An Even Smaller BeagleBone

The BeagleBone famously fits in an Altoids tin. Even though we now have BeagleBone Blacks, Blues, and Greens, the form factor for this curiously strong Linux board has remained unchanged, and able to fit inside a project box available at every cash register on the planet. There is another Altoids tin, though. The Altoid mini tin is just over 60×40 mm, and much too small to fit a normal size BeagleBone. [Michael Welling] has designed a new BeagleBone to fit this miniature project box. He’s calling it the Pocketbone, and it’s as small as the mints are strong.

The Pocketbone is based on the Octavo Systems OSD355x family, better known as the ‘BeagleBone on a chip’. This chip features a TI AM355x ARM Cortex A8, up to 1GB of DDR3 RAM, 114 GPIOs, 6 UARTs, 2 SPIs, 2x Gigabit Ethernet, and USB. It’s housed in a relatively large BGA package that makes routing easy, and as a proof of concept [Jason Kridner] built a PocketBone in Eagle.

[Michael]’s version of the Pocketbone is based on the earlier proof of concept, with a few handy additions. There’s an IO expansion header, provisions for a battery input, a few fixes to the USB, and all the parts are on one side of the board facilitating easier assembly. This version of the Pocketbone was created using KiCad, which will endear the project to the Open Source community.

51 thoughts on “An Even Smaller BeagleBone

  1. > able to fit inside a project box available at every cash register on the planet

    Uhm. No. Actually, I’ve never seen it outside of North America. This has seriously been a problem, with international delivery costs it might cost *more* to buy an Altoids tin than the cheaper of those SBCs.

      1. I’ve seen the odd one, here and there. A certain UK wide supermarket chain from Bradford beginning with an “M”, has had them. (Apparently there exists one in Gibraltar. With a bar)

          1. I know. I’m just bitter that they cancelled my store card (Fair enough, I didn’t use it for more than 6 months) and didn’t even re-enable it when I got them to send me a new card… (Which they did. And it was also cancelled)

      1. Out of curiosity, I used external resources (that are probably not very accurate) to see where most HAD readers are located. They’re mostly in North and South America, Canada, Germany and India.

        My country didn’t even get a rating but I am sure all 5 of us have been to HAD when we’re not mustering crocodiles across our big bridge riding kangaroos while carrying lassos so we can clear it for the 5 o’clock traffic.

        It would be interesting to know the real facts about readership and those who contribute on the .io site.

    1. It is important to shield this board well to prevent unwanted RF radiation, otherwise the FCC may come knock on your door some night, complaining about your nocturnal emissions.

  2. Interesting, but I think unless Octavo sells its chips for about 10$ (listed 50$) all these developments wont transcend, as we have Raspberry Pi compute module 3 for just 25-30$ in an easier to work form factor (soldering a SO-Dimm connector its a breeze compared with this BGA, even the PCB its much easier and maybe single side/single layer.

    1. The AM335x has much more peripheral capability than an RPi and more open hardware. But losing so many of the I/O might counter that strength in this case. If you need something the AM335x offers and want minimum size without the difficult layout of DDR buses and power management, that’s what Octavo is for, almost all of the work is done for you. BGA is really not a big deal if you can handle accurate paste stenciling and reflow.

    2. The SoC alone is over $10 in quantity. Factor in DDR, PMIC, passives, and 4+ layer board and you’re well over $50 in low volume.

      I like the BGA MCM approach as it’s more compact than a board with .1″ headers (like BB capes) and easier to deal with than low profile SMT mezzanine connectors (like Edison). Toastering this part should be easy.

    3. It depends what you need it for.

      The Octavo has 2 gigabit ethernet MACs and 2 USB 2.0 HS OTG (+PHY)’s, compared to the BCM2837 on the Raspberry Pi 3 – with one USB connection.

      On the otherhand, the BCM2837 has four 1.2GHz, 64 bit Cortex A53’s – compared to the Octavos single 1 GHz, 32 bit, Cortex A8.

      1. Sadly BCM2837 isn’t available to purchase on the open market and has terrible I/O options. Sitara (AM335X) has dual native GbE, 3 SDIO, a very configurable A/D bus and NAND/NOR controller, dual USB host (one OTG), loads of UARTs, I2C, and the celebrated PRU coprocessors. It also has complete documentation that doesn’t need an NDA.

        The only parts that come close are NXP’s iMX and Qoriq, but those are harder to work with and need NDAs for some of the necessary documents.

  3. beaglebone compared to orange pi zero.
    pi0 4 core A7 1Ghz 6-8 usd with WIFI sdram lan etc.
    bb 1 core A8 1Ghz (only the cpu 7-10 usd )

    The AM355x just way to slow compared to quad core A7-s, with nearly the same power consumption, for more than 2x the price.

    1. It is all about the IO with an am335x device like the Beaglebone, not just cpu performance. Overall the am355x is a much better designed part with superb documentation. But it all depends what you are doing. If you just want to build a media server and don’t care that the network is interfaced internally via USB the Pi is fine. If you just want to cram something in a little box to show that you can, you have lots of options.

      I find this project “cute”, but the first thing I go looking for on any board is the RJ-45 connector, but that is just me.

  4. I think Altoids have not taken off outside of continental USA is due to ever increasing g statement I seen on web sites that goes something like, they only ship within the USA.
    Either that or Altoids sounds like some kind of hemorrhoid treatment.

    Despite not been able to buy the intended housing the project is very impressive.

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