The final version of EFIKA, an MPC5200B System-on-Chip based "miniature mainboard" by bplan/Genesi and one of the most important
PowerPC community support projects sponsored by Freescale
had its first public demonstration at an embedded electronics symposium in Germany.
PPCNUX has been on site to find out more about the versatile PPC entry hardware.
The TechTrends 2006 Symposium
organized by EBV Elektronik, an Avnet
company and semiconductor specialist, took place at the Maritim Rhein-Main Hotel
Darmstadt near Frankfurt on September 21st.
Aside from several
with focus on High-End Data Processing, High-Performance Analog & Sensors, Industrial Networking &
Embedded Control and Innovative Solutions for RF, Light & Power Applications there was an exhibition area for hands-on product
presentations and direct contact with all participating companies.
The bplan booth, conveniently located between the hall entrance and the Freescale stand was hard to miss and featured several new
Bplan's Thomas Knaebel, Gerald Carda and Nicolas Det welcomed us and invited us to have a closer look and pose any question we
might have about their new product. EFIKA was on display in two fully configured desktop setups and as a separate single
board for direct customer inspection.
The first setup consisted of an EFIKA with PCI gfxcard in network boot configuration without any moving parts - noiseless and
reliable! The 200 W ATX PSU is vastly oversized for EFIKA: bplan explains the complete MPC5200B SoC needs 1.08 W (!) worst case
and runs just lukewarm not requiring a heatsink while each memory chip has a theoretical maximum power draw of 1.5 W. Much
smaller power supply options are available and EFIKA can benefit from the creative Mini-ITX market that offers a variety of
solutions like the picoPSU
Of course, given sufficient demand and ressources bplan will be happy to fulfill special customer needs like Power over Ethernet
that could lead to a multitude of EFIKAs connected by one cable each for a distributed server or even a "poor man's BlueGene"...
Several board configurations are possible. An internal design implemented an additional FPGA
like Altera's Cyclone II
for maximum flexibility.
A special feature of the latest Rev 2.2 board is a clock with programmable timer function. A wake-up time can be set by a Linux
software-tool or OpenFirmware that allows the board to start automatically. Further programmability includes specific behaviour
after a power outage like a boot with some initial delay.
The next setup has a low profile ATI AGP gfxcard installed, similar to the one that came with the Open Desktop Workstation
. It extends EFIKAs output
capabilities with DVI-I
and video interfaces while the
formfactor stays the same.
Bplan designed a super slim AGP riser that plugs into the native 66 MHz PCI slot and together with their OpenFirmware extensions
allows standard low-profile x86 3.3 V AGP cards to run. This combination with a custom backplate is able to fit into external 5
1/4" cases or an internal drive bay so there exists the possibility to fill up a complete server
with EFIKAs and still have free space for a regular sized motherboard like Pegasos
for control purposes.
For a chic sub-MacMini style product, Genesi suggested to do an own
Between the board and the AGP gfxcard there still is sufficient space for a 2.5" harddisk that adds a peak of under 5 W
to the EFIKA power requirements.
Thanks to the low power processor, heat is not an issue: after a weekend of stress testing in the bplan labs the stack of
mainboard, HD and gfxcard ran as reliable and cool as ever.
It should be possible to connect different IDE devices, but the EFIKA formfactor is clearly optimized for a single notebook
harddisk. Another interesting storage option could be a compact flash adapter
that mimics the mounting scheme of a regular 2.5" HD.
The achievable IDE throughput is a stable 8 MB/s - "best in class" for the chip. This may not sound fast considering the technical
docs already mention ATA66 mode compatibility, but bplan explained they had spent considerable time working around limitations
that still exist in the latest revision of the MPC5200B SoC but had success running all internal chip components together reliably
and with support of its powerful 16-channel "BestComm" DMA subsystem with an integrated private 16 KB SRAM area.
While this rate is sufficient even for HDTV video file streaming over EFIKA's 100 Mbit Ethernet connector, customers with higher
storage requirements might decide to use a dedicated interface card that plugs into the board's 66 / 33 MHz PCI slot.
EFIKA has a new, USB boot supporting version of bplan's joint OpenFirmware that started its life on Pegasos and has since been
ported to a number of boards and reference platforms
While all boards could also run U-Boot, bplan told that companies try to get away from it and gave an example of a bring-up that
took a struggling six months while their own HAL/OF implementation made the board run in a mere couple of weeks. Together with
x86 BIOS compatibility emulation for PCI / AGP cards it provides excellent value to licensees and newcomers in an expanding Power
ecosystem. Thanks to low license fees, Genesi was able to win a
by ODM Technologies Inc. who intend to make a minimum of 50,000 units.
A powerful OF/HAL combination is really a key differentiator for Genesi and led to the acceptance of Pegasos II Open Desktop
Workstation as the first OpenSolaris PowerPC port target by Sun, who traditionally also use OpenFirmware in their machines.
The roadmap aims at providing an OS-native API and true abstraction layer to address hardware with great efficiency and allow
for a kind of "write once, run everywhere" experience without the OS vendor needing to know the (often hard to come by /
restricted) exact hardware details. ATI seems to like Genesi's approach and currently features the Open Desktop Workstation
as an exclusive ATI Certified System
EFIKA's backplane has interfaces for 10/100 Mbit Ethernet, 2 x USB 1.1 (OHCI), an optical S/PDIF digital sound output, analog
in/out/mic connectors and a D-sub 9 serial port. The whole AC'97 audio subsystem has virtually been imported
from Pegasos and
includes its Sigmatel STAC9766
stereo sound codec.
We were told that better than 16 Bit analog onboard audio would not make much sense, but the digital output supports 20 Bit stereo
sound with up to 96 KHz sampling rate (with increased system load compared to the standard 48 KHz) and AC3 passthrough.
A certain peculiarity is the 9 x 9 hole grid in an unpopulated board area. Three pins are connected to ground and three have 3.3 V
supply so that own simple circuits can be added to the board. A free 5-pin connector near the ATX power connector bears the
signals for IRDA, a Realtek RTL8201 Ethernet Phyciever exists nearby. Mounting holes inside the board take a 2.5" harddisk that
plugs directly into the female 44-pin IDE connector. To each side of the connector there are pins for the power and reset switches
and the harddisk activity and power lights. The PCI slot shares its internal SoC bus with the IDE and supports 3.3 V cards at
either 66 or 33 MHz. The board with its optional AGP riser in place has the dimensions 118 mm (W) x 153 mm (L) x 38 mm
The integrated RAM controller supports 32 Bit access at DDR266 speeds resulting in read and write transfer rates of about 140
MB/s. Bplan realizes the standard configuration of 128 MB with
just two 64
MB, 16 Bit
chips - the EFIKA can be outfitted with a range of 32 MB to 512 MB memory at production time. Due to the 32 Bit
interface and 5 cm proximity restriction, notebook SODIMMs (64 Bit) cannot be used. The MPC5200B runs at 400 MHz, down from
Freescale's original plans of a 466 MHz maximum. Nevertheless, the chip proved itself capable of a flawless 466 MHz operation in
internal EFIKA overclocking tests. If Freescale decides to offer a faster version again, bplan will surely be ready to implement
Some people might wonder why EFIKA has no USB 2.0 although the USB 1.1 still requires two small phyciever chips on the EFIKA
board. Bplan explained they intended to demonstrate the capabilities of the MPC5200B with its integral building blocks which
do not feature USB 2.0 at the moment. Of course, it would be possible to implement additional chips, but this comes at a price
and would require extra logic since the PCI basically supports just one single device. With a PCI-PCI bridge even a multi-slot
becomes imaginable but would bust the small formfactor advantage.
Freescale has some interesting plans for MPC5200B successors within the mobileGT
USB 2.0 On-The-Go, SATA, SDIO were among the features mentioned in last year's Munich Freescale Technology Forum presentation.
This year we see a clear roadmap with a 90 nm MPC5xxx that offers doubled L1 caches, support for less power hungry DDR2-400 RAM
and a spectacular integration of a 3D graphics accelerator, audio acceleration and LCD display controller.
Aside from a seemingly not very widespread video
no public bottom part picture of the 4-layer EFIKA board. PPCNUX would not be PPCNUX if we did not jump on the chance to reveal
The first thing of interest is an area where two additional RAM chips can be soldered to the board. A skilled person with the
right equipment might even be able to retrofit it with the same type of RAM for a capacity doubling to 256 MB. The MPC5200B
uses a Chip Select to address the two additional parts, so this would make it the equivalent of a second rank of 32 Bit RAM.
Another interesting spot is the CAN bus
with two solder points near the hole grid that
might be used to hook into your car's internal network...
But what is hardware without software? Bplan prepared a careful blend of application examples that did not only appeal to
embedded-focused companies but also the average Power.org individual member
And what a presentation it was: the first machine ran a lightweight FVWM-Crystal
Debian Linux desktop with a native Office but also an RDesktop
window, that lets the user run applications on a remote Microsoft Windows server like they were executed on the very own PPC
computer with 1 W CPU. The effect was even more pronounced with the second demo machine that presented a fullscreen remote desktop
to the user with only a very minor impact on the "live" effect introduced by network latency and throughput. Bplan envisioned a
cheap and cool terminal solution for university students or library internet access points with server-side support of proprietary
features like Adobe Flash, that do not have a compatible replacement within the Open Source world yet.
Even more astonishing were the media capabilities of the second machine running a "not publicly know OS" that directly booted
into a demo selector splitscreen that offered a four-way choice. Aside from the mentioned rdesktop Windows screen that gave
access to a hidden VIA C3 533 MHz server, there was a 3D-accelerated playable Quake I demo achieving a very respectable
53 fps in 1280 x 1024 resolution.
The third demo was the futuristic racing game classic WipEout 2097
at 800 x 600 res that made some bystander dizzy with its blazing speed. Bplan's Gerald Carda commented this might be
considered a test for a more serious application like a 3D navigation display for cars the MPC5200B was originally targeted at.
But aside from information and telematics display, car entertainment has been a focal point for the mobileGT processor.
The 400 MHz PPC603e-class SoC without L2 cache belies its marginal specs and shows a strong movie playback performance, even in
higher resolutions than typical headrest displays for backseat entertainment can offer. Mr Carda told, the EFIKA would be able to
playback a full resolution DVD with up to 92% CPU load. The programmable DMA engine seems to play an important role here since it
moves the decoded data from the CPU core to the gfxcard autonomously so the CPU is already able to decode the next frame.
This leads to a typical performance benefit of 15 - 20 %.
We could not verify the claims about full resolution DVD playback at this time, but the movie trailers played from HD looked fine.
Another ingenious concept by bplan was to book a day of WLAN access so visitors could sit down and experience EFIKA as an internet
access terminal. After being given a hint by a PPCNUX reader, bplan checks out our website for possible news about their
Before the break we still wanted to hear about the state of MorphOS support for EFIKA. Bplan stated that MorphOS could basically
run on any 32 Bit PPC system. Lead developer Ralph Schmidt is a bplan member and if it comes for EFIKA is just a question of
political considerations. Being asked for the price, bplan told that they might aim for a single unit retail price of 249 EUR in
specialized trade, including the "world's flattest AGP riser". Order books are already at a healthy four digits figure while
Freescale bought 400 units
- half of which go to
the development community for free - and offers
as the currently cheapest MPC5200B evaluation board from their DevToolsDirect website.
Genesi already has plans for a real
mass production effort of EFIKA that should bring prices down to an attractive 99 USD level and would allow a widespread adoption
of Power Architecture and OpenSource software not only in traditional markets, but also addressing local communities' specific
needs for communication and collaboration. The goal of the
non-profit organization is "to provide very low cost and very
reliable end-user computing in emerging communities that can be competently managed locally". Therefore it utilizes a
comprehensive support infrastructure
for well-adapted open
source software and successfully leverages the unique Power Architectures ecosystem with general compatibility from handheld to
server class applications. The possibility to manufacture the Open Reference Platforms locally means further independence, the
increased empowerment to access meaningful information and ressources will benefit those communities forming a prerequisite for
accelerated economic development and better quality of life.
After the meal we talked a bit about bplan's other products since they also brought a Pegasos II board, their former flagship
product to the fair. While EFIKA has SmartFirmware 1.3 already, Pegasos I and II users still wait for an update. Bplan made clear
that there is a LOT of hardware combinations to test for compatibility that makes a new release so difficult. They simply cannot
afford the risk of a flash update rendering a customer's system unusable, because RAM settings were tweaked too much or other
unwanted side-effects may happen.
After the fanless Pegasos I G3 we were a bit disappointed bplan did not continue the obvious
silence and reliability advantage of PPC with the introduction of Pegasos II G4 back in 2003. Mr Knaebel remarked that the price of
the 1.1 V low power
version had been nearly twice
as high as the standard 1.3 V MPC7447 when they made their CPU choice. Meanwhile bplan has made some heatsink prototypes that
follow the outline of the whole CPU card. They were not offered yet because they have been unsure if and how much to charge their
customers and if a heatsink change by the owner would not contribute to reliability issues (like forgotten thermal paste, not
enough die contact, broken die while trying to mount the big heatsink etc.).
There is nothing holding back further production of Pegasos II which saw its
being released though Power.org
earlier this year: all neccessary parts are available in RoHS-compliant form. Faster CPU cards are not a problem per se, but bplan
looks at the
economical realities and is not able to tell whether there will be a
for existing owners - from their point of view a 50 or even 100 units run is hardly justifiable. Dual-CPUs
would also be possible with Pegasos II in one form or the
other, but there now is a much better product for SMP-programming the Power Architecture:
One week ago
, Genesi declared the development of their
Since both Intel and AMD plan to introduce Quad-core highend consumer platforms this year, it will be most interesting to see if
PPC will be able to compete with a similar concept that aims for an initial 1500 USD system price. Bplan told their first chipset
partner choice has clearly been NVIDIA, but they were not always that easy to approach once a PPC target with a relatively low
expected sales volume came up. Finally bplan's client and chip supplier decided for them to use the Serverworks chipset. The honor
of the initial presentation will belong to them as well. The G5 hardware has been defined to include a PCIe 16x and 8x slot
together with two regular PCI slots. The RAM speed will be as fast as the specific CPC945 northbridge version allows and only be
restricted by the amount of RAM bus loads the chip is able to drive at a specific frequency. With the advent of jumbo capacity
registered DIMMs, the limitation
to four DIMM sockets is not a factor that holds back the maximum usable RAM amount for this 64 Bit system. It will not include an
onboard gfxchip and it neither was clear if there will be a moderately fast and supported PCIe gfxcard available for the system
since XGI's release plans
remain a mystery. Bplan expects the first demo
systems to implement dual-core 970MP processors with a high clock to evaluate the maximum performance of the platform while usable
production systems are more likely to have CPUs that have less critical cooling requirements
in a space-restricted microBTX
We closed the day with the participation in a seminar where OSRAM Opto Semiconductors presented the state of the art in OLED
technology and their LED product portfolio with application examples and a 30 lumen camping LED light to keep. In the second
notable session Altera explained how to implement a PCIe 4x interface with their Cyclone II FPGA and a Texas Instruments PHY for
a mere 17 USD (9.50 and 7 USD respectively, in 50,000s quantities). Altera claims a 60 % performance advantage of the 90 nm part
over their competition or half the power consumption. It features a DDR2 interface and can present itself as a Nios II
embedded CPU with 200 Dhrystone-MIPS.
We left the exhibition under a blue sky in the evening sun with a remaining impression of EFIKA and richer by an Infineon USB
notebook lamp and an EBV-sponsored 512 MB USB stick.
EFIKA Videos (320 x 240, 15 fps):
| 3D racing game
| Movie trailer 1
| Trailer 2
| Trailer 3
(Research & Development)
EFIKA project pages
Freescale MPC5200B product page