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Open Atom SBC runs Angstrom Linux, nears production

Apr 16, 2013  |  Rick Lehrbaum
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The MinnowBoard, an open single-board computer (SBC) design based on a 1GHz Intel Atom E640 processor and running Angstrom embedded Linux, is swimming swiftly toward first production. The Intel-assisted community project aims to equip both professional developers and the maker community with an open hardware/software design that’s readily adaptable to a wide variety of projects and products.

Currently, third-generation MinnowBoard prototype boards (version X3) are assembled and going through qualification testing. “As of right now, we’re still aiming to be shipping boards sometime in May,” says Scott Garman, a developer with Intel’s Open Source Technology Center, who is participating in the project.

Although the SBC’s production pricing has not been finalized, it’s expected to be “under $200″ at quantity one. The photos below show one of the MinnowBoard X3 prototypes.



MinnowBoard X3 prototype top (left) and bottom
(click each image to enlarge)

 

MinnowBoard features

Key features of the MinnowBoard, as listed by the project, include:

  • Core logic:
    • 1GHz 32-bit Intel Atom E640 CPU
    • EG20T Intel Platform Controller Hub
    • Integrated Intel GMA 600 graphics accelerator
  • Memory:
    • 1GB DDR2 RAM
    • 4MB SPI flash
  • I/O ports:
    • SDVO to DVI (over HDMI connector)
    • Analog audio in/out
    • MicroSD/SDIO
    • 1x SATA2 3Gb/sec
    • 2x USB host; 1x USB device port
    • 1x serial debug port with serial-to-USB conversion
    • Gigabit Ethernet
    • 8x Buffered GPIO lines
    • 2x GPIO-controlled LEDs
    • 4x GPIO-connected switches
  • 2x PCI Express lanes
  • Firmware flash programming header
  • Dimensions — 4.2 x 4.2 in.
  • Power — 5VDC



MinnowBoard block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

 

MinnowBoard “Lures”

As seen in the block diagram, the MinnowBoard’s expansion bus connector includes 5V power, LVDS, HD audio, PCI Express, SMBus, CANbus, SATA, 4 USB hosts, 2 UARTs, I2C, SPI, 8 GPIOs, and SDIO signals. The expansion bus resides on the large white connector that appears in the board’s topside photo earlier in this post.

The MinnowBoard’s expansion connector was selected for its ability to provide modular expansion using stackable expansion boards called “Lures.” According to the project, Lures are stackable up to a depth of four devices. The project has defined three Lure sizes: Type A (4.2 x 4.2 in.); Type B (4.2 x 2.45 in.); and Type C (2.45 x 2.45 in.). For more details on these, refer to eLinux.org’s MinnowBoard Lures page.
 

MinnowBoard software

The MinnowBoard’s default operating system is a port of the Ångström Distribution, which claims compatibility with Yocto Project v1.3. Additionally, other standard and embedded Linux distributions are expected to support the MinnowBoard, either out-of-the-box or through the efforts of the SBC’s community.

The board’s bootloader consists of UEFI firmware with fast boot capability (specifically, it’s currently UEFI 2.3 compliant, with some 2.3.1 features).
 

A short Q&A with Scott Garman

LinuxGizmos was curious about the origins of the MinnowBoard project and Intel’s role in the project. In response to our request, Garman provided this interesting background…

  • What’s Intel’s role? I’m guessing Intel initiated the project and is “supporting it” but I’m wondering what the nature of that support is.

    Garman: The initial concept and driver for the project was actually from the Yocto Project team, which was interested in having a low-cost IA board we could use for introducing people to Yocto Project development. We then partnered with CircuitCo to do the design and manufacturing of the board. We’re really happy to be working with them, as they have a great track record of involvement with embedded boards that have a healthy open source community around them.

  • Was the hardware design done by “the community” or by Intel?

    Garman: The MinnowBoard is based on the Intel Queens Bay reference platform, but CircuitCo took this design and customized it as desired. Intel’s involvement in the board manufacture was quite minimal, but we had open communication channels anytime there were questions from CircuitCo about the design and implementation.

  • What about the software development, i.e. the porting of Angstrom and UEFI to the board?

    Garman: To my knowledge this is actually the first embedded board to be developed specifically for use with the Yocto Project, and we have recently become part of the Yocto Project compatibility program. Darren Hart from Intel’s Yocto Project team has been doing the BSP work. Likewise we have a couple of folks from the Intel UEFI team working on the firmware. Angstrom is a great embedded Linux distribution which is Yocto Project compatible, and it made sense for us to use that to get hobbyists up and running as quickly as possible.

  • What’s the next step in the production cycle?

    Garman: The photos you published are from the X3 (third prototype) of the board. We’ve just finished hardware validation of this revision and are very happy with the results — we have only a couple of minor tweaks to roll into X4, and I have the feeling X4 is what we’ll be going to production with.

  • What’s your personal role in the MinnowBoard project?

    Garman: My experience as a Yocto Project core team member and passion for open source communities (I’m quite active in the Portland, OR tech scene) created a clear fit when we needed to find someone to be a champion of the board. I jumped at the opportunity and now am the “technical evangelist” for the MinnowBoard.

  • Will there by working prototypes of the X3 version at Design West (ESC) next week?

    Garman: Oh yes, we’ve had working prototypes since ELC in February. The X3 board and even a few MinnowBoard Lures will be running code at Design West.

  • Do you still expect to have boards available for sale in May? How many?

    Garman: That is still currently the goal. I can’t speak to how many, but I think it should be enough to meet initial demand.

  • Thanks!

 

Further info

The MinnowBoard community will be showcasing its wares in booth #TT24 in the expo hall at Design West (ESC) next week in San Jose, Calif. For further information. visit the MinnowBoard project website and the MinnowBoard area of the eLinux.org wiki.
 

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