DLT one - A Damn Linux Tablet!

Modular Open Source Hardware Tablet that is easy to hack and can run a standard Desktop Linux Distribution (or Android)

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Proper Linux Tablets unfortunately just dont exist and certainly not ones that are also open hardware.
I want hardware that does not lock me into a specific OS or cripples other options by the lack of drivers. I'm also sick of the lack of modularity and repairability of modern hardware.
So I will create the following.

A basic system for a modern and highly performant portable device (e.g. Tablet) in the 7-10" form factor.

The electrical and mechanical design will allow for a multitude of form factors in the future, basing on a shared approach on how to interconnect hardware, so reuse between form factors will be possible.

These newly developed standards for modular portable devices will be open to everyone and the same goes for the design of the Tablet that is being developed here.

For more details please read my project logs and the detailed description below.
The development started with the HaD Prize 2019 and you will be able to follow every step of it.


For years I've been wanting to create a tablet like device based on a SoM (System on Module). Doing something from scratch, routing DDR3 RAM, eMMC etc. didn't seem realistic to me, this is not only really hard but also very expensive. So SoM it is, which comes with the additional benefit of user upgradability if the SoM manufacturer stays true to their pinout with successor products, which they usually do if the SoM is in any way meant for an industrial market.

Back then I started out with the Raspberry Pi compute module but the more I thought about my specs the clearer it was to me that it just wont cut it.
I wanted something that can run modern applications, something that is actually very usable and is not just a cool thing on paper.

The past years I've been looking around for affordable SoMs that offer enough performance to be viable, until now there were either cheap outdated SoMs or ones that mainly target the industrial market and are too expensive.
In recent months there is finally an interesting selection of SoMs out there.

Technexion/Wandboard released the Pico SoM product range and the Pico Pi as a dev board. They range from 72-150$ For 150$ you get a fairly decent ARM SoC with 4K video support, 4GB RAM, 16GB eMMC and 802.11 AC WIFI and Bluetooth 5.0.

Essentially the basic specs for a modern tablet.

The other SoM that just popped up recently is the Nvidia Jetson Nano. Very capable SoM with similar specs but lacking WIFI. Though the GPU is much more high-end than the iMX8M Quad.

Another very important part is the Display. Until now I never found a satisfying product that had a good picture quality and resolution. It just feels wrong to use a 800x480 display in 2019.

For some reasons there are really great IPS displays popping up all over the place from 1.8" to 13" there is something in every category and all of them can be considered to be "retina" displays. If I want to make a tablet I don't want it to feel like tech from 10 years ago.

So the goal is to make it good or go home :)

What this project will then essentially entail is to design a carrier board for one the two SoMs (though I want to see if I can keep it generic enough to allow for different SoMs in the future) and create a mechanical design that will fuse display and carrier in a visually pleasing way while maintaining the goal of hardware modularity end reusability.

My MVP will have the following specs:

  • Fast enough SoC/SoM to run a modern web app without lag.
  • Enough RAM for more demanding applications >=2GB
  • 802.11AC Wifi and Bluetooh
  • USB for charging and data >=USB2.0
  • High-res display in the 7-10" range connected via MIPI DSI or eDP.
  • Modular peripherals, the carrier should be very small allowing different peripheral connectors to be attached through FFC cables. A choose your own peripheral kind of product.
  • A parametric case design that allows for different screen sizes and peripheral openings.
  • Battery and charging circuit. No idea how large but I aim for around 4h+ active usage for now.
  • Extensible storage via SDcards
  • Audio
  • HDMI

Cool things for the future:

  • USB-C PD
  • Desktop peripherals that you never see in mobile products like an Ethernet Jack.
  • mPCI-E connector ( I never touched PCI-e so lets see how that goes). This would technically also allow for M.2 and adding a proper SSD to your tablet.
  • This does not have be a tablet, if I can make it small enough a phone is also possible, at least a phablet.
  • USB 3.0+
  • LTE either through USB or PCI-E
  • Camera
  • Keyboard "dock" to turn it into a Laptop

Here is a block diagram of what I'm looking to develop, this might change slightly in the future as the design progresses.

Visualization Images Courtesy of:
Wise Technology

  • Found all the bugs, working on next design

    Prof. Fartsparkle3 days ago 0 comments

    So turns out I simply forgot to connect the AUX_GND pin for the DisplayPort connector, a quick bodge wire and DisplayPort was working as well :)

    Ethernet is only 100Mbits because I mixed up the connector pinout. Molex had two versions for the part that I used and for some reason the bi-color MagJack has a different pinout for the diff. pairs rendering 2 pairs useless which makes me end up with just a 100Mbit connection.

    I have ordered the correct part for the pinout and will see if it works ok after reworking it.

    I'm currently in the process of designing the next prototype which will be the actual first prototype meant for the tablet instead of a SBC like before.
    It will be as compact as possible and breakout everything over FFC like I planed. This also means I have to spec the electrical standards for each peripheral. This will probably not be final but its important to keep future solutions in mind here already. After all its supposed to be a universal standard for portables, not just for my initial tablet here.

    I expect this to take another 2-3 weeks as I wont have too much time due to private life stuff.

    But I want to see it assembled in mid July and maybe do a second revision before the judging deadline in late August.

  • It's alive!

    Prof. Fartsparkle05/28/2019 at 22:25 2 comments

    So the PCB came yesterday and it looks super pretty! It's a 4 layer board with impedance control.
    Also thanks to JLCPCB for sponsoring the board.

    The best part is, after soldering it together, it was actually working! Well everything except for DisplayPort.

    A friend suggested that I used the pin layout for a DP Sink instead of a DP Source. Who knew that existed! So you have the layout reversed depending on whether you transmit or receive the signal.
    I tried reversing the connector but that unfortunately did not change anything. Will have to further investigate why.

  • Mechanical Design

    Prof. Fartsparkle05/25/2019 at 22:03 1 comment

    I haven't talked too much about the mechanical side yet, which I want to change now. I did some sketches in Fusion to illustrate what I want to do here.

    I want to make the mechanical design akin to how a PC case works. So it is a generic mounting point and shell for the hardware, you are able to change hardware without also buying a completely new case.

    This is a bit tricky when you have so little room like in a tablet but it is doable to a degree. I want you to at least be able to swap out peripheral connections or add/remove them. Maybe you want a 6.3mm Audio Jack because you are an audiophile or you want a GPIO header on the side for hacking on the go.

    I want to keep the amount of parts needed to a minimum. This keeps costs down especially when manufacturing the project on a larger scale. If only have to buy tooling to 1-2 plastic pieces that saves a ton of money for smaller production runs.

    The frame is made out of 3 major pieces at the moment and is hold together by 4 screws (that might change as it is likely that is not stiff enough on the long side of the tablet).
    Here an exploded view of the current design. Bare in mind that this is still largely conceptual and it misses some details like studs that will be needed for stability of the back f.e.

    The back is hollow and offers room in addition to space the aluminium mounting plate already creates.
    This gives me 7mm space for hardware at the moment. I might have to increase this to 9-10mm by increasing the tablet thickness but I would like to avoid it. At the moment the tablet would have a thickness of 14mm which is about 2012 era tablet thickness. Which is still absoultely ok for me. This makes the product more hacker friendly (and repairable!). If you are looking for a 7mm iPad you will probably just get an iPad...

    The idea with the mounting plate is that it defines a mounting standard similar to that of expansion slots in a PC case.
    It has M2.5 threaded holes which are spaced 5mm apart giving you a nice even grid of 5mm steps.
    There you can attach small PCBs for the peripherals that you wish to use (as well as the mainboard through another small mounting plate that takes heat away from the SoC to the large mounting plate).

    The mainboard will offer several FFC connectors that break out all relevant peripherals. So each peripheral will connect to the outgoing connector through a flat flex cable.
    This makes the mainboard itself very compact and you have the total freedom of where you want to have which functionality!

    The only thing you would have to re-do is the plastic backplate. There are two options here. Have this be constructed out of one large back part and several smaller spacer parts that you could put between peripheral PCBs to close up the sides.
    Or you have a single piece and you will have to print or mill yourself a new one.

    From a product perspective I might offer both options. The latter looks much nicer, the former is more hacker friendly but actually very cheap to produce. It would actually make it possible to laser cut the whole assembly.

    Here are some renderings. I'm still missing some dummy PCBs, I will add those in later to make it clear how the whole modular peripheral thing is supposed to work.

  • Switching to Jetson Nano

    Prof. Fartsparkle05/18/2019 at 16:27 1 comment

    After being rather frustrated with the state of documentation of the i.MX8M SoM and sparse design guide I'm now switching my efforts over the Jetson Nano from Nvidia.

    Among my main reasons why I will pause my efforts with the i.MX8M is the availability of a polished end-user Linux in the form of L4T (slightly modified Ubuntu), with the i.MX8M you get a lot of options but none are really meant as a finished piece of software for end use but as a base for your own build. This is great for someone designing a tightly integrated product but not so great if you want an easy to use general purpose system.

    Another reason is community support. There is simply no big community behind the i.MX8M yet. The Jetson ecosystem exists longer and existing work for it is largely compatible with the Nano. Also in the few weeks the Jetson Nano has been available there is big community gathering around it. Given that it also comes in the form factor of an affordable SBC would really help adoption of the plattform and in turn also help my Tablet get nicer software and guides from the community.

    Another reason is performance, especially for multimedia the Jetson Nano blows the i.MX8M out of the water and this is something I think most users would be interested in.

    I designed a first test board with a similar goal as I had with my previous breakout for the i.MX8M. Get to know the hardware and its issues. When I'm comfortable with it I will continue with the next iteration, a first prototype that would actually be usable in my tablet form factor.

    This first prototype will again just be a quick and dirty SBC. I also gave a bit more shit about HDMI and eDP, learning more about High Speed design and trying to do it "proper". I ended up rerouting the high speed stuff 4 or 5 times as I found more and more error the more I read into the topic :)

    The PCB should hopefully arrive end of next week. 4 Layer impedance controlled PCB this time.

  • Soldered up and finally booting

    Prof. Fartsparkle05/01/2019 at 22:38 0 comments

    So the first time I soldered the new boards the SoM was still not booting.

    Quite frustrating, then in a fluke accident I found out that the "ONOFF" pin is actually a pin from the PMIC and by connecting it to 5V and then letting it float again (e.g. "button press" with a piece of wire) makes it boot.

    I then solderd up a second board with all components and was able to SSH into the Linux via a USB to Ethernet adapter.

    So some stuff is working!
    On the HDMI side I unfortunately missed the pull up resistors on the EDID lines so that seems to not work atm.

    Also the CPU debug serial does not come up. Not sure what the issue there is, might be an issue with the level shifter or I got the wrong UART all together.

    Here are some photos of the process and the finished board:

  • Ordered second prototype

    Prof. Fartsparkle04/24/2019 at 11:59 0 comments

    I didn't get the milled PCB to work, I triple checked everything but couldn't find a root cause. Technexion is taking a look at my schematic so lets see what they have to say.

    In the meantime I just went ahead with a new design as I think it probaly is just a fluke issue that I just haven't noticed yet. I ordered a PCB this time to cast out any issues arising from a missing solder mask.

    My main goal is still to only get it to boot but I broke out a bunch more stuff in case I want to test more. I don't have high hopes for HDMI and DSI as I did not order a impedance controlled PCB this time and haven't taken much care to aproximate the impedance with this stackup but it will be interesting to see if it would still work, just to see how much you can abuse these high-speed busses before they completely crap out on you.

  • Unable to power up

    Prof. Fartsparkle04/19/2019 at 12:20 0 comments

    The past days I've been debugging my first try at a minimal carrier PCB. I milled a PCB that has power in, CPU debug serial, USB-A and HDMI.

    Though the only thing I wanted to get going so far is powering the SoM and getting a connection to the CPU debug serial.

    At the moment I'm struggeling to even get the SoMs PMIC to power up. I connected everything correctly according to the datasheet. All thats apparently needed is 4.2-5.2v on the VSYS pins and all GND pins connected. I continuintity up to the mating pin of the connector and they are all properly connected, so its quite puzzling why the PMIC wont even start up and produce the 3.3 and 1.8 voltages. I do get a minimal power draw of around 10mA when attaching 5V but other than that it just seems dead.
    SoM is still working fine in the dev kit carrier board so I haven't fried it either.

    If anyone is interested here is the datasheet for the SoM:

    A pic of the milled carrier board (yes the connectors are shit to solder, they have no alignment pins)

    Here the excerpt from the datasheet

  • Dev-kit arrived and working

    Prof. Fartsparkle04/11/2019 at 22:07 0 comments

    Just a quick update. I got the dev-kit in the mail yesterday, I booted it up with the touch screen attached that it came with. Was all working fine so today I started working on making a first break out which I will mill tomorrow to do a first test fit with the SOM connector. As there 3x70 pin connectors the positioning of them in relation to each other is very important.

    Technically it should fit perfectly as I worked according to Technexion specs but lets see how it goes after they are soldered to a board.

  • What this is going to be and what not

    Prof. Fartsparkle04/09/2019 at 21:43 0 comments

    As a lot of people seem to get very excited about this project (which is fantastic). I want to address some thing to manage expectations.

    What I want to build here is a basic platform for a tablet computing device. I will not write fancy software to make this a typical end consumer tablet so you can have an awesome Linux tablet in your backpack to check your Twitter feed and do your daily work with it. This is actually really hard and the main reason why no one with commercial interest has done this yet.

    All I want to make is a hardware foundation which of course also means making sure the hardware has good driver support. After that, it is up to you what you do with this.

    Compile your own version of Android for it and use it as a consumer tablet? Sure! I don't think the hardware will ever perform as well as any commercial tablet in the same price range but if that doesn't matter to you because it can solve specific issues for you that is great!

    Want to add a weird sensor to the tablet and run a minimal Linux distro on it with a single application x11 instance to run a single app 24/7 on it? Great! This what I'm making this for, giving other developers a starting point to do cool stuff that is not possible with other devices :)

    And of course there is always the possibility that I will fail miserably. I do have a fair bit of confidence that I can pull it off but who knows what horrible things await me in the ultra high-speed realm of USB 3.0 and dual channel MIPI :)

    Over the years I read up quite a bit on high-speed signal routing and managing impedance so I hope I got enough of a basic understanding to make this work. If high-speed signal routing is a topic you are experienced in I would very much like to hear from you and ask you some questions!

    This one big reason why I want do make this open source, so that when there is some grunt work done, other people get inspired to chime in and improve on this together with me.

View all 9 project logs

Enjoy this project?



Peter S. wrote 15 hours ago point

Cool, gimme !

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Mhowser wrote a day ago point

I hope this doesn't die off like the Neo900 did...

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devxxl wrote 2 days ago point

I've built one with Jetson TX2 a year ago, it works, IPS 1920x1080 screen, many usb ports, HDMI input for image recognition, classification and all sort of other stuff... tested up to 44C under direct sunlight at Abu Dhabi, CPU complex reaches up to 85C, has Li-Ion for stability. good luck with your experiment.

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Kevin Kreiser wrote 3 days ago point

how were you thinking of handling the heatsink for the SOM or just cooling in general? it seems like the "OEM" heatsinks are all way too big to squeeze into your case (just eyeballing it). will active cooling be needed in such a tight environment? keep up the good work!

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bylaws wrote 06/08/2019 at 12:58 point

You might want to consider using a bq24192 charging ic, it is well supported by the l4t kernel and provides an otg 5v vbus supply if needed. This can be paired with some USB PD chip if you want fast charging.

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kwapiszon wrote 06/07/2019 at 11:12 point

Pine64 will be gread, but fpga will be greatest.

Small fpga are extremely nice glue for joining arm procesor and for example second arm procesor or x86 procesor or other fpga.

Power ware important. FPGA get small power and can emulate console/dos/zx spectrum etc.

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Juan Rial wrote 06/07/2019 at 08:25 point

The i.MX 8M is what Librem is using for their Librem 5 Linux phone. I know you already went with another SoM, but perhaps their git repos are worth checking out, should the Jetson Nano not work out.

Anyway, once that phone is finally launched, a tablet becomes low hanging fruit for them. I guess we'll see a Librem tablet pretty soon as well. That means you can probably leverage their software efforts to improve the user experience of the DLT One. :)

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Prof. Fartsparkle wrote 06/07/2019 at 10:51 point

Is their hardware open? I couldn't find anything last time I looked.
The i.MX8M is not dead for this projects, its just something I will look into at a different point when I got a working version going with the Jetson.

The Jetson Nano got a far better performance though, its one reason why I went with this first. The power users will be a lot happier with this than the i.MX8M. The i.MX8M is much more battery friendly though and a bit more power efficient, which is reeeally important for the small phone formfactor. I have a lot more thermal lee way with my 7-10" form factor.

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Juan Rial wrote 06/07/2019 at 11:12 point

From their FAQ at

- Will this be an “open hardware” design?
=> Our intention is to have everything freed down to the schematic level, but have not cleared all design, patents, legal, and contractual details. We will continue to advance toward this goal as it aligns with our long-term beliefs.

So basically, that's the intention, but I don't think they have released anything yet. Then again, the thing isn't released yet either, they're still tweaking the hardware.

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david.boosalis wrote 06/07/2019 at 07:25 point

Great project. I could see it filling a rather large niche for a   embedded  small touch screen  device. If it could support the Yocto build system I think it would be golden 

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Prof. Fartsparkle wrote 06/07/2019 at 10:52 point

It is supported by third party efforts:

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BTPankow wrote 06/07/2019 at 02:19 point

Cool project! Where did you get the Jetson Nano hardware documentation? I’ve been looking all over for it, it seems like a neat piece of tech.

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Prof. Fartsparkle wrote 06/07/2019 at 10:53 point

I had to sign an NDA. They will release that in a few weeks though, the current dev kit and module will change accoding to a forum post by Nvidia so its probably best that the current deprecated documentation isnt public.

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JavaScriptDude wrote 06/07/2019 at 01:53 point

Is it possible to add a kill switch so if you want to go totally gene hackman (ala the conversation) by being able to disable the camera's, microphones and maybe another to kill switch for bluetooth, wifi (nfc).

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Nicolò wrote 06/06/2019 at 19:31 point

Glad to see that I'm not the only one that create footprint upside-down Doh!

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Prof. Fartsparkle wrote 06/07/2019 at 10:55 point

It turned out it wasn't the footprint, I just forgot to connect the AUX gnd in my schematic. DP is actually working now, will post an update soon :)

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Renaud Lepage wrote 06/06/2019 at 18:49 point

A tablet with a Jetson Nano chip?


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chris wrote 05/30/2019 at 08:44 point

This is way cool. I'm been so desirous for a full blown Linux Tablet, something in the hardware realm of the Microsoft Surface Pro. My needs are a bit more high end (lots of RAM ~ 32GB, and at least 1TB disk) as I'm running lots of VM's. Need something that can replace my laptop and iPad\Android device to do it all that runs Linux Proper (not WinBLOWS).

Best of luck with this...

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Daniel Dunn wrote 04/12/2019 at 01:54 point

Awesome project! And it's a chance to fix the big mistake that 99% of portable devices seem to have. 4.2V is too high for batteries and it wears them out twice as fast as slightly less charge would!.   I think it would be cool to use 1 or 2 18650 batteries for something like this, because it's so easy to find them.

A Linux tablet would be great because Android is really restrictive about hardware access and it makes mesh networks way harder than they should be.

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Prof. Fartsparkle wrote 04/12/2019 at 20:07 point

Haven't decided on a battery system yet but I will probably utilize a smarter IC for that which should offer settings for these kind of things which should be settable from the SoC.
I might even put it on its dedicated PCB so you can choose battery chemistry and charging circuitry yourself without spinning your own baseboard flavor.

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mbt28 wrote 04/09/2019 at 11:40 point


I think you should go for a sbc which fits with your design. You may go for edged sbcs too. 

Routing hdmi, usb 3, pciexp and mipi is quite hard actually. 

For the lcd side, I highly suggest to use an lcd with an available documentation and driver support. I think this is the case for you, otherwise it consumes so much time to adapt a bare mipi dsi lcd. 

My last comment is do lots of research about the base board you will use. I highly suggest you to dont use chinese boards because they lack of support which will take most of your time. 


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Prof. Fartsparkle wrote 04/09/2019 at 21:25 point


thank you for your comments.
Using a SBC is not really an option if you want to make a thin device with modular peripherals :)
Like I wrote in my description I will either use the i.MX8M SOMs from Technexion or the Nvidia Jetson Nano SOM. The i.MX8M SOMs have a detailed datasheet available and NXP offers an insane amount of support material for their SoCs. Which is why I will very likely go with the i.MX8M. The Jetson Nano might still be nice but so far there is no documentation and I would like to get started soon.

I do know that routing high-speed buses is more work than fanning out a few GPIOs :)
Though I want to take on that challenge. I've touched that topic on older projects and feel confident that I can make this work.
I worked with MIPI displays before and the bus is surprisingly robust, I could run full hd displays on a meter long FFC cable which technically violates the MIPI specs quite a bit but the displays didn't care one bit.

About hardware from China, I will source the displays from china but mostly because they are sold there. I found some panel from Sharp and got a datsheet for it. I hope I can modify an existing driver for a different Sharp panel and adjust the code for the start up sequence according to the datasheet.

If you got some experience there I would glady here about it :)

But yes, I will not buy random unknown crap. I want to end up with something that is manufacturable and will only look into hardware that is well documented and has a manufacturer behind it that offers support.

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mbt28 wrote 04/10/2019 at 09:04 point


I was talking about something like this when I was saying about edge sbc:

In this way you dont have route hdmi usb etc. 

I.mx8m is amazing soc. Has good support and very capable. I like imx8m mini more since I dont need a hdmi. 

Nxp chips are so good but unfortunately they are expensive when you want to buy single quantity.

You might go for rpi compute module but I am quite sure adapting mipi dsi to an existibg lcd would be quite hard. 

My 50 cent is do your work part by part for example you can go for an sbc and design the lcd interface, audio etc. Then, when everything is okay you can adapt them to the som version. Otherwise debugging the hardware is so much time consuming. 

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Prof. Fartsparkle wrote 04/10/2019 at 11:53 point

@mbt28 that "Edge" board is super interesting. Thank you for that I will definitely have a look at that :)

It does not really fit in my overall goal of modularity and being somewhat SOM agnostic but if I end up in a dead corner I will give this a go.

Anything RPi based is a no go, they are just too slow. This is what I experimented years ago and just ended up not pursuing it further because it can't keep up with modern applications performance demands.

The workflow you suggest is what I'm doing. I have now a dev kit from the SOM manufacturer which is a full SBC and comes with a MIPI DSI touch screen.

So I have a working base there that I will start to adapt from slowly. I will work with this known to work screen for now and if I got a very basic system going I will see if I can make other screens work that may not have a public driver available yet.

I do PCB and Software design as a day job so I do bring some experience with me to hopefully not fail miserably with all of this :)

If you know a good source for existing MIPI drivers outside the mainline kernel I would much appreciate that :)

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mbt28 wrote 04/10/2019 at 12:22 point


I always find MIPI DSI a bit complicated. I am using lvds screens, those are more straightforward. 

If you want to go for LVDS ones, there are DSI to LVDS bridges by Texas Instrument called sn65dsi8*. They are easy to use. If you want to manufacture it by hand, bga package is cheaper and beleive me is easier to solder by hot air gun or owen.

You can configure it through I2C and there is even an application called DSI tuner you can configure the chip and create a script for it.

And there are some useful information on this website (LCD interfaces, backlights etc):;jsessionid=F29EEE6C46D8DE26C33BF8BE08D5C924

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Prof. Fartsparkle wrote 04/10/2019 at 13:21 point

@mbt28 those bridge ICs are something I also looked into, at least for HDMI. LVDS sounds like an interesting option. Valuable to hear that they were easy to deal with from your experience.

What makes LVDS easier in your opinion? I don't really have experience with it.

Thanks for all these resources, that is very helpful!

I will have to see if there are LCDs with LVDS available that are high-res enough. I wanted at least Full HD or "2k" for anything larger than 6". It makes life harder but its something I don't want to compromise on.

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mbt28 wrote 04/10/2019 at 13:35 point

"What makes LVDS easier in your opinion?"

DSI is a bileteral communication. Some LCD's need to be configured via DSI as well. I am not familiar with it, and usually hard to find detailed  datasheets for dsi panels. Maybe because of NDA aggrements, I dont know actually.

LVDS is just serilization of RGB interface with 4 data pairs and one clock lane. It is one direction. Usually you need to configure some functions of LCD via GPIO, which is pretty easy.

Another issue with DSI; it has higher speed so routing it is a bit harder than LVDS.

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Asher Gomez wrote 04/09/2019 at 00:23 point

Nice project, I'd definitely want one of these... Good Luck!

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Prof. Fartsparkle wrote 04/24/2019 at 11:38 point

thanks :)

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