New Part Day: X1501 Makes For A Tiny And Open Linux SoM

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The SoM on an evaluation board, with two LEDs shining, one USB-C cable connected for power and another plugged into the OTG port

Ever wanted to run Linux in an exceptionally small footprint? Then [Reimu NotMoe] from [SudoMaker] has something for you! She’s found an unbelievably small Linux-able chip in BGA, and designed a self-contained tiny SoM (System on Module) breakout with power management and castellated pads. This breakout contains everything you need to have Linux in a 16x16x2mm footprint. For the reference, a 16mm square is the size of the CPU on a Raspberry Pi.

This board isn’t just tiny, it’s also well-thought-out, helping you put the BGA-packaged Ingenic X1501 anywhere with minimal effort. With castellated pads, it’s easy to hand-solder this SoM for development and reflow for production. An onboard switching regulator works from 6V down to as low as 3V, making this a viable battery-powered Linux option. It can even give you up to 3.3V/1A for all your external devices.

The coolest part yet – the X1501 is surprisingly friendly and NDA-free. The datasheets are up for grabs, there are no “CONFIDENTIAL” watermarks – you get a proper 730-page PDF. Thanks to this openness, the X1501 can run mainline Linux with minimal changes, with most of the peripherals already supported. Plus, there’s Efuse-based Secure Boot if your software needs to be protected from cloning.

More after the break…

What’s so cool about the X1501? The Ingenic X1501 is an adorable little BGA with RAM built-in – no high-speed routing hassles. Sure, you only get 64M of RAM, but you can strip Linux down a whole lot – half of that RAM is free for your own use. You can do quite a bit with small amounts of RAM on Linux, as we’ve seen this year with the $15 Linux computer.

We’ve seen Ingenic-made chips bring Linux to a slew of cheap products, from game consoles to small hackable security cameras. If you’re tired of your MCU giving you headaches, perhaps you’d like to benefit from all the interfaces, libraries, languages, and frameworks that Linux offers. This SoM is a wonderful stepping stone for ease of development.

You get a 1GHz MIPS32r2 core, with a spare 300MHz core for all your real-time tasks; 2MB of internal flash fits Uboot and a Linux kernel with plenty of room to spare. You can connect a MicroSD card for troves more storage. You also get all the interfaces like USB, SPI, I2C, and SDIO, as well as analog and digital audio support. There’s a bit of a DMA hiccup, but nothing that can’t be solved with a bit of time and help from a community.

Speaking of a community – [Reimu] says she’s pitched this board for CrowdSupply, so be on the lookout. If anyone’s interested in helping polish the kernel quirks, a few developer-aimed units are on the table for sure! After the crowdfunding completes, all the design files will be open-sourced – otherwise, such a board would be trivial for others to clone. If you’d like some cool project ideas for such a module – how about a tiny Linux-powered mobile phone? This one has an Ingenic X1000 inside.

Would you like to know how such boards are created? We’ve seen an impressive write-up about taming small ARM chips with custom PCBs and Linux!

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