Hard to choose between Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone Black, and MinnowBoard Max? Now there’s another choice: the open source MIPS-based “Creator CI20” dev board.
In a bid to harness some of the energy and enthusiasm swirling around today’s open, hackable single board computers Imagination Technologies, licensor of the MIPS ISA, has unveiled the ISA’s counter to ARM’s popular Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black SBCs. These days, every processor vendor simply must have a community supported dev board in order to engage with the developer communities. (Incidentally, Intel’s is the MinnowBoard Max and AMD’s is the Gizmo.)
Creator CI20 development board
(click image to enlarge)
The core of the 90.2 mm x 95.3 mm Creator CI20 SBC is its Ingenic JZ4780 system-on-chip, which integrates a pair of MIPS32 cores clocked at 1.2GHz, a PowerVR SGX540 GPU, and an IEEE754 FPU. The Ingenic SoC is accompanied by 1GB of DDR3 DRAM and 8GB of NAND flash memory, and there’s also an one SD card slot and a set of signals for a second SD interface resides on an expansion connector.
Ingenic JZ4780 SoC block diagram
(click image to enlarge)
The board’s interfaces include an HDMI port supporting up to 2K at 60fps, an audio in/out jack, 10/100 Ethernet, both WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 wireless, USB OTG and host ports, a CMOS camera input, multiple analog inputs and digital I/Os, and a pair of serial ports. There’s also a 14-pin MIPS JTAG header, a feature that’s sure to please the hard-core hackers among us.
The board is supported with a user’s guide, detailed hardware and software technical documentation, component specifications, full schematics, a Linux kernel, U-Boot sources, a support forum, and more. But you needn’t wait until you get your board to dive into much of that, as it appears to be freely available over at eLinux.org’s MIPS Creator CI20 wiki section.
“The Creator CI20 dev board is a multimedia powerhouse that has a OpenGL ES 2.0-capable PowerVR SGX540 GPU and dedicated video hardware for a suite of video codecs, including MPEG-4, H.264, VP8, MPEG-2, RV9 and others, making it ideal for HTPC enthusiasts,” writes technology marketing specialist Alexandru Voica in the Creator CI20 announcement on the company’s blog.
Regarding the board’s openness, Imagination states: “The MIPS Creator CI20 board is compatible with the principles and development of prpl.” Prpl, a sort of Linaro for MIPS, is described by Imagination as an “open source community for all things MIPS.”
Creator CI20 compared to Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black
Although it strikes us that the Creator CI20 development board is cut from very different cloth than these populist hacker boards, Imagination hastened to publish a handy quick-reference table showing how many ways its new dev board outperforms the so-called competition.
Creator CI20 vs. Raspberry Pi vs. BeagleBone Black
(click image to enlarge; source: Imagination Technologies)
Although competitive comparison tables often favor the table’s creator, we’ve scanned this one, and are comfortable that it’s fairly balanced. One point worth noting, is that the Creator CI20’s footprint is about 1.8 times the Raspberry Pi’s and 1.9 times the BeagleBone Black’s.
Linux and Android support
From the operating system support perspective, much OS porting work appears to be in motion. According to Voica’s blog post, the SBC can boot the desired OS either from onboard flash or from an SD card.
Creator CI20 running Debian
(click image to enlarge)
“OS images are available for Debian 7, Gentoo, Yocto, Arch, and other Linux distros — with Android v4.4 soon to arrive too,” he writes. In addition, the board’s “Linux kernel BSP (currently for 3.0.8 and 3.16) is open on github and up-streamed imminently; graphics support includes Xorg-compliant OpenGL 2.1 and OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0 drivers.”
A few words about MIPS
With the media fixated on the looming showdown between Intel and ARM in the mobile market, you’d hardly know MIPS exists. Actually, in recent years more than three billion MIPS-based devices have quietly shipped, according to Imagination. But the problem for MIPS, from a visibility perspective, is that its processors are often more deeply embedded, such as in carrier-grade networking and telecom equipment, consumer routers and access points, and as controllers in TV set-top boxes and game consoles. What MIPS lacks from a pizazz perspective is a presence in the red hot mobile device market.
Incidentally, despite its high profile announcement by Imagination, the Creator CI20 development board isn’t the first low cost MIPS SBC on the market. Currently ten boards are showcased on the company’s third-party MIPS SBCs page. Additionally, MIPS is the core of Qualcomm’s Atheros AR9331 SoC, which appears in numerous small SBCs and COMs (computer-on-modules) that typically run OpenWRT Linux (two interesting examples we’ve recently written about are here and here).
Summary of Creator CI20 specs
Creator CI20 specifications provided by Imagination include:
- Processor — Ingenic JZ4780 system-on-chip
- CPU — 2x 1.2GHz XBurst MIPS32 cores
- GPU — SGX540
- FPU — IEEE754
- RAM — 1GB (32-bit DDR3)
- Flash — 8GB NAND
- Expansion — 1x SD slot onboard; 1x SD card interface signals on an expansion connector
- 1x 10/100 Ethernet
- WiFi 802.11b/g/n
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Hardware video decoders — MPEG-2, VC-1, VP8, MPEG-4, H.264 (1080p at 30fps), RV9 (1080p at 60fps)
- HDMI port (up to 2k resolution)
- Other I/O:
- 2x USB — 1x OTG, 1x Host
- 25x GPIOs
- CMOS camera input (ITU.R BTU-645 connector)
- 2x SPI
- 1x I2C
- 7x analog input channels
- 1x UART
- AC97 audio (via I/O jack and HDMI connector)
- JTAG (14-pin MIPS EJTAG header)
- Transport Stream Interface
- Power — 5VDC
- Dimensions — 90.2 x 95.3mm
Ordering information is available at the Imagination Technologies web store, here. Extensive technical information is already posted over at eLinux.org’s MIPS Creator CI20 wiki section, so you dive in as deep as you like.
We noted with interest that no pricing or delivery was listed on the product page, but it instead said “the Creator CI20 is supplied free of charge to certain approved projects under Imagination’s ecosystem.” Asked for clarification, Voica explained in an email to LinuxGizmos that Imagination has been stampeded with requests for free boards, and that they need to “sort through all the project proposals, select the most interesting ones and reward them with a free board.” Next, the company will “come up with a strategy to try and put more boards in the hands of people who are not necessarily developers and simply want to play with them,” he continued. At that point, pricing will be announced.