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Tiny open source computer made from six ICs

Aug 7, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 25 views

A tiny embedded development startup called Linuxstamp is shipping a tiny open-source computer comprised of only six integrated circuits (ICs). Demonstrated this week at LinuxWorld's “Linux Garage” exposition on a Linux- and Lego-based robot, the Atmel/ARM9-based Linuxstamp offers freely downloadable kit… schematics.

Designed by Linuxstamp's proprietor, Paul Thomas, the Linuxstamp is built around an ARM9-based Atmel AT91RM9200, which includes an MMU and is clocked to 180Mhz. The board offers 32MB SDRAM, but Thomas says memory quantity is limited only by the 54-TSOP SDRAM chip. There is also 8MB of SPI Dataflash, expandable via an SD card slot.

(Click to enlarge)

The simple dual-layer PCB design uses only six ICs: the processor, flash, RAM, serial-to-USB, Ethernet PHY, and power conversion. The USB host port is said to enable incorporation of WiFi adapters, flash drives, and other USB devices. Developers can access the device with a USB device port hooked up via an FTDI USB/Serial converter to the Linuxstamp's debug serial port.

The 3.3v power supply (1.8v output) has a “very tight input range” of 3.3v-5.5v, says Thomas. It can be powered via Power-over-Ethernet (POE), and a power supply can be implemented on a motherboard. Thomas is currently working on a motherboard for the Linuxstamp called the Mboard 1.

The Linuxstamp offers a choice of a minimal filesystem, or a more complete, Debian-based install. The latter requires supplementary flash memory added via an SD card.

The Linuxstamp's specs include:

  • Processor — Atmel AT91RM9200 180Mhz
  • Memory — 32MB SDRAM
  • Flash — 8MB SPI Dataflash
  • Storage — 1 x SD card slot
  • Networking - 1 x 10/100 Ethernet
  • USB — 1 x USB host port
  • Power — 48v -> 5v
  • Debug — Serial debug port and JTAG port
  • Operating system — minimal filesystem or Debian distro

Paul's Linuxstamp based robot
(Click any view to enlarge)

At the Linux Garage showcase at LinuxWorld, Thomas showed off a Lego-constructed robotic car controlled by the Linuxstamp. The mobile robot's Linuxstamp was equipped with a USB/WiFi adapter plugged into the board's USB host port, permitting remote control.


The prebuilt Linuxstamp is available now for $120 from the Linuxstamp site, where one can also download the design for free. Parts are said to cost $75 from Digikey, or $55 for quantities of 100.

DeviceGuru has written up a nice profile of the board, with photos of the Linuxstamp robot in action, here.

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