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Open-source, laptop-style, multi-core ARM computing platform has hidden "fun feature": an FPGA

Xilinx Employee
Xilinx Employee
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The FPGA on the Novena motherboard does the usual jobs that FPGAs are always asked to perform in embedded designs: computing acceleration and flexible, high-speed I/O.

 

Yesterday morning at the EELive! conference in San Jose, famed hardware hacker Andrew "bunnie" Huang presented a keynote that ended with his description of a fascinating experiment in open-source hardware and software development called the Novena computing platform. Novena is based on a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore processor, embodied in a Freescale i.MX6 processor. Here’s a recent photo of the board:

 

 

Novena Computing Platform.jpg

 

Huang’s Novena computing platform runs Linux, with Debian being the default distribution.

 

The idea behind this board is to enable experimentation with laptop-sized hardware platforms. To that end, Huang has developed a very slick laptop-style case that he’s prototyping. There’s an air piston that pneumatically opens the case when you spring the latch. Very slick.

 

Huang showed a photo of the case during his keynote. “The paint was still wet” he said.

 

 

Novena Computing Platform in case.jpg

 

There’s also a supremely attractive heirloom case fashioned from oak by a guest artist:

 

 

Novena Computing Platform in heirloom case.jpg

 

Huang is hoping to encourage a repair/recycle movement in the open-source community. He’s trying to help distance people from the throwaway culture we’ve evolved into.

 

If you look closely at the above board photo, you’ll see a Xilinx Spartan-6 FPGA along the bottom of the Novena board, just below the rose-colored heat sink. In the long list of Novena board features, the Spartan-6 is listed as a “fun feature” but it’s more than that. It can provide computing acceleration to the CPUs (Bitcoin mining is a suggested use) and it can provide very flexible, high-speed I/O through a dedicated expansion port. In other words, the Spartan-6 FPGA on the Novena motherboard does the usual jobs that FPGAs are always asked to perform in embedded designs.

 

How do you get your hands on a Novena? Huang has initiated a crowdfunding campaign on the Crowd Supply Web site. The bare board alone runs $500. A desktop version in a case with LCD runs $1195. The Novena board in a portable, laptop package with a separate battery-controller board runs $1995. And that gorgeous heirloom laptop case? That’s $5000—board included. Here’s a video with more info:

 

 

 

 

 

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