[Freedombox-discuss] Let's decentralize: Hardware recommendations

Jonas Smedegaard dr at jones.dk
Tue Nov 3 19:31:11 UTC 2015

Hi f,

Quoting f (2015-11-03 18:53:32)
> A few weeks ago I had the honor to meet a Freedombox developer and now 
> I'm really eager to run an instance of my own.


> As I understand Freedombox runs on any machine that runs Debian.
> Nevertheless I really like the idea of using a single board computer 
> due to its low energy consumption and small form factors (i.e. as 
> recommended on the Freedombox homepage Cubietruck / Cubieboard3).
> Having never used such a device before what are your experiences in 
> terms of performance with these small machines? What do I need to be 
> aware of, especially when running multiple services? As I would like 
> to run / help to get to run the Diaspora app on Freedombox I'm 
> thinking more power (cpu/ram) is probably better than less.

On such tiny boxes you may not only wanna think about performance:

The more performing boxes may(!) also be the more energy-consuming and 
therefore easier getting hot, needing a fan, and therefore noisier (not 
ideal to leave under your bed) and potentially having a shorter 

Different kinds of ARM devices perform different with same amount of 
energy - Allwinner-based boards of same grade (e.g. Cubietruck and LIME2 
both built around Allwinner A20) roughly perform the same, whereas 
Sitara-based ones (like BeagleBone Black) is rumored to do some things 
more efficiently even if superficial specs may seem lower.

Performance may be less important on a server than on a desktop system - 
it might mean more how much stuff you can load concurrently - i.e. 

Also, beware that periferal components may be of different quality 
(remember that you are looking at dirt cheap devices - the manufacturers 
may have stuffed dirt cheap components in there to still earn a living 
even if you didn't want them to).

I strongly believe the LIME2 is currently the best option, but that's 
just my subjective balance between performance, memory, openness and 
other factors.  Here's a re-post of a summary I did few days ago for the 
Hamara Linux folks in India, of why I firmly believe they should stop 
consider Raspberry Pi 2 even though cheaper:

Raspberry Pi 2 Model B:       EUR 32.87
Raspberry Pi 2 official case: EUR 7.61

OLinuXIno LIME2:              EUR 45
OLinuXIno LIME official case: EUR  5

Difference is ~EUR 10 (INR 723), which gets you...:

 * Bootable - i.e. usable at all - with Debian
   (both require non-free blobs for OpenGL, but rPi to even boot)
 * OSHW - i.e. code to compute board design is openly licensed
   (both are DIY-friendly, but RPi only have schematics released)
 * CPU is generally cheap - price less tied to board popularity
   (both boards are cheap, but rPi rely on special Broadcom deal)
 * Faster CPU for single-threaded code
   (CPU speed is always good, but more cores only sometimes¹)
 * Properly maintained kernel - e.g. upgrades and security-fixes
   (both use recent kernel, but rPi is not in mainline git)
 * Faster ethernet with less CPU load
   (both has ethernet, but rPi is only 100Mbit and USB-based)
 * Integrated support for LiPo battery
   (both are low-voltage, but rPi lack battery charging circuit)
 * Less (~50%) power consumption while idle
   (consumption while running difficult to measure+compare)
 * Faster (theorethically 200%) memory transfer rate
   (both have 1GiB RAM, but rPi is only DDR2)

If price matters more then consider OLinuXIno LIME which has some but 
not all of above benefits but half the memory.

> Also, is the following list still up to date and which one of these 
> machines can you recommend?
> https://wiki.debian.org/FreedomBox/TargetedHardware

Yes, it is actively maintained and believed up-to-date.

That said, I cannot promise it is perfect: it's a wiki so if you spot 
some flaws then please do correct them yourself - don't worry about 
accuracy of your changes: others (including myself) monitor that page 
and will doublecheck any and all edits to it.

> Another thing that is new to me is OpenHardware. What makes open 
> hardware open? The documentation? Anything in particular that I should 
> be aware of?

Please use the more specific term "Open Source Hardware" or OSHW.

OSHW is a definition intended to ensure your ability to "fork" a piece 
of hardware - i.e. pay a different factory to produce identical or 
derived hardware.  Imagine a certain antenna vendor going bankrupt but 
you've created a business soldering their very particulr antenna onto 
spaceships - when you have the "source code" for their hardware, you can 
pay a different vendor to produce identical antennas - and even modify 
them (e.g. if some particular chip inside has gone out of fashion and 
you wanna replace with another than requires different wiring.


"Open Hardware" is a vague term (ab)used to mean several different 
things related to openness of hardware.  Some hardware vendors promote 
their boards as "open" and provide a PDF of their board design - which 
may be good enough to make an identical copy but not enough to fork (is 
it complex to rewire when you don't have the source for _computing_ the 
layout of electrical wiring.

NB! I am *not* an expert in ARM boards, and some of above is hearsay.  
Please do shout if someone reading this spots som bullshit :-)

 - Jonas

 * Jonas Smedegaard - idealist & Internet-arkitekt
 * Tlf.: +45 40843136  Website: http://dr.jones.dk/

 [x] quote me freely  [ ] ask before reusing  [ ] keep private
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