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Sub-$100 maker board packs Apollo Lake SoC, 4K video, dual GbE

Oct 31, 2016 — by Eric Brown 12,214 views

[Updated Nov 2, 2017] — Aaeon’s “Up Squared” hacker SBC offers dual- or quad-core Intel Apollo Lake SoCs, plus up to 8GB RAM, SATA, dual HDMI, 4K video, dual GbE, mini-PCIe, and more.

Aaeon Europe has launched a Kickstarter project for a follow-up to its x86-based “Up” hacker board. If it shipped today instead of its April 2017 due date, the “Up2” (or “Up Squared”) would be the most powerful hacker-friendly single board computer around. The SBC features the new 14nm-fabricated Intel Apollo Lake system-on-chips, and offers a feature set that is rare even on high end hacker boards.

The Up Squared supports up to 8GB DDR4 of RAM and up to 128GB eMMC 5.0 of on-board flash, and offers 4K video encode and decode, dual GbE ports, dual HDMI video outputs, a SATA interface, M.2 support, and mini-PCIe expansion. You also get eDP, dual MIPI-CSI, 3x USB host ports, and both a 60-pin GPIO and a 40-pin interface tied to an Altera Max 10 FPGA. The pinout of 40-pin board’s expansion header appears to be relatively compatible with the Raspberry Pi’s similar header, although its precise functionality may depend on how the UP board’s FPGA is programmed.

Up Squared (Up2) front and back sides
(click images to enlarge)

The boards offered through the Up Squared’s Kickstarter campaign are not available with any of the three new Atom E3900 branded SoCs announced by Intel last week. Rather, they will be built using a pair of Apollo Lake Celeron and Pentium SoCs that are also being supported by Congatec, Seco, and others in their recently announced Apollo Lake based COMs. Specifically, the initially available processors are:


Apollo Lake offers faster performance and faster graphics performance than Intel’s previous Bay Trail, Cherry Trail, and Braswell SoCs. The SoC includes Gen9 graphics with triple 4K display support, as well as four vector image processing units, and Intel’s Time Coordinated Computing (TCC) Technology, which is said to coordinate and synchronize peripherals and networks of connected devices. There’s also a Trusted Execution Engine 3.0 security co-processor.

Up Squared (Up2) viewed from two angles
(click images to enlarge)

Like the original Up, the Up Squared is not open source, but it offers a price that is quite affordable for an x86-based SBC. The dual-core Celeron N3350 model starts at 89 Euros ($98) while the quad-core Pentium N4200 version goes for $169 Euros ($185), in both cases equipped with baseline amounts of SDRAM and eMMC flash.

The Linux- and Android-ready SBC is backed by extensive documentation, tutorials, a community site with forum, and a focus on the “maker” market. The only catch is that you can’t build your own board based on the Up Squared design without a license from Asus-owned Aaeon.

Up Squared front (left) and back details
(click image to enlarge)

The original Up board was one of the first x86-based hacker-oriented SBCs from a company other than Intel or AMD. It used a 14nm, quad-core “Cherry Trail” Atom x5-Z8350.

Original “Up” (left) compared to “Up Squared”
(click image to enlarge)

Although like many of the community-backed x86 SBCs, the Up board was not sufficiently open source to be included in our hacker SBC roundups, it does address a similar audience. To date, the Up has been “adopted by more than 12,000 makers in various fields such as IoT, entertainment, digital signage, smart home automation, robotics, machine vision, intelligent vending, and industrial automation,” says Aaeon.

Up and Up Squared specs compared
(click image to enlarge)

The Up Squared inherits the 40-pin GP-bus from the first generation Up, although this time it’s controlled by an Intel/Altera MAX 10 FPGA, which is more powerful than the previous Up’s MAX V CPLD (Complex Programmable Logic Device). According to Aaeon, the MAX 10 “gives great flexibility to all professional makers who need to implement specific features and protocols without loading the CPU and easily reconfigure the GPIO pin out.” The term “easily” is somewhat relative, so if you’re not quite ready for FPGAs, you can also use a new 60-pin GPIO board-to-board EXHAT expansion connector.

Up Squared block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The Up Squared’s 86 x 90mm dimensions are larger than the original Up’s 86 x 57mm size, but the 5V @ 4A powered Up Squared is still small enough to have Aaeon recommend it for drones, robotics, home automation, and other IoT devices. It also supports media center and education applications.

Pinouts of Up Squared’s 40-pin expansion (upper image) and 60-pin EXHAT connectors
(click images to enlarge)

The Up Squared can run the Debian-based Ubilinux and Ubuntu, as well as a Yocto Linux build, Android 6.0, and Windows 10 IoT Enterprise. Aaeon’s Up community also provides professional services, including customized derivatives of Up and Up Squared boards.

Specifications listed for the Up Squared SBC include:

  • Processor — Intel Apollo Lake Celeron N3350 (2x @ 1.1GHz/2.4GHz) or Pentium N4200 (4x @ 1.1GHz/2.5GHz), both with 6W TDP and Intel Gen9 HD 500/505 graphics
  • FPGA — Altera (Intel) Max 10
  • Memory:
    • RAM — 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB LPDDR4
    • Flash — 32GB, 64GB, or 128GB eMMC 5.0
  • External storage — SATA 3 interface
  • Networking — 2x Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Multimedia I/O:
    • 2x HDMI 1.4b ports with 4K@30fps
    • eDP interface
    • Triple display support
    • I2S audio port
    • MIPI CSI 2- and 4-lane camera interfaces
  • Other I/O:
    • 3x USB 3.0 ports
    • Micro-USB 3.0 OTG port
    • 2x USB 2.0 interfaces
    • 2x UART
    • JTAG debug port for FPGA
    • Fan interface
    • 40-pin, RPi-like expansion (driven by FPGA)
    • 60-pin EXHAT expansion for GPIO (driven by FPGA)
  • Other expansion — Mini-PCIe slot; M.2 2230 E-key
  • Other features — RTC; reset button and header
  • Power — 5V DC jack @ 4A; power available on header
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 60°C
  • Operating systems — Linux (Ubuntu, Ubilinux, Yocto); Android Marshmallow; Windows 10 IoT Enterprise

Up Squared Kickstarter campaign video

Further information

The Up Squared board is available on Kickstarter starting at 89 Euros ($98) for the dual-core Celeron N3350 model, and $169 Euros ($185) for the quad-core Pentium N4200 version, with shipments due in April 2017. The Up Squared will be released publicly next June, at which time additional models equipped with quad-core Atom x5 E3940 and Atom x7 Quad Core E3950 processors will also be offered. More information may be found on Aaeon Europe’s Up Squared Kickstarter page and at its Up Squared community site.

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