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.

12 thoughts on “First look at utilite

  1. I am awaiting the benchmark of the XBMC on the UtiLite. I hope to replace my aging DELL. I really cannot complain too much as the Dell was a free unit I got from work when they upgraded. I find when I am using XBMC with 720P video the fans start running at full speed and can be quite loud at times. I am really hopeful that the UtiLite will be a quieter replacement.

    • For sure : the utilite is totally quiet as there is no fan.
      And video decoding is so easy for this device (even 1080p) : I have just managed to get XBMC up and running at the moment … 😉

    • Hi Peter,
      Yes this device worths a look..
      Without big surprise, XBMC works similarly as for wandboard (but this device has more potential “out of the box” with its ssd and its 2 gigabit Ethernet)

      • With linaro 11.10 it looks for me like you are using the old softfloat abi. So there is of course some performance to gain with a newer linux version. Whats your opinion ?

        • You are right, the delivered sw uses the old softfloat ABI.
          But here, I have a working image with hf ABI that I built using yocto. And it is a full working image. I mean including GPU and VPU capabilities… I will release it as soon as I have a few hours to clean up and package properly the whole thing…
          I have not run specific benchmarks to compare performance on my imx6 devices so far but it is well known that generally speaking switching to HF ABI on recent ARM architecture exhibits sensitive improvements (for instance these benchs are interesting :

  2. Pingback: Utilite & XBMC | Stephan's blog

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  5. Hey,
    can you say, what kind of data rates you reach if you read a file over a Samba share on the utilite??
    On my Raspi there are something around 6-8 MB/s – very slow for a huge movie collection.
    Is the utilite better, I mean the CPU is faster and it has GBit LAN 🙂

  6. I bought a Utilite Pro a week ago to act as a small database server for my cluster of Raspberry Pi boards. It’s a very impressive device but they’ve rather spoiled it with the Ubuntu 12.0.4 LTS distro which makes it appear flakey. However, I’ve disabled the GUI and installed a new kernel to add iptables support and it now boots to the usual login screen and looks to be extremely robust and reliable. Power consumption is negligible. Mine came with a 32Gb drive which is over twice as fast as the Pi. Problem sorted, job done! If they were to offer a native Debian distro option I’d be even happier.

    Pi: 83886080 bytes (84 MB) copied, 1.88713 s, 44.5 MB/s
    Utilite Pro: 83886080 bytes (84 MB) copied, 0.765735 s, 110 MB/s

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