Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Another new kid on the block

In ARM, Linux on Jun 10, 2013 at 00:01

Besides the Odroid U2 quad-core Linux board mentioned a few days ago, there’s another option in the same price range as the Raspberry Pi – the Beaglebone Black, a.k.a. “BBB”:

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 23.15.47

Yeah, ok, it’s slightly more expensive, but it comes with 2 GB of speedy eMMC memory built-in, whereas you need to add an SD card to make the RPi start up.

This is a bigger deal than you might think, because the BBB comes with Angström Linux pre-installed, and you can get going by simply plugging the BBB into a USB port:

  • the moment you do, a memory disk appears, and it gets auto-mounted
  • there’s a “start.htm” file you can double-click to launch your web browser
  • then just follow instructions and you’ll be up and running

This is very similar to the way the MBED ARM module works, and it shows that streamlining the first encounter really can help people to get started – fast!

From a general point of view, the Beaglebone black is actually quite different from the RPi, despite their obvious similarities of both being low-cost, low-power, yet fairly performant little Linux stand-alone boards with with keyboard-monitor-and-mouse capability and built-in Ethernet. Here’s where they differ, at least as I see it:

  • The RPi is aimed at the educational market, i.e. for learning about Linux and doing cool stuff with it once you’ve mastered that first step. Get a board, hook into a huge community, get your hands dirty, and start learning and hacking!

  • The BBB is aimed more at the embedded Linux market, i.e. for building all sorts of advanced projects with Linux and a powerful computing platform inside. Plug it in, put your Linux and physical computing skills to work, and make neat things happen!

The difference? The RPi is the most affordable solution out there, and does really well at being a complete Linux system with fairly good video and audio capabilities, but somewhat limited I/O expandability (even just thinking about how to hook up and size an expansion board on top is a puzzle). The BBB is packed with faster and more powerful hardware (but less focused on video and audio) and is loaded with expansion connectors and pins, ready to add a board, or even a whole stack of them. Even without boards on top (called capes), you have tons of I/O pins to play with – whether you need digital, analog, PWM, or all sorts of bussed interfaces, it’s often all there.

Some details about the BBB running at 300 MHz idle (it scales to 1000 MHz on demand):

# cat /proc/cpuinfo 
processor       : 0
model name      : ARMv7 Processor rev 2 (v7l)
BogoMIPS        : 297.40
Features        : swp half thumb fastmult vfp edsp thumbee neon vfpv3 tls 
CPU implementer : 0x41
CPU architecture: 7
CPU variant     : 0x3
CPU part        : 0xc08
CPU revision    : 2

Hardware        : Generic AM33XX (Flattened Device Tree)
Revision        : 0000
Serial          : 0000000000000000

For a nice 20-min story about a project where RPi’s and BBB’s were used, see this video.

There’s a project called BoneScript, which aims to make the Beaglebone’s I/O capabilities as easy to use from JavaScript (i.e. Node.js) as what the Arduino IDE did for C/C++ and the ATmega’s I/O pins. Sounds like an excellent step in the right direction to me.

Either way, I see a bright future ahead for Node.js running on these little boards!

  1. don’t forget about olinuxino, where everything is open source. You choose the processor.

  2. @JC did you also get the Pollin Mail yesterday :-)


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