A brief history of hackable ARM devices

Once upon a time, there was the SheevaPlug, a $99 computer with a 1.2GHz ARM CPU, 512mb RAM, 512mb of flash storage, USB2 and an SDHC card reader that ran Linux. The SheevaPlug gave birth to inexpensive commercial products, like the PogoPlug, and it’s cousin, the heavily discounted Seagate Dockstar.

Since then, there has been an explosion of ARM-based development platforms. The SheevaPlug was based on the Kirkwood system-on-a-chip from Marvel, who partnered with GlobalScale Technologies to create development and reference designs that could easily be customized for various applications. Similarly, Texas Instruments, which has its own ARM based SOC families, created the Pandaboard, BeagleBoard and BeagleBone¬†to encourage people to develop applications for their chips.¬†Globalscale and Marvel haven’t rested on their laurels, either, they’ve created a number of additional variants on Sheeva platform, some with video output, others with SATA interfaces, additional GigE, WiFi, and other differentiators.

This is really just scratching the surface. Samsung, Qualcomm, Nvidia and Broadcom all make their own ARM SOCs, and there is an explosion of devices based on Chinese chips, like the Allwinner A10 (single core ARM Cortex A8 + dual Core Mali GPU), Rockchip 3066 (dua core ARM Cortex A9 + quad core Mali GPU) and AMLogic 8726-M3.