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Programming Hardware Build Linux

Ringing In 2015 With 40 Linux-Friendly Hacker SBCs 81

DeviceGuru writes As seen in this year-end summary of 40 hacker-friendly SBCs, 2014 brought us plenty of new Linux and Android friendly single-board computers to tinker with — ranging from $35 bargains, to octa-core powerhouses. Many of the new arrivals feature 1-2GHz multicore SoCs, 1-2GB RAM, generous built-in flash, gigabit Ethernet, WiFi, on-board FPGAs, and other extras. However, most of the growth has been in the sub-$50 segment, where the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone reign supreme, but are now being challenged by a growing number of feature-enhanced clones, such as the Banana Pi and Orange Pi. Best of all, there's every reason to expect 2015 to accelerate these trends.
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Ringing In 2015 With 40 Linux-Friendly Hacker SBCs

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  • SATA
    and
    USB.

    I gfigure USB is common but SATA is hard to find.

  • by Hasaf ( 3744357 )
    But can we turn them in Hackintoshes?
  • Enough wimpy SBCs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gTsiros ( 205624 ) on Thursday January 01, 2015 @12:06AM (#48709685)

    Where are the really high power ARM architecture computers?

    Isn't there anything that can compete with current x86 processors?

    I'd very much like a normal desktop computer with an ARM cpu.

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Thursday January 01, 2015 @12:56AM (#48709861) Journal

      Are you wanting a normal desktop, for normal desktop work, or the world's fastest per-thread CPU, regardless of cost, for benchmark bragging?

      My work desktop does a great job simultaneously running a couple of IDEs, three browsers with many tabs, Outlook, and various utility programs on its dual core, 3Ghz CPU - made in 2008. Therefore when you say you're looking for "a normal desktop" AND say "compete with Intel's latest chips" I'm not sure what you want. Do you want to do desktop stuff, or do you want to "compete" in single-threaded benchmarks?

      nVidia's new ARM processor, with seven-stage pipeline, has performance similar to a Haswell. That's more than enough for MY desktop work.

    • The most memory these things seem to have is 2GB - I'm not sure RAM is socketable on these SoC designs.

      So if you're expecting an AArch64 workstation to be competitive against Intel's latest Core-M offerings, you'll be disappointed.

      But if you're content with the computing power of your phone/tablet and just want a fanless computer you can plug into your tv's HDMI port, read the article.

  • by bug1 ( 96678 ) on Thursday January 01, 2015 @12:24AM (#48709735)

    Why no neat plastic cases housign the SBC ?

    I know they arent really aimed at consumers, but still, why not have an optional case to give it some pretection and make it look good.

    • You can search for and download 3D printable case designs for the Raspberry Pi and probaby others, and then build your own. Or, have a third party build one for you using your original or modified case designs.
    • by HEMI426 ( 715714 )

      I purchased a case along with my ODROID-C1. Cost like $5. It's a flimsy, cheap case...I'll print something better down the road.

    • There are plenty of after market cases available for the various boards, but the critical part is the application. In a lot of cases these things aren't restricted to USB I/O or whatever else is available on the edge connectors. The makers don't know what you're stacking on the GPIO pins, or if you use a camera, or how many Arduino shields you'll stack on the board, etc.

      Just type in google "%SBC_OF_CHOICE% case" and select "I'm feeling lucky" and you'll likely get something you're after for about $5-10

      • by bug1 ( 96678 )

        I have tried looking on ebay a while back, but the ones i saw where around $40-$50, which was more than half the price of the SBC i was looking at iirc. I probably should have kept looking.

        Thanks for the advice.

  • Look, I am just your Joe Computer User.

    What useful stuff can I really to with these things?

    What have those more skilled than myself really done with them? Anything?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      For a quick answer, do a google image search for: raspberry pi projects

    • by Anonymous Coward

      We use similar things at work for prototyping (pre-commercial production tapeout) massive projects at work (if your car drives itself, you can likely thank one of these boards for helping us prototype our lane assist/departure, fatigue/attention detection, etc before it made it's way into your car).

    • by resfilter ( 960880 ) on Thursday January 01, 2015 @01:23AM (#48709943)

      I can be a joe computer user,

      I don't like cable TV, I archive my media. I have a nice media center pc I have in my living room, which is huge, loud, and consumes a ton of power, and has been in operation for a very long time, still runs first generation DDR. I don't mind old, overbuilt, reliable noisy stuff.

      But I decided to put a smaller lcd tv in the bedroom... obviously my wife can't handle noise and blinkylights while she sleeps, and I couldn't handle finding a small but awesome smart tv for a good price that would play all my media formats.

      Turns out the raspberry pi plus a cheap normal tv was the best way to have a zero noise, cool running, awesome media center that shreds 1080p video. It hid easily behind the TV, is powered by the USB port on the TV, so there's only one cord running to the TV - power.

      Setup took minimal work, and it's been a huge benefit to our everyday lives.

      I ran the main media center with a mysql server so the libraries sync, taking additional load off the raspberry pi.

      Sure, "Joe" might not be able to figure that out, but i bet he could put openelec on an SD card and get it connected to his appliance NAS pretty easily?

      My parents have an appliance that's similar. It'll play XVID stuff from a NAS, probably h264, but it'd probably freak if you tried to play an mkv container. It was a prepackaged black box that's expensive as the pi, but it's slow, there's no plugins, and not even close to as capable as xbmc.

      And guess what, it makes freaky high pitched electronoises because it's built with chinese caps and junk, so there's no way it could live in a nice quiet bedroom. The pi is a nice board that simply morphs itself into that role as easy as a premade device, because it's open.

      The previous things i've done with a pi have included building full-time car dashboards and tuning analysis systems for my vehicle projects, to avoid having to lug a laptop around. Sure, didn't NEED to build a pi into my car, but once it was done, it really belonged there. It was cheap, i could leave it on overnight and not drain my car battery, and i could SSH to my car from my living room to retrieve and analyze logs. It also kicked me in the butt and got me coding again, which was great.

      These are things that small, open, low power consumption, passively cooled, and have lots of ways to connect shit really come in handy, even for someone that isn't a hardcore hobbyist.

    • You can of course use Google to find hundreds or thousands of example projects. They tend to fall into two categories: low power, fanless PCs, and interfacing with real, physical objects.

      Examples of the first group include media PCs / DVRs, because you don't want loud CPU, case, and power supply fans in your living room, and network appliances such as network storage, high deluxe SOHO router / firewall boxes, etc.

      The other group involves automating and programming the physical world, by connecting motors,

      • Examples of the first group include media PCs / DVRs, because you don't want loud CPU, case, and power supply fans in your living room,

        To be fair, there are a lot of silent PC case/psu combinations out there. I have my MythTV system in an Antec NSK2400 [silentpcreview.com] with (something like) a Zalman CNPS8900 [zalman.com] CPU cooler/fan and the whole thing is dead silent.

        I spray painted the front silver bezel matte black and it looks like a high-end A/V unit - scroll down to photo on the Antec link. I installed a two-row CrystalFontz (blue back-light) LCD display in the top slot and the DVD drive in the bottom.

        • It sounds like you put together a nice system. Of course, you chose to spend more on your CPU fan alone than most of these ARM SOC systems cost. Different strokes for different folks.

              I had a garage sale P4 as my DVR for a couple of years. You could tell something was using too much CPU when the fans became as loud as the TV AMD the room got warm.

          • It sounds like you put together a nice system. Of course, you chose to spend more on your CPU fan alone than most of these ARM SOC systems cost. Different strokes for different folks.

            I'm not sure that is the actual fan w/o opening up the case, it *looks* like that though. Don't think it has a heat pipe... What ever it is, it's quiet.

    • by coldmist ( 154493 ) on Thursday January 01, 2015 @01:34AM (#48709985) Homepage

      We homeschool, and my children are part of a homeschool co-op.

      I'm currently working on using a BeagleBone Black to build a Jeapardy like game system, for when the co-op does their knowledge bowls, etc. I am going to build the first 'contestant' box and the main box, and do a class for the advanced students where they will help build the rest of the contestant boxes, and then we will both program in the software to support several different game setups, like 2 teams of 5, 5 teams of 2, 5 teams of 2 with a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd order for teams to answer in, in case the 1st team doesn't get it right, etc. At that point, it's just software.

      It's a great introduction to simple circuits (each contestant box will have a button and an LED, so power, ground a few resistors, etc), and simple software to read the GPIO pins and set the LED lights.

      The co-op gets a cool Jeapardy team setup exactly how they want it, and the students get hands-on experience building it and programming it.

      And, they can re-use the BBB for other projects as the students want to experiment with it. It's a flexible embedded computer that they can use for other projects. Just keep a different SD card for each hardware system that they keep.

      • The sad thing is that, for a fraction of the price of a BeagleBone Black, you could've built the whole thing out of standard logic chips.

        It would've worked better, been much more immune to errors (e.g. who wins - the person who pressed first, or the person who's I/O pin/port is scanned first? What happens when 2 people press between port reads? etc.), and everyone would've learned something about both electronics and logic, not just programming.

        • And, I took that into consideration as well.

          Did you not notice my comment about having it run different teams/modes? What if they have a TV available? A student interested in learning to make web pages could make a scoreboard as a web page and use the HDMI port to drive it, etc.

          Once you commit to "standard logic chips", that kind of flexibility would go way beyond a simple project that the students would be able to follow/help design/update over time.

          For the students, this is more for flexibility with a low

        • What is wrong with using a cheap computer to replace the proverbial "TTL grave" ? The pupils still need to understand how a resistor and a diode works on a basic level, otherwise they will kill the diode. And that is already MUCH more than 95% of humanity know about electronics. Or is it 98% ? An AVR processor with true realtime is of course better suited for this job, but if you can do it on and RPI, you already have some useful skills which can be easily transferred to a realtime PLC or microcontroller.
      • I'm currently working on using a BeagleBone Black to build a Jeapardy like game system

        I think you'd be better with the BeagleBone dull green with black and brown bits [wikimedia.org].

    • As a joe computer user, about all you can do with them that's meaningful is run XBMC or build a NAS. But you could buy something to do that for the same kind of money once you add a case and power supply.

      If you want to get a bit hackish, these computers can control stuff if you add some relays or whatnot. That's who they're for.

    • Just as an example I have 3 RaspberryPis doing the following. I'll write in the difficulty too.

      1. Running RaspBMC soon to be OpenELEC. The RaspberryPi makes for a great media centre if your media is attached to a NAS someone. Interface is slow but any movie except for those encoded with AC3 sound runs perfectly smooth. Automatic integration with the TV remote via CEC out of the box makes it easy to use. Just download and install onto an SD Card, connect network and HDMI, and power it up. Easy as Pi.

      2. I hav

      • by Xolotl ( 675282 )
        Nice projects! I also have 3 Pis, though only one is currently in use, as a RaspBMC media center. Works great, 1080p is indeed perfectly smooth. I've found the interface improves a lot if you use the fastest SD card you can, say a 30MB/s SanDisk Ultra or something similar (it pays to test the cards, not all "Class 10" are created equal it seems. Disappointingly mine wa slabelled 48MB/s, but tests at a bit over 30).
        • I built one for my father as well with identical specs except that it runs OpenELEC rather than RaspBMC. It seems to run far more smoothly which leads me to believe that the RaspBMC is not as well tuned for the RaspberryPi as they make out.

          • by Xolotl ( 675282 )
            Interesting ... thanks for the tip, since it's just an easy card swap I'll find another card and try it out.
  • For years Slashdot has been using the term Hacker to mean someone who breaks into computer systems through a network. I know that is what the media thinks, but that doesn't make it correct.

    Now suddenly they are using the old meaning of the term for people who like to make things work better by modifying hardware or software. I don't get it.
    • There are many people on slashdot. The people using the term "hackers" correctly may be different from the ones using it incorrectly.
  • This seems like a no brainer to me and I don't know why none of these builders haven't done this: a SBC with 2 ethernet interfaces... I've always been pretty entertained with and learned a whole lot about Linux by making household gateway/NAT router boxes... ya know.. something homebrew to replace your store purchased router. i.e taking a Linux box running your favorite distro, adding a network card and using it as your home's internet gateway, connecting it to your switch+wifi access point, etc. And yo
    • They're more expensive than most of these boards, but it sounds like Soekris boards are more or less what you're looking for.
      • by hexdd ( 3969727 )
        Those boards actually doesn't seem too expensive... in the ballpark for homebrew... not sure where they're at in terms of the MIPS relative to the higher horsepower aforementioined 40 SBCs, the quad cores and what not (tough comparisons too x86 vs ARM). Not familiar though... the one thing that certainly would scare me with these Soekris boards is that they so convieniently leave out any details relating to the OS support. Can I install & run one of those mentioned distros and have the mulitude of net
  • The Jetson boards are pretty easily obtained now that they are on newegg.com and a few other sites. They are real beasts, quad 2.3Ghz cortex-A15 and a GPU capable of doing compute (CUDA mostly, but OpenCL appears to be available now too). Pricey but at least they include 16GB of flash (eMMC-based) instead of forcing you to boot off a microSD card like the cheaper boards. It's a much bigger board than a RaspPi, Beaglebone or Hummingboard so probably a big turn off for some. And not a lot of case options out

  • Comparison chart (Score:5, Informative)

    by Change ( 101897 ) on Thursday January 01, 2015 @01:09PM (#48711865)

    I was actually looking at several of these boards recently, trying to find all the multi-core options at/below about $100. I put together a Google Docs spreadsheet comparing various specs (#/type/speed of cores, RAM, Flash, network, SATA, USB, RTC), I've got 18 on the list so far. Looks like I have a few more to add...
    https://docs.google.com/spread... [google.com]

  • IMHO, there's too much focus on highlighting the fact that there are a lot of boards under $100 and not enough focus on products/companies that sell stuff that won't take six months to figure out how to work with. If you think about it, if it takes a reasonably experienced Linux developer a lot of time to figure out how to build kernels and build a development environment, are you really saving that much. When your goal is to make product, do you really want to waste time on low-level stuff just to get to

    • If you just want a computer for editing office documents and you want to carry it in your pocket, the RPI will do this for you easily. All the "expertise" you need is to buy the plastic case for 5 dollars/euros. And a USB power supply with 1000mA output. Of course the incumbents of the PC business hate everything which could threaten them and the RPI clearly is a wholly different class of computer because it can be carried in your trousers. The RPI massively downsizes computing and the incumbents hate it t
      • I speak from experience. The development tools and support for many of these products is mediocre at best. Good luck trying to get support for one of the pure Chinese offerings. There are better solutions from domestic manufacturers and you can actually call them on the phone with tech support questions. Of course, you're going to pay a bit more for that. Not a lot. My point is that from a development cycle point of view, if you have to pay one or more engineers for six months of work just to figure o

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