I'm typing this on a MinnowBoard Turbot Quad-Core running Ubuntu Linux while Netflix plays in the background, and all is running smoothly. The latest edition to the MinnowBoard family of open source developer boards has more than enough under the hood to function as a small DIY productivity PC, but the MinnowBoard Foundation , the non-profit behind the MinnowBoard, has loftier goals than that.
At the heart of the 2.9 x 3.9-inch board is a 64-bit, quad-core, Intel Atom E3845 processor (4 x 1.91 GHz, 2MB cache), 2GB of DDR3L 1067MT/s DRAM, and support for microSD and SATA2 storage. It also features integrated HD graphics, and a microHDMI video output (plenty for streaming video). The Turbot quad-core supports most Linux operating systems as well as Android and Windows 10 IoT – a stripped down version of Windows 10 optimized for developing Internet of Things (IoT) apps and devices. And the entire board is open source, from its design files and schematics all the way to its bill of materials, all of which are freely available via GitHub.
|The Minnowboard Turbot Quad-Core's hardware makes it ideal for makers and hobbyists but the real target is developers working in IoT, robotics, and automation. (Image source: MinnowBoard Foundation).|
Brian Ottaway, Product Manager of Open Hardware at Minnowboard, told Design News that with this latest iteration MinnowBoard is less interested in becoming a hobbyist darling, replacing competitors like the Raspberry Pi and Arduino, and more interested in become a serious platform for IoT developers. “The changes we've made over previous models are not dramatic changes, but they do show what we think is important,” Ottaway said.
One of the biggest wins for MinnowBoard this time around has been pursing and achieving a higher threshold of compliance for electromagnetic interference (EMI) and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) emissions, making the Turbot Quad-Core FCC class B compliant. “Most boards rely on exemptions or don't go for [FCC compliance],” Ottaway said. “But that doesn't help people get to market. We don't want developers to be hindered in getting to production.”
Ottaway added that all of the improvements made with the Turbot Quad-Core were made because of feedback from the MinnowBoard user community.
“We would have pursued the quad core design alone just to achieve class B. But it also solves questions around distribution and product integration,” he said. “We got requests to produce the quad core for core compute. Our customers told us their individual applications need to work harder, especially in robotics and computer vision.
Take the Intel i210 ethernet controller for example. We got lots of request from industrial robotics and automotive for this as opposed to an i211. Doing so opens up apps that require synchronization and advanced control, things like audio-visual synchronization. It's a $1-2 price add for the board, but it's a big deal for market areas we focus on.”
The MinnowBoard Foundation's open licensing policy makes it difficult to keep track of what developers have been doing with the MinnowBoard, since they aren't required to disclose to the foundation. However some of the applications suggested by distributors