Open Pandora - Open source gaming handled

5/8/2012 9:23:05 AM
David opens Pandora’s box, and has a peek inside.

The Open Pandora project is the result of a dream shared by enthusiasts Craig Rothwell, Faith Kilic and Michael Mrozek, who wanted an open source gaming handled that would still be a computer for the masses.

The Pandora is a very impressive piece of engineering. Within Nintendo DS-sized body, the developer has, presumably with the use of advance witchcraft, managed to cram in a 600MHz ARM Cortex A8 CPU, 512MB DDR-333 SDRAM, integrated wi-fi, Bluetooth, a resistive touch-screen, dual analogue game controllers, an eight-way d-pad with ABXY buttons and, impressively, a 43-button qwerty keyboard. To make use of this little of, the Pandora comes with a customised version of Ångström Linux that is specifically designed for Pandora usage but doesn’t lose any of the Linux look and feel.

Description: Open Pandora

Open Pandora

In its default setting, the Pandora acts very much like a standard Xfce Linux desktop PC. You can open up the internet, download and install applications (via the Pandora software centre, called PNDstore), change the desktop settings create new users, indulge in a spot of word processing, play a video, listen to some music, and so on. In fact, it is in essence, just a tiny computer.

Being a computer can lead to its own set of problems, but the Pandora is a hard wee beastie and with an unbrickable design it can take most computing tasks on the chin as well as any ‘normal’ desktop Linux PC.

On the other hand, the Pandora is also a gaming platform that’s capable of playing some impressive emulation, from the classic ZX Spectrum, and other 8-bits, all the way up to more modern 64-bit consoles, as well as the usual heap of Linux built games and a smarttering of excellent homebrew examples.

All of this can be executed from the Xfce desktop, or to make things easy, via an icon-driven GUI desktop mini-menu called PMenu. The beauty of this is that both of the desktop environments can be switched over to at any time, so once you’re finished with writing that report during the daily commute, you could switch over to the mini-menu and enjoy the rest of the journey while gaming away.

The auto-configuring dual analogue controllers feel tough and robust enough to handle even the most frantic of gaming experiences, and the 600MHz A8 whips along with enough grunt to spit out decent visuals, plus the addition of a PowerVR OpenGL 3D GPU makes short work of the more demanding graphics of modern Linux games and emulation. Games can be downloaded via the PNDstore, or simply by browsing any of the Pandora-related sites, although obtaining ROMS for emulators is a legally iffy task.

The Pandora isn’t without its issues, though. To get to that level of gaming and productivity bliss, a fair amount of configuration is necessary and if you’re not too au fair with the nuances of Linux, then the tinkering needed to get everything working may drive you well and truly mad. Be warned: this isn’t a pick-up-and-play device. But, as long as you respect the fact that this is a tiny Linux computer and a development device that’s only a few years old, then you’ll soon come to love its compact design and the vast potential that the Pandora can fill. However, should any trouble arise, then the Pandora pages are chock full of advice and help to get you going, and keep you on track. While it may not replace your current handheld, it is possibly one of the most adventurous projects out there, albeit a rather expensive one.


Price: $560

Manufacturer: OpenPandora


Features: PowerVR 3D graphics, TV output, USB, unbrickable design, kernel 2.6, 335g with battery, 140 x 83.4 x 27.5mm


TI OMAP3530 processor at 600MHz


512MB NAND FLASH memory

IVA2+ audio and video processor with TI’s DaVinci technology

ARM Cortex-A8 superscalar microprocessor core

PowerVR SGX530 (110MHz officially) OpenGL ES 2.0 compliant 3D hardware

Wi-fi 802.11b/g (up to 18dBm output)

Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR (3Mbps) (Class 2, + 4dBm)

800x480 resolution LTPS LCD with resistive touch screen, 4.3” widescreen

Dual analogue controllers

Full gamepad controls plus shoulder buttons

Dual SDHC card slots (up to 64GB of storage currently)

TV output (composite and S-Video)

Internal microphone

Stereo line level inputs and outputs

43 button QWERTY and numeric keypad

USB 2.0 OTG port (1.5/12/480Mbps) with charging capability

USB 2.0 HOST port (480Mbps) capable of providing the full 500mA to attached devices (examples include USB memory, keyboard, mouse, 3G modem, GPS)





Quality: 9

Value: 7

Overall: 8


Possibly the ultimate open-source gaming handheld, but it’s not for the faint hearted


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