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Tiny StrongARM SBC combines open source software AND hardware

Feb 2, 2004 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 5 views

Aleph One is shipping a one-ounce, one-watt, 206MHz StrongARM-based single-board computer (SBC) that comes pre-installed with embedded Linux and features an “open source” hardware design. Aleph One encourages device designers to freely use the design, and contribute back implementation details useful to others.

(Click for larger view of the “Balloon” board

Aleph One says its “Balloon board” is ideal for use in contol systems, portable devices, wearable computers, instrumentation, and robotics. Several devices based on the board are currently being used in seismic logging instruments and multilingual portable speech synthesizers, with a vehicle instrumentation application in the works.

Off-the-shelf version

Aleph One lists the following specifications for its “Version 2.05g” board:

  • Intel StrongARM SA1110, at 206MHz
  • RAM, 64MB
  • Boot Flash, 8MB NOR
  • NAND Flash, 192MB
  • Xilinx PLD
  • XCR3032XL-5VQ44C
  • Three serial ports (2 at 12V, one at 5V)
  • Reset pushbutton
  • LEDs and inputs for debug
  • Unique ID chip/Silicon serial number
  • USB: two slave ports (to attach to a PC) and two host ports for attaching peripherals to including power control
  • CompactFlash socket
  • Single 3.3V supply, about 300mW
  • JTAG programming for both Boot ROM and PLD
  • Real Time Clock with connector for battery
  • Whole address/data/control bus buffered & sent to 200pin connector
  • 11.2 x5.6 cm, 8-layer board with mounting holes
  • Weighs 30gm

Adaptations and applications

The Balloon has “a comprehensive set” of signals brought out on a 200-pin connector that can attach to accessory, according to Aleph One. “It provides a tried and tested development platform with enough connectivity to encourage you to develop an accessory board for your particular needs,” the company says.

By default, the board design includes SDRAM, NAND, and NOR Flash, an Intel SA1110 CPU clocked at 206MHz, simple serial connector for terminal, two CPLD devices, RTC, Codec, Reset button and Debugging LEDs, two JTAG connectors for programming Flash and CPLDs, USB Host support and power, and a unique Serial Number chip.

The Balloon design can accommodate various configurations, including:

  • 32MB to 192MB NAND Flash
  • 64MB to 128MB SDRAM
  • 0.5 to 64MB NOR Flash
  • Smart Media socket for 8MB to 128MB card
  • Compact Flash expansion socket for Ethernet, wireless, storage etc.
  • Various power supply options, including 5.5V regulated giving 3.3V on Board, 3.3V regulated, 12-42V vehicle power, or an external 12V power brick

Users are encouraged to make public the designs they develop, which may be useful to others. “This is an example of the application of Open Source principles to hardware, not just software,” according to Aleph One.

One early contributor, Guralp Ltd., plans to add:

  • Low power 10BaseT or AUI ethernet: 3mW idle, 75mW flat out.
  • Low power Serial ports 4-16
  • One or two PCMCIA sockets
  • ATA (probably only PIO) interface
  • A programable level-sensitive interrupt controller
  • 1-10Gb of Nand flash memory.
  • About 32k of FRAM

Another early contributor, Toby Churchill, uses the Balloon design in its “Lightwriter” as a “communication aid providing keyboard (and other) input and multi-language speech synthesis output.”


The design is available now, and an off-the-shelf board based on it is also currently available “in quantities large enough to give some economies of scale,” according to Aleph One. A single board along with a Serial Terminal Cable is priced at GBP460 plus tax in EU, or plus postage outside EU. Boards can be purchased online direct from Aleph One.

Information about Aleph One's associated journalling File System for NAND Flash, YAFFS, is available at Aleph One's website.

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