Welcome to Rhombus Tech, a CIC company.

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Rhombus Tech has been established to serve Free Software Developers, entrepreneurs, enthusiasts and Engineers with access to affordable, modern and importantly GPL-compliant hardware. The parent company, QiMod Technology Ltd, has established relations primarily with PRC factories and SoC fabless semiconductor companies that are keen to honour and respect the GPL and to foster relations with Free Software Developers, with the aim of creating mass-volume desirable and affordable Computing Appliances that are also suitable for Educational and R&D purposes.

The product family is designed to be open and accessible at all levels, including for Educational purposes, R&D, Engineering and mass-volume appliances, yet the designs are modular enough to fit a diverse range of needs. This approach can only be achieved thanks to the maturing of the emergent and exciting ARM Embedded CPU market, which has more tightly integrated and much lower power CPUs than any x86 product.

With QiMod and Rhombus Tech acting as a catalyst and a bridge between Free Software Developers on the one hand, Factories with low-cost fabrication and design skills but no Software Expertise on the other, the result is a synergy that benefits all parties. Free Software Developers gain the benefits of having access to low-cost mass-produced hardware which is GPL-compliant even before it hits the shelves; China-based factories gain the benefits of having access to the technical programming resources of Free Software Developers and are no longer dependent on China-based GPL-violating ODMs, and End-users gain the benefit of reduced cost on flexible products with a longer useful (continuously upgradeable) lifespan.

More information is available in the form of an FAQ.

What products are in the pipeline?

Products are divided into two parts: EOMA68 form factor Computer-on-Module (COM) CPU cards and I/O Boards.

The EOMA68 CPU cards are similar in appearance and shape to the legacy PCMCIA IO cards, but this is where the similarity ends. The EOMA68 cards are electrically very different and incompatible with PCMCIA. The EOMA68 CPU cards have the CPU, GPU, system RAM, Flash drive, and IO controllers such as SATA, USB, Ethernet, SPI, HDMI, LCD, etc. all in a small self contained metal shelled card that is pluggable into all types of products. This gives the OEM a complete ready-to-go CPU card that is often the most difficult part of the design process, and allows the OEM to focus its efforts on the more simple aspects of product design such as IO connectors, LCD, touchscreen, battery and the industrial design of the end products enclosure. The EOMA68 cpu cards are also swappable between various products with different IO boards. Pop a cpu card into your notebook and then back out and into your carPC as you head to the office. Then later swap the cpu card into your set-top-box. The EOMA68 cpu cards may also be permanently mounted inside any product that would prefer it to be integrated.

The IO Boards form the IO and user interface electronics of products such as Notebooks, PanelPC's, Set-Top-Boxes, Tablets, CarPC's, Network Switches and Routers, Cluster Computers, Servers and Desktop PC's. Reference IO board designs will also be available for many products such as netbooks, tablets, set-top-boxes, carPC's etc.

At the moment, there are two EOMA-68 CPU cards planned: in order of priority these are the Allwinner A10, AMD Series G and a third under consideration is the AM3358.

There is also a EOMA-CF compact flash sized card version planned for the allwinner A10. This form factor is even smaller than the EOMA-68 at only 43×36×3.3 mm (Type I). It will easily integrate itself into even smaller devices or more dense cluster applications

A list of product design concepts is maintained on the elinux.org EOMA-68 page, including an LCD Panel-PC, Laptop/Netbook and Tablet.

If you have any ideas for products or engineering boards please add them to the community ideas page. If you find any CPUs that are worth evaluating please add them to the Evaluated CPUs list, at the top.

Allwinner A10

The first product will be an EOMA-68 CPU card, using the 1.2ghz Allwinner A10 ARM Cortex A8. Thanks to the low cost of the Allwinner Cortex A8, mass-volume pricing (just for the parts-populated PCB of the EOMA-68 CPU card, and therefore excluding tax, shipping, profit, a case and a power supply) looks to be on target for around $45 retail ex tax and packaging. The first samples have been done and demonstrated. Allwinner very graciously agreed to provide Rhombus Tech with advance access to the GPL Source Code, which will be placed into the Rhombus git repository shortly: in the meantime please see the kernel compile and u-boot page - discussion is taking place on arm-netbook

AMD Series G

The second product will be an EOMA-68 Type III (10 watt, 8mm height) card, using the AMD 1ghz Dual-Core T40E CPU with an A55E Controller Hub. With the use of thermally-conductive polymers for the enclosure the cards are properly cooled.

TI AM335x

Another idea under consideration is to adapt the beaglebone, which has full CAD/CAM schematics, publicly available under Open Hardware Licenses. The reason for considering this CPU is that in mass-volume it is as low as $USD 5. Placing this into an EOMA-68-compliant format would provide a low-cost third option, and use of the AM3357 instead of the AM3358 would allow products that used the AM3357 to be FSF Hardware-endorsed.

Why a CIC, not a non-profit Trust, Charity or Ltd Company?

The primary reason for using a Community Interest Company for the sale of GPL-compliant products to Free Software Developers is that profits from sales will be re-invested directly into development of further products, with a primary focus of serving the Free Software Community yet at the same time leveraging mass-volume sales opportunitites.

Additionally, Rhombus Tech Admins (themselves prominent Free Software Community Developers - to be announced) will be given the discretion to sell product for strategic purposes at reduced prices (out of available profits) to individuals who agree to work on software or hardware development within a Free Software or Open Hardware remit. All such strategic work will be documented publicly and will be publicly available at all times, as part of the conditions of sponsorship.

Regarding the alternative options:

  • Charities send out entirely the wrong signals, as well as requiring paranoid and crippling audit trails.
  • Operating as a non-profit Trust would prevent Rhombus Tech from receiving funds required to re-invest into products that are for the benefit of Free Software Developers.
  • Operating as a Limited Company would require the Directors to place profit maximisation above and beyond all else, for the benefit of Shareholders not Free Software Developers. Even if the Directors were Free Software Developers, the Articles of Incorporation of a Limited Company would pathologically and legally force them to maximise shareholder profit to the detriment of both themselves and other Free Software Developers!

Overall, a CIC framework, designed originally for Social Clubs and for "Social Enterprise", brings the best of all worlds. The book "Creating a World without Poverty" is highly recommended reading. Written by Professor Yunus (joint winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Price), the book patiently illustrates why the Community Interest Company framework is so compelling a match to the goal of providing advanced mass-produced hardware for Free Software Developers.

Further links and information


Rhombus Tech: Creating better technology