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Lemote YeeLoong 8101B with Loongson 2F CPU Review (mtjm.eu)
45 points by christianbryant on June 28, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 16 comments

The goal of openness is laudable, though I don't understand the software/hardware distinction that appears to be common in GNU/FSF circles; convert proprietary firmware or software into equivalent hardware, and magically it becomes uninteresting that it's proprietary and unable to be modified?

The CPU microcode example from the article is particularly nonsensical. The author seems to be arguing that CPUs without loadable microcode are more free than CPUs with loadable microcode. However, the non-loadable CPU is incapable of being modified or fixed, whereas the loadable CPU's microcode format has the potential to be reverse engineered, at the very least.

This seems to be a prevalent mindset among free software advocates; the OpenMoko project had a similar stance with firmware for a radio: http://lwn.net/Articles/460654/

Aside from all the philosophical debate, and though it's a promising start, the whole thing sounds 10 years or more behind current PC technology in terms of performance; I can't imagine actually using one of these as a daily driver.

This from a piece by RMS in The Guardian "Is Android really free software?" [0] explains his reasoning behind accepting hardware with permanently embedded firmware.

  In any case, the phone network firmware in an Android
  device is not equivalent to a circuit, because the 
  hardware allows installation of new versions and this
  is actually done. Since it is proprietary firmware, in 
  practice only the manufacturer can make new versions 
  – users can't.

  Putting these points together, we can tolerate non-free
  phone network firmware provided new versions of it won't
  be loaded, it can't take control of the main computer, 
  and it can only communicate when and as the free operating
  system chooses to let it communicate. In other words, it 
  has to be equivalent to circuitry, and that circuitry must
  not be malicious.

0. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/sep/19/android-fre...

Yes, this is a good description. It still isn't ideal, though, but it is a compromise.

It's a matter of who owns the device: me, or the company that sold it to me?

Some things are better left unchangeable if the alternative is that somebody besides the owner is in charge of them.

For example, suppose you had the choice between an old-fashioned mercury thermostat for your house, or a fancy programmable Honeywell thermostat that required an overpriced Honeywell technician to come out and make changes, as long as those changes were approved by the Honeywell corporation?

I don't know about you, but regardless of the benefits of the new programmable thermostat, I'm not renting control of my HVAC system from the Honeywell corporation. I will be the one in charge of my home, even if that means using less flexible or out of date technology. Some people feel the same about their digital home as well.

I'm not a fan of OpenMoko since the whole thing seems less intelligently thought through by FSF before they came forth with their conditional endorsement. The implementation behind attempts to make "free" software and hardware are not always right out of the gate. But I believe that the tech of the Lemote being "behind current PC technology" is acceptable if-and-only-if this netbook remains fully hackable as a device. Hardware naturally does not fall under the same conditions as software - you can't easily "make copies" of hardware and "distribute" them, but you can (as the creator) document well the hardware and how it works (interfaces with software) such that users can write useful programs to interface with it, or improve upon the hardware design by pointing out flaws revealed by the software you write - not possible if the hardware is not documented and accessible only via proprietary firmware. Also, as users it is our right to know what the software on a system is doing, and when firmware is locked and proprietary, we don't have full disclosure of the activity of the software - not every user out there can reverse engineer or hack their software to determine if their rights are being violated. Sounds 1984, I know, but these are valid concerns, I think, for more accessibility in the hardware our software runs on.

There seems to be a bit of disconnect between the multiple, fundamental flaws with the unit, and the recommendation for its use at the end. The degree of pain and suffering the author is willing to go through for a completely FOSS system is pretty incredible.

Given my workflow, I could be using a machine of that kind 95% of the time, as long as Chromium or Iceweasel perform acceptably.

I'm on Vim and Screen, and compiling. More than anything I notice a fast storage device. Plug in an SSD and that's solved.

Lack of 3D acceleration is a pain if you use something that requires it.

I do some scientific computing with OpenCL, which I have a machine dedicated to. Other than that, it would be okay for me. If only the screen resolution was good, which doesn't seem to be the case. But it's still acceptable for some uses.

Only the abysmal battery life, noisy fan and poor screen seem a very strong sacrifice over what I use in one of my laptops (it does have decent 3D acceleration but I barely ever use it). As GPU acceleration gets more prevalent in general computing this is going to be a show-stopper too...

If only someone came with a fully FOSS system-on-a-chip at the level of the newer beagleboards, I'd be willing to pay a 100% premium, easily.

I agree with you. If an updated version was available with a little better battery life and a bit more screen resolution then I would probably buy one. BTW, I suppose the unusual CPU might be some extra protection from viruses and Trojans.

As hackers, the GNU community are more than happy to solve problems, especially if the result is more freedom. We can encourage hardware manufacturers to create more hack-able architectures by putting in the time and interest to work on these products and improve them. We can not improve upon technology if it is not free for us to work on. The manufacturers benefit by documenting their architecture and allowing hackers to manipulate it; improvement by this process can only help tech in the long run.

The disconnect is the degree which the author needs to go through for a completely FOSS, not the recommendation.

Here's a compilation of 7-Zip benchmark results that includes the Loongson 2F CPU: http://www.7-cpu.com/. The Loongson 2F beats the CPU found in the SheevaPlug on compression scores but scores slower on decompression.

Other than GNU/Linux [1] Lemotes can also run OpenBSD: http://www.openbsd.org/loongson.html.

Sadly, I was unable to find out which exact model of the Lemote Yeeloong RMS currently uses. His website [2] certainly doesn't tell us and neither do the interviews.

[1] I feel that the "GNU" is mandatory here.

[2] http://stallman.org/stallman-computing.html

If I'm not mistaken, this is the laptop that Richard Stallman uses, due to its free software BIOS & firmware.

If anyone is looking to purchase one of these, I would like to point out that you can still get them straight from china by purchasing them from lemote directly, from their store at alibaba. I got mine from here last march, it was about $200.

EDIT: Unfortunately it seems like they are no longer selling lemotes at alibaba. I guess I'm glad I got mine when I did.

Tekmote still carries them: http://www.tekmote.nl/ Please refer to Freedom Included as well in case they have refurbished ones: http://freedomincluded.com/

What is up with this pseudo-MIPS ISA? My coworker had quite a few issues with the "MIPS" support of a Loongson development board. I'm looking into using a spare Asus router with a Broadcom MIPS chip as an alternative dev board.

The real MIPS IV architecture is covered by some patents. Probably the real MIPS SIMD stuff is covered, too.

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