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Allwinner’s octa-core A80 SoC tightens its SBC grip

Mar 13, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 3,519 views

The CubieTech octa-core Allwinner A80 based “Cubieboard4” SBC goes for $125, competing with LinkSprite’s $129 Beta Arches and Merrii’s $300 H88 Hummingbird.

In early February, while covering Merrii’s H88 Hummingbird SBC, based on the octa-core Cortex-A15 and Cortex-A7 based Allwinner A80 system-on-chip, we found we had missed the release of the A80-based Cubieboard4 SBC. The board had originally been announced in April 2014 as the Cubieboard 8. According to an October post by CNXSoft, the board had just begun shipping in China for $100. At the time (Feb. 9, 2015) we found the Cubieboard4 selling for 699 RMB (now $111) at in China, and £110.79 (now $164) at NewIT in the U.K., where today the prices remain the same.

CubieTech Cubieboard4, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

Now, CubieTech Limited’s project has formally launched the Cubieboard4 (also called the CC-A80) for global availability at $125, complete with optimized Android, Ubuntu, and Debian builds. Yet, the Ubuntu build still appears to be “a work in progress,” as Liliputing put it in the post that alerted us to the Cubieboard4’s most recent launch.

At the time of our H88 Humingbird story in early February, we also checked up on the status of LinkSprite’s Allwinner A80 based pcDuino8, which had been announced back in May 2014. We saw no evidence it had shipped, missing a November name change and re-launch in January as the LinkSprite Beta Arches. This similar SBC is now available for $129 with Android and Ubuntu, presumably with a finished software version on its way soon. The product page suggests Android 4.4 is ready to go, but the available Ubuntu build is “in development,” and currently supports only 1080p monitors.

Linksprite Beta Arches, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

Both boards appear to be open-spec, community-backed products, although especially in the case of the LinkSprite board, the documentation does not appear to be all there yet. As for those name changes: The “4” in the Cubieboard4 name refers to the fourth generation of Cubieboards, which include the Cubieboard2 and Cubietruck. LinkSprite removed the pcDuino brand found on boards like the pcDuino3Nano, because the Arches lacks the Arduino support of its other SBCs.

Optimizing OS firmware for a Big.Little octa-core SoC is no doubt a challenge. Hopefully, the extra time applied to these boards has paid off. Allwinner’s 64-bit A80 provides full Big.Little heterogeneous multi-processing (HMP), enabling power and performance optimizations for each of the four Cortex-A15 and four -A7 cores. The SoC enables 4K multimedia capture, and supports H.265, eDP, USB 3.0, and HSIC technologies.

Two block diagrams of the Allwinner UltraOctaA80
(click images to enlarge)

The A80 integrates an Imagination Technologies PowerVR G6230, the first of the Series6 Rogue GPUs. It’s a more closed design compared to the ARM Mali-400 GPU found on most Allwinner-based SBCs, but it’s far more powerful, featuring dual shader clusters and 64 ALU cores.

Merrii H88 Hummingbird
(click to enlarge)

Neither the CubieBoard 4 nor the LinkSprite Beta Arches is as feature-rich as the H88 Hummingbird. The H88, which updates its previous A80 OptimusBoard evaluation platform, offers extras like GPS, mini-PCIe, and an integrated 16-megapixel MIPI camera. However, at $300, the H88 costs more than $170 more than the Cubieboard and LinkSprite SBCs. It’s very similar to Allwinner’s official, $1,300 Allwinner A80 Development Kit, which adds a touchscreen and other goodies. The full kit is also referred to as the Pro A80 on the Merrii website.

Specs are very similar on the Cubieboard4 and LinkSprite Beta Arches. They both ship with 2GB of RAM, a microSD slot, and 8GB of eMMC flash, although the Cubieboard4 lets you expand the onboard eMMC 4.5 flash to up to 64GB.

The Cubieboard4 adds a VGA port in addition to the HDMI port, and offers four USB 2.0 ports instead of the Arches’ two. Both also provide a USB 3.0 OTG port. The Arches lists a CSI camera interface that appears to be missing from the Cubieboard4.

Cubieboard4 coastline ports and details
(click images to enlarge)

Otherwise, the specs appear to be very similar, although the Arches is not yet fully documented with details like temperature range, weight, and dimensions. Both the LinkSprite Beta Arches and Cubieboard4 provide a gigabit Ethernet port, audio I/O, IR and JTAG interfaces, and both WiFi and Bluetooth.

The Cubieboard4 is further documented as having SPDIF audio and a 54-pin expansion connector for a the wide variety of interfaces shown in the spec list below. LinkSprite mentions only that it has 2.54mm hardware headers, which also presumably lead to its own array of additional I/O.

The Cubieboard4 is further noted for its wide, -20 to 70℃ operating range, which is somewhat unusual for a community-backed SBC. The [email protected] power supply supports a 3.7V Li-Po battery. The photo below suggests an acrylic enclosure might also be available.

Cubieboard4 with enclosure (left) and with WiFi antenna
(click images to enlarge) is now offering extensive documentation and open source code for its Android 4.4, Debian, and Ubuntu/Linaro Desktop builds. Android and Ubuntu are each available in three revisions, but as noted, the Ubuntu distribution is still being developed. The Ubuntu build is being deployed as a “basic desktop environment” with “graphics acceleration for the linaro-desktop-V0.3,” says The product page goes on to note that while the board’s PowerVR GPU now supports OpenGL ES 3.0, “there is a lot of work needed to do, such as OpenGL, OpenCL, and video hardware decoding.”

The Debian build was a late addition designed for headless “embedded control and server applications.” Because there’s no GUI desktop support, this was accomplished fairly quickly, and appears to be complete.

Below is the spec table for the Cubieboard4. We’ll wait for more complete documentation from LinkSprite once the “beta” tag is removed from the Arches board. However, the Beta Arches appears to be available now, and the current specs are available via the link at the end of the story.

Summary of Cubieboard4 specs

Specifications listed for the Cubieboard4 (CC-A80) include:

  • Processor — Allwinner A80 (4x Cortex-A15 cores @ up to 2GHz, and 4x Cortex-A7 cores @ up to 1.3GHz); Imagination’s 64-core PowerVR G6230 GPU
  • Memory/storage:
    • 2GB (optionally 1GB) DDR3-800 RAM
    • 8GB eMMC 4.5 flash, expandable to 64GB
    • MicroSD slot
  • Display — HDMI 1.4 port; VGA port
  • Wireless — Dual-band (2.4GHz/5.8GHz) WiFi with ext. antenna; Bluetooth 4.0+EDR
  • Networking — Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Other I/O:
    • USB 3.0 OTG port with power-input support
    • 4x USB 2.0 host ports
    • 2x 3.5mm audio I/O jacks
    • SPDIF interface
    • JTAG interface
    • 54x pin expansion connector with 2.0mm pitch for I2S, I2C, SPI, 2x UART, CVBS, 2x LRADC,UART, PS2, 2x PWM, TS/CSI, IRDA, Line-in, Mic-in, FM-in, TV-in
  • Other features — IR receiver; RTC; 4x LEDs; power, reset, and U-Boot keys
  • Power — [email protected] DC in; supports USB 3.0 power and 3.7V Li-Po battery; PMIC
  • Operating temperature — -20 to 70℃
  • Weight — 590 g
  • Dimensions — 111 x 111 x 18mm
  • Operating system — Android 4.4; Debian (headless); Ubuntu/Linaro (available, but under development)

Further information

The Cubieboard4 is now available for $125 plus shipping. More information may be found from the following sources, all of which were required to compile the feature table above:

The LinkSprite Beta Arches is now available for $129 with free standard shipping to US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, and France ($5 to other countries). Expedited shipping is also available. More information may be found at the LinkSprite Arches product page and the Sain Smart shopping page for the Beta Arches.

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