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Compact networking SBC runs OpenWrt on dual-core Cortex-A9

Aug 3, 2016 — by Eric Brown — 1,469 views

SolidRun launched an OpenWrt networking-focused ClearFog Base SBC with a Marvell Armada 38x dual-core -A9 SoC, dual GbE ports, SFP, and mikroBus expansion.

Last December when SolidRun launched its ClearFog Pro sandwich-style networking SBC featuring an Armada 38x-based computer-on-module, it also announced a lower-end ClearFog Base model that uses the same COM and was said to be “coming soon.” The ClearFog Base has finally arrived with a $90 price, down from $170 for the Pro. The price includes the cost of the COM, but not options including a microSD card, eMMC, or a power adapter.

Two views of the ClearFog Base SBC
(click images to enlarge)

The delay was not without its compensations. The ClearFog Base shrunk considerably from the previously anticipated 160 x 100mm to a mere 103 x 75mm, compared to 225 x 100mm for the ClearFog Pro. The new model also gained some other Pro features, such as a wide-range power supply.

ClearFog Base (top) compared to larger ClearFog Pro

Aside from a smaller size, the main difference between the Base and the Pro is that the Base is limited to two dedicated Gigabit Ethernet ports while the Pro has one dedicated GbE, but also provides six switched GbE ports. The Base lacks one of the Pro’s two mini-PCIe slots, which is also the one with mSATA support, and is missing a few other features like JTAG or support for analog audio/TDM modules

The “telecom-grade” ClearFog Base is aimed at “appliance manufacturers as well as DIY enthusiasts” developing “high-performance office and residential networking and storage hardware solutions,” says SolidRun. Designed to bridge network standards like LAN, WiFi, cellular, Fiber and DSL, the board also uses mikroBus expansion to enable IoT type networking standards such as ZigBee, Sub GHz, and Bluetooth, says SolidRun.

As with the Pro, the ClearFog Base ships with OpenWrt Linux, offering access to hundreds of networking-oriented programs, with real-time updates. A Yocto Project Linux stack is once again available as an alternative. Schematics are available for the carrier board, if not the COM, and there is substantial community support.

MicroSoM A388 top and bottom views
(click images to enlarge)

Like the Pro, the Base supports the same 50 x 35mm, Marvell Armada 38x based COM, the MicroSoM A388. The module has a dual-core Cortex-A9 Armada 38x clocked to 1.33GHz. Although it’s not featured on the product page, the announcement also suggests that you can buy the board starting at $70 with a MicroSoM A380 COM that has a single-core, 1.33GHz version of the SoC.

The modules integrates with the ClearFog via Hirose DF40 connectors. (For more details on the MicroSoM A388, please see our earlier ClearFog Pro coverage.)

MicroSoM 38x block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

On the ClearFog Base and Pro, the MicroSoM A388 ships with a default of 1GB DDR3L, although that appears to be the maximum for the optional, single-core MicroSoM A380 version, which starts at 256MB. The MicroSOM A388 can support up to 2GB, although this does not appear to be an option on either the Base or Pro.

Like the Pro, the Base offers a microSD slot and optional 4GB or 8GB of eMMC flash, as well as a standard M.2 slot with USB 3.0, SATA, GNSS, and 3G expansion. A mini-PCIe slot and a SIM card slot are also onboard.

ClearFog Base SBC top and bottom details
(click images to enlarge)

The dual GbE ports include PoE support, and there’s also an optical SFP port. Other common features include USB 3.0 and micro-USB 2.0 ports, FTDI, an RTC with battery, and a couple of pushbuttons.

ClearFog Base block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

Like SolidRun’s i.MX6-based HummingBoard-Gate SBC, the ClearFog boards provide a GPIO-based MikroBus socket supporting MikroElektronika’s Click board modules. More than 150 Click boards are available, including I/O, wireless, sensors, transceivers, displays, encoders, pushbuttons, and advanced GPS modules.

Like the Pro, the Base has a wide-range 9V- 34V power supply, but with the reduced hardware set there is apparently no need for the Pro’s advanced power and fan control. An optional metal enclosure turns the board into a readymade networking appliance.

Specifications listed for the ClearFog Base include:

  • Processor (via MicroSoM A388) — Marvell Armada 38x — (2x Cortex-A9 @ up to 1.33GHz); optional MicroSoM A380 (1x Cortex-A9 up to 133GHz)
  • RAM (via MicroSoM A388) — 1GB DDR3L
  • Storage:
    • M.2 slot for with USB 3.0, SATA, GNSS, or 3G
    • MicroSD slot with optional 8GB card
    • Optional 4GB or 8GB eMMC flash
  • Networking:
    • 2x Gigabit Ethernet ports
    • Small form-factor pluggable (SFP) interface (N/A with A380)
    • PoE expansion header
  • Other I/O:
    • USB 3.0 port
    • Micro-USB 2.0 port
    • FTDI (console only) interface
    • Debug header
  • Expansion:
    • Mini-PCIe slot
    • SIM card holder
    • MikroBus socket (GPIO header) for MikroElektronika Click board I/O modules
  • Other features — LEDs; user push buttons; RTC battery; optional metal enclosure
  • Power — 9V to 34V wide range input; optional 110v/220V adapter
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 70°C
  • Dimensions — 103 x 75mm
  • Operating system — Linux 3.x (OpenWrt or Yocto)

Further information

SolidRun’s ClearFog Base is available now, with 4-week delivery time, starting at $90 with a MicroSoM A388, but without microSD card, eMMC flash, or power adapter. More information may be found at the ClearFog Base product page.

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One response to “Compact networking SBC runs OpenWrt on dual-core Cortex-A9”

  1. R. E. Hunter says:

    I keep hoping for a 4 GbE port SBC to run an IPFire firewall. Something between the Base and Pro ClearFog would be ideal.

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