First look at utilite

I was lucky enough to receive one of the first utilite pro model out of compulab production line and I thank them for this.
This device is based upon freescale iMX6Q SOC which is, to my mind, one of the best available system on chip to hack around (hence my work to provide XBMC on this chip)

One could think, this is just yet another ARM based device…

Well, of course it is. But this device has some interesting and not so common features.
First, it is a real device packaged in a nice aluminum (I guess) case. So if you are planing to design your own extension board ready to plug on an iMX6 based board, then this device is not for you and you would rather have a look at some other iMX6 development boards (or even, if you wish and are able to design a whole main board, at the FX6 board which is the computer on module board which powers the utilite device). But many people just want a nice box (and they buy or design additional plastic boxes for their development boards). As a real final product, a power supply, an antenna, and some cables (SPDIF coax and uUSB to male DB9 connector) are also provided in the box.
Then, this model features 2 gigabit Ethernet links which make this device a very good candidate for a powerful and low power router.
Another interesting feature is it can be dual headed : Both a HDMI and a DVI monitors/TV can be plugged at the same time with a 1920×1200 maximal resolution (especially, it makes it compatible with two 1080p screens)
And last but not least, it contains a SATA SSD. The official specifications state a 32GB drive but mine is a 64GB, more precisely a SanDisk SSD U100, I don’t know whether the following devices will also have this 64GB drive or not. Anyway, this sata SSD is definitively a major asset compared to other iMX6 devices and boards ! This is the end of slow sdcards which generally make ARM based devices so slow when it comes to disk IOs.
I have just run this trivial little benchmark to quickly check the improvement :

echo performance >  /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpufreq/scaling_governor
time (dd if=/dev/zero of=./test.bin count=20 bs=4M ; sync)

 

  • On my wandboard with a class 10 usdcard, I get a mean 9.050s duration (write bandwidth of 8.8MBps)
  • On my utilite with the SSD, I get a mean 0.950s duration (write bandwidth of 84.2MBps)

So you really get a x10 factor regarding the sequential write bandwidth ! I will publish more benchmarks later but it is definitively very promising…

Regarding software, the box comes with a preinstalled linaro 11.10 which mostly just works and the desktop is quite responsive.
In fact it seems that this little box could be an alternative computer for desktop : I will perform additional tests to check whether it can really address such a need but it is definitively better than any other ARM based devices (pandaboard, beagleboard, Rpi…) I have been able to try.
So far, I never tried to install a linaro distro on my wandboard so I am unable to evaluate the difference between this utilite device and the wandboard for desktop use. Basically they run the same iMX6Q, but I guess the sata SSD makes a real difference for this use case. Of course some additional tests have to be run to confirm this supposition…

Is everything so perfect with this device ?
Well it is definitively very promising and I will setup an image with a ready to use XBMC in the coming days for sure !
For now, I only have a few remarks :

  • The serial line does not function so well : I often get “bad” (altered) characters. (I use the provided cable faced to a cheap Hl-340 usb-serial adapter. This adapter is not so good but works perfectly faced to the wandboard so there is something with the utilite serial line…) and, at the end, using the serial line is a real pain.
  • The 2nd Ethernet link does not work : I have to investigate and I don’t know what the problem is (hardware or software related). Fact is that only one Ethernet link can be used on my device…
  • There are 2 S/PDIF connectors but no optical (TOSLINK) connector which is disappointing.
  • The case seems to be used to cool the device and tends to become hot. Not a major issue of course. But I had a very bad experience with the GK802 stick which was unable a properly dissipate heat when GPU/VPU/CPU were heavily used (ie while using XBMC) : I really hope that this device will behave better. It is, by far, my major fear…

As a first conclusion, this device is already a great product. It can be used as a powerful network appliance, it will become a great multimedia product (as soon as I package XBMC ;-)) and it may even be used as a desktop computer (To be confirmed)
I hope the 2nd Ethernet link will work with a software update and XBMC will be able to run without overheating : I will keep you informed for sure.
By the time you can follow utilite news on their google+ account.