Ben CPU question

Bas Wijnen wijnen at
Sat Sep 17 01:52:28 EDT 2011

On 17-09-11 00:57, cenobyte at wrote:
> This is a question about the whole Ben system, not really the CPU. It
> has been said that the Ben is not Free, and perhaps it is not in the
> sense that the Soc cannot be remanufactured.

Indeed it cannot. Also, the datasheets ("programmer's manual") for their 
products are distributed (legally), but they ask us not to publish them, 
which is annoying (but not worse than other CPU makers, AFAIK).

> But surely it must be a
> little free, otherwise we could not have as a community added hardware
> acceleration to ogg's right?

The conclusion is not right. They have written mplayer-support for some 
undocumented instructions, and since mplayer is gpl, they published the 
code. This can be used to reverse-engineer those instructions.

> Is Qi talking about freedom in the 100%
> copyleft hardware sense and not the sense that the specifications of the
> system to program it are available?

Yes, but the Ben isn't there yet.

> There has got to be a reason so many
> people are seeing the Ben as a fit and worthy platform for free hacking
> so it should not be as bad as x686 for example?

The reason (for me at least) is not so much in the actual hardware of 
the Ben, but in the way Qi and the community look at it. The goal is to 
become 100% free. Even though the Ben is not, and possibly devices which 
are more free exist (I don't think they do), with this vision I like to 
develop for it. Because if I maintain my code to run on newer Qi 
devices, it will eventually run on a completely free device.

> For software hackers is
> the Ben as Free as it gets?

At this moment, yes.

> I heard that Wolfgang acquired rights to the
> MIPS soc?

No, he aquired the rights to a Chinese dictionary, which is almost 
identical to the Ben. However, those rights allow him to go to a factory 
and let them build it, not (always) to know what they're building for 
him. It's a crazy world...


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