Industry, Laptops, Processors

OLPC announces Gen 1.5 hardware - VIA inside

xo-1 via c7-m ulv vx855 olpc gen 1.5 geode lx ssd ddr2
VIA lands an important design win with the not for profit foundation.

The OLPC foundation will be moving to VIA C7-M CPU's for the update to the current XO-1. It will be known as Gen 1.5 and besides the updated CPU, there's also the move to 1GiB of DDR2 SDRAM, 4GB of SSD( with an option for 8GB) and the VX855 chipset from VIA.

Processor clock ranges from 400 MHz (1.5 W) to 1GHz (5 W), with no clock speed defined for now - I'm betting around 700MHz, given the TDP of the Geode LX700 currently in use.
The Geode LX is also an in-order core with a clock of 433MHz, so processssing power won't increase considerably.
The real change comes from the "massive" increase in RAM and SSD size. The 1GB of Flash in Gen 1 XO is very small and needs to keep data always compressed by using JFFS2 filesystem, this puts a very big strain on the CPU, which slows down even further when trying to move things off and on to the RAM, since the XO-1 doesn't have any kind of swap memory and the RAM fills up pretty fast. 1GB will be more than enough for multitasking with the existing software and the 4GB of SSD will help if the developers choose to leave compression off.
The use of the VX855 chipset will allow for the fluid playback of HD content, which is supported in hardware:

Powerful Video Decoding Technology: The VIA Chromotion™ video engine delivers a Hi-Def™ visual experience, including advanced video acceleration for H.264, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, WMV9, and DivX video formats, plus a VMR-capable HD video processor

The Wifi module from Marvell will be updated to a version that will consume at lest half of what the current module does.
The casing and the original design will remain intact, where possible.
Below, the official announcement.

OLPC is excited to announce that a refresh of the XO-1 laptop is in
progress. In our continued effort to maintain a low price point, OLPC
is refreshing the hardware to take advantage of the latest component
technologies. This refresh (Gen 1.5) is separate from the Gen 2.0
project, and will continue using the same industrial design and
batteries as Gen 1. The design goal is to provide an overall update
of the system within the same ID and external appearance.

In order to maximize compatibility with existing software, this
refresh will continue with an x86 processor, using a chipset from
VIA. The memory will be increased to 1 GB of DDR2 SDRAM, and the
built-in storage will be 4 GB of NAND Flash with an option for 8 GB
(installed at manufacture).

The processor will be a VIA C7-M [1], with plans on using one whose
clock ranges from 400 MHz (1.5 W) to 1GHz (5 W). The clock may be
throttled back automatically if necessary to meet thermal constraints.

The enabling chipset is hot off the fab line, the VX855 [2]. This
single chip provides the memory interface, a 3D graphics engine, an HD
video decoder, USB, SDIO, and other system interface and management
functions, in a low power and small footprint package. One change
induced by the chipset change is a move from AC'97 to HD Audio.
This brings higher sampling rates and allows an upgrade to a stereo
external microphone (and DC sensor) input.

The CaFE chip is being retired, and replaced with an external Flash
management controller, possibly one of the low cost SSD controllers
currently being tested. The camera will now be tied directly to the
VX855's video capture port.

The network interface will be upgraded to an 88W8686, which will halve
its power dissipation and move it to an SDIO interface (further
dropping the power consumption). The current goal is to locate it
in a removable module, allowing its replacement for repair. It will
remain powered while the laptop suspends, waking the laptop if a
packet addressed to it arrives. It is likely that early production
models will not directly support 802.11s (i.e. forwarding mesh packets
while the interface is asleep), but we are working with Marvell on
several different 802.11s solutions.

Gen 1.5 will continue with the existing display, although OLPC is
working with PixelQi to try to improve the brightness and efficiency
of the screen. The DCON is retained (even though the VX855 includes
much of its functionality) as it provides the low power interface and
the timing controller functions for the existing display.

Overall, the target is to match the Gen 1 XO-1 in power consumption
while making aggressive suspend easier, and in price (while changing
to components which are more likely to decrease in price). It is
likely that both goals can be met.

We also expect the Gen 1.5 machines to ship with an OLPC 8.2.x
software release, modified to support Gen 1.5's new hardware but
otherwise unchanged from the current production software release and
compatible with our current software in the field. Gen 1.5 machines
will be deployed in environments already populated by Gen 1 machines,
so seamless software interoperability is an important goal.

Early versions of the hardware (bare board) should be available for
driver development at the end of May. A larger number of prototype
laptops (several hundred) for software development and testing will
become available around the end of August. The OLPC contributors
program will be the preferred way of requesting a Gen 1.5 machine for
testing your software for compatibility or development. We hope to
use the contributors program to ensure Gen 1.5 support for the wide
variety of application and OS solutions created for Gen 1.0.

We're excited to be finally able to make this news public. While
members of the technical team have been working on this for several
months, it was not until last week that we could with any certainty
say that we were going to refresh the hardware and what that refresh
was likely to be. We're now committed to this project and look
forward to working with you to make it happen.

---John, Ed, and the OLPC Tech team.

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