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posted by martyb on Friday February 14 2020, @02:50PM   Printer-friendly

Debian developer Jonathan Carter was recently given a MIPS64-based motherboard which he ran through its paces. The board has a Loongson processor which is intended for both general purpose and embedded processing.

The reason why I wanted this board is that I don't have access to any MIPS64 hardware whatsoever, and it can be really useful for getting Calamares to run properly on MIPS64 on Debian. Calamares itself builds fine on this platform, but calamares-settings-debian will only work on amd64 and i386 right now (where it will either install grub-efi or grub-pc depending in which mode you booted, otherwise it will crash during installation). I already have lots of plans for the Bullseye release cycle (and even for Calamares specifically), so I'm not sure if I'll get there but I'd like to get support for mips64 and arm64 into calamares-settings-debian for the bullseye release. I think it's mostly just a case of detecting the platforms properly and installing/configuring the right bootloaders. Hopefully it's that simple.

In the meantime, I decided to get to know this machine a bit better. I'm curious how it could be useful to me otherwise. All its expansion ports definitely seems interesting. First I plugged it into my power meter to check what power consumption looks like. According to this, it typically uses between 7.5W and 9W and about 8.5W on average.

The Loongson processors are developed at the Institute of Computing Technology (ICT) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in China in conjunction with the BLX IC Design Corporation, also in China.

Earlier on SN:
Is Low-Priced Computing Stuck With an ARM/x86 Duopoly? (2019)
MIPS CPU Architecture to Become Open Source Hardware in 2019 (2018)
Linux-Based, MIPS-Powered Russian All-in-One PC Launched (2016)


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  • (Score: 2) by epitaxial on Friday February 14 2020, @04:02PM (3 children)

    by epitaxial (3165) on Friday February 14 2020, @04:02PM (#958177)

    So what is Calamares? Google just gives me fried squid recipes.

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14 2020, @04:34PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14 2020, @04:34PM (#958183)
      http://calamares.io/ [calamares.io]
      • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Friday February 14 2020, @04:38PM

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 14 2020, @04:38PM (#958184) Homepage Journal

        Noodly appendages are noodly appendages, no matter what they try to name it.

        --
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    • (Score: 3, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14 2020, @05:43PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14 2020, @05:43PM (#958208)

      It's software that offers functionality which Poettering hasn't incorporated into SystemD yet.

  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14 2020, @04:43PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14 2020, @04:43PM (#958185)
    Google can't seem to direct me to a place that will actually sell me a board like what Mr. Carter has... I'd like to buy one if it's not too expensive, say $100 or less.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 16 2020, @12:15PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 16 2020, @12:15PM (#958763)

      You don't mind the contents of your hard drive being sent to china?

  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday February 14 2020, @05:06PM (14 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday February 14 2020, @05:06PM (#958191)

    I really want to see a continued emphasis on lower power in computing. I would be a much bigger fan of the Intel NUC line if they didn't have fans anymore, but they seem to be drifting development back into the higher power draws again - even killing their smaller form factor variants presumably due to the increased power levels of their newer chips.

    As we speak, I'm building up a mini theater system (15.6" screen + Pi Zero + Bluetooth speakers) for the "yacht" (aka plastic tub). Playing 1080p video in Kodi/OpenElec top reports ~28% CPU usage, without any GPU accelerator keys. Of course there are other applications for computers, but... if a computer can pull off smooth 1080p video rendering for less than 1W power draw, seems like a sub 10W computer should be quite capable of most ordinary tasks...

    ---- WARNING! offtopic below ----

    By the way, has anybody tried obtaining the Raspberry Pi accelerator license keys? Do they make any noticeable performance improvements? Video playback is already smooth in the non-accelerated system, but the Kodi menu rendering is pretty slow/laggy. I don't mind the cost of the keys, but I would mind spending the time to jump all those hoops just to find no real benefit.

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    • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday February 14 2020, @05:50PM (8 children)

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 14 2020, @05:50PM (#958213) Journal

      I would be a much bigger fan of the Intel NUC line if they didn't have fans anymore

      You would become one of what you wish they didn't have?

      (ducks, hides under desk)

      continued emphasis on lower power in computing. I would be a much bigger fan

      Lower power doesn't require bigger fans. See subject line.

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      • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday February 14 2020, @06:27PM (7 children)

        by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday February 14 2020, @06:27PM (#958228)

        So - the point of lower power is, in part, to reduce fan dependency. At ~10W you can start to have a really nice, small, passively cooled package. At ~1W like the Pi Zero, it's pretty well small as it can get - the cable connectors are starting to drive the form factor instead of the active components and their heat sinks.

        And, I can be a BIG FAN of computers that lack fans if I want to :-P

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        My karma ran over your dogma.
        • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday February 14 2020, @07:01PM (6 children)

          by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 14 2020, @07:01PM (#958238) Journal

          As I seem to recall, the IBM PC was the first popular microcomputer to have fans.

          The "holy trinity" introduced in 1977 (TRS-80, Apple II, Commodore PET) did not have fans.

          There were some bigger "microcomputers" in larger cabinets, for business, that may have had fans, but I don't know.

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          • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday February 14 2020, @07:16PM (4 children)

            by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday February 14 2020, @07:16PM (#958243)

            I had an Atari 800 in 1982 - I believe its 6502 ran a bit under 2MHz, and its RAM came on 16K cards which were prone to overheating, unless you removed the "user friendly case" that the boards were mounted in and just stuck the bare cards in the slots - then they had enough passive cooling to keep things happy.

            No fans, but you could almost see the transistors on the die with a handheld magnifying glass, and there was a ton of heat-sink metal in the case to re-radiate heat out the vents...

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            My karma ran over your dogma.
            • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday February 14 2020, @07:52PM (3 children)

              by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 14 2020, @07:52PM (#958271) Journal

              Apple III, as I recall, was the first one to be right on the edge of desperately needing a fan. I remember many times I could stop typing, reach my fingers to its lower sides and feel how "warm" the metal underbelly was. (elevated off desk by rubber feet) And sometimes "warm" was an understatement.

              I also have many fond memories of the SOS (operating system) on Apple III. But then the Lisa came along, and was provided one of those to work on, and Mac, and oh boy . . .

              Lisa and Mac had no fan.

              Classic "toaster shaped upright" Mac had a power supply that could just barely power the machine without a single miliwatt to spare.

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              What can be done to stop bloggers from using the wrong color schemes?
              • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday February 14 2020, @08:52PM (2 children)

                by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday February 14 2020, @08:52PM (#958305)

                Mac had a power supply that could just barely power the machine without a single miliwatt to spare

                Woz was already out - expandability? just buy the bigger one. longevity? bad for the replacement revenue stream.

                --
                My karma ran over your dogma.
                • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Friday February 14 2020, @10:09PM (1 child)

                  by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 14 2020, @10:09PM (#958325) Journal

                  Steve Jobs insistence on a 128 K Mac only didn't last long. That was an ego thing. Jobs originally wanted to limit it to 64 K so he should show how much better 'his' machine was than 'woz' Apple II.

                  Reality set in. Developers said more memory is strictly necessary. So the 512 K "fat" mac was born. Third parties offered Mac expansion up to 4 MB which was HUGE at that time. Definitely bigger than PCs. But with a flat 24 bit address (no segment registers) it was even more cool.

                  Jobs wouldn't allow color. Or a separate monitor and cpu box. No expansion slots -- ever! No wonder Sculley and the board stripped Jobs of any actual power. (which is why Jobs chose to leave -- he didn't have to leave) Then we got the Mac II in 1987 with color, slots, separate cpu and monitor. Expandable memory. Unlike PCs it was real plug and play. No screwing with interrupts, dip switches, autoexec.bat / config.sys nonsense. You plug an expansion card (NuBus) in and it just works. You plug in a SCSI drive, and the only special requirement is that you make sure all your SCSI devices have unique ID numbers. (settable on each device) Keyboard, mouse, just worked. CD-ROM, just plug it in.

                  That was when all the cool stuff started. CD-ROM was amazing. Then QuickTime. Being able to play video on a microcomputer was amazing. No wonder Mac users were so smug and laughing at PC / Windows 3 users.

                  Jobs formed his company NeXT -- which then built a machine with all the things Jobs wouldn't let Apple do. Separate CPU box, etc.

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                  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Saturday February 15 2020, @03:53AM

                    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Saturday February 15 2020, @03:53AM (#958408)

                    This just in from the department of redundancy department:

                    Steve Jobs insistence.... That was an ego thing.

                    --
                    My karma ran over your dogma.
          • (Score: 2) by dry on Saturday February 15 2020, @06:57AM

            by dry (223) on Saturday February 15 2020, @06:57AM (#958440) Journal

            Well generally you put a fan with switch on the right side of the Apple II as it did run hot. I would have thought there was similar for the ///

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by dwilson on Friday February 14 2020, @10:23PM

      by dwilson (2599) on Friday February 14 2020, @10:23PM (#958327)

      ---- WARNING! offtopic below ----

      By the way, has anybody tried obtaining the Raspberry Pi accelerator license keys? Do they make any noticeable performance improvements? Video playback is already smooth in the non-accelerated system, but the Kodi menu rendering is pretty slow/laggy. I don't mind the cost of the keys, but I would mind spending the time to jump all those hoops just to find no real benefit.

      I looked in to it at one point, and just didn't see the point. All the keys do is unlock the hardware decoders for two codecs, MPEG-2 and VC1. MPEG-2 is used in DVD's, among other things. VC-1 was mostly a Microsoft challenger to H.264 and used in their WMV format, and for HD-DVD's (which are obsolete) and older BluRay discs.

      All the video files in my library are H.265 and anything I add gets transcoded to that, so buying the unlock keys would have been entirely a waste of money. Your situation may be different.

      --
      - D
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Saturday February 15 2020, @02:48AM (2 children)

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Saturday February 15 2020, @02:48AM (#958397) Journal

      Kodi menu animated transitions look a little unsmooth even on Pi4B, but probably better than Zero I'd imagine. I think I saw an explanation for it on the forums, related to the graphics pipeline or something. There is a setting somewhere to turn off animated transitions.

      I'm using 2 GB Pi4Bs for LibreELEC. They are marked down to $35 at Micro Center, lol. Pi4B adds H.265, 4K, and HDR support which is probably as much as any home theater would need. Hopefully, Pi5 will add AV1 hardware decoding, which would be good for YouTube.

      If you want to see low power computing demolish 100W+ computing, you should be tracking [google.com] 3DSoC [soylentnews.org]. If realized, that would use ARM or RISC-V cores, at least 4 GB of memory, and should smoke desktop and HEDT processors. All within power consumption comparable to Pi Zero. It's possible that the performance increase would be so high that most people will switch to passive or quietly-cooled SBC and SFF systems. Or maybe the cooling will be focused on other parts of the system like I/O and networking.

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      • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Saturday February 15 2020, @03:51AM (1 child)

        by JoeMerchant (3937) on Saturday February 15 2020, @03:51AM (#958407)

        My major motivation for the PiZero is to keep the power consumption down - it will be the media server for both movies and music, in music mode there's no screen to drive but it can run for 4+ hours at a shot on battery so I'd really like it to draw as little power as practical. There's also the size thing, sure I've got space for a 4, but the Zero just looks so much cooler without all those un-necessary things on it.

        I've been wandering the Kodi menus and found something that's limiting the GUI refresh rate to 10Hz while video is playing - that's not the whole story, there's still a lot more than 100ms of lag in some cases, but it does explain quite a bit of what I'm seeing.

        --
        My karma ran over your dogma.
        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Saturday February 15 2020, @04:26AM

          by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Saturday February 15 2020, @04:26AM (#958414) Journal

          I've got two Pi Zeros doing nothing, one with a nice HAT that adds a bunch of ports including 3.5mm. I might turn that one into an Internet radio player.

          Pi Zero is not expected to get an update for a long time, but maybe they will launch a new one before January 2026 when they end production of the original. You could imagine power consumption going down on the 28nm node, and possibly a move to dual or quad-core.

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    • (Score: 2) by optotronic on Saturday February 15 2020, @03:08AM

      by optotronic (4285) on Saturday February 15 2020, @03:08AM (#958400)

      By the way, has anybody tried obtaining the Raspberry Pi accelerator license keys? Do they make any noticeable performance improvements? Video playback is already smooth in the non-accelerated system, but the Kodi menu rendering is pretty slow/laggy. I don't mind the cost of the keys, but I would mind spending the time to jump all those hoops just to find no real benefit.

      I bought the license for a Pi 1 B, but it still wasn't fast enough to watch video. I did the same with a Pi 3 B and it works well. The video is recorded off the air through an HD Homerun via Windows Media Center (I know...) and watched over a LAN using Kodi in OpenElec.

      This is for video during bike rides on my trainer, which is about once a week off season only. In other words, light use. I haven't noticed Kodi menu rendering issues, but maybe I turned something off. I set this up years ago.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14 2020, @08:09PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14 2020, @08:09PM (#958282)

    maybe this is just basement computer user lore myth but wasn't mips always a bit geared towards i/o; emphasizing the computer on a network? arm on the other hand ... a capable low-power standalone calculator?

    • (Score: 1) by petecox on Saturday February 15 2020, @12:08AM (1 child)

      by petecox (3228) on Saturday February 15 2020, @12:08AM (#958353)

      MIPS powered SGI workstations at the same ARM powered Newton. But then Itanic and Jobs happened...

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15 2020, @07:02PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 15 2020, @07:02PM (#958578)

        ah so? i thought newton was jobs brain child ...
        there was big debate back then between cisc and risc. both mips and arm are risc chips. just saying that networking needs chips toooooo. so i'll wager a bet that a mips powered network router is better at its job then a arm based one?

  • (Score: 1) by petecox on Saturday February 15 2020, @12:43AM

    by petecox (3228) on Saturday February 15 2020, @12:43AM (#958361)

    The Debian wiki suggests it's a vivante GPU, also found in the librem 5. Should be just a matter of compiling the etnaviv driver?

  • (Score: 2) by Dr Spin on Saturday February 15 2020, @11:04AM

    by Dr Spin (5239) on Saturday February 15 2020, @11:04AM (#958463)

    When they add support for punched card readers and punches, will they change their name to ICL?

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