The Olimex OLinuXino packs a Cortex-A8 processor and a significant wodge of GPIO connectivity in an impressive open-source design.
Bulgarian open-hardware company Olimex has announced the launch of its own Raspberry Pi competitor, the OLinuXino - and it boasts some significant improvements over the Pi's design.
The A13-OLinuXino builds on an earlier design created by the company, but replaces the iMX233 processor with a far more powerful AllWinner A13 chip: a Cortex-A8 ARMv7 chip running at 1GHz with a Mali 400 graphics processing unit. With the Raspberry Pi offering an older Broadcom BCM2835 ARMv6 chip running at 700MHz - although now officially overclockable up to 900MHz and potentially beyond - that's a not-insignificant speed boost.
The board also includes 512MB of RAM - double that of the original Raspberry Pi and matching that of the Revision 2 model - along with three host USB ports, an addition on-pin USB port, and a single USB on-the-go (OTG) port which can be used to power the board in place of the dedicated 6-16V DC input jack. The Pi's digital HDMI output is replaced with an analogue VGA connector, with LCD signals present on the expansion connector for embedded projects that require a digital image. The in-built sound chip includes both audio output and a microphone input, to the Pi's output-only system.
It's the OLinuXino's general-purpose input-output (GPIO) connectivity that impresses the most, however. As standard. the board includes 68 user-accessible GPIO pins offering 17 for connection to NAND flash components, 22 for connection to digital display panels, 20+4 general-purpose pins with 8 GPIOs switchable between input, output and interrupt sources, three I2C channels, two UART channels, and SDIO2 support for connecting active SD cards for wireless communications or other functionality. Five system pins additionally present 5V, 3.3V, ground, reset and non-maskable interrupt (NMI) connections.
The system's more recent ARM architecture means software support is improved over the Pi, too: the board includes official support for Google's Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich,' something the ARMv6-based Pi can't offer, while the community surrounding the product has had success porting full-fat Linux distributions including Debian to the platform. With a Cortex-class processor, support for mainstream distributions including Canonical's Ubuntu should be possible.
The final icing on the cake is that Olimex is, as with its other products, making all the hardware and software details available under an open-source licence. For those who would like to create their own variants of the design, the company is also selling the A13 processor and its required AXP209 power management chip in individual units, something Broadcom does not offer for the BCM2835.
There are some trade-offs made in the design, however. While the Raspberry Pi Model B includes in-built Ethernet, the OLinuXino does not - but this can be added through external expansion modules. Other add-ons include biofeedback hardware, GPS receivers, accelerometers, radios, and even 7in touch-sensitive displays that can piggyback onto the device.
The OLinuXino is available now, priced at €45 (around £36 excluding VAT and shipping) from the official site
, making it a more expensive option than the £30 Raspberry Pi.