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First “96Boards EE” SBC debuts with AMD ARM SoC

Mar 8, 2016 — by Eric Brown — 1,874 views

LeMaker’s “Cello” is a $299, server-oriented single board computer with a quad-core Cortex-A57 AMD A1100 SoC and a 96Boards Enterprise Edition form factor.

This first SBC to use’s “96Boards Enterprise Edition” form-factor will soon arrive with a 64-bit, quad-core, ARM Cortex-A57 AMD Opteron A1100 system-on-chip. Now on pre-sale from Lenovator at $299, the Linux-supported LeMaker Cello joins other 96Boards SBCs like the now LeMaker-built, octa-core HiKey, Qualcomm’s quad-core DragonBoard 410c, and a new Actions Technologies Bubblegum-96 board that went on pre-sale in recent days, with shipments expected in Q2.

LeMaker Cello
(click image to enlarge)

Like all these 96Boards SBCs, the LeMaker Cello has a 64-bit, ARMv8 processor, but it uses the 160 x 120mm 96Boards Enterprise Edition (EE) form factor, compared to the 85 x 54mm Consumer Edition (CE). Just as the CE format has a larger Extended Version at 85 x 100mm, which has yet to be used, the EE standard is also available in a larger, microATX version measuring 244 x 244mm.

96boards EE (left) and CE spec drawings
(click images to enlarge)

Designed for higher-end, $200 to $400 boards aimed at networking, server, and high performance computing (HPC), the 96Boards EE spec has the same 40-pin, low-speed I/O connector as the CE, with the same mix of UART, SPI, I2C, and GPIO. Instead of the CE spec’s 60-pin high-speed interface, which carries interfaces such as MIPI-DSI and -CSI, the EE version includes a PCIe x16 slot, for use with PCIe video controllers or other plug-in cards. The EE spec also lacks the CE spec’s micro-OTG port and onboard wireless requirements, but it adds a requirement for an Ethernet port.

As noted in a Phoronix post that alerted us to the Cello pre-sale launch, AMD had been expected to ship the first 96Boards EE SBC with its promised HuskyBoard SBC, sporting the same Opteron A1100, the flagship SoC in its first line of ARM processors. Yet, Shenzhen-based LeMaker, known for its Banana Pro Raspberry Pi clone, jumped in first with its own Opteron A1100 based EE board. is backed by Linaro, which itself is owned by ARM and many of its top system-on-chip licensees. This standards group and open source hardware community defines a fixed set of minimum functions as well as standardized expansion buses, with the aim to develop a range of cross-compatible add-on boards.

Like 96Boards CE, the EE specification is open and free, or as the 96Boards EE spec puts it: “Anyone may build a board to the specification without payment of any fees or any licensing requirements.” An optional 96Boards Certification Program provides hardware and software certification, a community site, and software support.

The LeMaker Cello does not yet sport the 96Boards logo, nor has the board appeared on Yet the relatively new LeMaker version of the HiKey is listed on the CE page. CircuitCo, which makes the other, original version of the HiKey, is also building the AMD HuskyBoard, which AMD now says will ship “via distributor in 2016.”

LeMaker Cello, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

The specs currently posted on the Lenovator pre-order page for the LeMaker Cello lack much in the way of detail, and there’s no posting yet on LeMaker’s site. The LeMaker Cello backs up the Opteron A1120 with dual DDR3 sockets. This presumably lets you load up to 16GB of RAM, the recommended RAM allotment for the EE spec. A microSD slot is also available.

The 500-gram Cello is further equipped with dual SATA ports, dual USB 3.0 ports, and a Gigabit Ethernet port. There’s also a PCIe Gen 3 x16 slot, 10-pin JTAG, and the 40-pin low-speed expansion connector. No display interface is evident, nor will you find the WiFi and Bluetooth radios found on the CE boards.

Assuming the Cello does indeed meet the full EE spec, it would also have a serial-over-USB UART with a microUSB interface, as well as 12V DC jack or DIN connector. The LeMaker Cello photos do not include a heatsink, but given the A1100’s 25W TDP and server focus, this would likely be a requirement.

AMD Opteron A1100

The AMD Opteron A1100 “Hierofalcon” began sampling in 2014, and after many delays finally shipped in January of this year. The LeMaker Cello uses the only quad-core part, a 1.7GHz A1120 model with 25W TDP, 8MB of L3 cache, and 2MB of L2. The server-oriented Opteron A1100 family also includes the octa-core, 2.0GHz A1170 and 1.7GHz A1150, each with 32W TDP, 8MB L3, and 4MB L2.

All three chips support up to 128GB of 64-bit 1600MHz DDR3 or 1866MHz DDR4, both with ECC. The chips can endure a 0 to 80℃ temperature range, says AMD.

Block diagram for octa-core versions of AMD Opteron A1100
(click image to enlarge)

The Opteron A1100 can control up to 14x SATA 3.0 ports “with balanced I/O, memory, and compute for large data sets,” says AMD. Other features include dual 10GbE interfaces and eight lanes of PCIe. The chip is also claimed to deliver Xeon-class web serving features. Software support is all Linux, including Red Hat, SUSE, OpenSUSE, Fedora, Enea Linux, and CentOS.

According to an AnandTech story from the January launch, the octa-core models have about 80 to 90 percent of the performance of the octa-core Intel Atom C2750 Avoton, which uses 22nm x86 Silvermont cores. The Atom C2750 also has a lower TDP at 20W.

The A1100 chips are competitively priced, however. They also offer some potentially intriguing ARM-targeted development tools that are unavailable for x86 processors, including AMD’s own G-Series, R-Series, and A-Series SoCs.

The boom in ARM-based servers has yet to arrive as promised, but those gambling that this segment will still take off may want to consider chips such as the Opteron A1100, the AppliedMicro X-Gene 3, and other ARM server chips coming from Broadcom, Cavium, and Qualcomm. At TechCon in November, ARM predicted that by 2020 some 25 percent of processors going into server sockets will be ARM-based. Most analysts are more skeptical.

Further information

The LeMaker Cello is available for pre-sale at Lenovator for $299, with shipments expected in the second quarter. More information may be found at the Lenovator shopping page for the Cello. More details may eventually emerge at LeMaker website or EE page.

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