Linux User & Developer, Issue 129

Linux User & Developer Issue 129The latest issue of Linux User & Developer contains, in addition to my regular four-page news spread starting on page six, two hardware reviews – both relating to that most popular of microcomputers, the Raspberry Pi.

The first is the Raspberry Pi Camera Module, the first official add-on to come out of the Raspberry Pi Foundation. I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release unit from the Foundation, as a result of my work on the Raspberry Pi User Guide, and while it was an early model – revision one, no less – it gave me a good idea of the device’s capabilities.

Hardware-wise, the Camera Module is impressive: its five megapixel sensor is sharp and clear, the fixed-focus lens easily hacked for adjustable focus and – thanks to some enterprising types who don’t mind risking their £20 investment – even removable in order to fit a high-quality CCTV-style glass lens. The software is another matter, but that’s a topic for the review.

The second device is the Embedded Pi, kindly provided by Farnell subsidiary CPC – which, it is interesting to note, is taking an increasing interest in the maker community, actively seeking product suggestions and collaboration opportunities. Designed to connect to the Pi’s GPIO port, the Embedded Pi can act as a expansion to the input/output capabilities or – and here’s where it gets clever – as a stand-alone system, powered by an embedded STM32 processor, which can talk to the Pi or operate entirely independently.

While that would seem to make the Embedded Pi a must-have for anyone doing hardware hacking on a Raspberry Pi, things aren’t that simple – and if you read the review, you’ll soon find one of the biggest issues is a bit of a show-stopper.

Linux User & Developer Issue 129 is, as always, available from most good newsagents or digitally via Zinio and other services.

Linux User & Developer, Issue 121

Linux User & Developer Issue 121This month’s Linux User & Developer magazine includes two of my hardware reviews, both from the world of low-cost, embedded computing: VIA’s APC microcomputer and Gert van Loo’s Gerboard accessory for the Raspberry Pi.

First, VIA’s product. Designed as a response to the overwhelming popularity of the Raspberry Pi, the VIA APC 8750 – to give the device its full name – takes a WonderMedia 8750 system-on-chip processor based around the same ARMv6 instruction set as the Raspberry Pi, adds in a generous 512MB of memory and wraps it all up in a surprising new form factor the company calls ‘neo-ITX.’

Unlike the ultra-compact Pi, the result is a behemoth of a system by embedded computing standards – but one that can be mounted in any standard ITX case, complete with bundled I/O shield for the quite generous connections on the rear. It’s even possible to power the device from a standard PC power supply, using one of the 12V lines normally used to provide the extra power required by modern multi-core processors.

It’s an impressive beast, but at twice the price of the Raspberry Pi can it really be a tempting proposition? Hopefully by the time you’ve read the review, you’ll have an idea.

The second review is of a device designed to increase the somewhat limited input-output capabilities of the popular Raspberry Pi ARM-based microcomputer. Designed by Gert van Loo – a Broadcom engineer responsible for the design of the BCM2835 multimedia processor used at the heart of the Pi – the board includes analogue to digital converts, motor drivers, LEDs and buttons galore.

It’s also a complete pain to assemble. I’m no stranger to soldering, but surface mount soldering is always awkward – and when the first component, a tiny capacitor around half the size of a grain of rice, went skittering across the floor and there were no spares, I knew I was in for trouble.

Still, three hours or so later I had a working Gertboard to review for the magazine – mostly. If you’re picking the magazine up especially for this review, there’s some good news: the kit version reviewed is being discontinued in favour of a pre-built kit assembled by machine by van Loo’s partner company Farnell – and it’ll be cheaper than the kit, too.

Linux User & Developer Magazine Issue 121 is available in all good newsagents now, while additional details are available on the official website.