bit-tech.net

BeagleBone Black looks to dethrone the Raspberry Pi

BeagleBone Black looks to dethrone the Raspberry Pi

The BeagleBone Black offers some serious competition for the Raspberry Pi, with a more powerful processor and vastly greater GPIO capabilties.

A new competitor for the Raspberry Pi has emerged in the form of the BeagleBone Black, a cut-price version of the BeagleBone microcomputer.

Launched prior to the Raspberry Pi, the original BeagleBone was designed as a development platform for users looking to grow from a limited microcontroller environment to a full microcomputer. Designed to combine the power of the ARM-based BeagleBoard platform with the general-purpose input-output (GPIO) capabilities of the Arduino microcontroller, the BeagleBone packed a 720MHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor, 256MB of DDR2 RAM and two 46-pin expansion headers into a tiny credit-card sized form factor.

When the Raspberry Pi launched to great fanfare, however, users started to question the cost of the BeagleBone: while it offers sigificantly improved performance over the older processor offered by the Pi, it costs more than twice as much at £76 and has no video output without an optional £40 HDMI add-on. The market responded predictably: while sales of the BeagleBone, which offers support for Android and Ubuntu lacking from the Pi along with a more powerful processor and vastly improved GPIO capabilities, continue to more technical types who need the extra performance, the Pi tapped into the mass market in a way that no ARM-based development board had ever managed before - selling more than a million units in its first year on sale.

Now, the creators of the BeagleBone - Jason Kridner and Geral Coley, engineers at ARM licensee Texas Instruments - have hit back with the launch of the BeagleBone Black. Despite its vastly reduced cost - just £34 including postage, or around 10 per cent more than a Raspberry Pi Model B - the design has been greatly improved over its predecessor. The device is now usable as a standalone microcomputer straight from the box thanks to a micro-HDMI display output, the processor has been upgraded to a more capable 1GHz model, and the 256MB of DDR2 memory replaced with 512MB of lower-power DDR3. The device also now includes on-board flash storage, which comes pre-loaded with Angstrom Linux, while tinkerers can boot from serial, USB or micro-SD to load Android, Ubuntu or other ARM-compatible operating systems.

The device retains the two 46-pin expansion headers, allowing it to work with existing BeagleBone 'capes' - add-on boards that increase its capabilities, analogous to the 'shields' of the Arduino world. Unlike the Pi, to which comparisons will be inevitably drawn, the device is also full open: the official site includes downloadable schematics, bill of materials, PCB layout files and reference manuals - everything that is needed to build a BeagleBone Black yourself, should you have access to surface-mount production facilities.

The Pi still has a few features missing from the BeagleBone Black, however: the BeagleBone Black has a single USB port to the Pi's two, although this is able to supply a full 500mA, while there is no audio output aside from that included on the HDMI connection. There's also no composite video output, making the BeagleBone Black unsuitable for use with older TVs.

The BeagleBone Black has officially launched in the US, with the first models expected to hit the UK in May. For those eager to get started as quickly as possible, Farnell is currently taking pre-orders at £27.87 excluding VAT - only slightly more than the Raspberry Pi Model B at £26.48 excluding VAT. If you're not yet convinced, a video tour of the device is reproduced below.

13 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
proxess 24th April 2013, 11:45 Quote
There's no mention on the GPU in the article. What kind of GPU does this baby pack? This could be an interesting replacement for my XBMC Pi if it can handle 1080p Hi10.
Gareth Halfacree 24th April 2013, 12:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by proxess
There's no mention on the GPU in the article. What kind of GPU does this baby pack? This could be an interesting replacement for my XBMC Pi if it can handle 1080p Hi10.
It's a PowerVR SGX530. Not sure what decode capabilities will be enabled in the drivers by default, though - media playback isn't a priority for the team, I don't think.
BLC 24th April 2013, 12:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
media playback isn't a priority for the team, I don't think.

Here's where the Raspberry Pi tends to crap over other ARM-based SBCs - media playback. Despite the puny and outdated ARM SoC, it still manages to crank out 1080p video without breaking a sweat. That may not matter when you're using it as an embedded appliance that needs raw processing power, but it certainly helped the R-Pi foundation ship a few extra hundred thousand of them.

For me the biggest let-down with the Pi is the networking implementation - specifically the fact it hangs off the only high-speed bus available, the USB port. When you're trying to shunt lots of data to/from a USB hard drive attached to a Pi over the network, the transfer speed really suffers (as I've been discovering lately - and yes, I'm already using EXT4 instead of NTFS).

I was considering the Odroid U2/X2 for a long time, but they're well over £150 once you get all the extra gubbins you'll need... Might be time to look at the BeagleBone Black.
Blackshark 24th April 2013, 13:59 Quote
For the money, it is hard to bear the Pi. Mine all chug along very well. RaspBMC one pulls all its media from one running Rasbian connected to 2 HDDs (NFS, FTP and SMB - I can get about 8MB/s on NFS and SMB, a little more on FTP), another one running Munin and a final one giving my iplayerget and deluge. Four Pis for the same price as an ODroid.

I would add that I am sorely tempted to get an Intel NUC. Having set one up at work, it would make a fantastic replacement as a HTPC. I managed to get 85MB/s out of the gigabit network port - something I could never hope to achieve with the Pi.
schmidtbag 24th April 2013, 14:53 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by proxess
There's no mention on the GPU in the article. What kind of GPU does this baby pack? This could be an interesting replacement for my XBMC Pi if it can handle 1080p Hi10.

I really hope you wouldn't actually consider buying this for XBMC. That's like buying a server to play games - you can do it, but the cost and data processing grunt are in all the wrong places.


Anyways, I never understood why the Beagle products were always so expensive. Their price points were... acceptable when they first came out because there wasn't much competition, but now they have some of the worst valued ARM products and they don't change their prices. Even the Pi is a little on the expensive side considering how weak the system is. You can get an MK802II for the same price as a Pi and nearly everything about that is better for media purposes (worse for development). With the cost of the old Beaglebone you could get a full Cubieboard kit. For the cost of Beagleboard xM, you can get an odroid-x2, which is, IMO, better in every way possible.
Tyinsar 24th April 2013, 16:51 Quote
Looks interesting.

I've been looking at playing with such and ran into the Udoo on Kickstarter. Does anyone here have experience with Beagleboards and Arduinos? What are your reactions to the project in the article and the Kickstarter project?
proxess 24th April 2013, 22:52 Quote
I currently run 2 Pis.

One which acts as a SOCKSv5 proxy (suck it, work internet filters), NFS/Samba share (NFS for the other Pi, Samba for Windows because Win can only get 3MB/s on NFS), Transmission Remote torrent client, IRC DCC downloader, PPTP Server.

The other Pi runs RaspBMC. The matter of fact is, if it can handle 1080p Hi10, it's a deal breaker. Seeing that Hi10 is decoded CPU-wise, a better CPU would make the difference. RaspBMC simply doesn't handle OCs well.
[USRF]Obiwan 25th April 2013, 15:23 Quote
Isn't there a faster/more ram/more oomph RPI available for a little more expense?
Gareth Halfacree 25th April 2013, 16:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by [USRF]Obiwan
Isn't there a faster/more ram/more oomph RPI available for a little more expense?
No. Thus far, there have been three models of Raspberry Pi:
The Model B: The original. Includes 700MHz ARMv6 chip, 256MB of RAM, 2x USB & Ethernet.
The Model A: Cheaper alternative. Same 700MHz ARMv6 chip, 256MB of RAM, 1x USB.
The Model B Revision 2: Identical to the original Model B, but with 512MB of RAM (and an altered GPIO header.)

The processor is identical across all three versions: a 700MHz ARMv6 BCM2835. While it's likely there will be a new Raspberry Pi launched in the future - possibly called the Raspberry Pi Master, if they're continuing with the Acorn-inspired naming convention - with a faster chip, those are your only options right now. Well, two of those, anyway: the original Model B no longer exists, and I think everyone has cleared out their inventory by now.
dyzophoria 25th April 2013, 19:12 Quote
unless it has the same graphics and media capability as the PI, I don't think its going anywhere, technically the cubieboard is similar to what this was suppose to achieve, faster ARM with the price of the PI, the only problem is the graphics system.
ch424 25th April 2013, 20:18 Quote
Sadly the TI page doesn't mention any form of video decoding :/ http://www.ti.com/product/am3359
Fizzban 25th April 2013, 20:21 Quote
PowerVR... Isn't that related to the tech we often find in our smart-phones?
Gareth Halfacree 26th April 2013, 08:57 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by dyzophoria
unless it has the same graphics and media capability as the PI, I don't think its going anywhere [...]
I disagree. This is aimed at a totally different market, one which doesn't care about graphics and media playback. Heck, look at the original BeagleBone: it didn't have any video output at all, and cost nearly three times as much as the Pi, and still sold in impressive numbers. The BeagleBone Black isn't designed as an Xbmc box, or a games box - if you want one of those, buy the Pi. It's designed as a powerful, programmable platform for hacking electronics - which is why its developers have put considerable effort into the GPIO side of things. The BeagleBone has two 48-pin GPIO headers - that's 96 pins in total, not counting extra pins that aren't brought out by default. In contrast, the Pi has a single 26-pin header - and a big chunk of those pins are DNC, or Do Not Connect. That's why the BeagleBone Black will sell.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fizzban
PowerVR... Isn't that related to the tech we often find in our smart-phones?
As is ARM; the ARM processor was originally developed for Acorn's BBC Micro as a secondary and more powerful processor, then fell out of favour on the desktop and found a home in the embedded market, and more recently smartphones and tablets. Imagination Technologies, the company behind PowerVR, got its start designing chips for add-in graphics cards on early Windows desktops, then made a fortune creating the GPU for the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast which it then ploughed into the early days of mobile graphics. Now, it concentrates solely on mobile and embedded graphics, holding multiple patents that mean its implementations tend to be 'smarter' than those of its competitors - although the company is also branching out into the world of real-time ray-tracing, with a view to developing a chip that can do real-time ray-tracing on a smartphone within the next five years. (If you want to learn more, I interview one of Imagination's big-high muckety-mucks in this month's Custom PC.)
Log in

You are not logged in, please login with your forum account below. If you don't already have an account please register to start contributing.



Discuss in the forums