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Tiny Cortex-A9 SBC is hackable and stackable

Apr 5, 2014 — by Eric Brown 5,871 views

Habey unveiled a tiny, open-spec, Freescale i.MX6-based SBC that runs Ubuntu and Android, and features stackable daughter boards, PoE, and wing extensions.

One by one, established embedded board developers are experimenting with open, community backed single board computer projects. Habey USA’s “HIO” SBC project is more ambitious than most. With its Android and Linux-ready HIO-EMB-1200 SBC, the company is introducing a new 80 x 72 x 10mm “HIoTX” form-factor that is 20 percent smaller than Via’s 100 x 72mm Pico-ITX standard. With its 10mm profile, the HIO is also the thinnest SBC equipped with Freescale’s ARM Cortex-A9 based i.MX6 system-on-chip, says Habey.

Habey HIO-EMB-1200
(click image to enlarge)

The HIO-EMB-1200 offers modular expansion opportunities in three dimensions. Its equipped on either side with 200 expansion pins, configured as four 50-pin headers (with 1.27mm pin pitch), allowing stacking of daughter boards on the top or bottom. The HIO system launches in May for $100 with three available daughter boards with different interface mixes, ranging in size from 80 x 72mm to 72 x 40mm, and in price from $20 to $60. The SBC also offers wing-type expansion on the side, as well as support for carrier boards.

According to Habey’s Caleb Wu, the four expansion headers on the top of the board carry the same signals as the corresponding headers on the bottom. “They can be configured to be used in a number of different ways, so each set of signals at each pin is not fixed and can be changed,” said Wu. “We will be providing the configuration outlines as time goes on.”

HIO stacking options
(click image to enlarge)

Habey also touts the board’s flexibility with regard to power options. The board can be powered through the mainboard, a daughter board, or the $60 PoE daughter board. In addition to PoE, you can power up via 12DC RJ45, a 12DC terminal block, a 5VDC adapter, or “other supported wide voltage range add-on modules,” says the company.


The HIO is designed for “rapid prototyping and quick application module development” for Internet of Things applications, says Habey. It’s available with open source Ubuntu Linux and Android 4.2.2 SDKs.

HIO mainboard, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

Habey is planning to open the hardware designs of its daughter boards. “We will be releasing full schematics for the daughter boards, including any new ones we have in the future, so users will be able to design their own boards,” explained Wu. “As far as the mainboard goes, we do plan on opening it a little at a time. The first step will be showing the header signal configurations, which will allow users to pick and choose what type of signal they want to enable on each set of headers. Ultimately, we want to open it as much as possible.”

The HIO project has also launched a community website with forums and other resources intended to support and foster “a community of like and open-minded developers and makers to share knowledge and designs to benefit the community,” says Habey.

The HIO-EMB-1200 mainboard is available with either the dual- or quad-core Freescale i.MX6 SoCs, which clock to 1GHz and 1.2GHz, respectively. You get 1GB of DDR3 RAM and 4GB of iNAND flash, expandable to 32GB. We believe that refers to expanding the onboard flash, but Habey may be referring to expansion via the available microSD socket.

HIO port and I/O detail
(click image to enlarge)

Other real-world ports are limited to an HDMI port, a USB OTG device port, and a UART console port. The mainboard also features dual USB 2.0 host headers, a 5VDC power input, and a JTAG connection.

The mainboard is equipped with gigabit Ethernet and PCI-Express PHY, as well as an audio codec. All of this I/O and much more is transmitted via the four 50-pin connectors, which are available on either side of the board. The diagram above shows how the I/O is divied up. There’s a range of display camera, audio, and serial interfaces, including GPIO and PCIe.

Fully loaded, stacked HIO (left) and diagram showing wing extensions (upper right)and Habey’s Wallpad (lower left)
(click images to enlarge)

Many of these interfaces are available via the first three daughter boards that stack onto the connectors. These unnamed modules include a PoE board with a PoE-ready gigabit Ethernet port and serial I/O, and a camera board with camera I/O, a gigabit Ethernet port, and audio I/O. There’s also a display board that features a DisplayPort with optional Sharp 3.5-inch LCD module, as well as WiFi and audio I/O. Additional I/O on all these daughter boards is detailed in the spec list below.

HIO-EMB-1200 SBC specifications

Specifications listed for the HIO-EMB-1200 SBC include:

  • Processor — Freescale i.MX6 Dual or Quad (2x or 4x Cortex-A9 cores @ 1GHz for Dual or 1.2GHz for Quad); 3D and 2D GPUs
  • Memory:
    • 1GB DDR3 RAM
    • 4GB iNAND flash, expandable to 32GB
    • MicroSD socket
  • Display:
    • HDMI port
    • 24-bit Parallel DisplayPort, dual-channel 24-bit LVDS, and MIPI-DSI via expansion
    • Optional 3.5-inch LCD panel via display daughter board
  • Audio — audio codec with 1W Amp; audio I/O via display or camera daughter boards
  • Networking — Gigabit Ethernet PHY; GbE port via PoE or camera daughter boards
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x USB 2.0 host interfaces
    • USB OTG device port
    • UART Console port
    • JTAG interface
  • Expansion — 4x 50-pin (1.27mm pitch) female headers on either side (2x 200-pin connectors):
    • 24-bit Parallel DisplayPort
    • Dual-channel 24-bit LVDS
    • MIPI DSI up to 24-bit
    • MIPI CSI up to 4-lane
    • 8-bit parallel camera interface
    • GbE
    • PCIe
    • 2x USB 2.0
    • I2S audio I/O
    • 4-bit SDIO
    • IOMUX out — up to 5x UART, 2x CAN, 3x SPI, 3x I2C, 34x configurable GPIO
  • Power — 5VDC input; optional power adapter; 2W typical consumption, up to 5W max. with 3.5-inch display
  • Dimensions — 80 x 72 x 10mm; Habey “HIoTX” form-factor
  • Operating system — Ubuntu Linux; Android 4.2.2

Optional daughter board specs

Specifications listed for the HIO-EMB-1200 SBC’s three initial daughter boards include:

  • PoE/serial expansion board:
    • 12V PoE module (802.3af compliant)
    • Optional 2-pin terminal block or 12VDC power input (RJ45)
    • Gigabit Ethernet port
    • RS232 port
    • 3x RS232 headers
    • Dimensions — 72 x 60mm
  • Display/WiFi/audio expansion board:
    • DisplayPort (Parallel RGB)
    • Optional Sharp 3.5-inch LCD panel (2.8VDC)
    • WiFi module (via USB)
    • USB 2.0 port
    • I2C interface for TP
    • Power button
    • Mic-in port
    • 2x speaker out (1W)
    • Dimensions — 80 x 72mm
  • Camera/GbE/audio expansion board:
    • Gigabit Ethernet port
    • 8-bit Parallel camera port
    • MIPI CSI 2-lane camera port
    • 2x I2C camera interfaces
    • 2x USB 2.0 ports
    • 4-bit SDIO interface
    • 5V+3.3V pin header
    • Audio line-out/detect, line-out, mic-in/detect
    • Speaker out (1W)
    • Dimensions — 72 x 40mm

The HIO is small enough to fit into a standard 2-Gang Electrical Box, such as Habey’s “HIo Wallpad,” says the company. Like the underlying HIO-EMB-1200 itself, the Android-based HIO Wallpad is billed as a PoE (Power-over-Ethernet) universal controller for home automation.

Further information

The HIO-EMB-1200 mainboard costs $100, plus optional daughter cards, including a $60 PoE board, a $20 camera board, and a $13 for power adapter card. No pricing was listed for the display daughter board or the HIO Wallpad. Orders for the mainboard and daughter boards can be reserved now, initially only in quantities of one. The first 400 boards will be available by the end of May and should ship within one to two weeks, says the company. More information may be found at the HIO project website.

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