Friday, 1 February 2013

A small ARM race

I have been on a quest lately to find a computer that meets the following criteria:

  • Cheap enough to let the kids have it
  • I don't really care if the kids break it
  • I would like them to maybe learn something about computers, Don’t want app junkies
  • I’m old school and want the kids to learn to use a keyboard and a mouse, not mash their paws on a screen
  • I can reuse some old hardware, keyboard + mouse + monitor
  • Low power consumption

The initial logical answer is the Raspberry PI, yes its cheap but, I’m of the opinion based on discussion on the web that it is a bit under powered as a computer and is more suited to embedded control projects then as a low cost PC like device.

Next up on the list is the Beagleboard-xm it has a bit “power” than the Raspberry PI but it is still considered an embedded board. Having the opportunity to play around with a Beagleboard-xm I was impressed buy its low power consumption, about 750mA @ 5 volts which works out at about 3.75 watts, that was running Ångström while playing 720p video. Unfortunately that is all this board is capable of due to the video processor. But the gnome UI was smooth and use able.

I the installed Ubuntu 12.10 on the micro SD card, which is what most of these small arm board boot from, the result was less that impressive. The response from the UI was pretty slow.

Next on the list is the Pandaboard ES which is a step above the Beagleboard-xm, it has 1GB of ram and a 1.2 Ghz processor and is capable of 1080p. This looks like a pretty capable board but it is more expensive than the Beagleboard-xm. Unfortunately I’ve not had the chance to play with one yet but its on the list of contenders.

I recently found a new entry into the small low powered ARMBrix Zero from a Korean company.

Unfortunately the first batch has sold out. Hopefully there will be more. This is a pretty powerful board it has a Samsung Exynos 5250 dual core ARM Cortex-A15 which is a pretty powerful processor on a board that has 2GB of ram, HDMI, USB 3.0 and a SATA port, 1080p video decoding all for $145 + shipping.

The catch is that there was only one pre order batch available to order which was for an engineering evaluation run. The people behind the board are in the process of testing the design. I for one am eagerly awaiting the next run.

Only problem is I might not let the kids have it :>