Categories
General

A Month of Lock-down and Testing

In this update:

  • Lock-down & Pre-orders Halted
  • Voltage Supervisor
  • Assembling Pocket PC
  • Software Development
  • Pocket PC Datasheets
  • New Parts and Modules
  • Final Thoughts

We just had a month of Covid-19 outbreak and two weeks of lock-down here in Shenzhen. You may have heard in the news of the difficulty in getting food deliveries, of the food shortages and of the daily testing requirement. That was our reality. As a result, we were unable to start production last month. The local government mandated that everyone who is “non-essential” work at home. In fact, we are still waiting for news from our manufacturer on whether we can visit the factory for production and, if so, how soon.

Shenzhen is made up of local districts. Each district has its own local government and rules. Our factory is located in Guangming, Shenzhen. This district is to the north of the city of Shenzhen and our office is located in south Futian. South Futian saw an extra week of lock-down compared with the rest of the city.

We did not let the lock-down completely stop development and testing. In fact, because of the additional testing, we added an additional safety feature to the device, i.e., a voltage supervisor circuit.

[Notice: In order to ensure we produce enough for everyone who has already ordered with no one left out, all pre-orders have been halted until we have shipped all existing pre-orders and have inventory in stock at our warehouses and Amazon’s warehouses. Yes, that’s right, Pocket P.C. will be available later to order on Amazon but at a higher price.]

Voltage Supervisor Circuit

Pocket P.C. has a system management controller (SMC) that regulates the power on/off functionality and also controls the Keyboard and RGB backlight. The default firmware is a modified version of QMK. [https://qmk.fm] Through extensive testing we found that if this firmware is overwritten with something custom or is flashed incorrectly, then the controller will continuously draw power from the battery. We built a Black Magic Probe into Pocket PC so that you can flash your own custom firmware if you so choose and never brick the SMC.

A simple inexpensive 3-pin IC will ensure that if the power dips below a certain level (3.08V), then it will hold the system controller into reset thus disabling it. This means that the main battery will not over-discharge which could eventually result in damage to the battery.

Assembling Pocket P.C.

If you would like to see what goes into assembling a Pocket P.C., make sure not to miss out on this Twitter thread where we show step-by-step how a Pocket P.C. is put together. [https://twitter.com/SourceParts/status/1514119405025710080]

Software Development

Akash Gajjar has been a part of our software team since 2018. In recent days, Akash was able to build an image with Ubuntu 21.04 (Hirsute Hippo) with Linux Kernel version 5.18-rc2. He has also added the Open Source GPU drivers (Lima Gallium) to this image. It is increasingly likely that this image will be the one we ship with Pocket PC.

Quake 3

As a test, he tried running Quake 3, a popular game released in the late 90s. Below is a screenshot of Quake 3 running on Pocket P.C. Some images and videos have been posted on his Twitter account and retweeted on ours. [https://twitter.com/SourceParts/status/1510250499513102345]

Lima Gallium

Here Akash demonstrates smooth 1080p video playback.
[https://twitter.com/gajjar04akash1/status/1508055050999894016]

Pocket PC Datasheets

Our goal with Popcorn Computer is to not only sell computers but to provide extensive support so that you can accomplish what you may have thought to be impossible. As such, we have begun making datasheets for our computers.

For example, you can view a datasheet for Kettlepop here:
https://bit.ly/Kettlepop_Datasheet

We are working on an extensive datasheet for Pocket P.C. Included will be a breakdown of the individual components on the main circuit board as well as a description on how they interact. We also aim to include information on how to use the various components, where to learn more about them and provide recommendations on what the best software is to work with those components. We really want everyone who wants to to have a complete understanding of their device and we are looking forward to sharing those with you.

New Parts and Modules

Due to the lack of supply of the GR8 SiP (system-in-package), we will be unable to continue making Kettlepop. A SiP is a type of IC that combines two or more silicon dies in a single IC. In the case of the GR8, an Allwinner R8 SoC is combined with 256MB of DDR3 memory.

During the past few years we have been working with our partners to create new SiPs which will act as a GR8 replacement on a new series of system-on-modules (SoMs). These SiPs will be known as POPCAM, POP32 and POP64. Over the course of the next few months, we will be introducing three new modules, Airpop, Micropop and Butterpop.

Here is a video we released a short time ago on our YouTube channel that shows a completed design for Micropop with our POP32 SiP.

Due to the long lead-times for components, we won’t have inventory of these products for at least 3 to 6 months. We will not be accepting pre-orders for these SiPs or SoMs. If you have a product and are in the early stages of development, we may have 1-2 samples to be used for testing purposes that we can provide. Please contact support@source.parts for more information.

If you would like to learn more about POP32 and POP64, the datasheets are linked below.

POP32 Datasheet: https://bit.ly/POP32_Datasheet

POP64 Datasheet: https://bit.ly/POP64

Final Thoughts

As it is critical that we ship as soon as possible, last week, we on-boarded an independent design house (IDH) to do a complete top to bottom review of Pocket PC. We expect a report by the end of this week. This IDH specializes in designing products with Allwinner processors and is the best resource to know if we got everything right in order to prevent any further delay.

After speaking with our factory, they have provided us with a schedule that will enable us to start production towards the end of May and ship in early June.

The lock-down has caused ripple effects in the supply chain. Our factory’s customers have increased their order quantities so that they can have more inventory on hand in case of another outbreak that causes further delays.

Due to mandatory city-wide testing every 48 hours, we foresee that any future outbreak will be quickly controlled and will not lead to a city-wide lock-down as we saw in March.

Lastly, a great “thank you” to all our loyal supporters and followers for hanging in there with us during the many difficulties we have encountered and have overcome. We will report on the latest developments as soon as they happen. We can’t wait to get a Pocket PC in your hands.

Categories
General

March 2022 Update

February was a month of unexpected circumstances. We apologize that we were unable to get an update out to you earlier as promised.

Shortly after the Chinese New Year holiday, we were told by our landlord that they wanted our office space back by the 20th. Once we secured a new space nearby, we had to move everything within a few days’ time. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we were able to move into a much bigger space before a large outbreak began in Shenzhen, where our office is located. The latest outbreak has led to a strong response in terms of daily testing and lockdowns throughout the city. This is good news for the health and safety of our team in Shenzhen but bad news in terms of being able to be in person in the factory during manufacturing. In Shenzhen, we were fortunate to have had very few cases over the past year and any outbreaks that did occur were quickly isolated and controlled. This outbreak, however, is different. Nevertheless, we are resilient and are continuing to make progress on finalizing production.

The Unexpected Return of the Virus: Within a short period of time after cases suddenly began to rise, we noticed that more apartment complexes were undergoing mandatory lockdown. We started to stock up early on essentials including food and water. One day, the two nearby food markets we frequent were fully stocked in the morning and empty in the afternoon. The next day both of the communities where each market is located were placed under a lockdown. This meant that one could enter the community but not leave. We tried ordering food via a delivery service that normally arrives within 30 minutes but instead were notified that the deliveries would arrive within 48 hours. Almost everything was unavailable.

Recently, the food delivery service has returned to semi-normal delivery times but the stores still have some shortages. Many areas are still under lockdown but we are hopeful the situation will resolve within the next few weeks. We have not let this situation lead to wasted time in terms of gearing up for production. We have been thoroughly reviewing the design for imperfections and preparing to mainline everything necessary so you can build a custom Linux kernel and OS if you so choose without having to resort to a custom branch. We have also been in constant communication with our manufacturing partners regarding their visitation policy during this outbreak and about how assembly will take place if our team cannot physically be in the factory.

We have discussed with our manufacturer about doing final assembly in batches of fifty (50). We will make the final decision within the next two weeks. We will send an update when the decision is finalized. If the decision is made to do batch assembly because we are unable to visit the factory then everyone will receive a batch number in a separate email. We are hoping it will not resort to that and we are carefully monitoring the situation daily.

We have a lot of exciting new developments that we can’t wait to share with you. However, getting Pocket P.C. in your hands is our top priority therefore those new developments unfortunately will have to wait until another time. Make sure to keep an eye on our Twitter feed for a thread on how we assemble a Pocket P.C. You may have missed it if you are not following our Discord.

For anyone who has purchased Original Popcorn, you will receive an email soon regarding a tracking number for the pre-production units and an estimate on shipping of the production units. We are awaiting an estimate on the lead-time for some of the critical components so that we can start production of those.

Thank you for your continued patience.

Categories
General

Safety, JumpDrive and New Testing Facility

Happy belated New Year everyone!

My apologies for the late update this month. Shenzhen, China, where I am located and where our manufacturing is located, experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this month. We stocked up on goods and supplies in the event of a city-wide lockdown as has been done recently in other cities in China after only a few cases have been detected. We have been through multiple rounds of city-wide testing the past few weeks. Thankfully, the team is safe and have been communicating with our suppliers while at home to see how this will affect our timeline. Some of our manufacturers have informed us that they will be shutting down earlier than usual for the Chinese New Year holiday. Most of China takes a holiday from January 25th to around February 11th. Our team will continue to work during this time to minimize the down time.

We are planning on including a USB wall charger and USB 3.1 USB-C to USB-C cable with Pocket P.C. in the box. In addition, we will be including a USB-C to USB-A adapter and a passive USB-C to 3.5mm Audio Jack. Our supplier will not be able to start production of our cables and accessories until after the holiday is over.

According to all our manufacturers, their plan is to start mass production of the PCBs after the Chinese New Year and begin shipping in late March. The reason for this is outlined below in our discussion of the voltage regulator heat issue.

Pocket P.C. Demo

In December, we created a short demo of us trying a few commands on Pocket P.C. and running a GPU benchmark test. Unfortunately, it may be hard to see the screen because we did not have a macro lens and the screen has a high resolution.

FCC Testing Results

Good news! We passed our FCC and CE Emissions and Conduction test on Christmas Eve. We had one small hiccup with the USB charger we were using as it was causing us to fail emissions. Luckily, we had another charger on hand which allowed us to be under the emissions limit. The original charger was labeled as FCC and CE compliant but after we checked with the manufacturer again and after showing them the test results, they told us it was in fact not compliant. They said we would instead have to purchase their more expensive charger. We will not be sourcing chargers from them again. The charger we had on hand was supplied by a middleman, and while it passed EMI testing, we would rather purchase directly from the manufacturer so that we can inspect the production and the facilities where they are made.

You can find our certification reports on our wiki here:
https://wiki.popcorncomputer.com/wiki/File:RE-20211224_Source_Parts_Inc.pdf
https://wiki.popcorncomputer.com/wiki/File:CE-20211224_Source_Parts_Inc.pdf

Thankfully, our certification and testing company recommended a few USB wall charger suppliers that have gone through the certification process at their facility.

Earlier this month, we visited a few of those suppliers who vary from small shops to big factories. We first visited a small shop that built nothing but a few different models of chargers. We were concerned during the factory tour for the welfare of some of the workers. At one stage, there was an ultrasonic welding machine that emits a high frequency noise while it is sealing the two charger plastic halves. It hurt our ears just standing there for a few moments and we realized that the worker who was using the machine all day was not wearing ear protection. We told the supplier that this was creating an unhealthy condition for the worker. We will not be sourcing chargers from that supplier.

The next USB charger company we visited was a much larger enterprise. They prided themselves on being a part of the “Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad” program and selling MFi cables and accessories. They had a wall of certifications including some from Electrical Testing Labs (ETL) and even a few from the certification testing company we used for FCC and CE EMI tests. We were happy to see the operators of the ultrasonic welding machine wearing ear protection. We inspected the testing equipment and found that they tested every single cable they made, one-by-one by hand.

We left that factory satisfied that we found the right supplier which has the production capacity to meet our needs while ensuring the safety and welfare of their workers.

Voltage Regulator Heat Issue

We received reports from Christopher Morgan that our Original Popcorn was getting hot to the touch under certain circumstances. The step-down voltage regulator was found to be the culprit. It would get hot while under load and operating with a 5V input. We used the same regulator circuit on Pocket P.C. and noticed under the same conditions the section behind the LCD screen where the voltage regulator is would also get hot. This could lead to the LCD screen being damaged in that section over time.

Further, in dead battery conditions where the device is only powered by a 5V 3A charger, Pocket P.C. would brownout and shut off when it came to the point in the boot process where it would turn on the backlight. This meant that the voltage would drop below the under-voltage lockout (UVLO) setting in the Power Management Unit under higher loads thus turning off.

We spoke to our DFM engineer and he suggested that instead of a “step-down” regulator, known as a buck regulator, that we replace it with a regulator that can “step-up” and “step-down” the voltage, known as a buck/boost regulator. This gives us the advantage that even if the charger or cable we are using can not supply the appropriate voltage under load but can still provide the current necessary, then Pocket P.C. will not shut off if the battery is not attached or dead.

We wanted to be sure that Pocket P.C. will 1) not get unnecessarily hot and 2) will work when no battery is attached. We’ve heard stories of iPads expanding in walls in homes when used as a home control interface and always plugged into power. We want Pocket P.C. to be able to be used without a battery if the user is using it in an application where it is constantly powered-on and plugged-in or when the battery has no power.

The safety of the device we build and the safety of the user (you) is our highest priority.

JumpDrive

Great work from Martijn getting JumpDrive working on Pocket P.C.

This is exciting news because JumpDrive allows you to boot into a simple environment where you can connect your Pocket P.C. to your computer and flash an OS image directly to the eMMC storage memory.

You can see Martijn’s patch that makes this work on GitHub:
https://github.com/dreemurrs-embedded/Jumpdrive/commit/8f296e08a4e719271331b9596ec7b3ceff7a3990

Shipping Timeline

Despite the pandemic and hardware and software issues, which are expected in creating and producing a new product, with the tireless efforts of our team and help and advice from members of our loyal community, we are nearing production of Pocket P.C.

We are as eager as you are to get Pocket P.C. into your hands.

Our current estimate for commencing final production is in early March. Barring any further delays or complications, we now estimate that we will be able to ship in late March.

Categories
General

A first look at Pocket P.C., Booting PostmarketOS, Arch Linux and more

Hello again and welcome to another update!

After a shipping delay earlier in November caused by a DHL slow down due to the high volume of packages in their warehouses, reviewers and developers are now finally receiving their units.

We were planning to get this update out on December 1st but were waiting to hear back from the wireless certification testing house. We are still waiting for their results so instead of delaying this update any further, we will send another update later this month when the results arrive.

Initial Reviews

Chris Fisher over at Linux Unplugged received a prototype unit recently.

He talked a bit about it during the beginning of the latest Linux Unplugged episode.

https://linuxunplugged.com/434

Chris is going to dive deeper into reviewing Pocket P.C. next week.

A few other people have received review units and are waiting for more software images to be established so they can put the units through their paces.

Developers

Martijn Braam, a core developer of PostMarketOS, in less than 24 hours after receiving his unit was able to get PostMarketOS booting on Pocket P.C.

Martijn wrote a first look article on Pocket P.C. for Tuxphones.

https://tuxphones.com/popcorn-computer-pocket-pc-linux-pda-first-look/

IdleHax on Discord was able to get Arch Linux booting on the unit.

Wiki

We have set up a Wiki so that we can document development and production progress, hardware revisions, various software quirks and a list of Linux distributions that work on our hardware. We are working on adding content daily.

https://wiki.popcorncomputer.com

Mass Production of Pocket P.C.

With the mold modified last month, we will start mass production of the plastics this month. We will be on site to take video of the first few plastics to be produced and inspect them. Expect to see that in an upcoming update later this month.

The last step before we start Mass Production is Production Validation Test (PVT). In order to kick off PVT, we need to get feedback on EMI testing and FCC certification from the wireless certification house, which as mentioned earlier, has still not arrived. It has taken longer than expected because we had to ship an SD card to Taiwan where the testing house is located. Based on feedback from them, they wanted to run a certain test that was not available on the SD card we originally sent them with the test unit. We expect the results shortly according to our communications with them.

We are making all efforts to ensure that all aspects of the project beside the PCBA, such as packaging, test fixtures and plastics, are in place so that when the PCBAs are ready they can be assembled and we can ship out the units to you as quickly as possible.

We wish you all a happy and safe holiday season and we will update you again shortly as we approach completion of our long journey.

Categories
General

Pocket P.C. Certifications and Original Popcorn Update

Welcome back to another Popcorn Computer update!

We know a lot of you have been patiently waiting for an update. We have been extremely busy working on the final development and production of the units and in navigating our way through the constantly-changing Shenzhen electronics environment.

First, we would like to clarify any confusion that may have arisen from our previous email. The units we started shipping at the beginning of October are going to software developers who are working on porting new operating systems to Pocket P.C. and working on the firmware.

PVT Fixes

Here’s what we learned from our last production run.

The footprint for the chokes used on the high-speed DSI signals lines had a fault in the pinout. DSI stands for Display Serial Interface which is where all the LCD data is transferred over from the SoC to the Display Controller IC.

This meant, we could not receive an FCC ID and certification using the PCBAs from this production run. The PCB used for certification has to be “electrically equivalent” and since we are making some changes to the routing, this could affect emissions in unexpected ways.

This has been corrected in the design.

FCC EMI Testing

In the meantime, we have been contacting multiple testing houses to inquire about quick turnaround times. Thanks again to our antenna vendor, Unictron, who suggested a few testing houses which could accommodate our needs. Once again, it comes down to who you know and being on the ground in Shenzhen and making face to face contact (with masks on!).

We are in the process of doing a preliminary EMI test to make sure that there are no major issues with the PCB that would force us to have to correct and to do another production run. This update is being sent later than anticipated because we had to create the necessary software and written materials to allow for this testing.

We will have the results within the next two weeks.

Mold Change

In the last production run, we moved the GPS module from the top of the PCB to the bottom. This was done to provide greater clearance for the LoRa antenna. Because of this, we need to modify the mold. Luckily, the mold change is straightforward and should be completed within 2-3 weeks. Once completed and verified, we can start mass production of the plastic enclosures.

Original Popcorn

Since we conceived of an improved derivative of C.H.I.P, which we called Original Popcorn in 2018, we have gone through four revisions. The last two were planned to be the production units since we believed that we had corrected all the issues found in the earlier versions.

USB Type-C Power delivery is really complicated. This is doubly so when you don’t select the right Power Delivery IC. We initially chose a Cypress component which turned out to be a PSoC4 internally instead of a custom ASIC. This meant it required a number of external support components. Further, Cypress would not provide any SDK or firmware source for us to modify and instead insisted on providing a firmware blob. We then chose an IC from a Chinese vendor which used a tool written in Visual Basic 6 to program the flash in the IC. Again, we were not allowed to view the source code and any development would take months to implement. Finally, we looked at and chose a Texas Instruments TPS65988 Power Delivery IC which has good support software that allows us to customize the settings of the device. A customized version of this IC is used in the latest Apple Macbooks.

All of this work on the Original Popcorn was not in vain. The power circuit we used on Original Popcorn is the same circuit we used on Pocket P.C. Along the way we learned which are the best manufacturers to use, where to purchase quality parts at low prices and we developed a process for verifying a design before ordering the PCBs.

For those who have preordered an Original Popcorn, some of whom have waited a very long time, we are offering a free pre-production unit. We have already begun shipping them out this month to those who said they would like one and will continue shipping them out within the next few weeks.

There are three errata with the pre-production units.

  1. We originally intended to use the GPIO on the TPS65988 Power Delivery IC for the 8 “XIO” GPIO pins on the pin header. We wanted to get rid of the IO Port Extender used on C.H.I.P. as it could not source power as well as it could sink. Unfortunately, when it came time to write the Linux driver for the GPIO we learned of significant limitations to the ability of the GPIOs in how it handles inputs. To resolve this issue, we added a more advanced port extender which is controlled over I2C which also doubles as an 8-bit ADC meaning all 8 “XIO” pins can read analog voltages. This is a feature that C.H.I.P. lacked.
  2. The other issue with the pre-production units is that we missed routing a trace for the enable pin on the power switch for the USB ports. (A hyphen instead of an underscore mixup caused the net to be left unconnected.) This power switch allows Original Popcorn to supply power to the USB ports when powered off the battery or through the CHG-IN pin on the pin header. We corrected this.
  3. The third issue is that we connected an active-low reset signal for the TPS65988 PD IC to a pin on the R8 CPU that is pulled-up on boot. This meant that if Original Popcorn is powered over the USB then it will infinitely reset. We solved this problem by putting a 0R pull-down resistor on this signal in the pre-production units. We have since moved this reset signal to another pin on the R8 CPU without the pull-up.

We are gearing up for production of the final version of Original Popcorn this month. We are planning to share video on our Youtube channel of the manufacturing and testing process. We will send another update when that video is ready.

Final Thoughts

With working units shipped to developers and all remaining issues identified, all that remains to be done is the corrections to those issues and obtaining certifications which are already in motion.

As more developers receive their units this month, we will share their developments with you. We plan on showing you different graphical environments running on Pocket P.C. in a separate video on our Youtube channel soon.

We are keeping a close eye on shipping logistics and the supply chain. We have had a shipment of developer units delayed because DHL postponed all package pickups due to the high-volume of packages in their warehouses. We are in discussions with multiple third-party logistics companies and will be making the decision soon on whether to ship packages individually from Shenzhen or Hong Kong or send bulk shipments to warehouses in Europe and the United States and ship from there.

Finally, while we try to send an update out each month the timing can vary depending on various information we are waiting to receive from manufacturers or suppliers. To ensure regular updates, we will adhere to sending an update on the first of every month. As we receive more information throughout the month, we will send a follow-up update. We hope this will allow you to have the latest information on a regular basis.

We can’t wait to get Pocket P.C. in your hands. Please be assured that we are working everyday to make that happen as soon as possible. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reply to this email and we will try our best to get back to you as quickly as possible.

Categories
General

Developer Units are Shipping!

Many of you have been asking for an update and we have been working very hard on completing the final development of the Pocket P.C., so here it is:

After nearly a month of intensive work on the display, we reached out to Icenowy who found an overflow bug in the kernel driver for the Allwinner DSI interface. [see the fix here]

The display looks great:

We’re in the final stretch: The Pocket P.C. is almost fully tested!

We just need to verify HDMI with an adapter and Display Port.  In the schematic, we used the pinout of an HDMI A type connector instead of a HDMI C type connector.  This has been corrected.

We will also be replacing the U-blox CAM-M8Q GPS/GNSS module with a SIMCom SIM33ELA GPS/GNSS module. The U-blox component has been banned from import into China. As a result of the recent ban, this component has gone from $15/unit to $80+/unit. The SIMCom module is a drop-in pin-compatible replacement. The only difference is that it does not support the Chinese Beidou Navigation Satellite System which the U-blox module did.

Finalizing the software for the Pocket P.C. is ongoing and progressing rapidly.

We know everyone can’t wait to receive their Pocket P.C., which is why we have been working nonstop to get it perfected and ready to put into your hands.

People in our Discord chat state that they will use it just to SSH into some headless Raspberry Pis or tinker around with it or just use it as a portable terminal.  Whatever your plans for it, we think you will agree it was well worth the wait and your ongoing support of our efforts.

Lastly, great news!  We are now shipping developer units.

Remember, there is still time to upgrade to the LoRa version for $99.  Please email us to take advantage of this great offer.

Thanks again for your support and encouragement.  It means a great deal to us to have you be a part of our community.

Categories
General

🔁 Repeatability of Quality is Essential

Important Notice for Early Supporters:

We are still in the process of sending out invoices. If you have not received one yet and placed an order in November or December of 2019, do not worry, the process is half automated and half manual. This was intended so that we could review each shipping invoice before sending them out to ensure they are correct.

Here’s the update in brief:

  • PCB fabrication company not meeting our standards
  • Are you or do you know a Windows Driver Developer?
  • What’s next?

Welcome to the latest update in which we will take you along on our journey here in Shenzhen as we continue to move forward in completing and manufacturing the long-awaited Pocket P.C. Thanks as always for your continued support and encouragement!

We know you have been anxious to get the latest information on the status of the development and completion of Pocket P.C. This has been a challenging time in the electronics industry with significant supply chain and shipping problems. By being here in China, we have been able to face these issues directly and find ways to continue toward production despite the delays, component price increases and scarcity and other hurdles.

Pocket P.C. Production Update:

We were expecting to produce the final production samples two weeks ago. When our mass production (M.P.) factory went to perform a final inventory check, they found that 18 resistor and capacitor reels were missing. (Some of those reels cost over $200.00 USD each.) The factory we used in February did not return these reels after we had the last batch produced.

Sourcing some of these parts took some extra time because they were for tuning the WiFi antenna and of an extremely high tolerance. Our usual vendors did not have these components but, fortunately, we found the exact ones we need.

Our M.P. factory received the replacement parts we sent and prepared for production by doing one final quality check. In doing so, they found discrepancies in the PCB solder mask between the previous PCBs and these new ones. Through experience we learned that just because a factory did good work in the past does not mean they will continue to produce at that level. We, however, are always vigilant when it comes to quality control.

In the following pictures, you can see some of the discrepancies between the latest PCB on the right and the PCB previously produced by the same factory in February on the left.

At first, the factory which produced the PCBs stated that they would rework the PCBs by applying a new solder mask over the existing one. This was unacceptable to us and we told them they had to produce new PCBs for us at no additional charge. That’s where the trouble began.

They sent us “revised” manufacturing files to review before producing the new PCBs but the files were almost the identical to the previous version. They would have produced new boards with the same problems again! Frustrated, we demanded a refund and, of course, will never use them again.

We are now working with our main manufacturer which promises to meet our quality demands and work very quickly to produce our final samples. The new lead time on new PCB fabrication is 3 weeks from now with assembly to start promptly after completion.

Are you or do you know a Windows Driver Developer?

You can’t have great hardware without great software and we sure have some amazing software to share with you that we have been developing for the past few years. We are ready to open up access to beta testers but there is one thing holding us back. We need a signed Windows WinUSB driver. If you have been through the process of creating a signed driver package and submitting it to Microsoft for inclusion into their driver database, we would love to hear from you. Please reply to this email if you can provide any guidance or advice on creating driver packages or if you are or know of someone who is a software development consultant who can create a signed Windows driver. Thanks!

What’s next?

The events of the past few weeks added a month to our production timeline. Had the quality of the PCB fabricator not been poor and had they returned all our components then we would have production samples in our hands right now.

We really appreciate your patience while we go through the final stages of product development. We can’t wait to ship Pocket P.C. to you and get it in your hands. We really look forward to seeing and hearing about what you do with yours!

Categories
General

Important Notices and Custom Antenna Update

Important Notice for our Early Supporters: 

For anyone who ordered from our crowdfunding campaign early-on in November and December of 2019, we will soon be sending you an invoice for the shipping fee. 

When we started the crowdfunding campaign we used Stripe as our payment processor. Stripe did not allow us to charge shipping according to your location and we would have had to set a flat rate that would be higher than what it should have been for most countries. At the time of check out we had a notice that shipping would be charged at a later time. Now that we are getting close to shipping that time has come. When you receive the invoice make sure to take special note of your shipping address to make sure it is up to date. If not, please let us know by emailing us at support@source.parts

Important Notice for those who purchased the LoRa version of Pocket P.C.: 

Pocket P.C. with LoRa will ship a few weeks to a month after we start shipping the Wi-Fi / BT only version of Pocket P.C. 

Despite pushing our antenna vendor to shorten the lead-time for our custom antennas, they responded that they have limited factory capacity at this time due to a high demand for their products. We will keep those who purchased the LoRa version updated on the new timeline as soon as we are able to reschedule production with our factories based on this new information. See below for more information about the custom antennas.

We will be assembling the PCBs for all the units at the same time but will store the PCBAs for the LoRa version in our factories climate controlled warehouse until we receive the new antennas.

Community Update:

We have set up a Discord community for more real-time discussions and eventually AMAs with the team.

Everyone is welcome to join, ask questions and chat with other community members.

We only ask that you please avoid sending our team members DMs to ask about production or shipping status as our team has limited bandwidth to respond to these in the upcoming few weeks while we gear up for mass production.

Also, if anyone is having trouble with logging into popcorncomputer.com or posting to this forum, you may message @sourceparts on Discord or email support@source.parts and we will get that sorted out for you.

Here’s the link to join our Discord: https://discord.com/invite/3X7ZZufTvu

New antenna provides increased efficiency for 868Mhz and 915MHz frequency bands:

This update will review how we obtained the best range for Pocket P.C.’s radios and how efficient the antennas are. To provide a quick definition: Antenna Efficiency is the ratio of power radiated by the antenna to the power supplied to the antenna. An ideal antenna has 100% antenna efficiency, i.e., it transmits all the power fed to it.  But in the real world, a good antenna radiates 40 to 60% of power supplied to it.

In early May, we spoke to our antenna partner, Unictron, which makes all the antennas for Pocket P.C.’s radios.  We requested that they improve on the antenna they had initially developed for us.  That is the antenna we showed in our last update. We were getting an efficiency around 20% in the 868MHz and 915MHz bands according to test reports.  While this was an improvement over our original chip antenna we were using in earlier versions of Pocket P.C., 20% did not meet our expectations for the 868MHz – 920MHz bands.

Unictron returned back to the drawing board and requested two weeks at the beginning of May to do further research and development. We had initially planned to order the latest DVT PCBs around that time and were told that the position of the pogo-pins connecting the antenna to the PCB would not be moved but to be safe we waited until they got back to us until we proceeded. We were glad we waited because after their response about the latest antenna they developed, they said that this antenna would only require one pogo-pin and the position had changed slightly.  If we had gone ahead with the PCB fabrication and assembly before waiting for the test results we would have had to order another batch of PCBs and have them assembled. This would have delayed mass production even further.

And the results are in:

Antenna for 868MHz

41.9% at 868MHz

Antenna for 915MHz

42.2% at 915MHz

Unictron engineers are now able to achieve over 40% for both 898MHz and 915MHz frequencies with the newly re-engineered antenna.

Wi-Fi Antenna Tests

While Unictron was developing the new LoRa antennas, we asked them to test the efficiency of our Wi-Fi antenna. The results show an efficiency of over 40% for all Wi-Fi channels. We were pleased with the result. 

Additional Information:

In the following image you can see the antenna location in Pocket P.C. as well as an image of the prototype antenna that was used to obtain the information presented above and below. The antenna that will be in all production LoRA Pocket P.C.s will look like this:

We can learn a lot about how an antenna will perform from its patterns. The following are 3D gain patterns of the separate 898MHz and 915MHz antennas. If you want to learn more about these patterns and how they are used, there is a good document that goes into more detail by Cisco Systems and can be found here: https://www.industrialnetworking.com/pdf/Antenna-Patterns.pdf

To obtain these 3D Gain patterns, the following test setup was used in the Lab:

To obtain the efficiency of the antenna, the following test equipment was used in the Lab:

Final Thoughts

Overall, we hope that the real-world benefits for those who purchased the LoRa version of Pocket P.C. of waiting for an improved antenna design will be realizable in a longer effective range of the LoRa radio. For those who purchased the Wi-Fi / Bluetooth only version, the extra time spent this past May allowed Unictron to spend more time tuning and testing the antenna. Without this extra time, we would not have been able to achieve the efficiency that we received as a result of this test. 

This week our manufacturer will be producing the last DVT that rolls in everything we learned as a result of the previous two DVT revisions. Assuming everything goes as planned, we should be able to show a completed unit in the next week or so. Our software developers have already developed a significant part of the LCD drivers and as soon as they receive the sample units, they should be able to demonstrate Pocket P.C. booting Debian into a desktop environment on the LCD.


    I apologize for the longer than expected time between updates this past month.  You can expect more frequent updates this month and if you haven’t already, feel free to join us on Discord or in our community at https://community.popcorncomputer.com.  I greatly appreciate everyone who is patiently waiting for their Pocket P.C. and have shared their words of encouragement and support throughout the entire process. Thank you.

Categories
General

Making a Custom Pocket P.C. LoRa Antenna

Welcome to another update regarding Pocket P.C.’s development and production plan. We want to thank everyone for your patience and understanding. As you will read below, we have recently overcome a major hurdle regarding selecting and designing the right LoRa antenna.

There has been much testing of each and every component of the Pocket P.C. PCB and there have been many communications and in-person meetings with vendors to get support and clarification on product features.

This past month, we have also made some minor corrections to the PCB design and schematic. Once we have placed the order for the new sample PCBs, we will open source the latest design on GitHub.

The LoRa module communicates

We were able to successfully test the LoRa capabilities of Pocket P.C. w/ LoRa. Our tests showed that we were able to send data through multiple concrete walls in our office and from a 16-story window to the ground floor.

We have selected the RAK4200 LoRa module from RAKWireless. This module has the same specifications as the Murata module we originally selected however RAKWireless provides us with much better technical support and customer service that is invaluable during development and afterwards when you, the user, has questions about the module that we can’t answer.

The RAK4200 has a robust AT command set that allows you to easily join a LoRaWAN network or communicate peer-to-peer. You can read more about this module on their documentation page here: https://docs.rakwireless.com/Product-Categories/WisDuo/RAK4200-Module/Overview/

By using the built-in Black Magic Probe, we were able to download the latest firmware available on their website and update the RAK4200 module immediately without any special tools besides the GDB software which will come pre-installed.

LoRa Antenna Efficiency Issues

Despite our initial successes with the LoRa module we found that during initial RF lab testing of the performance of the antenna the efficiency of the FR4 chip antenna that we selected was very low. This was determined to be due to the close proximity of the antenna to the LCD, which has a metal backing, and the structure of the enclosure itself. To resolve this issue a different type of antenna had to be selected and tested. We consulted with a few expert antenna engineers and performed software simulations with special software and found similar results to what we found in RF lab testing.

Fortunately, our antenna vendor proceeded to create a custom antenna for our device from scratch.

Here you can see that the antenna vendor’s engineers used copper foil to prototype various antenna designs. The antenna prototype pictured above provided the best efficiency.

After prototyping the antenna with copper foil, we had some samples made. On the left of the above photo is the sticker side of the sample antenna where you can see the antenna pattern and on the right is the connection side where there is an exposed copper area that connects to pogo-pins soldered on the PCB.

In order to test the new antenna our antenna vendor made some modifications to our existing PCB. Pictured above are the two pogo-pins that connect the main PCB to the antenna. One is the RF feed signal and the other one is ground. To design and develop a new antenna we removed the original antenna and scraped away the antenna pads and ground copper. We then drilled holes in the PCB so that the pogo-pins can be mounted. The RF feed pogo pin was then connected to the LoRa module via a coaxial cable with an ipex connector. In the final PCB, we will use the RF pad on the module and will not use a coaxial cable which should improve performance.

External LoRa connectors?

We’ve received some requests for the ability to connect an external LoRa antenna to Pocket P.C. w/ LoRa. We are evaluating how we can offer that capability. This would require a PCB mounted antenna and a hole in the case. We won’t be able to test the feasibility of an external antenna connector until after we enter mass production of the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth only version and the LoRa version with an internal antenna for those that opt for it.

Software

  • We recently were able to get Ubuntu 18.04 booting on Pocket P.C.
  • The display backlight driver has recently been tested to work properly. (See below)
  • The touch driver has been tested but will require some more work to properly calibrate and improve responsiveness.
  • The display video driver development is put on hold until the next version of the PCB is assembled. It is estimated that it will require an additional 5-10 days to complete and work will resume once the new units are in our software developers hands.

PCB Updates

We added another communication bus (I2C) to the system controller from the main SoC so that it can have more insight into the operation of the entire system while performing its role as the keyboard controller over USB.

Shipping Update

As both versions of Pocket P.C., one with LoRa and one without both use the same PCB, the above issue with the antenna led to delays for both versions. As we have a clear path forward now, we will be ordering the next round of PCBs for another quick verification production run to prove the changes we made in the latest revision. This should take two additional weeks. With the most recent changes verified then we can start P.V.T. with mass production to follow soon after. Our current target for when we will be shipping is in June. We will be shipping the version without LoRa first to allow for any extra time that may be required for certifying the radios in the LoRa version.

Final Thoughts

With major development work being done, we will be focusing our efforts on the software offerings that will be available at launch. We will have a limited number of Pocket P.C. available in the next production batch that can be used for bring-up of new distributions. If anyone is interested in porting a Linux distribution that they are familiar with to Pocket P.C. please contact us. Also, please contact us if you are interested in using Pocket P.C. in a business or industrial setting, we can offer pre-production units for a limited-time product evaluation.

If anyone has contacted us and has not received a response, we apologize for the delay. We have been heavily involved in solving the remaining design issues so we can get Pocket P.C. into production. Please feel free to follow-up on your previous email to receive a quicker response.

Thank you everyone again for your patience and for being early supporters of Pocket P.C. We are excited to get your Pocket P.C. in your hands and see what you do with it.

Categories
General

Pocket P.C. Urgent Update Follow-up

You may have missed our previous email regarding the significant increase in the prices of components, plastics and packaging. If you did, you may miss the deadline for pre-ordering a Pocket P.C. before the prices increase. Not to worry! Because we did not have the opportunity to send a reminder update earlier, we are extending the deadline to order at the lower price until Sunday night 11:59 PM EST (UTC-5), March 21st, 2021.

If you want to read the original update, check out our previous blog post here:

https://blog.popcorncomputer.com/2021/03/14/pocket-p-c-urgent-update/

Thank you for your continued support.