Way back at DebConf16 Gunnar managed to arrange for a number of Next Thing Co. C.H.I.P. boards to be distributed to those who were interested. I was lucky enough to be amongst those who received one, but I have to confess after some initial experimentation it ended up sitting in its box unused.

The reasons for that were varied; partly about not being quite sure what best to do with it, partly due to a number of limitations it had, partly because NTC sadly went insolvent and there was less momentum around the hardware. I’ve always meant to go back to it, poking it every now and then but never completing a project. I’m finally almost there, and I figure I should write some of it up.

TL;DR: My C.H.I.P. is currently running a mainline Linux 6.3 kernel with only a few DTS patches, an upstream u-boot v2022.1 with a couple of minor patches and an unmodified Debian bullseye armhf userspace.


The main issue with the C.H.I.P. is that it uses MLC NAND, in particular mine has an 8MB H27QCG8T2E5R. That ended up unsupported in Linux, with the UBIFS folk disallowing operation on MLC devices. There’s been subsequent work to enable an “SLC emulation” mode which makes the device more reliable at the cost of losing capacity by pairing up writes/reads in cells (AFAICT). Some of this hit for the H27UCG8T2ETR in 5.16 kernels, but I definitely did some experimentation with 5.17 without having much success. I should maybe go back and try again, but I ended up going a different route.

It turned out that BytePorter had documented how to add a microSD slot to the NTC C.H.I.P., using just a microSD to full SD card adapter. Every microSD card I buy seems to come with one of these, so I had plenty lying around to test with. I started with ensuring the kernel could see it ok (by modifying the device tree), but once that was all confirmed I went further and built a more modern u-boot that talked to the SD card, and defaulted to booting off it. That meant no more relying on the internal NAND at all!

I do see some flakiness with the SD card, which is possibly down to the dodgy way it’s hooked up (I should probably do a basic PCB layout with JLCPCB instead). That’s mostly been mitigated by forcing it into 1-bit mode instead of 4-bit mode (I tried lowering the frequency too, but that didn’t make a difference).

The problem manifests as:

sunxi-mmc 1c11000.mmc: data error, sending stop command

and then all storage access freezing (existing logins still work, if the program you’re trying to run is in cache). I can’t find a conclusive software solution to this; I’m pretty sure it’s the hardware, but I don’t understand why the recovery doesn’t generally work.

Random power offs

After I had storage working I’d see random hangs or power offs. It wasn’t quite clear what was going on. So I started trying to work out how to find out the CPU temperature, in case it was overheating. It turns out the temperature sensor on the R8 is part of the touchscreen driver, and I’d taken my usual approach of turning off all the drivers I didn’t think I’d need. Enabling it (CONFIG_TOUCHSCREEN_SUN4I) gave temperature readings and seemed to help somewhat with stability, though not completely.

Next I ended up looking at the AXP209 PMIC. There were various scripts still installed (I’d started out with the NTC Debian install and slowly upgraded it to bullseye while stripping away the obvious pieces I didn’t need) and a start-up script called enable-no-limit. This turned out to not be running (some sort of expectation of i2c-dev being loaded and another failing check), but looking at the script and the data sheet revealed the issue.

The AXP209 can cope with 3 power sources; an external DC source, a Li-battery, and finally a USB port. I was powering my board via the USB port, using a charger rated for 2A. It turns out that the AXP209 defaults to limiting USB current to 900mA, and that with wifi active and the CPU busy the C.H.I.P. can rise above that. At which point the AXP shuts everything down. Armed with that info I was able to understand what the power scripts were doing and which bit I needed - i2cset -f -y 0 0x34 0x30 0x03 to set no limit and disable the auto-power off. Additionally I also discovered that the AXP209 had a built in temperature sensor as well, so I added support for that via iio-hwmon.


WiFi on the C.H.I.P. is provided by an RTL8723BS SDIO attached device. It’s terrible (and not just here, I had an x86 based device with one where it also sucked). Thankfully there’s a driver in staging in the kernel these days, but I’ve still found it can fall out with my house setup, end up connecting to a further away AP which then results in lots of retries, dropped frames and CPU consumption. Nailing it to the AP on the other side of the wall from where it is helps. I haven’t done any serious testing with the Bluetooth other than checking it’s detected and can scan ok.


I patched u-boot v2022.01 (which shows you how long ago I was trying this out) with the following to enable boot from external SD:

u-boot C.H.I.P. external SD patch
diff --git a/arch/arm/dts/sun5i-r8-chip.dts b/arch/arm/dts/sun5i-r8-chip.dts
index 879a4b0f3b..1cb3a754d6 100644
--- a/arch/arm/dts/sun5i-r8-chip.dts
+++ b/arch/arm/dts/sun5i-r8-chip.dts
@@ -84,6 +84,13 @@
 		reset-gpios = <&pio 2 19 GPIO_ACTIVE_LOW>; /* PC19 */
+	mmc2_pins_e: mmc2@0 {
+		pins = "PE4", "PE5", "PE6", "PE7", "PE8", "PE9";
+		function = "mmc2";
+		drive-strength = <30>;
+		bias-pull-up;
+	};
 	onewire {
 		compatible = "w1-gpio";
 		gpios = <&pio 3 2 GPIO_ACTIVE_HIGH>; /* PD2 */
@@ -175,6 +182,16 @@
 	status = "okay";
+&mmc2 {
+	pinctrl-names = "default";
+	pinctrl-0 = <&mmc2_pins_e>;
+	vmmc-supply = <&reg_vcc3v3>;
+	vqmmc-supply = <&reg_vcc3v3>;
+	bus-width = <4>;
+	broken-cd;
+	status = "okay";
 &ohci0 {
 	status = "okay";
diff --git a/arch/arm/include/asm/arch-sunxi/gpio.h b/arch/arm/include/asm/arch-sunxi/gpio.h
index f3ab1aea0e..c0dfd85a6c 100644
--- a/arch/arm/include/asm/arch-sunxi/gpio.h
+++ b/arch/arm/include/asm/arch-sunxi/gpio.h
@@ -167,6 +167,7 @@ enum sunxi_gpio_number {
 #define SUN8I_GPE_TWI2		3
 #define SUN50I_GPE_TWI2		3
+#define SUNXI_GPE_SDC2		4
 #define SUNXI_GPF_SDC0		2
 #define SUNXI_GPF_UART0		4
diff --git a/board/sunxi/board.c b/board/sunxi/board.c
index fdbcd40269..f538cb7e20 100644
--- a/board/sunxi/board.c
+++ b/board/sunxi/board.c
@@ -433,9 +433,9 @@ static void mmc_pinmux_setup(int sdc)
 			sunxi_gpio_set_drv(pin, 2);
 #elif defined(CONFIG_MACH_SUN5I)
-		/* SDC2: PC6-PC15 */
-		for (pin = SUNXI_GPC(6); pin <= SUNXI_GPC(15); pin++) {
-			sunxi_gpio_set_cfgpin(pin, SUNXI_GPC_SDC2);
+		/* SDC2: PE4-PE9 */
+		for (pin = SUNXI_GPE(4); pin <= SUNXI_GPE(9); pin++) {
+			sunxi_gpio_set_cfgpin(pin, SUNXI_GPE_SDC2);
 			sunxi_gpio_set_pull(pin, SUNXI_GPIO_PULL_UP);
 			sunxi_gpio_set_drv(pin, 2);

I’ve sent some patches for the kernel device tree upstream - there’s an outstanding issue with the Bluetooth wake GPIO causing the serial port not to probe(!) that I need to resolve before sending a v2, but what’s there works for me.

The only remaining piece is patch to enable the external SD for Linux; I don’t think it’s appropriate to send upstream but it’s fairly basic. This limits the bus to 1 bit rather than the 4 bits it’s capable of, as mentioned above.

Linux C.H.I.P. external SD DTS patch ```diff diff --git a/arch/arm/boot/dts/sun5i-r8-chip.dts b/arch/arm/boot/dts/sun5i-r8-chip.dts index fd37bd1f3920..2b5aa4952620 100644 --- a/arch/arm/boot/dts/sun5i-r8-chip.dts +++ b/arch/arm/boot/dts/sun5i-r8-chip.dts @@ -163,6 +163,17 @@ &mmc0 { status = "okay"; }; +&mmc2 { + pinctrl-names = "default"; + pinctrl-0 = <&mmc2_4bit_pe_pins>; + vmmc-supply = <&reg_vcc3v3>; + vqmmc-supply = <&reg_vcc3v3>; + bus-width = <1>; + non-removable; + disable-wp; + status = "okay"; +}; + &ohci0 { status = "okay"; }; ```

As for what I’m doing with it, I think that’ll have to be a separate post.