Linux User & Developer, Issue 131

Linux User & Developer Issue 131The cover of this month’s Linux User & Developer Magazine highlights two of my latest features: a review of the Intel MinnowBoard and an interview with its evangelist Scott Garman. The direct comparison to the far cheaper Raspberry Pi, just to clarify, was an editorial decision in which I had no part.

The MinnowBoard is an interesting piece of equipment: based on a single-core 32-bit Intel Atom processor, it packs surprising power into a sub-10W package: gigabit Ethernet, USB, SATA and audio ports are all present and correct, while a ‘Lure’ connector gives access to additional capabilities including several PCI Express lanes.

The hardware itself isn’t the most interesting feature of the MinnowBoard, however. Intel has opted to make the board fully open, releasing schematics, Gerbers, firmware source code, and a Board Support Package (BSP) for the Yocto Project – certification for which the board carries proudly.

In this, the MinnowBoard is head and shoulders above the Raspberry Pi, which is a closed design, while offering significantly more power. Sadly, that power comes at a considerable price – you can expect to pay at least £160 for the MinnowBoard compared to £30 for the Pi. The MinnowBoard also struggles to compete with AMD’s equivalent, the Gizmo from Sage Electronics, which features a faster 64-bit dual-core processor with greater performance and wider OS compatibility and comes bundled with useful tools for embedded hardware and software development at a very similar cost.

Still, it’s an exciting project – and one Scott Garman, Yocto Project contributor, Intel employee, and the evangelist for the MinnowBoard project, is justifiably excited about. In my interview, Scott provided hints at the reasoning behind certain design decisions for the MinnowBoard, promises of increased compatibility with operating systems other than the bundled Angstrom Linux build, and admitted his undying respect for the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

All this, plus my usual four pages of Linux, open source, open hardware and open governance news, can be found betwix the pages of Linux User & Developer at your local newsagent, supermarket, or online via the Zinio digital distribution platform and others.

Custom PC, Issue 122

Custom PC Issue 122In the latest of my eponymous columns – Gareth Halfacree’s Hobby Tech, if you haven’t been following – I take a UK-exclusive look at the Intel MinnowBoard, show readers how to create a 21st century fax machine with an inexpensive thermal printer and an Arduino microcontroller, and investigate the 1980s’ answer to solid-state storage.

First, the MinnowBoard. Intel’s first foray into open hardware, the MinnowBoard is a clear response to the success of the low-cost Raspberry Pi. Although the low-cost part may have been lost along the way – the MinnowBoard retails at around £170, far more than the £30 the top-end Raspberry Pi will cost you – it offers considerable extra power including a 32-bit x86 Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, on-board SATA and even PCI Express expansion.

Another advantage to the MinnowBoard, and a surprise from Intel, is that it’s open hardware: the company has released Board Specification Packages (BSPs) for Yocto Project certification along with Gerbers, schematics and bills of material – everything you could need to build one of your very own. In this, it’s similar to AMD’s Gizmo board – although that features a BIOS which offers greater out-of-the-box compatibility with various operating systems, a more powerful dual-core processor and a slightly smaller footprint.

This month’s tutorial focuses on turning an inexpensive thermal printer – kindly provided by local hobbyist supply house oomlout – into an Arduino-powered teleprinter. Using the Hello, Printer design from GoFreeRange, it creates a simple internet-connected device that will accept text or image data from any web-capable client – and I’ve found it’s absolutely top-hole for shopping lists and reminders.

Sadly, there is a printing error – oh, the irony – in the tutorial: the last entry in the bill of materials, the 400-point breadboard, is missing the link to purchase. If you’re after one, you can find it on oomlout’s website.

Finally, the vintage computing section this month focuses on an all-but abandoned technology: EPROMs. The precursor to modern flash memory, as found in solid-state drives, EPROMs were an incredibly common sight: unlike traditional PROMs, they could be erased using an ultra-violet light ready for reuse and were typically used to hold program information or BIOS data. As something of a computer historian, I find myself using the chips a lot – I was burning a Donkey Kong board for the Nintendo PlayChoice-10 when I got the idea for the feature – but they’re something those who are new to computing are unlikely to see in the wild.

All this, plus a bunch of stuff from people who aren’t me, in Custom PC Issue 122. As usual, you can find it in all good newsagents and supermarkets, or stay indoors and pick up a digital copy from services like Zinio if you’d prefer.