Friday, August 09, 2013

My First Experience On Developer Boards

I should have probably titled this post as Marsboard VS Raspberry Pi VS Cubieboard VS pcDuino and so on but that would be actually unfair since these boards are very, very different from each others.
This post is about what I've learned from such delightful and hostile at the same time Software, over such state of the art and unthinkable, at least until few years ago, piece of HardWare!

What Are You Looking For

This is the very first question you should ask yourself before ending up like me: with all these boards and completely different projects/ideas behind each of them!

Just For Fun

In this case the Raspberry Pi is probably your best choice.
The community is awesome as well as its support for any related gotchas!
I've stopped counting the amount of kickstarter projects related to the little Pi and I won't link here any of them to be fair with all others: freaking cool ideas!

Not Fun Only

Here the Raspberry Pi is still one step forward ... I mean, you will rarely find a dedicated server within a professional colocation for something like $50 dollars per year, right?
And guess what, I've already developed a fully featured website based on polpetta for node.js, able to keep low RAM consumption agains the slightly heavier, but surely more complete, Express JS Framework.

Arduino Compatibility

Well, the name announces itself and pcDuino is the best choice here without rivals. The compatibility is great and the community not so small but best of all, Arduino related programming is quite updated too.
Powerful Allwinner 10 bare bones here for better performance over the Raspberry Pi to be able to do something more too and ... talking about performance ...

Best Overall Features

Here the Cubieboard has them all with a very proactive community everyday building the next HW Accelerated thing on it, a great variety of Operating Systems supporting it, a formal Allwinner Engineer behind it (Tom Cubie), and the best of all these boards in terms of performance and features.
But again ... is this what you were looking for?

Tiny, Cutie, Powy, Cheapy ...

Well, that's Marsboard, unfortunately the less supported board out there, a board that only 6 days ago realized that maybe it was important to be recognized properly in linux-sunxi instead of burning RAM modules per each developer that was using Cubieboard specs on top of this one ...
Its forum has an eco in it, with different developers complaining about apparently broken/non-working A20 boards (the one behind the scene in the first picture) but that said ... Marsboard, at least the A10, is most certainly the smallest one out there with almost same power as the Cubieboard!


Even smaller than Raspberry Pi, since latter one has slightly bigger board with a completely asymmetric layout due video, network, and a huge SD card I have no idea who thought was cool to have in such way (easy to unplug, easy to accidentally remove, completely out of design principles ^_^)
It's not shocking news that once you buy a proper box for the Pi, it will be almost as big as a Cubieboard indeed.


Specifications

Here roughly most important info you want to know if your aim, like mine, is to use these boards not as passive dumb Android zombies but as active machines able to do thousands of extra things via proper Linux Operating Systems!

Raspberry Pi (model B)

  • CPU ARM v6 700 Mhz
  • RAM 512 MB @400Mhz
  • NO Extra Storage
  • SD/HC/XC Card
  • BCM2835 SoC

pcDuino

  • CPU ARM v7 1Ghz
  • RAM 1GB @408Mhz
  • 2GB Nand
  • Micro SD/HC/XC Card
  • A10 SoC

Marsboard

  • CPU ARM v7 1Ghz
  • RAM 1GB @360Mhz
  • 4GB Nand + SATA 2
  • Micro SD/HC/XC Card
  • A10 SoC

Cubieboard

  • CPU ARM v7 1Ghz
  • RAM 1GB @480Mhz
  • 4GB Nand + SATA 2
  • Micro SD/HC/XC Card
  • A10 SoC

Focus The One You Want

Actually just an excuse to link the latest picture about these boards via Lytro camera (I am an effing Geek, I know!), but actually all Info I wish I new before are basically here ... let's see what have I missed?

One Operating System To Rule Them All

Yes, that's true story, if all these boards have a different purpose because of support, gadgets, cuteness, or power, Arch Linux ARM has been my best choice thanks to its performance, minimalistic but functional environment you can build from the ground up as you need without needing to go down the serial port (most of the time :D) and with a great support from a very active community able to bootstrap into node.js in about 7 seconds.

About Allwinner 20

This platform is not ready yet ... like, not at all ... but!
There are many developers behind trying to make things work because even if the boards look the same, and I have both Cubieboard2 and Marsboard with A20 (which never actually booted properly even with its native provided Android), Allwinner unhappily decided to not directly care much about Linux support and same goes for Mali and ARM which drivers are kinda locked behind this silly "available and compiled for Android only" policy I don't really get/understand at all ... oh well, never give up and keep waiting: soon these boards will give us extra dual core power! (but I tell you, is not that 1Ghz CPU is bad at all ... )