First thoughts on the new UP Core

I normally stay away from talking about x86 single-board computers because I don’t have a lot to say about them. They’re too expensive, and run too hot, to be interesting. Enter the new UP Core funding now on Kickstarter.

The UP Core is just 56.5 mm × 66 mm (2.2 in × 2.6 in) and powered by a 64-bit Quad Core Intel Atom clocked at either 1.44 GHz or 1.92 GHz. It will ship with either 2 GB or 4 GB of RAM, and either 32 GB or 64 GB of eMMC. The board has a USB 3 port, HDMI, DSI/eDP, and two MIPI-CSI ports supporting either a 2 MP or 8 MP camera. It has both WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth LE built-in.

In other words it’s powerful enough to serve as a desktop PC running Linux, Android, or a full Windows 10 installation. The cheapest UP Core configuration—with 1 GB memory and 16 GB eMMC—is €69, or around $75.

Connectivity

On the underside of the board there is a 100-pin I/O expansion connector carrying UART, SPI, two USB HSIC, PCI-Express, Intel Sensors Hub, SDIO, and GPIO.

Top and bottom views of the UP Core. (Image credit: Aaeon Europe)

To connect to this bus you can add one (or two) expansion boards to the Kickstarter pledge. The first board exposes high-speed signals such as PCI-express, Gb LAN, and USB 3.0. The second exposes low-speed signals such as RS-232/422/484, I2C, I2S, and GPIO. However, and perhaps somewhat more interestingly, if you design and build an expansion board and it is selected by the UP Community, you will be entitled to royalties on your board which will then be sold in the UP Shop.

Which sounds quite a lot like the concept behind the littleBits BitLab which opened back in 2014 as an “app store” for user-generated hardware to a great deal of interest among makers, and closed to a lot less press at the tail end of last month.

You can still buy the littleBits hardware development kit, around which BitLab bit development was based, but without the chance to market your own littleBit to the community. The bitLab, and a couple of other examples, have proved that operating a platform-specific marketplace is actually a lot harder than it seems.

Choices, Choices

The UP Core isn’t the first board from the same manufacturer to fund on Kickstarter. The original UP board came with a Raspberry Pi 2 form factor, and funded on Kickstarter back in 2015. It’s now in general distribution through Mouser. Following that, the manufacturer came back to Kickstarter with the UP Squared, which funded last year and shipped at the end of last month.

The cheapest UP board which had an 1.9 GHz Intel Atom was €89, which is around $100. The cheapest UP Squared which shipped with a 2.4 GHz Intel Celeron was similarly priced. However the original UP board now retails on Mouser for €155.69, which is more like $175 than $100. That’s quite a price hike, and I’m assuming we can expect a similar one when the new UP Core enters normal retail channels. Although the boards do seem to be on offer on the UP shop in a staggeringly confusing number of configurations with price points ranging from $89 all the way up to $299.

Will It Fly?

This is one of the problems I have with the UP Core. Sometimes too much choice isn’t a good thing, and as many Kickstarter project creators have learned giving backers that sort of choice can lead to problems. There’s a reason why Apple doesn’t give you much room to configure your MacBook, and there’s only a handful of Raspberry Pi models on the market.

The departure from the original Raspberry Pi form factor may also be a problem. As the success of the ASUS Tinker board has shown, to beat the Pi first you have to build a better one, and right now I think the UP Core’s main competition is the slightly cheaper ARM-based ASUS Tinker board rather than the much cheaper and ubiquitous Raspberry Pi.

In a very price sensitive market, you can buy a cheap tablet for the price of the UP Core after all. At $75 the UP Core may just be too expensive for the average maker to start tinkering with it. Unlike a lot of x86-powered single-board computers I actually think this one is sort of interesting, but these days it takes very little computing to be good enough.

At this price point you have to wonder whether the UP Core is too much computing for most people. Why pay for faster computing you’re not going to need, and why pay $75 for a single board computer, when you can buy a whole laptop for $89?

54 thoughts on “First thoughts on the new UP Core

    1. If you wanted a DIY NAS, the Up Squared would make more sense. It has 3 USB3.0-ports, an actual SATA-port and an mPCI-E-port that you could slap an extra mPCI-E SATA-adapter.

      1. Thanks for the tip, will check it out. I have an old mini ITX with atom chip as my NAS. So nice a quick but it’s a bit big and needs ATX power supply. Was hoping to make something more compact and NAS like. Have an old Stora case waiting to take new innards. Took the Stora offline as it’s firware was still on 2.6 kernel. It gave years of unbroken service though. Just could not risk it with no security patches. Which is why looking at x86 based NAS because then it’s on me to maintain it. Which should be easy……. (famous last words)

      1. … Because those same SBC’s only support SATA1.0? (the ones with the Allwinner chips won’t work with SSD’s or external drive boxes that expect a minimum of SATA3.0 or so.). Also: USB3.0 means you can plug in a gigabit ethernet adapter and actually get decent bandwidth, or just a big jbod drive box and have many TB of storage, or even both at once, with a USB3.0 hub, since it has so much bandwidth to spare, none of which you can do with an SBC with sata.

    2. As fun and educating it seams to have a DIY NAS(build few in the past). If you want to get to using it for actual backup that is always available and reliable you need RAID1 and 2 hard drives.
      And if you need a NAS with room for 2 hard drive s and RAID 1 you buy Synology and just install the plug-ins you need like torrent, git, php server, jira etc.
      On the other hand if you want just a simple media server then SBC with FreeNAS or Xpenology is also a good bet and there are also raid1 dual drive USB enclosures for cheap on amazon

  1. I think that there’s a market for this definitely….it just isn’t the same as that of the Raspberry Pi 3. I’m happy to see it exist and provide those that need x86 architecture, more RAM and / or more performance an alternative to the RPI3 but for an understandably higher price.

    Frankly I think that ASUS should’ve gone for something like this rather than use an ARM Rockchip SOC.

    1. I have several first gen up boards for clustering, pc from china didn’t cut it, neither laptop motherboards, and especially nothing in arm architecture as I needed to use proprietary linux software only in x86. Comparing an Up board to an Rasp pi or Thinker board is incorrect, it’s actually closer to competing with Intel’s Joule or something industrial that’s open to makers. Even then, Joule is over priced for what it does compared to Up, so if you’re looking for a single board x86 choose from Up, Lattepanda, or maybe JaguarBoard.

  2. “In other words it’s powerful enough to serve as a desktop PC running Linux, Android, or a full Windows 10 installation.”
    with 1 GiBi of ram and 16G of storage? windows 10? ok, ok, Let me try to repeat without laugh: “run a full Windows 10 installation with 1 GiBi of ram and ah… aHA AHAHAHABWHAHAHHAH”. Oh the fun! More hilarious than a Nigerian Scam mail, BWHAHRHARHAHHAAAA

    1. The up one can be had with 4GB of RAM and 64GB emmc for approx $199. If I really wanted the board, that would be the option that I’d go for. And I would never install Windows 10 on it still. Not just because Windows 10 is a RAM hog but because Microsoft is evil.

      1. I agree with not putting windows on this, windows is slow enough on a fairly decent desktop so would probably be unworkable on this thing. But if I don’t need a windows compatible board, I can’t see the point in this (or any of the other ones) so I’ll just stick to my Raspberry Pi 3 and run linux on that.

    2. I have a windows tablet that has 1gig or RAM and runs Windows 10 just fine. Its by no means a power machine, but for web browsing and simple tasks its just fine. Windows 10 is made to run on low powered machines if need be.

    3. Windows 10 is not too bad if you kill all the telemetry,pushed updates, and Cortana as that eats up a lot of memory,network bandwidth, and cpu cycles.
      I really don’t see why Microsoft thought it was a good idea to hobble what could have been a usable OS.
      Seems they wanted to jump on the user data analytics and targeted ads market right when it looks to be ready to crash due to too many players and the general public getting sick of it’s spying and being a major cause of identity theft.
      But I wouldn’t run windows on this anyway and instead would opt for something along the lines of Linux Mint or Elementary OS.

  3. “As the success of the ASUS Tinker board has shown”. Success please prove to me how this board is a success? It was released officially 2 months ago and I’ve yet to see any projects using it on hackaday, hackster.io or anywhere on the web….at best it is still a new product….I doubt it’ll even get to the popularity of the NanoPi’s…..but let’s wait and see before we pass out all sorts of judgements

      1. I’d like to think that the point of the article is the same as all most HaD material: to make us think, investigate, and grow. For example–

        (All you Raspberry Pi fanboyz and fangurlz–tune out. This is way too technical for you).

        ZOTAC Atom Dual-Core D510/Intel NM10/WiFi/A&V&GbE/Mini DTX Motherboard Mini ITX Motherboard s NM10-B-E (NM10-DTX WIFI) —

        CPU: Intel Atom Dual-Core Processor D510(1.66 GHz, FSB 667MHz)
        Chipset: Intel NM10 Express
        Memory: 2x 240pin DDR2-800/667 DIMMs, Max capacity 4GB
        SATA: 6x SATA2 Ports(4 Ports Support RAID 0, 1, 0+1); 1x eSATA2 Port
        LAN: Integrated Gigabit Ethernet Controller; 802.11n Wireless LAN
        Ports: 10x USB 2.0 Ports (6 rear, 4 by headers); 1x eSATA2 Port;1x PS/2 Port; 1x VGA Port; 1x HDMI Port; 1x Coaxial SPDIF Port; 1x Optical SPDIF Port; 1x RJ45 LAN Port; Audio I/O Jacks

        –$49.99 + $10 shipping from Amazon.

        1. Two questions: How long can I run this off of a USB power bank? Assume its 8000mah. Also, where is the GPIO headers? Bonus Question, would this be good for a Gameboy Zero mod?

          1. Another reading comprehension expert heard from.

            What is there about “All you Raspberry Pi fanboyz and fangurlz–tune out. This is way too technical for you”, that you don’t understand?

    1. (to add to the above)
      What success of the Tinker board affects the color of the sky on your planet? Every single review says…it’s maybe a little better hardware than a pi, far too expensive, and the software support is…unprintable, especially compared to the huge support available from both the foundation and the huge pi community. If you want a pi killer – it’s software and community first, the hardware isn’t rocket surgery these days.

      I use a lot of pies in my LAN of things and just for fun. (gotta call the plural something…).
      No, they are not that fast or capable (but I even use one with a 2tb spinner as a slow but reliable NAS), but they are cheap, use next to no power, and supported. As I wrote on my own forums – that’s why I chose them over higher performing things available (odroid xu4, anything intel etc). I will ALWAYS (well, till the end of my personal life) be able to get replacement pies – there are just that many out there, there will always be at least used ones for sale even at yard sales, much less ebay. Intel drops their “killer” SBCs at the drop of a hat if they don’t get popular (that’d be all of them so far unless you count the NUC). No good for someone who wants things that last and maybe even have an upgrade path without re-doing the entire hack.

      I’ll reserve judgement on this. If it’s not Intel doing it, it could be OK, and x86 software will surely be around awhile. But it’s the telephone problem when you want a community – who buys the first few phones if there’s no one to talk to? It’ll take a LOT to be significant these days.

  4. ~2Gz ain’t bad, but the physical DDR3 address limit to 2GB.
    Questions:

    1 – Does this have Intel-BootGuard pre-enabled? If so…. What instruction-set* does the UEFI boot 32bit or 64bit??

    2 – Does this need an IME-like firmware that cannot be disabled? Or…

    3 – Can I start my program in flash at 0xFFF0** irrespective of IME-firmware (Bootstrap address)?

    4 – If Intel-BootGuard is burnt-in (Enabled) then will a signing app (Source code or not) be provided for custom ROMs?

    5 – As in, can COREBOOT be supported on this (Or even to a Libreboot standard if possible)

    Failing those in a way that directly programming one truly from (Legacy level at least, i.e. 0xFFF0) scratch is impossible…. Nah!

    * Some Atom based systems implement 32-bit boot on 64-bit processors’ firmware ROM… No problem for hybrid kernels.

    ** 0xFFF0 – partially disassembled a Tesco tablet PC of the 2nd type (Can’t remember yet), however it started the x86 boot in the legacy locations and in 16-bit (It appeared to be 16-bit). Failed to reprogram it because of Intel-BootGuard :(.

  5. I bought a Chinese board with a Core i3 5005U in an aluminium alloy case for $120. The only things needed are a DDR3L memory stick (~$20, I guess?) and a used 2.5 inch HDD from an old notebook (free) or an msata SSD and you are done.

    Not sure if the board will really cost $70 or scalpers and resellers will again sell it for 100-200 dollars like it happened several times before. If they fail to set a good price then it will be in the same place where all pico-ITX boards end up.

  6. x86 is evil (bad, old, hot ISA).
    Microsoft is evil (we already know why)
    on top of all, every embedded board that need a headsink (in this case, quite large than the whole board) to me is a “no buy by default”
    To summarize, this board is evil fail. Nice try, companeros. See you next time.

    1. For me the killer would be is the UEFI/BIOS the horrible compromised 32bit version often shipped with Windows tablets or will any X86 OS boot just fine.
      Though I’d rather see an AMD version of this as they have a more useful GPU.
      If it can load Linux,BSD,and AROS from a USB stick without having to jump through hoops then it’s a useful board.

  7. pure shit.

    “hur de dur it can run windows” why?!?!

    also where the fack is a proper gpio?!?!, and how the hell would you even program to one from .net framework? this is why windows will never be a IOT platform. there exists no standard out there for windows to preform low level IO without some sort of supporting hardware ( like a arduino) to do the heavy lifting . pure microsoft fanboy crap!

  8. “nice”, almost (pcie, sata, ram, tons slower, more expensive, no opensource firmware) as good as used Lenovo X220 board. Here is an example of what to look for:

    http://allegro.pl/plyta-glowna-lenovo-x220-sprawna-komplet-i6836850202.html

    60 zl = ~$17 for 100% working motherboard with i5-2520m, 1Gbit lan, 2x PCIEx1 (mPCIE and ExpressCard slots = usable out of the box), DP, VGA, SD reader, 3x SATA (2.5 slot, mPCIE, eSATA on dock connector), up to 16GB ram, 7x USB 2.0 (extra ones on dock/camera/mPCIE/ExpressCard connectors), optional DVI, eSATA and 6x USB 2.0 with $10 dock(4337). 19V power supply.

    http://allegro.pl/plyta-lenovo-x230-i5-3320m-sprawna-fv-i6840061333.html
    190zl = ~$50 for 100% working motherboard with i5-3320M, little bit faster than above + 2x USB 3.0

    around $20-50 on ebay for those motherboards in US.

  9. Somewhere, in all the hacker-y-ness of all of y’all’s mindsets, you seem to have forgotten why x86 might, maybe, be a bonus: Not everyone wants to recompile everything just to use a cheap little board. Even more to the point, not everyone is as Stallman-stupid as everyone here wants the world to believe, and some of us actually do use, and even have fondness for, closed-source software that we can’t recompile.

    Windows isn’t great, but it isn’t *evil*. x86 isn’t great, either, but nor is it either *evil*. The only evil I see here is the cultist-level adherence to a failed dogma of all FLOS*, all the time, make no exceptions. The right tool for the job is *ALWAYS* better than the wrong tool being used for a holier-than-though personal emotional high.

    1. I guess closed source software can be ok some of the time. And sure sometimes we have to join forces with the devil (Microsoft, Google and Apple here) to get things done…..but that doesn’t make the devil any less evil.

      1. Pet peeve: the abuse of the word “evil”. I’m sure there are pictures and video I could show what real “evil” is. Calling closed software “evil” is asinine at best. Undesirable, maybe? But not evil.

        1. Actually, ‘evil’ is the best descriptor if you go down the Stallmanism/moral imperative route. According to this line of thinking, Open Source is a good unto itself and closed source is equivalent to slavery.

          Of course, I wouldn’t make this asinine argument, but then again I’m not paid by MIT to sleep under a desk.

          Now, most Open Source advocates don’t really care about the inherent goodness of their licenses – they’re more pragmatic and utilitarian. There is a large contingent of moral imperative advocates, though, and this is what they actually believe.

          1. No doubt, but the way the current world throws it around, to the point where practically everything is ‘evil’. What’s the point of having all those other descriptive words then?

          2. First of all trying to put all open source advocates or even those that think that Microsoft, Google and apple ate evil into a stallmanist box is not helpful.

            Microsoft, Google and apple are inherently monopolistic entities that invade our privacy, spy on us and tirelessly attempt to ‘control’ the way that all humans access the internet specifically and technology in general. Open source software is basically humanity’s only refuge from these three corporate monsters. Open source democratizes access to software & technology and respects your privacy. So yes calling any three of these corporations ‘evil’ is a valid use of the word.

          3. if you don’t like the word evil….how about

            maniacal
            self-centred
            selfish
            care only about their bottom line
            vitriolic
            diabolic
            fascistic

            I could go on

    2. No MS is definitely very evil these days with it’s spying and data mining.
      But if you are not using it in a battery operated device the better general purpose performance of X86 could be a bonus for more traditional code.

    3. …cheap little board…“. What a great way to describe the Raspberry Pi.
      There are plenty of LITTLE boards which are NOT hobbled by such tricks as slow-ethernet-thru-USB; closed, secret binaries; no mass storage; etc.
      Then there is THE cheap little board.

  10. x86 has one really great thing going for it – OS support.

    Not Windows! I’m talking about FreeBSD. Support for FreeBSD on ARM is still second tier, which means it doesn’t get official packages and isn’t hooked into the usual freebsd-update method of getting up to date. This has forced an awkward tradeoff for my home server –
    * use Linux (ugh), or
    * use costly x86, or
    * use ARM and live on community support.

    Cheap x86 SBCs would solve all three!

  11. If someone can build a dual-NIC (or single-NIC with VLAN switch) board for this it will become a pretty darn powerful OpenWRT device. I’m thinking internet-filter in a box as an example.

  12. Lacks ethernet on the back plane and PoE power ability.
    Perhaps also with DC output for powering the monitor.

    It’s always wifi, wifi, but you’re still running a cord for the power if it’s DC jack or PoE.

    1. > Lacks PoE power ability.

      Just buy the TP-Link TL-POE10R, it’s $15 on Amazon. Adds PoE to nearly any device (that consumes <12W).

      Why should they add PoE to this and further increase the price for everyone when only a few people need/want PoE?

  13. “Why pay for faster computing you’re not going to need, and why pay $75 for a single board computer, when you can buy a whole laptop for $89?”

    Because the said laptop is an ARM board, and a slow one at that, with no expansion options. You might need the computing if you are goint to use it, say, as a computer motherboard to make your own laptop since it is a lot thinner than most SBC:s thanks to single stacked ports.

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