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Linux netbook distro ports to ARM

Feb 16, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 20 views

[Updated: Feb. 18, 2009] — Xandros has ported its desktop Linux distribution — used in the pioneering Asus Eee PC netbook — to two ARM-based netbook platforms. The ports are part of a larger push to support ARM-based devices, including 3G-enabled MID-like devices and even smartphones, says the company.

The two Xandros ports are to the Qualcomm Snapdragon and netbook-focused Freescale i.MX515. The ports include “a variety” of user applications, and support both keyboard and touchscreen input, says Xandros. Applications are said to include a browser, push-based email, PIM, instant messaging, a photo viewer, a media player, and a Microsoft Office-compatible office suite.

Xandros 4 interface
(Click for details)

The Xandros “turnkey software solution” for both ARM SoC platforms includes development tools, as well as access to an online Application Store, says the company. The distribution is based on its Debian-derived desktop distro, Xandros, which is used in the Asus Eee PC netbooks, and which has been dubbed “the best Linux distro for Windows users.” It is unclear whether the new distribution is related to Linux-based software announced last May that was said to target netbook and mobile Internet device (MID) devices, and which was to be jointly developed with Windows-based push content management software firm Viyya.

The distributions support “always-on 3G networking, high performance multimedia, location-aware content, and full Internet productivity,” says the company. The ARM-targeted distros are also touted for their fast boot times and long battery life.

Whereas the i.MX515 port is said to support netbooks, the Snapdragon release is also touted for supporting a category between smaller mobile Internet devices (MIDs) and netbooks that Qualcomm dubs Mobile Computing Devices (MCDs). An MCD is a thin, light, device with a 7-12-inch display, full keyboard, and support for wireless broadband Internet and video playback, says Qualcomm.

Xandros's shift to mobile ARM devices follows similar moves from rival Canonical, which earlier announced a port to ARMv7, and which is now being offered as the standard reference design implementation for the Freescale i.MX515. The Xandros announcement is another sign that ARM's challenge to Intel and the x86 platform in the netbook and MID space may gain significant backing.

Toshiba TG01
(Click for details)

First Linux support for Snapdragon

Last week, Qualcomm announced three Scorpion-based MSM8xxx mobile chipsets that target high-end devices with HD 1080p video. The devices are said to be equipped with Scorpion processors clocked up to 1.2GHz (Scorpion, like ARM's own Cortex, implements ARM's ARMv7 architecture). Although the company did not initially brand them as “Snapdragon” processors, they are touted as being “pin-, software-, and functionality-compatible” with Qualcomm's earlier Snapdragon chips, the QSD8250 and QSD8650. Xandros did not mention a specific brand of Snapdragon, but is likely targeting this newer MSM8xxx platform.

The Snapdragon architecture first appeared in the QSD8250 and QSD8650 chipsets, announced in 2007. Those chips were recently used in a Windows Mobile-based smartphone from Toshiba called the TG01. Qualcomm's QSD8250 offers an ARM-based “Scorpion” CPU clocked at 1GHz, plus a 600MHz DSP (digital signal processor). The platform also provides an integral GPS receiver, day-long battery life, HD video playback, and support for cameras up to 12 megapixels, according to Qualcomm. Other Snapdragon support is said to include HSDPA (high speed downlink packet access) connectivity, WiFi, and Bluetooth. The QSD8650 is similar to the QSD8250 except for the addition of dual-mode support for providing both HSPA and CDMA2000 1xEV-DO Rev. B connectivity.

i.MX515 for netbooks

Compared to the MSM8xxx SoCs, far more is known about Freescale's netbook-focused i.MX515 SoC, which is sampling now. The SoC is the first of a series of i.MX51-family processors built around ARM Cortex-A8 cores that will address a range of consumer electronics devices that may include MIDs.

i.MX51 block diagram
(Click to enlarge)

The i.MX515 offers a dedicated, hardware-based video acceleration block that “enables extended battery life and eliminates the need for fans or heat sinks,” says the company. The SoC is equipped with graphics cores for both OpenGL and OpenVG, with the latter enabling Flash and SVG.

Stated Andreas Typaldos, CEO of Xandros, “By introducing the powerful netbook experience that Xandros developed for the Eee PC to Qualcomm Snapdragon, OEMs and carriers can reach new markets and create recurring revenue streams.”

Stated Bob Morris, director of Mobile Computing, ARM, “Xandros was at the forefront of the netbook phenomenon in using Open Source solutions to provide customized user experiences. We are excited to have Xandros on board to create innovative netbook solutions built and optimized for latest ARM technology and platforms.”

Stated Glen Burchers, Marketing Director for Freescale's consumer segment, “Consumers demand low costs, high performance and long battery life, and the combination of Freescale's hardware and Xandros' rich feature set is expected to enable compelling netbook products.”


Xandros's first two ARM-based implementations are available now, and expected to appear in commercial netbook products in the second quarter, says Xandros. The new Xandros solution for Snapdragon chipsets will be showcased at Qualcomm's booth 8B53 (8) at Mobile World Congress, this week in Barcelona. The Xandros for i.MX515 solution will be shown at Freescale's booth 1.1HS57 (1-1), says the company.

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