Agenda VR3 PDA


In the fall of 2001, I picked up an Agenda VR3 PDA at Fry's in Phoenix. At the time, the VR3 was made by Agenda Computing, a subsidiary of a worldwide company with locations in Asia, Europe and the US. Since then, the parent coproration has shut the company down and the VR3 can now be obtained from Softfield who started out as the contract manufacturers of the device and have since obtained the rights to build/sell it.

The VR3 is unique in that it started out as a user supported platform. The designers opened up the architecture and firmware to such an extent that it is possible to continue to improve it long after the original developers have scattered. Aside from the folks at Softfield who still support the hardware, the Linux kernel and GNU-based OS are still under development by a small but fanatical group of folks who gather at Agenda Wiki to exchange tips and techniques for using and improving this device.

Kernel Upgrades

As originally shipped, the Linux kernel for the VR3 had some shortcomings. The hardware platform includes a wide array of peripherals, such as digital audio I/O, infrared I/O, Consumer IR (remote control), dual-color LEDs, a buzzer and numerous buttons and sensors. Not all of these were actively supported by the kernel though, leaving a plethora of opportunities for those of us interested in kernel hacking.


Since audio applications are one of my interests, I gravitated to the audio input features nearly from the start. Not long after getting my VR3, I started trying to play and record digital audio. I was pleased to see that the common application Sox was included in the OS, and that copying a standard WAV formatted file to the VR3 allowed me to play it through the mono mic/headphone that is included with the device. Sox also supports recording, but every time that I tried this, it would hang the machine. Obviously there was something wrong.

Browsing through the mail archives, it became clear that I was not the first to discover this. Further discussions with the original developers revealed that after getting the audio output working, other priorities had forced them to abandon work on the audio input code, and it hadn't progressed since. Shortly thereafter, Agenda went out of business and the world of the VR3 became very quiet.

What's new

Recently though, VR3 development has begun to heat up. Several folks have set up a range of Sourceforge depots to maintain the VR3 kernel, and a new package-based system has sprung up to maintain the OS. The Wiki is active, and the mail list is fairly busy. When the issue of audio input came around on the mail list again, several of us volunteered to work on it. As a result, I've got a few things to contribute.

Updated Kernel Sound Driver

I've done a fair bit of work on the drivers/sound/vr4181.c kernel sound driver. The current version can be found on Agenda OS at Sourceforge.

Milan Pikula has a much better driver available at his agenda website which I reccomend instead of mine.

Audio Tools

To test the audio driver as I work on it, I rely on a few home-made userland tools.

oss-beep is a simple little digital audio output tester which allows me to quickly generate sinewaves at various frequencies, channels and word-lengths. This is important in testing output quality, as well as driver capabilities.

ramrec is a RAM-buffered recording application that is needed to test input quality. Sox can't be used due to the way it writes to the disk.

rec-test is a simplified app that can record a few DMA buffers worth of audio data and dump the results to stdout. I use this as a quick check when banging on the driver.

wavedump is a host application that assists me in analyzing the audio input in greater detail. I use it in conjunction with Octave to do spectral analysis.

record is a FLTK/FLPDA GUI application for the VR3 which allows you to record and playback .WAV files. Here's a snow 1.2 binary as well.

Audio Hardware Mods

As part of my work on the VR3 audio driver, I cleaned up the bypassing on the audio input preamp. Here's a tarball describing the changes I had to make.

Address Database Conversion

Although I do a fair amount of hacking on the VR3, I also use a Sharp Zaurus for day to day PDA functions. Recently, I lost my Z, so I needed a way to convert the Qtopia Desktop Contacts database to a format the VR3 could use. The result is z2a, a perl script which parses the Qtopia XML format and spits out a GnomeCard compatible database that you can load into your VR3.

Please let me know if this is useful for you.

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Eric Brombaugh