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SBC packs six-port GbE switch, runs Linux on Armada 38x

Nov 9, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 4,015 views

SolidRun launched a Linux-supported “ClearFog” sandwich-style networking SBC with an Armada 38x-based COM, six switched GbE ports, and MikroBus expansion.

SolidRun, which is known for its Linux-friendly HummingBoard SBCs and CuBox mini-PCs, has launched a 38x-MicroSoM computer-on-module based on a dual-core Marvell Armada 38x system-on-chip, along with an open-spec companion carrier board aimed at networking and IoT gateway duty. The combination, which is available with Yocto Project or OpenWRT Linux, is available as a ClearFog SBC. A Pro version with six gigabit Ethernet ports is available now starting at $170, and a Base version with dual GbE ports, is coming soon (see farther below).

ClearFog Pro with embedded 38x-MicroSom module (in green)
(click image to enlarge)

Marvell Armada 38x

Marvell began sampling the Armada 38x — its first 28-nanometer fabricated SoC — in June 2014, but without a formal announcement, according to this brief Linley Group post. Earlier Armada SoCs such as the NAS-oriented Armada 370 and Armada XP, were fabricated at 40nm. Unlike the 38x, they did not directly license the Cortex-A9 from Core, but rather approximated the architecture.

Linksys WRT1900ACS

The Armada 38x, which went to volume production in the fourth quarter of last year, is the mystery SoC on the Linksys WRT1900ACS WiFi router, according to several third-party reports, including this SmallNetBuilder developer forum post. Only recently has Marvell announced products based on the SoC, including an Andromeda Box IoT gateway development platform announced on Nov. 2, which runs Google’s Android-based Brillo operating system for IoT. Another Andromeda Box is based on Marvell’s new IAP140, an unannounced, undocumented quad-core ARM Cortex A53 SoC.

According to SolidRun, Marvell’s Armada 38x family is suited for applications including IoT gateways, high-performance networking, network attached storage, customized ISP gateways, enterprise access points, and surveillance video recorders. The SoC family is available in six Cortex-A9 models. Three of them — the dual-core 1.33GHz 88F6821 and 1.2GHz 88F6W21, and the single-core, 1.33GHz 88F6811 — are available in a 14x14mm, 0.65mm pitch TFBGA package. Another three — the dual-core, 2.0GHz 88F6828 and 88F6820, and the single-core, up to 2.0GHz 88F6810 — are available in a 17x17mm, 0.8mm pitch TFBGA.

This latter batch of larger, faster SoCs adds support for 32-bit DDR3 and DDR4 memory in addition to 16-bit, and also supports greater levels of PCIe expansion, SERDES lanes, and GbE, SATA, and USB ports. All the SoCs offer 1MB cache, with TDPs ranging from 4W to 5W on the faster 17mm models and 3W to 4W on the 14mm models.

The Linley Group and SolidRun both suggest that the two single-core models are referred to informally as the Armada 380x, as opposed to the 388x, although Marvel’s thin documentation is unclear on this. SolidRun’s 38x-MicroSoM modules, which are available separately, as well as on the ClearFog boards, support both Armada A388 and A380 models.

Back in 2014, the Linley Group dinged the A38x platform’s lack of packet processing accelerator chips, noting that this would relegate the platform to lower end networking. Marvell’s website now has a product page for a dual-core, Cortex-A9 Marvell 39x, which appears to very similar to the 38x, but adds packet accelerators.

The 39x is available in Armada 395 and 398 models, which appear to be identical except for the 398’s support for four SATA 3.0 ports instead of two. The 39x is designed for “high-volume products such as Wi-Fi Access Point (WAP) and high-performance networking products such as control planes and line cards,” says Marvell.

SolidRun 38x-MicroSoM


SolidRun’s 38x-MicroSOM brings the Armada 388 and Armada 380 to life in a tiny 50 x 35mm form factor. The 38x-MicroSOM is designed for IoT and customized ISP gateways, as well as HPN, NAS, enterprise access points and surveillance video applications.

The module is said to be available in a variety of power, memory, and storage configurations, starting at $65 for the single-core MicroSoM A380 (88F6810) and $80 for the top-of-the-line, dual-core MicroSoM A388 (88F6828). Both Armada 38x SoCs use the 17x17mm package, and are here clockable to 1.3GHz in the industrial temperature model or 1.6GHz in the commercial model. The module integrates with carrier boards such as the ClearFog via Hirose DF40 connectors (1.5mm, 3mm mating height).

38x-MicroSoM block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

Specifications listed for the 38x-MicroSOM in both A380 and A388 configurations include:
  • Processor — Marvell Armada 38x (28nm fab with NEON, floating point, and 32KB and 1MB cache:
    • MicroSoM A380 — Armada 88F6810 (1x Cortex-A9 @ 1.3GHz or 1.6GHz)
    • MicroSoM A388 — Armada 88F6828 (2x Cortex-A9 @ 1.3GHz or 1.6GHz)
  • RAM:
    • MicroSoM A380 — 256MB to 1GB 16-bit DDR3L with optional ECC
    • MicroSoM A388 — 256MB to 2GB 32-bit DDR3L with optional ECC
  • Flash — optional SPI (32Kb) and eMMC (quantity undisclosed)
  • Networking — 2x (A380) or 3x (A388) gigabit Ethernet controllers (MAC and PHY)
  • Storage I/O — SDIO; 2x (A380) or 4x (A388) SATA 3.0
  • Expansion I/O — 3x (A380) or 4x (A388) PCIe 2.0 x1
  • Other I/O:
    • 3x USB 2.0
    • 2x USB 3.0 (“requires USB 2.0 port too”)
    • SERDES (muxed) — 5x (A380) or 6x (A388)
    • QSGMII — 1x (3x MACs) on A388 only
  • Power — 3.3V-5V (3.3V, 1.8V I/O voltage); optional power management signaling
  • Operating temperature (ambient) — commercial (0 to 70°) or industrial (-40 to 85°C)
  • Dimensions — 50 x 35mm
  • Operating system — Linux 3x; OpenWRT; Yocto Project; all with U-boot

ClearFog Pro and Base

The currently available ClearFog Pro, and upcoming, lower-end ClearFog Base carrier boards are available with schematics and documentation, says SolidRun. Equipped with a 38x-MicroSOM module in either A380 or A388 configurations, the ClearFog is a sandwich-style single board computer aimed at the same IoT gateway, networking, and networked storage applications supported by the core module.

ClearFog Pro front and back detail views
(click images to enlarge)

The main difference between the Pro and Base is that the Base version is limited to two dedicated gigabit Ethernet ports. The Pro has only one dedicated GbE, but also provides six switched GbE ports. Other networking related features include an optical SFP port and PoE support.

The 38x-MicroSOM module available on the boards each ship with 256MB DDR3L, topping out at 1GB rather than the A388 models’ 2GB limit. Both ClearFogs offer M.2 and mSATA storage slots, as well as optional microSD and eMMC flash. They offer USB 3.0 and micro-USB 2.0 ports, plus audio, FTDI, and debug interfaces. There are dual PCIe slots, as well as a mini-PCIe jumper.

ClearFog Pro block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

Like the 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.

ClearFog Pro angled view, and in its optional enclosure
(click images to enlarge)

The only other differences between the Pro and Base are their dimensions, as well as the availability of a wide-range 9V- 34V power supply, with advanced power and fan control. The Pro is also available with an optional metal enclosure that turns the board into a ready to deploy networking appliance.

Specifications listed for the ClearFog Base and Pro include:

  • Processor (via 38x-MicroSOM A380 or A388) — Marvell Armada 38x
  • RAM (via 38x-MicroSOM A380 or A388) – 256MB expandable to 1GB
  • Storage:
    • M.2 SATA slot (supports USB 3.0 on Base model only)
    • Optional microSD slot
    • Optional eMMC flash (amount unspecified)
    • 1x (Pro) or 2x (Base) mSATA (shared with mini-PCIe)
  • Networking:
    • 2x (Base) or 1x (Pro) dedicated gigabit Ethernet
    • 6x switched gigabit Ethernet (Pro only)
    • Small form-factor pluggable (SFP); on Base model available only with A388
    • PoE expansion header
  • Other I/O:
    • USB 3.0 port
    • Micro-USB port
    • Analog audio interface with TDM module support
    • FTDI (console only) interface
    • Debug header
    • JTAG header (Pro only)
    • Optional PIC controller
  • Expansion:
    • 2x mini-PCIe slots
    • Mini-PCIe (5V jumper)
    • 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 (Pro only)
  • Power:
    • Base — 5V (wide range ready)
    • Pro — 9V to 34V wide range; advanced power control; fan control
  • Dimensions:
    • Base — 160 x 100mm (approx/TBD)
    • Pro — 225 x 100mm
  • Operating system — Linux (see 38x-MicroSOM specs)

“The new MicroSoM and companion carrier board were built in cooperation with Marvell, with the aim of increasing accessibility and dramatically simplifying development and mass deployment of Armada 38x based products,” stated Kossay Omary, SolidRun co-founder and technology leader.

Further information

SolidRun’s 38x-MicroSOM module is available now starting at $65 (A380) or $80 (A388). The ClearFog Pro is available now starting at $170. The ClearFog Base is coming soon. More information may be found at the 38x-MicroSOM and ClearFog product pages. More on the Armada 38x may be found at Marvell’s Armada 38x product page.

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One response to “SBC packs six-port GbE switch, runs Linux on Armada 38x”

  1. BAReFOOt says:

    Looks like it lacks any sort of GPIO pins. That’s a bad choice. Along with billing $170 for it. That’s way too expensive, even with all its nice bells and whistles!

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