SolidRun's New SFF HummingBoard PC Is A Modular Raspberry Pi Clone With Upgradeable ARM Processor
Subject: General Tech | July 16, 2014 - 02:21 AM | Tim Verry
Tagged: solidrun, SFF, Raspberry Pi, iot, i.mx6, Freescale, Cortex A9
SolidRun recently launched a new small form factor PC called the HummingBoard. The new kit is an open source hardware platform that can run a number of open source operating systems. It mimics the physical form factor of the popular Raspberry Pi and as a result is compatible with much of its accessories including cases and add-on boards.
The HummingBoard is comprised of two main pieces; the carrier board which hosts all of the I/O ports and pin-outs and the removable microSOM (Silicon on Module) which is a smaller circuit board housing the processor and system memory.
SolidRun currently offers two reference versions of the carrier board, a base design and a higher-end model with beefier I/O. The HummingBoard Carrier is an open source design and the company allows hardware hackers and product developers to use their own custom carrier boards based on the reference design. Each carrier board has a special connector that the Micro SOM plugs into.
A microSOM (System on a Module) includes the CPU, GPU, RAM, power management, networking, and I/O connectivity hardware.
SolidRun currently offers up three microSOMs for use with the HummingBoard. The microSOMs use Freescale i.MX6 series SoCs (PDF), offer up to 1GB of RAM, and host the power management and networking hardware. Depending on the microSOM chosen, users can get a single or dual core CPU paired with a GPU that is at least OpenGL ES 2.0 compatible (the highest end model supports OpenGL ES 2.0 Quad Shader) and video encode/decode hardware units. The HummingBoard is upgrade-able and may support a microSOM with a quad core CPU in the future (a quad core microSOM already exists but is not currently supported by the HummingBoard).
Users can purchase the HummingBoard as a combo (carrier board+processor module) or in individual pieces. Specifically, SolidRun sells the HummingBoard i1, i2, and i2eX. Both the i1 and i2 use the base carrier board while the i2ex uses the pro version. The i1 comes with a single core i.MX6 CPU, GC880 GPU, and 512MB of system memory. The i2 ups the amount of RAM to 1GB and CPU core count by using the Freescale i.MX6 Dual Lite. Finally, the HummingBoad i2eX features a faster clocked dual core CPU (i.MX6 Dual), GC2000 GPU, 1GB of RAM, and significantly more I/O thanks to the higher-end carrier board and processing capabilities.
At a minimum, users can expect HDMI video out, 10/100 Ethernet, two powered USB 2.0 ports, a microSD card slot, a coaxial S/PDIF audio output, PWM mono audio, a 2-lane MIPI CSI 2.0 camera interface, and GPIO header. On the high end (HummingBoard Carrier Pro/HummingBoard i2eX/custom configs), the HummingBoard supports Gigabit Ethernet (limited to 470Mbps by the SoC), PCI-E 2.0, mSATA II, two additional USB 2.0 ports (via internal header), stereo audio output, microphone input, an IR receiver, and a Real-Time Clock (RTC) with battery backup.
SolidRun is aiming the HummingBoard platform at Internet-of-Things, home automation, and other embedded device developers. I believe that it will also appeal to hobbyists and Linux software developers.
The HummingBoard is rather expandable and is nearly a drop-in alternative to the Raspberry Pi. The open source nature (though, like the Raspberry Pi's BCM2835, the SoC is not fully open source) is nice, and the modular/upgradeable design is sure to appeal to hardware enthusiasts. The HummingBoard starts at $45 and tops out at $99 for the highest end i2eX. It is more expensive than the Raspberry Pi, which is the platform it is most likely to be pitted against, but it features faster hardware (especially the CPU and its ISA: ARMv7 versus ARMv6) and is priced competively with devices like the BeagleBone Black and SolidRun's own CuBox lineup.
The small form factor (and "single board PC") market has really ramped up the last few years and it is exciting to watch it all unfold. Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more SFF PC coverage!