstrom Linux distribution borrows from OpenEmbedded, which is an automated build environment aimed at providing a repository of everything needed to cross-compile embedded filesystem images from scratch — toolchains, sourcecode, XML-based “recipe” files, and automated “bitbake” make scripts.)

Previously, OpenPandora said that the player would be loaded with “Open2X-style” Linux firmware, noting that Debian ARM packages would “probably” be accepted. Open2X was designed to support GamePark Holdings's Linux-based GP2X and GP2X F-200 handheld game players. was launched last year by “CraigIX” and “EvilDragon,” both members of Gamepark Holdings's GP2X gaming community, but they claim the project is completely independent of Gamepark. The GP2X players support a variety of game emulators, including MAME, SNES, Genesis, and PC Engine, which let users enjoy a variety of game titles originally written for other platforms.

According to OpenPandora, the player is expected to ship with the the GMenu UI, and will also offer “various X based desktops, Ubuntu etc., or make-your-own.” The Pandora wiki, meanwhile, says that the player will “probably” include a port of the Gnash streaming media player, and will ship with basic apps like a web browser and text editor.

(Click to enlarge)

OpenPandora is intended to be an open source design, with community resources including forums, blogs, and a developers area. Developers interested in developing for the platform are encouraged for now to use TI's OMAP35xx-based Beagle board, to start getting a feel for working with the architecture. Earlier, the group offered a developer board, but it sold out.

OpenPandora now offers a variety of YouTube videos on Pandora, including:


The Pandora goes on sale for pre-orders on Sept. 30 for $330 US (200 UK Pounds or 250 Euros), and is expected to ship in late November. However, only 3,000 units will be available until a second batch is manufactured in 2009, says OpenPandora. More information can be found on this developer-oriented page, as well as the official OpenPandora site.

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