Intel Edison: A Desktop From 1998 In An SD Card

According to the barrage of press releases hitting the Hackaday tip line, the Consumer Electronics Show is upon us with announcements of amazing new technologies such as jackets with a cell phone pocket, alarm clocks with Bluetooth, and iPhone cases with a kickstand. What an age to live in.

Among the more interesting announcements at CES is the Intel Edison, a tiny device that combines a dual core Intel SoC with ‘a Pentium instruction set’, WiFi and Bluetooth adapter, and some amount of storage into an SD card form factor. Apart from that, little else is known about the Intel Edison and the only other primary source for this announcement appears to be Intel CEO [Brian Krzanich]’s CES keynote address.

The Edison will be able to run Linux, ‘other operating systems’, and will support Wolfram, the Mathematica-esque programming language where everything is a data type. Edison will also have an app store. Because that’s a thing now, apparently.

If you can’t wait for Edison to be released sometime in the middle of 2014, we’d suggest you check out the Intel Galileo. It’s an Arduino compatible board based on the same Quark SoC found in the Edison but in a significantly more convenient form factor. The Galileo doesn’t have on board WiFi or Bluetooth, but at least you don’t have to wait for the release of the Edison and the complications of a purpose-built breakout board for whatever application you’re thinking of.

85 thoughts on “Intel Edison: A Desktop From 1998 In An SD Card

  1. is there pictures of the other side of this or am i just missing something obvious ?? I want to see the pin out configuration is it the same as real sd card ?? also i would be have been more impressed if this was microSD form factor.

    1. A dual core pentium with wifi, bluetooth and half a gig of RAM stuffed into a SD card form factor and you’re complaining that it’s too big? Give us a break. It’s highly doubtful you have the chops to utilize this in the first place, so why complain?

    2. you can (barely) see the back in this vid:

      there is an SD pinout with also gpio which looks like either smd pads or test pads

      i can see using a standard sd card holder to connect to it but i’m not sure how you would do the gpio
      maybe have additional connectors like for sim cards or testing chips

    3. of course you would be more impressed when it would be the size of a micro SD card but that’s just a stupid thing to say now. It’s really impressive that this is a working computer and can be used as an intelligence component for different things, very exited!

  2. Don’t see how you can get BT and wifi in a microSD form factor, i think the SD size will already have enough problems with the antenna :)

    I especially like all the * in the press text , as if there are footnotes but i see none…

    it all depends on the price point of this thing if it will be really usefull

    1. Phh. I’ve got a Bluetooth HCI serial part here that’s 14mm x 7mm including antenna. Ok, it’s a chipantenna, so it’s 3mm thick at the thickest part, but that’s still pretty tiny.

      1. Read the article:

        “If you can’t wait for Edison to be released sometime in the middle of 2014, we’d suggest you check out the Intel Galileo. It’s an Arduino compatible board based on the same Quark SoC found in the Edison…”

        1. This is a 400MHz x86 chip – hardly thunderous performance at the ready. Unless you stick an OS on this thing you’ll be forced to spend your time reading Intel manuals to get it to address more than 1MB of memory by booting through decades of archaic crap Intel can’t remove.

          1. > This is a 400MHz x86 chip – hardly thunderous performance at the ready.

            Right. Because a 400MHz dual-core pentium is somehow a dog compared to the plethora of competing ARM microcontrollers.

            > Unless you stick an OS on this thing you’ll be forced to spend your time reading Intel manuals

            On no! You mean it needs *software* too? THE HORROR!

            > to get it to address more than 1MB of memory by booting through decades of archaic crap Intel can’t remove.

            Have you read the datasheet to verify this is the case?


            There is absolutely NO mention of A20, and even if there were, those ‘problems’ were solved over 20 years ago. Stop speculating out your arse to make yourself look smart.

          2. Are you really implying that you’re denser than every single nerdy teenager, demoscener, and video game developer during the 1990s? Or that you’re constitutively incapable of using other peoples’ libraries to switch into protected mode?

            Heck, it’s not like it even needs a conventional BIOS here, they could just start in protected mode anyway.

          3. This is really a non-issue, if you don’t want to run an OS and want access to more than 1MB of ram it is relatively easy to modify the address descriptors to allow it to work without dealing with the complexities of the MMU. There are plenty of examples of doing this online, it is often referred to as unreal mode.

    1. The advantage of this is it’s a tiny computer. You can add computing power to things where weight or space are at a premium. Imagine a small autonomous quad drone that could have processing power on board. You could plot routes, respond to input, maybe even process or save visual data in real time without having to relay it.

      Imagine hobby applications that could run involved programs without having to dedicate any significant space to a computer. Handheld devices having extra capabilities, like for example medical devices. Off the top of my head, imagine a tool like an otoscope, but with built in image recognition features to flag up recognised problems.
      You could even put them on items in a production line and have them run diagnostics, or send info to reroute or control the manufacturing steps on a item by item basis, then remove the computer at the end and put it back on a new item, just cycling round.

        1. Maybe.

          I’m thinking the credit-card sized boards like Beaglebone, Galileo, RasPi, etc… might be better for those uses. If your TV is small enough that it makes a difference how big is the screen? You could make a nice car infotainment system with a credit-card sized board. The SD-card sized one has to be very limited in it’s IO pins plus with that level of minaturization I bet it is more prone to problems from power line noise and all the other issues auto mounted electronics have to deal with.

          1. You really do not need much in the way io. USB 3.0 is extremely fast so you could do all io with the CPU through USB 3.0 You have 9 pins in the SD form factor so one for power, one ground that would allow you to have 3 USB 3.0 channels for IO which would be more than enough. As to the power and everything else that is also not a problem you just put all the protection into the display/head unit that you plug it into.

  3. Wow you guys are missing the big picture here. This is actually a cool device, if it can show up on a host computer as a device and get enough power to run, I see this as the ultimate hacker tool. Plus in the SD card and the onboard linux boots and then starts searching the host computer for the specific files and retrieves them. Or better yet, in a digital camera, grabs the photo that was just uploaded, process it and then send it along or search the photo for specific information, facial recognition, etc….

    1. “… This is actually a cool device”

      If it’s anything like the SOC on the Galileo, it will be a surprisingly warm (possibly even hot) device.

      Snark aside, I know of several legacy industrial PCs which could benefit from Quark-based replacements. One is running on 1990s hardware depending on a very ropey ISA board which requires constant care and trawling ebay for rare spares.

    2. “if it can show up on a host computer as a device and get enough power to run, I see this as the ultimate hacker tool”

      You all ready can. I started a while ago working on some code for PIC32s where it would act as a USB MSD and HID to autorun programs on hosts where this functionality was disabled/impeded. I got the some MSD part down, including the ability to hide files from the host after a certain conditions were met, but got distracted by other things before finishing the HID portion. I also wanted to look in to fingerprinting the host OS to automatically determine what process to use to autorun a file in a similar way nmap fingerprints hosts on the internet, but with USB rather than TCP.

    3. “if it can show up on a host computer as a device and get enough power to run, I see this as the ultimate hacker tool”

      I suspect that utility will vary sharply: many computers ‘support’ SD cards with embedded controllers that present them to the host OS as USB MSC devices. The firmware of those embedded controllers is probably dreadful, so bricking could definitely be on the agenda; but they are also built right down to price, so it would be quite a challenge to hide anything or reprogram to add additional malicious functions, at least without breaking the device.

      Now, for the systems that support SD or SDIO natively, and handle the communications directly, I suspect that that is an interface that (aside from some degree of testing to ensure that no commonly available SD cards cause the computer to lock up when inserted or anything similarly dire) has definitely not received the security scrutiny that one might hope for….

        1. To be fair it is a apples and oranges comparison. These devices arent really intended to be a SoC platform, they’re designed for a completely different application. This may not be a big deal if you’re doing a one off hack, but if you ever intend on using it for a product, it would be incredibly risky proposal.

          1. (Replying to self due to nesting depth restrictions)

            Sure, I’m not saying the Electric Imp is the be-all and end-all of anything. It’s just an example of a similar product that already exists and is “web based” and “app store” oriented. If you want something with an open linux system on it, various wifi sd cards can do that trick.

            Just pointing out that Intel haven’t really “invented” anything here.

          2. The Electric Imp *is not and has never been* an SD card. It’s a computer-on-module that uses an SD-confusable connector.

            Similarly, electric scooters that use an XLR connector for their 36v battery charger are not, in fact, microphones.

          3. I cant even consider the EI to be in the same class. I went thru their website and couldnt find any real specs on the product page or data sheet beyond it has a ‘Cortex M3’ processor with a proprietary OS with a bastardized “visualization” environment and a proprietary programming language. For christ sakes they cant even tell me what specific processor it has, how much ram or flash.

          4. Also from the SparkFun product page comments

            ” must buy a specific chip with an embedded “serial number” and incorporate it into your hardware design
            must get permission from “cloud” before you can program this thing (bless the imp)
            must load code only through their “cloud” (imp controlled servers?)
            must use this C-like language (because every new widget must create yet another new language?)
            must put this thing on your network
            cannot turn off the network access when programming is done

            Looks like quite a bit of potential for security holes and any functionality depends on the folks at imp keeping their servers running in the future. I don’t see any imps in my future. IMHO this is a really great concept poorly implemented.”

          5. “Similarly, electric scooters that use an XLR connector for their 36v battery charger are not, in fact, microphones.”

            Recording engineer being one of the hats I wear, that’s one of the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. :-)

  4. Wow, you guys can be a tough crowd! :)

    For roughly half again the area of an AtMega you’ve got a 400MHz 32 bit cpu, on board boot ROM, 512k SRAM, possibly with DDR3 memory – that’s pretty nifty.

    Intel has a data sheet on the Quark SoC stuff… looking at the Edison board, I’m guessing just go through the list and tick of the SoC features that aren’t obviously on the board (eg: don’t see ethernet or pcie there).

    It will be interested whether SD card format was just for convenience (like Brandano suggest), a slave (eg: pretends to be SD flash for programming) or maybe it implements the _host_ side of SD (like you put other SD cards in parallel and it can talk to them).

        1. Horrible because *you* say so? I have a Galileo sitting right in front of me, which uses the same SoC as the Edison. Gotta say, I’ve been REALLY impressed with the performance compared to other SoCs and microcontrollers in this class. Perhaps if you actually had some first hand experience instead of vomiting uninformed drivel you’d have something of value to contribute.

      1. That was the first thing I thought of when I seen this post.

        Designing a board with several SD Card slots in parallel where you can plugin a node and expand the cluster over time. Not to mention the fact that each subsequent generation would likely be compatible and possibly have a faster processor (within reason of course).

        Then there is both the space savings over standard sized desktops and laptops.

  5. This might be worth keeping an eye out for but that all depends upon what the rest of the specs are vs the price of each unit.

    Now if they were offering these with a decent amount of ram at a price comparable to the Raspberry PI then it could be very useful…..but only time will tell.

  6. Why is a company the size of Intel not giving these away like sweeties to the hacker community, … oh… perhaps — like RIM, they dont get it — A device like this will *fail* unless they are A) easy to obtain (and cheap).. and B) easy to use (and thus open source)… both of those from Intel.. I have my doubts.

    1. You’re the one who doesnt get it. Intel normally gives away engineering samples, I know I see enough engineering sample processors on ebay. They may not give them away to anyone, but anyone isnt going to buy these in quantity. The typical HaD reader who couldnt get a sample thru their job, isnt likely going to ever do anything with it which would result in a quantity orders. So that market segment is insignificant and meaningless to them.

      Do you see RasPi giving boards away to any hacker who wants one?

  7. It has WIFI and blue tooth.
    I had purchased a USB server device which turned out to not be a USB server device, it is instead a USB over IP device and a pretty crappy device to boot. This little computer could be used to build a file server that allows you to plug in your external USB drives and automatically load them over the network.

    How about a CD/DVD duplicator utilizing external USB drives.

    One could also install a CNC controller on the little guy and run a CNC Mill, Laser, 3D printer or even an electronic knitting machine.

    As far as the 12 GPIOs are concerned, a breakout board with additional GPIOs controlled in a matrix setup would provide as many GPIOs as needed.

    So there are plenty of projects that makers could use this little duo processor computer for.

    1. “One could also install a CNC controller on the little guy and run a CNC Mill, Laser, 3D printer or even an electronic knitting machine.”

      In the ’80s I designed and managed the group that implemented a large machine tool (16 axis) controller with integrated Pascal plus ladder diagram controller for a major OEM controller manufacturer that was a 68010 tri-processor system. I can unequivocally say that this Edison could easily act as several instances of the core of that product. There’s a whole lot of hardware required around that core to make a full CNC controller, but still…

  8. Very excited to learn more about this. Some of the intel folks are here in Vegas for CEs and they are going to give us a demo… Just saw the meetup on my hacker space page.

  9. I’m on the Intel Edison team and would like to address some of the above comments. Also I and a few others from Intel will be at the Las Vegas hackerspace meetup Thursday to show some demos and can answer more questions then. If you are at CES, please drop by the Intel booth too!

    – Edison does NOT use the same SoC as Galileo. It uses Quark cores but is a new design. For one thing the Edison SoC has two cores (the Galileo has one), and the Edison SoC also uses significantly lower power.
    – The two cores run different OSes. One runs Linux, the other a lightweight real-time OS. This is so things like tight device control loops can run under an RTOS and will not be limited by Linux overhead, and yet to program application logic all the capabilities of Linux are available (and all programming languages: C, C++, javascript, perl, python… heck, program it in scheme if you want!)
    – The Edison runs under the 1W limit of the SD card spec (total *system* power) and is mechanically and electrically compatible. It should be usable in any device that can use a normal SD card. Also you can significantly reduce power consumption by powering down WiFi, etc.

    1. Is the SoC itself PC-compatible? As in, can it (at least) boot DOS? It’s definitely no match for modern PCs but this looks fun for things like retro gaming, or maybe hiding it in a mouse (the computer kind) to create an “invisible PC”.

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