Build Your Own Linux Single Board Computer

We are fortunate enough to have a huge choice of single-board computers before us, not just those with a bare-metal microcontroller, but also those capable of running fully-fledged general purpose operating systems such as GNU/Linux. The Raspberry Pi is probably the best known of this latter crop of boards, and it has spawned a host of competitors with similarly fruity names. With an entire cornucopia to choose from, it takes a bit more than evoking a berry to catch our attention. The form factors are becoming established and the usual SoCs are pretty well covered already, show us something we haven’t seen before!

[Marcel Thürmer] may have managed that feat, with his Blueberry Pi. On the face of it this is just Yet Another SBC With A Fruity Pi Name, but what caught our attention is that unlike all the others, this is one you can build yourself if you want. It’s entirely open-source, but it differs from other boards that release their files to the world in that it manages to keep construction within the realm of what is possible on the bench rather than the pick-and-place. He’s done this by choosing an Alwinner V3, an SoC originally produced for the action camera market that is available in a readily-solderable TQFP package. It’s a choice that has allowed him to pull off another constructor-friendly feat: the board is only two layers, so it won’t break the bank to have it made.

It’s fair to say that the Allwinner V3 (PDF) isn’t the most powerful of Linux-capable SoCs, but it has the advantage of built-in RAM to avoid more tricky soldering. With only 64Mb of memory, it’s never going to be a powerhouse, but it does pack onboard Ethernet, serial and parallel camera interfaces, and audio as well as the usual interfaces you’d expect. There is no video support on the Blueberry Pi, but the chip has LVDS for an LCD panel, so it’s not impossible to imagine something could be put together. Meanwhile, all you need to know about the board can be found on its GitHub repository. There is no handy OS image to download, u-boot instructions are provided to build your own. We suspect if you’re the kind of person who is building a Blueberry Pi though this may not present a problem to you.

We hope the Blueberry Pi receives more interest, develops a wider community, and becomes a board with a solid footing. We like its achievement of being both a powerful platform and one that is within reach of the home constructor, and we look forward to it being the subject of more attention.

The $4 Z80 Single-Board Computer, Evolved.

We feature hundreds of projects here at Hackaday, and once they have passed by our front page and disappeared into our archives we often have no opportunity to return to them and see how they developed. Sometimes of course they are one-off builds, other times they wither as their creator loses interest, but just occasionally they develop and evolve into something rather interesting.

One that is taking that final trajectory is [Just4Fun]’s Z80-MBC, a single board computer with only 4 ICs, using an Atmel microcontroller to simulate the Z80 support chips. It has appeared as a revised version, on a smart new PCB rather than its original breadboard, and with built-in SD card and RTC support through readily available breakout boards, and banked RAM for CP/M support. You may remember the original from last year, when it was also a Hackaday Prize entry and stage finalist. From a Hackaday perspective this is particularly interesting, because it shows how the Prize can help a project evolve.

The Atmega32A uses the Arduino bootloader with programming through the ICSP port, and full instructions are given in the hackaday.io project page alongside all the files required to build your own board. There is no mention of whether boards can be bought, but we’d say this could be a commercial-quality product if they chose to take it in that direction.

Who Ate All The Pi?

Wednesday was the last day of February, and leap year questions aside that date marks the anniversary of the Raspberry Pi launch. The oldest commercially available Pi is now 6 years old, and to mark the occasion the Raspberry Pi people have put up a retrospective of all their different models.

There is a primordial prototype from [Eben Upton]’s bench that involves an Atmel processor, but the first board dangled in front of the public was a Broadcom one, the BCM2763 ‘micro DB’. This was a form factor like one of those Android TV sticks, and while it was not a Raspberry Pi internal design or indeed sporting the SoC to be used by the Pi itself, it was sufficient to capture the imagination of what would become the Raspberry Pi community.

If you got out of bed early (British time) on the 29th of February 2012 and tried to order one of the first commercially available boards, you were most likely to be out of luck. The relatively small first batch from China was oversubscribed massively, both the RS and Farnell websites went down completely for most of the day. We received our model at some point in May. It’s an over-used phrase, “And the rest is history”, but it seems entirely appropriate here. The Pi has passed through several iterations and increased in both computing power and memory, it has spawned a whole industry of peripherals, a huge community, and a host of competitors. We have quite a few of the boards in the blog post, but some of the more exotic ones have evaded us.

It’s not the best or most powerful board out there, many of its competitors can beat it on performance, but it remains the one to beat in small and cheap Linux-capable single board computers. Why is this the case? It has probably the best-supported Linux distro of all of them, and that community has already answered many of the queries you might find with your board.

So there’s the story, a successful product line, community, and foundation. The Pi blog piece is very much their PR, but it doesn’t need to gild the lily. However, that will not stop competitors from taking aim at its crown, and the field remains open for one of them to topple it. Which of course makes for fascinating stories for us here at Hackaday, so we’d encourage anybody with an electronics factory in China, a bright team, and some good ideas to give it a try. Meanwhile, we’ll be looking towards Cambridge for whatever new products will sport the fruity logo.

Tiny Quad Core Module Available Soon

We get a lot of new product announcements here at Hackaday, and we run across even more. As excited as a manufacturer might be about their latest Raspberry Pi killer or cheaper Arduino clone, we usually don’t have much to say about new products unless there is something really interesting about them. Our attention was piqued though when we saw the Neutis N5. Shipping in April, the device packs a quad-core ARM processor running at 1.3 GHz with 8 GB of flash memory and 512 MB of RAM, has an extended temperature range, WiFi (802.11N), and Bluetooth (including BLE). There’s also a crypto chip, and all this is packed into a tiny package. Really tiny. Less than 41×30 mm square and less than 4.5 mm thick. There’s a Debian-based distribution and a development board. Oh and the really interesting thing is the price, which is $49 in single quantities.

Some of the I/O ports are multiplexed, but there are plenty of options including audio, Ethernet, HDMI, USB, and more. They clearly mean for these to be put into products. The module claims UL and CE certification, each unit has a unique serial number, and there is a gang programming capability.

Continue reading “Tiny Quad Core Module Available Soon”

A Few Laser-Cut Cases For Your SBCs

Single-board computers, usually featuring ARM processors, have revolutionized the world of the hardware hacker over the last decade. The computing power you would have found in a desktop computer not so long ago, mounted on a small PCB and powered from a mobile phone charger.

With a few notable exceptions though, these single board computers are just that, boards. No cases in the pack, which has, of course, spawned a huge aftermarket of commercial offerings and a pile of homemade ones of varying sophistication. If these homemade offerings are your fancy then today’s link may be of interest, some very well-designed laser-cut cases from [Nick Smith] for a selection of popular and less well-known boards.

The Orange Pi Lite and Raspberry Pi Zero are both familiar enough, but one of the delights of writing for Hackaday reveals itself in the discovery of the more esoteric Marvell ESPRESSObin, an SBC with multiple network ports and serial ATA.

Are cases your passion? Step back in time for our round-up of case designs for the first Raspberry Pi.

Via Hacker News.

 

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. Continue reading “First thoughts on the new UP Core”

Intel’s Vision for Single Board Computers is to Have Better Vision

At the Bay Area Maker Faire last weekend, Intel was showing off a couple of sexy newcomers in the Single Board Computer (SBC) market. It’s easy to get trapped into thinking that SBCs are all about simple boards with a double-digit price tag like the Raspberry Pi. How can you compete with a $35 computer that has a huge market share and a gigantic community? You compete by appealing to a crowd not satisfied with these entry-level SBCs, and for that Intel appears to be targeting a much higher-end audience that needs computer vision along with the speed and horsepower to do something meaningful with it.

I caught up with Intel’s “Maker Czar”, Jay Melican, at Maker Faire Bay Area last weekend. A year ago, it was a Nintendo Power Glove controlled quadcopter that caught my eye. This year I only had eyes for the two new computing modules on offer, the Joule and the Euclid. They both focus on connecting powerful processors to high-resolution cameras and using a full-blown Linux operating system for the image processing. But it feels like the Joule is meant more for your average hardware hacker, and the Euclid for software engineers who are pointing their skills at robots but don’t want to get bogged down in first-principles of hardware. Before you rage about this in the comments, let me explain.

Continue reading “Intel’s Vision for Single Board Computers is to Have Better Vision”