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Intel pulls the plug on its Joule, Edison, and Galileo boards

Jun 20, 2017 — by Eric Brown — 3,151 views
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Intel is discontinuing its Linux-ready, Atom-based Intel Joule and Intel Edison COMs, its Quark-based Galileo Gen 2 SBC, and its Recon Jet sports eyewear.

Just as we were publishing the survey results for our 2017 hacker board survey, which showed increased interest in x86 based Linux hacker boards, Hackaday published a report that brought to light Intel documents announcing the discontinuation of the Intel Joule, Intel Edison, and Intel Galileo Gen 2 boards. As indicated in Intel’s Joule, Edison, and Galileo discontinuance announcements (PDFs), the products will remain available until Sep. 16, and shipments will end by Dec. 16, 2017. The discontinuance also applies to all development kits based on the Joule and Edison computer-on-modules.



Intel Joule
(click images to enlarge)

Intel also discontinued the Android-based Recon Jet eyeware computer aimed at runners and cyclists. Intel acquired Recon Instruments in 2016. There was no mention of Recon’s similar Snow2 smart goggles aimed at skiers.

When asked by LinuxGizmos for comment, a source within Intel wrote: “Intel is not commenting. I will let you know if that changes.”

The shut-down of the aging Intel Galileo and Intel Edison boards is hardly a shock, but the discontinuation of the Intel Joule, which Intel announced with great fanfare only last August as a follow-on to the similarly Atom-based Edison, is more surprising. The move suggests a retreat from the embedded Linux board market, although perhaps only a temporary one.

All three boards were designed to run various Yocto Project flavored Linux distributions, including the Joule’s Ostro Linux build. The Quark-based Galileo Gen 1 and Gen 2 were fully open source while the Edison and Joule are available with development kits in which schematics are provided for the carrier boards, but not the COMs themselves. All three boards offer community support, as well.



Intel Edison
(click image to enlarge)

Intel still backs the MinnowBoard.org community project with its ADI-built MinnowBoard SBCs. These include the recent, open-spec MinnowBoard Turbot Quad, which runs Linux, Android, or Windows on a quad-core Bay Trail Atom.

Intel is primarily a chipmaker, and its board-level products, as well as its Intel NUC line of mini-PCs, are designed more as de facto reference and promotional platforms for its chips rather than competitive commercial products. Yet, it’s possible that Intel’s more aggressive push behind the Joule into commercial markets as well as the maker community was causing friction with its long-time board partners. More likely, the Joule, which was somewhat overpriced at $160 to $210, simply failed to take off.


Galileo Gen 2

In any case, this is not necessarily an indication of the Intel Atom’s failure in the embedded market in general. While it continues to lose ground to lower cost, more power efficient ARM-based designs in the SBC world, it’s still dominant in commercial SBCs, and especially COMs, not to mention embedded industrial equipment. We’ve reported on dozens of new OEM-oriented COMs and SBCs based on Intel’s latest “Apollo Lake” Atom E3900 SoCs over the last 9 months, and we have also seen increased interest in community boards based on the Atom.

Apollo Lake Celeron and Pentium SoCs are featured in Aaeon’s new, community backed UP Squared SBC, which was ranked 13th out of 98 boards in our hacker survey. Seco’s Udoo X86, which instead taps the previous Braswell generation of Atoms, ranked 6th in our official Borda ranking, and was the second favorite SBC after the Raspberry Pi 3 when ranked by first-choice selections. Indeed, x86-based boards in general all saw higher scores than in previous years. The Turbot Quad ranked 26th, and the Edison Kit for Arduino ranked 18th.

Despite all this, it’s hard not to see the Joule’s sudden demise as anything but another in a string of failures by Intel. The world’s leading semiconductor company failed to break ARM’s stranglehold of the mobile market, and it has been slow to reduce prices and power consumption in its embedded processors. Even its newly announced, high-end Core i9 Extreme Edition will apparently be beaten to market by several months by AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper. Intel needs a win, which it may get in the form of iPhone baseband contracts thanks to Apple’s legal feud with Qualcomm.

In embedded, the Atom’s power efficiency still trails ARM, but price is now the main obstacle. With its troubled finances, due primarily to the drop in PC sales, Intel may not be in a position to make the price cuts that are required to compete at a high level in the maker market.

Here’s a farewell lap for Intel’s three discontinued boards, listed in chronological order:

Intel Galileo — Intel released the original Galileo SBC in 2013 to showcase its low-power, Pentium ISA-compatible Quark X1000 SoC. The Linux-driven, IoT focused board, was promoted with massive developer seeding programs and hacker contests. The Gen 2 version, which came in 43rd in this week’s hacker board survey, made only slight improvements.



Original Galileo (left) vs. Galileo Gen 2 (right)
(click images to enlarge)

In recent years, Intel refocused the Quark line with new MCU-like Quark D1000, Quark D2000, and Quark SE models designed to run RTOSes like Zephyr instead of Linux. Intel has been making a major push behind its tiny Curie wearable module, which uses a Quark SE. Although we’ve seen numerous Linux-on-Quark IoT gateways using the X1000 model, the combination appeared on relatively few third party embedded boards. The death of the Galileo, therefore, seemed inevitable.

Intel Edison — As originally teased, the Intel Edison was also designed to run Yocto Project Linux on a Quark, but the first commercial model unveiled in 2014 instead ran Linux on a dual-core variant of the old Intel Atom “Merrifield” design called the Tangier. The 35.5 x 25 x 3.9mm Edison finally arrived in September of that year with the Tangier and the promised Quark onboard, but only as a co-processor that ran the Viper RTOS, the forerunner of Zephyr. The Edison’s Quark was never fully exploited.


Intel Edison
Kit for Arduino

The Intel Edison features 1GB RAM, 4GB eMMC, and WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. It offers a high-density 70-pin Hirose connector that supports Arduino add-ons, which helped boost its popularity in maker circles. A variety of IoT and robotics kits were delivered with open specs, including the 18th ranked Edison for Arduino kit.

While it was arguably the most successful of Intel’s x86-based hacker boards, including the MinnowBoard, the Edison never gained the major traction Intel was expecting in commercial markets. When the Joule was announced last August, it seemed clear the end was near.

Intel Joule — The 48 x 24 x 3.5mm Joule was launched last August as a more powerful, machine vision alternative to the Edison. It featured Ostro Linux running on a quad-core, 1.7GHz Atom T5700 or 1.5GHz T5500 SoCs. Like the Edison’s similarly oddball Tangier, the Atom T5x00 never appeared elsewhere. These “Broxton” SoCs were related to Apollo Lake, with similar 14nm Goldmont cores and Intel HD Graphics.



Intel Joule detail views
(click image to enlarge)

The Joule’s claim to fame was its built-in support for Intel RealSense depth cameras, and it was vigorously targeted at the drone market. Features include 3GB or 4GB of LPDDR4, 8GB or 16GB of eMMC, and onboard WiFi-ac and Bluetooth. The module is further equipped with support for HDMI, MIPI-CSI, USB 3.0, serial, GPIO, and dual mini-PCIe expansion interfaces.

Intel shipped a Tuchuck carrier board with open specs, and Gumstix launched its own, customizable, Joule-ready carrier boards, including an AeroCore 2 Expansion Board. Gumstix also introduced a Joule-based, 96Boards compatible Nodana 96BCE SBC. Due to the high price of the Joule itself, none of these carrier options were eligible for our hacker survey.

Earlier this month, Open Robotics and Robotis unveiled a major TurtleBot 3 rev to its popular, Ubuntu driven robot kit that is available with a choice of onboard Intel Joule or Raspberry Pi 3 computers. It’s unclear if the companies will replace the Joule on the open source bot with another high-end alternative.
 

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