Hacker-Friendly SBCs: Which ones?

We have run out of fruits to name all the single-board computers on the market, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a rotten one. Bad documentation, incomplete specifications and deprecated firmwares are just some of the caveats of buying only by price and hardware features. To help you out in case you just need to find a great and open-enough SBC with community support, [Eric] has put together a decent list with 81 individually reviewed boards over at hackerboards.com.

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Another Small Linux Computer With Pi In Its Name

Since the introduction of the Raspberry Pi, the embedded Linux scene has been rocked by well supported hardware that is produced in quantity, a company that won’t go out of business in six months, and a huge user base. Yes, there are a few small problems with the Raspberry Pi and its foundation – some stuff is still closed source, the Foundation itself plays things close to their chests, and there are some weird binary blobs somebody will eventually reverse engineer. Viewed against the competition, though, nothing else compares.

Here’s the NanoPi Neo, the latest quad-core Allwinner board from a company in China you’ve never heard of.

The NanoPi Neo is someone’s answer to the Raspberry Pi Zero, the very small and very cheap single board Linux computer whose out-of-stock percentage has led some to claim it’s completely fake and a media conspiracy. The NanoPi Zero features an Allwinner H3 quad-core Cortex-A7 running at 1.2 GHz, 256MB RAM, with a 512MB version being released shortly. Unlike the Raspberry Pi Zero, the NanoPi Neo features a 10/100 Ethernet port. No, it does not have PoE.

As with anything comparing itself to the Raspberry Pi Zero, only two things are important: size and price. The NanoPi Neo is a mere 40mm square, compared to the 65x30mm measurements of the Pi Zero. The NanoPi Neo is available for $7.99, with $5 shipping to the US. Yes, for just three dollars more than a Pi Zero with shipping, you get a poorly supported Linux board. What a time to be alive.

If you’re looking for another wonderful tale of what happens with cheap, powerful ARM chips and contract manufacturers in China, check out my review of the Pine64.

Hackaday Prize Entry: An Interface For The Headless Linux System

Connecting a headless Raspberry Pi to a wireless network can be quite a paradoxical situation. To connect it to the network, you need to open an SSH connection to configure the wireless port. But to do so, you need a network connection in the first place. Of course, you can still get command-line access using a USB-to-UART adapter or the Pi’s ethernet port – if present – but [Arsenijs] worked out a much more convenient solution for his Hackaday Prize entry: The pyLCI Linux Control Interface.

His solution is a software framework written in Python that uses a character display and buttons to make a simple hardware interface. This allows you to configure all important aspects of a Raspberry Pi – or any other Linux SBC – from a tidily organized click-and-scroll menu. [Arsenijs] implemented a whole bunch of useful tools: There’s a network tool to scan and connect to WiFi networks. A systemctl tool that lets you manage the services running on the system, which is especially helpful when you need to restart a stuck service. A partition tool helps with viewing and unmounting mass storage devices. He’s even planning to add a filesystem browser.

With his Open Source project, [Arsenjs] aims to shorten the development time for embedded projects by taking out the efforts of implementing the basic interface functions from scratch. Indeed, there are countless scenarios, where a basic display interface can be of great value. Given the great project documentation and the fact that this can work with virtually any Arduino or Raspberry Pi LCD-pushbutton-hat or shield, we’re sure this is going to be used a lot. Enjoy the video!

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FriendlyARM: A Different Flavor of Raspberry

A lot of old science fiction movies show people wearing the same–or nearly the same–clothes. We’re left guessing if this is because there is a single centralized plant mass-producing skin-tight jumpsuits, or if everyone is under orders to dress the same. Now that we live in the past’s future, it looks like science fiction was a poor predictor of fashion. People want variety.

Which calls to mind development boards. How many different ones do we need? Need doesn’t matter, because we have plenty of them. There may be strong leaders: in the 8-bit world, you think of the Arduino, and on the Linux side, maybe the Raspberry Pi. But there are options.

[Eric Brown] recently compared several inexpensive development boards from FriendlyARM including the NanoPi M3, the NanoPi M1, and the NanoPC-T3. These range from about $11 to $60 with the M3 costing $35. You can see an M1 booting on an HDMI screen in the video below.

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Hackaday Links: April 24, 2016

TruckThe Internet Archive has a truck. Why? Because you should never underestimate the bandwidth of a truck filled with old manuals, books, audio recordings, films, and everything else the Internet Archive digitizes and hosts online. This truck also looks really, really badass. A good thing, too, because it was recently stolen. [Jason Scott] got the word out on Twitter and eagle-eyed spotters saw it driving to Bakersfield. The truck of awesome was recovered, and all is right with the world. The lesson we learned from all of this? Steal normal cars. Wait. Don’t steal cars, but if you do, steal normal cars.

In a completely unrelated note, does anyone know where to get a 99-01 Chevy Astro / GMC Safari cargo van with AWD, preferably with minimal rust?

[Star Simpson] is almost famous around these parts. She’s responsible for the TacoCopter among other such interesting endeavours. Now she’s working on a classic. [Forrest Mims]’ circuits, making the notebook version real. These Circuit Classics take the circuits found in [Forrest Mims]’ series of notebook workbooks, print them on FR4, and add a real, solderable implementation alongside.

Everyone needs more cheap Linux ARM boards, so here’s the Robin Core. It’s $15, has WiFi, and does 720p encoding. Weird, huh? It’s the same chip from an IP webcam. Oooohhhh. Now it makes sense.

Adafruit has some mechanical keyboard dorks on staff. [ladyada] famously uses a Dell AT101 with Alps Bigfoot switches, but she and [Collin Cunningham] spent three-quarters of an hour dorking out on mechanical keyboards. A music video was the result. Included in the video: vintage Alps on a NeXT keyboard and an Optimus Mini Three OLED keyboard.

A new Raspberry Pi! Get overenthusiastic hype! The Raspberry Pi Model A+ got an upgrade recently. It now has 512MB of RAM

We saw this delta 3D printer a month ago at the Midwest RepRap festival in Indiana. Now it’s a Kickstarter. Very big, and fairly cheap.

The Rigol DS1054Zed is one of the best oscilloscopes you can buy for the price. It’s also sort of loud. Here’s how you replace the fan to make it quieter.

Here’s some Crowdfunding drama for you. This project aims to bring the Commodore 64 back, in both a ‘home computer’ format and a portable gaming console. It’s not an FPGA implementation – it’s an ARM single board computer that also has support for, “multiple SIDs for stereo sound (6581 or 8580).” God only knows where they’re sourcing them from. Some tech journos complained that it’s, “just a Raspberry Pi running an emulator,” which it is not – apparently it’s a custom ARM board with a few sockets for SIDs, carts, and disk drives. I’ll be watching this one with interest.

Pine64: The Un-Review

Even before the announcement and introduction of the Raspberry Pi 3, word of a few very powerful single board ARM Linux computers was flowing out of China. The hardware was there – powerful 64-bit ARM chips were available, all that was needed was a few engineers to put these chips on a board, a few marketing people, and a contract manufacturer.

One of the first of these 64-bit boards is the Pine64. Introduced to the world through a Kickstarter that netted $1.7 Million USD from 36,000 backers, the Pine64 is already extremely popular. The boards are beginning to land on the doorsteps and mailboxes of backers, and the initial impressions are showing up in the official forums and Kickstarter campaign comments.

I pledged $15 USD to the Pine64 Kickstarter, and received a board with 512MB of RAM, 4K HDMI, 10/100 Ethernet and a 1.2 GHz ARM Cortex A53 CPU in return. This post is not a review, as I can’t fully document the Pine64 experience. My initial impression? This is bad. This is pretty bad.

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VGA Output On A Freescale

Even though VGA is an outdated and becoming somewhat deprecated, getting this video output running on non-standard hardware is a rite of passage for some hackers. [Andrew] is the latest to take up the challenge. He got VGA output on a Freescale i.MX233 and also got some experience diving into the Linux kernel while he was at it.

The Freescale i.MX233 is a single-board computer that is well-documented and easy to wire up to other things without specialized hardware. It has video output in the form of PAL/NTSC but this wasn’t quite enough for [Andrew]. After obtaining the kernel sources, all that’s needed is to patch the kernel, build the kernel, and build a custom DAC to interface the GPIO pins to the VGA connector.

The first thing that [Andrew] did was load up the Hackaday home page, which he notes took quite a while since the i.MX233 only runs at 454 MHz with just 64 MB of RAM. While our retro page may have loaded a little faster, this is still an impressive build and a great first step to exploring more of the Linux kernel. The Freescale i.MX233 is a popular chip for diving into Linux on single-board computers, and there’s a lot going on in that community. There are some extreme VGA hacks out there as well if that’s more your style.