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Open Hardware - Balloon Board

By Peter Naulls. Published: 3rd Feb 2004, 17:41:28 | Permalink | Printable

Aleph1 inflates flexible StrongARM development board

Aleph1 recently announced availability of their Balloon Board, a StrongARM SA1110 power development board for embedded use.

It won't come as any surprise to learn that there are many ARM development boards about, some of which are very pricey indeed. What differentiates the Balloon from most of these, is that the design of the board is entirely open, and developers are encouraged to modify and add to it as they see fit. This is in the same vein as a previous product sold by Aleph1, the LART development board.

The Balloon is very small, measuring around 2 by 3 inches, and packs onboard a huge array of functionality apart from its 206Mhz SA1110, such as 64MB RAM, boot and filesystem flash, 3 serial ports, USB, JTAG ports to name a few with plans to add many more options such as ATA.

The board runs ARM Linux, which is preinstalled on the machine, and is becoming increasinly popular for embedded applications such as ones the board might be used for. It has already been deployed in applications such as speech synthesisers and seismic loggers.

Boards can be purchased from Aleph1 for 460UKP + tax within the EU.

In a project that's even smaller and faster (but less flexible), we also note Gumstix, a tiny PXA255 based design, which gains its name from its form factor.

Peter has an association with Aleph1 unrelated to this project


Balloon Board home
Balloon puchasing info

Previous: Trade your old kit in for an Iyonix
Next: Inaugural Qercus issue delayed


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And just think what it could do to the Acorn market if only RISC OS Ltd and Castle could stop playing silly buggers, agree on a licensable platform-neutral RISC OS 5 and license it to alternative hardware vendors for use on kit like this...

 is a RISC OS Userlproven on 4/2/04 2:50PM
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...who said it couldn't be licenced to kit like this? I'm sure it could if you could make a realistic case for it. However, I don't really see RISC OS as particularly appropriate for most applications of this kind of hardware.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 4/2/04 2:58PM
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ROL's could be, but won't run.

AIUI Castle's might run with tweaks, but Castle won't license it.

TBH, on that board, no, it's not, but it's quite suitable to Simtec's little MiniITX or ATX things, for example...

 is a RISC OS Userlproven on 4/2/04 4:23PM
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Please back up the guilt trip or at least make some justificaton of your statements, and please also complete your sentences.

Who said "Castle won't licence it". No one. As I said, if there's a good case for it, there is no problem.

I'm not sure what you mean by "its quite suitable to Simtec's [board]". There are many many ARM devices RISC OS could be potentially ported to. It doesn't mean it's a good idea, and in most cases it will be a great deal of work.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 4/2/04 4:27PM
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Guilt trip? None from here.

I haven't got the time to dig up chapter & verse but they were a number of news stories, here and elsewhere, about RO5 and the terms under which Castle got it from Pace, around the time the Iyonix came out.

In summary:

ROL has been working on RO4 since Acorn died and has failed to develop a version which doesn't require Acorn's chipset. (The so-called "RON project": RISC OS on Netbook, Psion's subnotebook machine. The latest version of which now runs WinCE.) It's also failed to produce a 32-bit version for ARMs without 26-bit mode. These 2 things together were what was required for a version of RO which would run on machines that were not enhanced Acorn clones.

All ROL has done is tweak and enhance RO, adding new capabilities for existing machines but not facilitating new hardware.

Pace, apparently, had done both, and it appears this is what Castle licensed and turned back into a desktop OS.

Why didn't ROL, the company created to carry forward RO development, do this?

Now, Castle has RO5, which is both IOC/VIDC independent and 32-bit clean.

ISTR some mention of the licensing issue when RO5 was first announced, and IIRC, the head of Castle - Jack Livingstone? - was not keen on the idea of licensing it out or selling it other than with complete Iyonix systems. I think the comments were along the lines of making back their considerable investment in developing RO5 by the margin on Iyonix systems and it not being viable to sell it standalone or with bare Iyonix motherboards.

I may, of course, have this all wrong.

But if I do, how come no other manufacturer is producing RO5 machines? Presumably this would be of keen interest to RISCstation, even if MicroDigital are now plowing their own 26-but furrow with the Omega.

For example, Simtec have a StrongARM based PCI-equipped ATX board for 199:


With RO5 and appropriate drivers, that would make a killer cheap RO5 machine.

Perhaps Castle faces the same quandary Apple does with OS X. It's perfectly possible to run OS X on unsupported hardware - I run it on a heavily-upgraded PowerMac 7300/166 myself. It runs under Mac-on-Linux on almost any PowerPC machine: AmigaOne, Pegasos, even IBM RS/6000 AIX boxes, I believe.

But Apple killed the clones because it wasn't making enough margin on the software alone.

However, if there was a standard version of OS X for non-Apple PPC hardware, even at $500, some people would buy it. Whatever the price. Just as they pay $500 extra - or way more than that - for a Mac over an Intel machine with an inferior OS.

By the same token, the Iyonix is bloody expensive for what it is: a 600MHz machine in 2004. But some people would, I'm sure, pay several hundred quid for a copy of RO5 which they could run on generic StrongARM hardware, and that way, Castle might well make back its money faster than on sales of Iyonix alone, and the whole Acorn market would benefit.

Or if Castle doesn't want to do it, it makes some kind of deal with ROL so that ROL can sell it for a figure that makes them both the same money.

 is a RISC OS Userlproven on 4/2/04 7:48PM
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Sigh. Most of the points you've made in your rant are nothing to do with what I said, and are just a hobby horse on which to air your views. Whether I agree with those views or not is another matter.

Let me recap: For the third time, there is no issue with getting RISC OS 5 onto another machine _if_ there is a valid case for it. This has nothing to do with selling bare bones Iyonixes.

If you think you have a valid case for putting RISC OS 5/Select/Whatever on another board, then please do. The fact that it hasn't been done so far reflects several things:

(a) projects we don't yet know about

(b) The considerable manpower required to do so, such as developing drivers.

(c) The potentially very small market.

(d) Hostility (perceived or otherwise) towards Castle (e.g. MD, whose machine was designed to run RISC OS 4, not 5)

(e) The very small number of people willing and able to do so. (technically and financially)

So, again, feel free, but I suspect in this case, and I'll quote David Holden here once again, you're volunteering everyone else, rather than yourself.

I'd be happy for you to prove me wrong, even by just presenting a comprehensive business case.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 4/2/04 8:36PM
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If you think that's a rant, you've not seen me on something I'm passionate about...

The core of the matter here, ISTM, is whether Castle would be prepared to license RO5 to other hardware vendors. I think I've seen stories indicating it is not so willing; you claim they are.

So that's the debate. I don't see how I could prove this 1 way or another unless I were to try to get Castle to confirm or deny this. I might do this for a story or if I were wishing to build such machines, but I am neither.

 is a RISC OS Userlproven on 4/2/04 8:59PM
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There is no debate; there are no stories of that sort, and Castle, like any sensible company will consider seriously any well presented proposition. Even if there had been statements of the effect you suggest, it would have been over a year ago, and things have a habit of changing - see ROL's stance on VirtualRiscPC.

I supposed to put a cap on this issue, I will say I _have_ talked to Castle about precisely this issue, and what you'll get from them is much what you'll get from me.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 4/2/04 9:09PM
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OK. Nicely put.

I still hope to see some more cooperation between Castle and ROL and if possible synchronisation between the 2 editions of RO5 & RO Select. Fragmentation is always bad -- and in a market as small and weak as this one, even worse.

Your comments are thus encouraging. Ta for the conversation.

 is a RISC OS Userlproven on 4/2/04 10:11PM
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For RISC OS to get new users again, u need to be able to buy a standalone ARM motherboard bundled with RISC OS & goody CDs. I don't see this happening though. Dare I say it, but RISC OS would even perform fine from hard drive booting with how fast hard discs are now.

 is a RISC OS UserClades on 12/2/04 12:32PM
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Yay, sweeping statement of the week. But you're right - a standalone motherboard probably is unlikely, because the economics of such a system don't make sense. But this is old chestnuts.

RISC OS already can load from hard drive - e.g. Select.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 12/2/04 5:51PM
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From what I notice of the Simtec board... looks very much like what Risc Station had as there Evolution(now pci project)... which appears to have completely drifted off into the abyss (site says last update was 02') And anyone who fails to notice the similarity between a RS7500 Motherboard and a Cirrus 7500FE Evaluation Board, needs there eyes tested.

The probability that RISC OS would work on the board from Simtec... very likely, but there's almost certantly a contract between Simtec and RiscStation that would stop Simtec from releasing the board as a RISC OS desktop machine.

If anyone does know (since it completely missed me) Why is RiscStation looking like a ghost ship?

 is a RISC OS UserNoMercy on 13/2/04 9:25AM
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No, it's very unlikely, for the numerous reasons already outlined above. The fact that RISC OS can be made to work on pretty much any ARM hardware given sufficient effort is neither here nor there.

It's no secret that the RS board is essentially the Cirrus 7500FE board, but that's not terribly interesting nor relevant to RISC OS.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 13/2/04 10:28AM
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I disagree.

The Simtec 7500FE board is relevant an interesting to RISC OS as it appears to be the only freely available motherboard capable of running the OS.

 is a RISC OS Usergjs on 13/2/04 12:25PM
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Unless there's a sudden urge from RISC OS users for yet another 7500FE machine (even if it's clocked faster than previous ones), you'll understand my stance.

I'm unsure of the significance of "freely available motherboard" - I'm sure Simtec aren't giving them away for free. Perhaps you meant "sold separately from a machine" - although it's not terribly hard to get a RiscPC motherboard by itself.

But the whole point of the conversation here was boards that RISC OS could be ported it, not ones that it already runs on.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 13/2/04 12:42PM
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Apologies for not making myself clearly understandable and for mistakenly assuming you were sufficiently versed in common English usage that you could tell the difference between 'freely available' and 'available for free'

However, if we can tear ourselves away from playing with words and pull ourselves back to the subject, I was trying to make the point that there are so few motherboards available to actually run RISC OS that it is foolish to casually dismiss one as "not terribly interesting or relevant".

 is a RISC OS Usergjs on 13/2/04 4:16PM
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Keep the sarcasm to yourself, thanks. Your own wording could have meant any number of things, that is why I questioned it, and I'm still not sure of the significance of "free" to this topic in any of its various meanings.

The board wasn't casually dismissed. It was dismissed on the basis of reasons I gave above, of the interestingness of 7500FE based hardware for RISC OS (i.e. not much, not counting specific embedded markets I don't know about, and which may well be better suited to Linux).

That there are so few motherboards that _can_ run RISC OS is the reason for this thread in the first place - the process of porting it to the multitude of available ARM hardware.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 13/2/04 4:33PM
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Again I must apologise - I didn't realise that sarcasm was unwelcome on drobe.

But to get back to the discussion, you originaly dismissed the Simtec 7500 board as "not terribly interesting nor relevant to RISC OS" - which is not the case.

Now you have changed the argument to dismissing it as not relevant to this thread. So, OK, as usual you're right - sorry for having the temerity to question you.

 is a RISC OS Usergjs on 13/2/04 4:58PM
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I'll take it that since you're moved the discussion to a personal level, you don't have anything further to add to this thread.

No, I haven't changed the dicussion in the slightest. It was always about potential boards that RISC OS could be ported to. It's disingenious to suggest my statement was made in any other context.

Since the 7500 board already runs RISC OS, it is not relevant. And for precisely the same reason, the RiscPC is not relevant, not the other 7500 machines, or any other RISC OS hardware you care to name. That is, unless, the 7500 board offers some killer app that none of the other hardware can, but I don't see any indication of that.

And, unless something very dramatic has changed since 2001 or so, when even then, 7500 based hardware was in question for use of running RISC OS, I can't see _any_ 7500 hardware being remotely interesting for general RISC OS use other than that alreadyin previously sold machines.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 13/2/04 6:17PM
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Apologies again. I didn't realise you were anti-sarcasm and anti-personal remarks. I thought that was your main style of posting. Don't tell me you have a problem when it's directed at you, rather than when you are aiming it at others (especially those who don't have English as their first language).

But back to the discussion. You originally said that the Simtec 7500FE board was not relevant to RISC OS. You then claim that what you meant was that it was not relevant to this thread. If you had used more precise English, we could have avoided this diversion.

 is a RISC OS Usergjs on 13/2/04 6:53PM
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Sigh. And now we are the level of cheap shots now and outright offensive now. My main style of posting is hardly "sarcastic and personal", but it's certainly true that pointing out facts is something people do take personally.

I would absolutely never make fun of the wording from someone who was not fluent in English, but we've made that abundantly clear on drobe in the past, and it has abosultely no place in this discussion.

It's a shame that you took my comment totally out of context, and made a rather ambiguous comment yourself, then too, we could have avoided this dicussion.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 13/2/04 7:04PM
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Apologies again. I must be confusing you with the Peter Naulls who last November wrote an article called "Please Stop the Madness". Oh how you laughed at the email you published.


 is a RISC OS Usergjs on 13/2/04 7:20PM
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I guess it's too much for you to make comments about that article in the appropriate place, instead of bringing them up in an unrelated thread, or indeed, read precisely what we did say about our treatment of readers with English as a second language, which incidentally was agreed with by _all_ the drobe staff.

I further expect it's too much ask for you to take your vendetta (or whatever you want to call it) against me to email (or simply shut up), since I'm quite certain drobe readers have no interest in it.

It's a shame you couldn't have stuck to the topic at hand (as I have) - I'm sure that some readers (RISC OS and otherwise) might have been genuinely interested in your comments as the manufacturer of some of the boards mentioned in the thread.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 13/2/04 7:28PM
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Peter, I would send you an email but I see little point. The last time we disagreed about something your server suddenly and conveniently started to bounce my mail. But please don't make a mountain out of a molehill and assume that a mild disagreement amounts to a vendetta - that is overdramatising things somewhat.

You drifted from the topic under discussion with your ramble about not understanding my phraseology "freely available". In my four posts since then, I have apologised to you (if only to prevent your usual response of demanding an apology from anybody who disagrees with you).

For the fifth and final time, I apologise for being so wrong ...... about everything.


 is a RISC OS Usergjs on 13/2/04 7:44PM
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The relevance... were talking about ARM boards, it's an arm board :)

 is a RISC OS UserNoMercy on 14/2/04 5:42PM
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One needs a motherboard maker to employ StrongARM tactics to bring RISC OS to new users.


 is a RISC OS UserClades on 16/2/04 9:31PM
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clades : pun noted, but what one needs to bring RISC OS to new users is marketing. That's what the RISC OS community has always lacked, and it's finally beginning to improve, with some of the big name companies making an effort to advertise their products and services.

My main concern is that as we finally have a developing market again, for the first time, really, since Acorn folded (when was that? 97?), that those with the ability to drive the market into new areas (and, hopefully, towards new users) do so. I imagine it would be all too easy to sit back at this point, especially for the folks at Castle, and I'm very pleased to see that John Ballance (for one) is making appearances at user groups around the country, and actively developing the Iyonix.

Personally, I don't much care what format this advancement takes. If there is a market that could conceivably use RISC OS to its advantage, then I don't much care what the computer it's running on looks like, as long as it can be noticed, and puts the OS in a good light.

There are a lot of people out there whose only memory of RISC OS is "Those computers we used at school" and as they haven't seen any mention of the OS since, I know of many who doggedly believe that RISC OS stopped in the early 1990s. If there are to be new customers, they need to be shown what they might have missed.


 is a RISC OS Userjymbob on 17/2/04 11:14PM
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