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Open source LimeNET SDR computers run Ubuntu Core on Intel Core

May 23, 2017 — by Eric Brown — 2,411 views
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Lime Micro has launched three open source “LimeNET” SDR systems that run Ubuntu Core on Intel Core CPUs, including one with a new LimeNET QPCIe board.

Lime Microsystems has gone to Crowd Supply to launch three fully open source LimeNET computers for software defined radio (SDR) applications. The systems run Ubuntu “Snappy” Core Linux on Intel’s Core processors, enabling access to an open, community-based LimeSDR App Store using the Ubuntu Core snap packaging and update technology. The SDR processing is handled by three variations on last year’s open source LimeSDR board, which run Intel’s (Altera) Cyclone IV FPGA.

LimeNET Mini, LimeNET Enterprise, and LimeNET Base Station (left to right, not scaled to size)
(click image to enlarge)

While the LimeNET Mini and mid-range LimeNET Enterprise are based on two versions of the original USB-interfaced LimeSDR boards (using micro Type-B and Type-A USB ports, respectively), the LimeNET Core, which can be extended into the LimeNET Base Station with the addition of a LimeNET Amplifier Chassis, uses a newer, more advanced “LimeNET QPCIe” board. The boards support SDR applications including residential network cellular base stations, IoT gateways, media streaming, test & measurement, radio astronomy, radar, drone control, and more.

SDR technology lets you program, augment, and experiment with wireless communications without swapping hardware. It enables the development of highly complex networks across a range of standards and frequencies, and supports OTA updating, a feature that is handled on LimeSDR systems using Ubuntu Core’s snap mechanism.

LimeSDR board with antennas
(click image to enlarge)

All the LimeSDR boards support cellular protocols like 2G, 3G, and 4G, as well as 5G prototypes, along with general wireless protocols such as WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, RFID, and digital broadcasting standards. They also support IoT-oriented protocols like LoRa, Sigfox, NB-IoT, LTE-M, and Weightless. All the systems have a 15-meter transmission range for LTE, although the Base Station model’s range can be greatly extended with the Amplifier.

The LimeNET Crowd Supply campaign runs through July 13, with shipments ranging from the end of Oct. 2017 to the end of Feb. 2018. The three pre-qualified LimeNET systems (four including the Base Station bundle) and separately available LimeNET peripherals are as follows:

  • LimeNET Mini — $1,899 (early bird), $2,199 (campaign), $2,399 (pre-order), $2,599 (retail); ships Oct. 31
  • LimeNET Enterprise — $2,699 (campaign), $2,899 (pre-order), $2,999 (retail); ships Oct. 31
  • LimeNET Core — $7,699 (campaign), $8,099 (pre-order), $8,499 (retail); ships Nov. 30
  • LimeNET Base Station — $17,250 (includes Core plus LimeNET Amplifier Chassis); ships Feb. 28
  • LimeNET Amplifier Chassis (alone) — $13,199; ships Feb. 28
  • LimeNET QPCIe Board (alone) — $2,599; ships Nov. 30

For those who paid $300 for a LimeSDR board, these prices might come as something of a shock. However, they’re really quite reasonable compared to the pricing of proprietary SDR systems, especially when you factor in the cost of the dedicated PC needed to run the LimeSDR board in the first place. The LimeNET Base Station bundle, meanwhile, saves you about $3,650.

LimeNET Mini

The 112 x 120 x 52mm LimeNET Mini runs Ubuntu Core on a dual-core, 2.7GHz/3.5GHz Intel Core i7-7500U of the Kaby Lake generation with 15W TDP. The system provides 32GB of DDR4-2133 RAM and a 512GB SSD. The LimeNET Mini is pre-loaded with WiFi-ac and Bluetooth, as well as the shielded, USB micro Type-B based LimeSDR board for SDR.

LimeNET Mini (left) and embedded SBC details
(click images to enlarge)

The LimeNET Mini is further equipped with a GbE port, 2x USB 3.0 ports, and 2x USB 3.1 ports, one of which uses a Type-C interface. You get an HDMI 2.0 port for up to 4096 x 2160 @ 60Hz resolution and a mini-DisplayPort 1.2 for up to 3840 x 2160 @ 60Hz. A Realtek ALC255 audio based mic and headset jack is also available.

The LimeNET Mini offers 5x antennas, one of which is dedicated to HR reception, a feature lacking in the other LimeNET models. There’s also a debug connector, a fan, a 19 VDC input (3.42A, 65W), and an injection molded plastic and stainless steel case.

LimeNET Enterprise

The LimeNET Enterprise ships with a shielded, LimeSDR board version with a USB Type-A host interface, that is very close to the original. In fact, those who ordered the aluminum case option for the original LimeSDR board campaign can get a discounted or $1,899 Enterprise model that requires that they supply their own LimeSDR board. The Enterprise model is larger than the Mini at 165 x 190 x 43mm, and offers a quad-core 3.4GHz/4.0GHz Core i7-6700 processor (65W TDP) that is more powerful despite its foundation in the earlier 6th Generation Skylake family.

LimeNET Enterprise (left) and embedded SBC details
(click images to enlarge)

Like the Mini, the Enterprise supplies 32GB DDR4-2133. You also get a 1TB HDD for storage, 2x USB 3.0 ports, and 6x USB 2.0 ports. Other features include 4K-ready DP and HDMI ports, an SD slot, dual M.2 slots, audio jacks, a debug connector, and a GbE port (but no onboard WiFi). There’s a 19 V (4.73A, 90W) power supply, custom heat pipe cooling with dual fans, and 4x antennas for the LimeSDR.

LimeNet Core and LimeNET Base Station

The LimeNet Core, which transforms into the LimeNET Base Station with the addition of a LimeNET Amplifier Chassis, ships with the new “LimeNET QPCIe” board. The 265 x 270 x 260mm LimeNet Core, is essentially a gaming PC built around a state-of-the-art Asus X99-M WS micro-ATX mainboard. The board features a 5th Gen “Broadwell E” Core i7-6950X — a 10-core, 2.00/3.50GHz processor with a 140W TDP.

LimeNET Core (left) and selected internal components including Asus X99-M WS
(click images to enlarge)

The LimeNET Core ships with 64GB DDR4-2133, plus an M.2 connected 1TB SATA 3.0 SSD and 8x SATA 3.0 interfaces. The system is further equipped with 2x USB 3.1 ports, 4x USB 3.0 ports, and 2x USB 2.0 ports. For communications, you get dual GbE ports, 3×3 802.11ac WiFi, and Bluetooth 4.0.

LimeNET Base Station from two angles
(click images to enlarge)

The integrated, shielded LimeNET QPCIe board, which is supported with 4x antennas, can also be used in other computers, and can be purchased separately. This new board appears to run the same Cyclone IV FPGA, but offers two LMS7002 transceiver chips instead of one, which allows for a 4×4 MIMO instead of 2×2 MIMO wireless communications.

LimeNET QPCIe board details
(click images to enlarge)

The separately available LimeNET Amplifier Chassis extends the Core computer with long range connectivity. The aluminum clad add-on encases the Core computer like a glove, adding dual MIMO units on each side. Each comprises a 10W RF output power amplifier, a duplexer, and a set of antennas, and offers a choice of 700MHz, 1.8GHz, 2.6GHz, and 3.5GHz frequencies.

The open source LimeNET software stack is built around Ubuntu Core, and includes Lime Suite, GNU Octave, GNURadio, LuaRadio, Pothosware, and pyLMS7002M. Back in February, Canonical said that over 3,600 developers were building Snaps — Snap packaged Ubuntu applications — for LimeSDR. Currently, however, there are only seven apps posted on the LimeNET store. All the APIs, drivers, and hardware will be open source as well.

Further information

The LimeNET systems are available now starting at $1,899 (see prices listed farther above). More information may be found at the LimeNET Crowd Supply page and the Lime Microsystems website.

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One response to “Open source LimeNET SDR computers run Ubuntu Core on Intel Core”

  1. W9PNG says:

    No ham radio bands………..

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