Embedded Linux course in Madrid – July 7-11

We are happy to announce a new Embedded Linux training course on July 7-11, in Madrid, Spain.

IGEPv2 boardIt is organized by our partners ISEE (the makers of the IGEPv2 board that we are using in this course), and Silica, a well known component is distributor who is welcoming the session in its offices in Madrid.

The course will be instructed in English by our trainer Marcin Bis. Marcin Bis

The registrations are directly handled by ISEE. See details.

ISEE working on IGEPv5 board with OMAP5

ISEE logoOur partner ISEE is famous for their IGEPv2 board that we use in our embedded Linux course. This board is both powerful (running at 1 GHz) and featureful (on-board WiFi and Bluetooth, many connectors and expansion capabilities).

The good news is that ISEE has started to develop a new IGEPv5 board, which will be based on the new OMAP5 processor from Texas Instruments. This processor features in particular 2 ARM Cortex A15 cores running at up to 2 GHz, DDR3 RAM support, USB3, full HD 3D recording, and supporting 4 displays and cameras at the same time. Can you imagine what systems you could create with such a CPU?

If you are interested in such a board, it is still time for you to give them your inputs and expectations.

What should a perfect OMAP5 board be like? Don’t hesitate to leave your comments on this blog post. Be sure that ISEE will pay attention to them.

Embedded Linux training: switch to the IGEPv2 board

Since early 2009, our training sessions have been using the USB-A9263 board from Calao Systems as the hardware platform for the practical labs. However, this AT91-based platform was getting older, and we therefore started the process of switching our training sessions to a new hardware platform, the IGEPv2 board from ISEE.

IGEPv2 board
IGEPv2 board

The IGEPv2 platform is very similar to the popular BeagleBoard and BeagleBoard-XM platforms, and has the following technical characteristics :

  • TI DM3730, which is the latest OMAP3 processor from Texas Instruments, clocked at 1 Ghz, and including a DSP for signal processing, an IVA block for audio/video decoding and the PowerVR SGX for 3D/OpenGL. This processor offers far more possibilities than the AT91 one, especially for multimedia applications.
  • 512 MB of RAM and 512 MB of OneNAND flash.
  • Integrated Ethernet connector, Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity.
  • One USB OTG port and one USB host port.
  • A microSD connector.
  • A DVI-D connector (HDMI), stereo input and ouput
  • RS232 connector
  • Multiple expansion ports to access LCD, camera, I2C, SPI, JTAG, etc. signals

Compared to the BeagleBoard-XM, this board has the following advantages:

  • it has a OneNAND Flash device, which allows us to demonstrate and practice the usage of MTD and Linux flash-specific filesystems such as JFFS2 and UBIFS in our training sessions. Even though block-based storage such as SD and eMMC is more and more popular in consumer-electronic devices, usage of raw NAND flash is still very common in industrial applications, and we therefore wanted to keep presenting those devices and their usage in embedded Linux
  • ISEE, the company manufacturing the IGEPv2, is located in Spain, which makes it easier for us to regularly order boards from them, since we are also located in Europe
  • the board provides Bluetooth and Wifi connectivity, which is nice

We have already given two sessions of our Embedded Linux system development training with the IGEPv2, and all our future sessions of this training will use this hardware platform, so the participants will benefit from a more modern platform, with far more capabilities than our previous AT91-based training hardware. This is also the board we are now giving to the participants to our public training sessions, so those participants come back home with a very nice and powerful platform which allows countless experiments around embedded Linux. Note that we also intend to port our Embedded Linux kernel and driver development training session to the IGEPv2 platform in the near future.

Linux 2.6.33 features for embedded systems

Interesting features for embedded Linux system developers

Penguin workerLinux 2.6.33 was out on Feb. 24, 2010, and to incite you to try this new kernel in your embedded Linux products, here are features you could be interested in.

The first news is the availability of the LZO algorithm for kernel and initramfs compression. Linux 2.6.30 already introduced LZMA and BZIP2 compression options, which could significantly reduce the size of the kernel and initramfs images, but at the cost of much increased decompression time. LZO compression is a nice alternative. Though its compression rate is not as good as that of ZLIB (10 to 15% larger files), decompression time is much faster than with other algorithms. See our benchmarks. We reduced boot time by 200 ms on our at91 arm system, and the savings could even increase with bigger kernels.

This feature was implemented by my colleague Albin Tonnerre. It is currently available on x86 and arm (commit, commit, commit, commit), and according to Russell King, the arm maintainer, it should become the default compression option on this platform. This compressor can also be used on mips, thanks to Wu Zhangjin (commit).

For systems lacking RAM resources, a new useful feature is Compcache, which allows to swap application memory to a compressed cache in RAM. In practise, this technique increases the amount of RAM that applications can use. This could allow your embedded system or your netbook to run applications or environments it couldn’t execute before. This technique can also be a worthy alternative to on-disk swap in servers or desktops which do need a swap partition, as access performance is much improved. See this LWN.net article for details.

This new kernel also carries lots of improvements on embedded platforms, especially on the popular TI OMAP platform. In particular, we noticed early support to the IGEPv2 board, a very attractive platform based on the TI OMAP 3530 processor, much better than the Beagle Board for a very similar price. We have started to use it in customer projects, and we hope to contribute to its full support in the mainline kernel.

Another interesting feature of Linux 2.6.33 is the improvements in the capabilities of the perf tool. In particular, perf probe allows to insert Kprobes probes through the command line. Instead of SystemTap, which relied on kernel modules, perf probe now relies on a sysfs interface to pass probes to the kernel. This means that you no longer need a compiler and kernel headers to produce your probes. This made it difficult to port SystemTap to embedded platforms. The arm architecture doesn’t have performance counters in the mainline kernel yet (other architectures do), but patches are available. This carries the promise to be able to use probe tools like SystemTap at last on embedded architectures, all the more if SystemTap gets ported to this new infrastructure.

Other noticeable improvements in this release are the ability to mount ext3 and ext2 filesystems with just an ext4 driver, a lightweight RCU implementation, as well as the ability to change the default blinking cursor that is shown at boot time.

Unfortunately, each kernel release doesn’t only carry good news. Android patches got dropped from this release, because of a lack of interest from Google to maintain them. These are sad news and a threat for Android users who may end up without the ability to use newer kernel features and releases. Let’s hope that Google will once more realize the value of converging with the mainline Linux community. I hope that key contributors that this company employs (Andrew Morton in particular) will help to solve this issue.

As usual, this was just a selection. You will probably find many other interesting features on the Linux Changes page for Linux 2.6.33.