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Librem 5 hardware evaluation

November 02, 2019 — BarryK

I have posted about the Librem 5 phone, the last post is here:

I have wondered about whether it is viable from the viewpoint of power consumption, and yesterday came across an evaluation of the Librem 5 hardware design, by an engineer with expertise in the hardware of this field: also raises other concerns.

Will Purism get the phone to a point where it is basically usable? Not have to be recharged twice per day, and able to connect while on the move?

There is mention of the reality not living up to the hype, and this interview with a former employee of Purism is revealing:

Small businesses, of a certain kind, depend on hype for their survival. Hype, spin, whatever word you want to use, to catch people. Quite possibly the ensnared people will be satisfied with the result.

Purism may survive and may actually deliver products that satisfy customers -- well, their laptops seem to be already achieving the latter goal. On the journey between dream and delivery, they need cash, the money must roll in, hence hype, or selling the dream, is essential.

I am reminded of an Australian TV series, "Very small business", about a business named "Worldwide Business Group", that was perpetually on the verge of financial collapse. The guy running this business published obscure magazines that nobody read, and at the start of the series he wanted to hire a journalist -- he found a guy who was a professional journalist but had had a mental breakdown, and was wanting to get back into journalism -- he was taken on on-probation, or whatever word you would use when you work for no pay.

Here is a trailer for the series, very low resolution (144p):

...I think that you need to join i-Tunes to view the full episodes. There was a later series "Back in very small business", that I have not seen.

Tags: tech

Librem 5 and Pinephone assembly

October 15, 2019 — BarryK

The first prototypes of these phones are built and shipped to some developers.

The Librem 5 is planned to be manufactured in batches that will be progressively refined. The first one is named "Aspen", to be followed by "Birch". Here is a video showing Aspen being disassembled and reassembled:

Interesting, it has no heatsink. A heatpipe is planned for Birch. The speaker, Tod Weaver, states that he has to charge the battery twice per day, but is hoping it will eventually get down to once per day. That would be very light usage without heatsink. I wonder how many hours of actual usage in the day?

Whatever, that is so far off we expect with modern phones. My Huawei rarely gets below 90% in a day, in which I might, say, go on a train ride to the city and be browsing all the way there and back. If drive somewhere and use the GPS, it does consume a bit more.

The SoC is, I think 28nm technology, and I think I read that late in 2020 they plan to progress to a 14nm NXP SoC. The two m.2 sockets with external modem and ...what's in the other socket, can't remember ...anyway, that configuration is going to be current-hungry.


The Pinephone is an alternative. They both have modem separate from the SoC, in the case of the Pinephone it is soldered in, so the phone is much slimmer. Here is a video showing assembly of the first prototype:

Interesting, it looks like the back of the LCD is being used as the SoC heatsink. I haven't found any information on battery life, but doubt that it will be good news ...but premature to give any opinion.


One good thing about the Pinephone, it has a modem with frequencies suitable for Australia.

Tags: tech

Librem5 phone first batch

September 27, 2019 — BarryK

The first batch of Librem5 phones has been manufactured. This is their first iteration, somewhat larger than the planned final version to allow for some experimentation, for example with the antenna.

I have posted a few times about this phone, for example:

Purism announcement:


And here is an FAQ about the first batch:

I had gone off this phone, in favour of the Pinephone, as the Librem5 did not have a modem with frequencies suitable for Australia. However, they have just announced that they will be supporting the BM818 modem -- this has a "T1" variant that supports the B28 band that we require for Telstra. However, it is not yet known whether the phone will support the T1 variant. I suppose one problem will be the antenna design, to handle all the different frequencies. 

EDIT 2019-10-04:
Here is a video, showing using phone, first batch:  

Tags: tech

Car ball and nut steering

April 30, 2019 — BarryK

A different blog post from usual!

Modern cars have "rack & pinion" steering, which gives tight (minimal sloppiness or deadzone).

Many years ago, cars had "ball & nut", or "recirculating ball", steering. The main problem with this is a deadzone, or sloppiness, which got worse as the linkakes/bushes wore.

I was reminded of this recently, when read about the new 2019 Suzuki Jimny, and posted to this blog:

I was surprised that this Jimny still has ball & nut steering.

Back in the 70's I owned an early Suzuki 4wd, one of the "LJ" series, with a 2-stroke engine. I recall, it was dangerous on wet roads. Especially a wet road with tight bends -- I found that the steering would get out of my control, and I had to slow right down.

In the mid to late 80's, I owned an old Holden, an "EH" model I think, a 3-speed automatic. I was cash-strapped at the time, and bought this secondhand. Don't recall what price I paid, but do remember selling it for AU$300.

It had various problems, such as tending to overheat -- but they made engines out of iron in those days, it could survive repeated overheating.

It had the old recirculating ball steering, don't recall if it was power steering. It was worn, with considerable slack. Near where I lived, there was a dirt road, that turned to mud when it rained. I discovered that when driving home on that road, and the car lurched to the right, the steering wheel snatched violently out of my hands. I pulled the wheel left, and it got snatched out of my hands again as the car lurched to the left.

Thus I zigzagged across the road, until I had reduced speed to a crawl.

The problem was the tyres sinking slightly into the mud. If the front tyres turn very slightly from true forward direction, a small wall of mud then forces them to turn more. Which can happen due to the slackness in the steering linkages. When the wheels have been twisted more than a few degrees, the wheels get violently pushed to the side, and the steering wheel spins out of my control.

So, pretty awful type of steering, hey! However, I am over-dramatizing the risk. My Holden was old and the steering linkages very worn. If I had got it fixed, replaced some bushes, the steering slack would have tightened up considerably, and I would probably have been able to race straight through that muddy road.

Apart from the Jimny, apparently some trucks still have this, I don't know about other 4wd vehicles.

With the Suzuki 4wd cars, a popular after-market addon was a "steering damper", a hydraulic mechanism that will minimise the kind of scenario that I have described above.

It seems that Suzuki added it to the Jimny 4wd series, and it is in the 2019 model. Thank goodness. There is also power steering, so it would seem that the two mechanisms would be fighting each other -- well, apparently, it does cause the steering to have a "dead" feel, with no feedback from the wheels.

Why hasn't Suzuki gone over to rack & pinion steering for the Jimny? I don't know, there must be reasons. I don't know enough about the topic to guess why. More info here:


The recirculating ball mechanism has the advantage of a much greater mechanical advantage, so that it was found on larger, heavier vehicles while the rack and pinion was originally limited to smaller and lighter ones; due to the almost universal adoption of power steering, however, this is no longer an important advantage, leading to the increasing use of rack and pinion on newer cars.

The steering damper does make driving safer, however there is another concern. The deadzone means that the front wheels are not necessarily going in the direction in which you are pointing the steering wheel. This has been observed by testers of the 2019 Jimny on highway driving, where the car tends to wander to left or right, and has to be continually corrected.
This means that the driver has to be always alert, and it does make the driving experience more tedious -- though, the continual correction does become habitual. I also briefly owned a Suzuki 1.3 litre Sierra, the model after the LJ series and before the Jimny series, and I recall this wandering problem, but I adapted to it and found highway driving to be OK, if a bit odd.

Thought that I would post these interesting observations! 

Tags: tech

New Suzuki 2019 Jimny 4x4

March 05, 2019 — BarryK

The little Suzuki 4-wheel-drive car has a long history. I owned an original model in the 70s, an LJ50 2-stroke. It was awful driving on the road, fantastic off. In the mid-80s I briefly owned a Sierra, with 1.3 litre 4-stroke engine, and as I recall, if was OK driving on the road, and took it for country trips -- it was even OK on the highway -- but then, my standard was probably quite low, as I had always owned very small cars.

Both of those were purchased second-hand. Now it is 2019 and Suzuki are advertising a brand new Jimny. The Jimny models superseded the Sierra models. The advertised price here in Australia (by Suzuki Australia, the importer) is AU$23,990 plus on-road-costs.

I enquired with local Suzuki dealers, and they are asking AU$27,990 drive-away price. That is a big jump from AU$23,990. Am I getting cynical in my old age? A cynical person might think that the price hike is cleverly contrived. And then there is an extra AU$500 for any colour other than white.

You see, Suzuki announced that very limited numbers would be imported, which resulted in pre-orders, and a growing backlog -- they are now saying, if you order now you will get it in 2020. Meanwhile, the rave reviews and marketing hype continue to build up the expectation.

There is no discount, you buy at the price they ask, and go into the waiting list. I am drooling over it, very fond of that little car, but probably won't buy one. Suzuki, if you put it on sale later this year, you will tempt me...

It seems that my cynicism was misplaced. Suzuki was genuinely surprised by the sales of the new model. They have one factory in Japan running 23 hours per day, and are planning to utilize another plant.


Australian Suzuki distributor:


There are plenty of YouTube videos, here is one with some on-road testing:

An off-road video: 


Tags: tech

PinePhone development kit

February 02, 2019 — BarryK

Wow, this is interesting! Those who read my blog, will know that I have purchased the Librem 5 phone development kit, as reported here:

Mine arrived a few weeks ago, yet it remains unused. I am waiting until they get the LCD screen to work. Apparently, it is a software driver problem, rather than a hardware fault (thank goodness), but the screen is the most essential component, that must be working.

Another worry is the immaturity of the NXP iMX 8m SoC. Apparently, there is a fault in the chip as supplied with the dev kit, that prevents it from going into a lower-power mode -- the Purism developers reported this to NXP and it is, apparently, scheduled to be fixed.

Even so, it is a concern, as the iMX8 has been "in the pipeline" for a long time -- first announced in 2013.

The Purism developers have been doing incredible work on the software side, and hopefully the hardware issues will be resolved in a reasonable time frame.

In the meantime, another group has produced a "copy". Well, not a copy exactly, but very similar, a phone development kit, named the PinePhone, based on the Allwinner A64 SoC. Photo:


As with the Librem 5, this has a separate modem -- you can see it in the above photo.

The SoC's used in phones all have the modem built into the SoC. Purism are using an SoC without modem, as by keeping it separate they can keep a watch on what traffic goes between SoC and modem, for improved security.

So, the PinePhone is using the same security-minded approach, and targeting the same market, and will be running the same Linux OS's as the Librem 5. They don't mention it, but no doubt it will also run the OS that the Purism guys are developing.

The PinePhone will be on show as FOSDEM 2019, here is a blog post:

Pine64 are the same guys who make the Rock64, which I own and have just today released EasyOS for. The above blog also announces an improved Rock64, including RTC.

Anyway, the Allwinner A64 SoC, how does that stack up for use in a phone, and for Linux compatibility?

This is a great page to get a birds eye on Linux compatibility:

Here is a report on upstream Linux support for the VPU: this pans out in practice, remains to be seen. All very interesting! 

Tags: tech

SanDisk Ultra 32GB USB3 Flash drive

January 14, 2019 — BarryK

I posted yesterday about a very cheap Verbatim 16GB STORE-N-GO USB2 drive:

...sooo slow, then it failed after a few days.

I have to comment about this failure. Most of the Flash sticks that I purchase, including the very cheap ones, last for a very long time. Well, I have only had a couple of failures in several years. I even have a 128MB drive that is still working.

That Verbatim drive went into the bin, couldn't be bothered with taking it back.

This morning, wen to BigW and bought a SanDisk Ultra 32GB USB3 drive, for AU$14. That's it's regular price, not discounted.

Now we're cookin' with gas! I wrote the Russian build of Easy to it, and got a sustained sequential write speed of 28.7MB/sec.

Compare that with 3.9MB/sec for the Verbatim drive. It is so much worth it, to spend that little bit more! 

Tags: tech