If you're looking for a new project, check out the beagleboard.
The beagleboard is low cost fanless development board with Linux support. And it is low cost, you can get one for $149 from digikey. And it is low power, it uses less than 2 Watts and can run via USB power (although it does have a secondary power input).
So what do you get for $149? A bunch:
- 600 MHz superscalar ARM Cortex A8 processor
- HD Video (720p) capable C64x DSP core
- 128MB Ram
- 256MB Flash
- I2C, I2S, SPI, MMC/SD (via expansion connector)
- Stereo Out
- Stereo In
- USB 2.0 HS OTG
- RS-232 Serial
What kind of performance do you get? A lot:
- 1200 Dhrystone MIPS
- 10 Million Polygons/sec
- OpenGL 1.1 and 2.0 support
What can you do with it? How about this:
That's the beagle board running Linux and an X server! The hook-up is:
The beagleboard was designed by some TI employees (it uses TI's OMAP3530 processor). However, the beagleboard is not built or sold by TI. It's built by a contract manufacturer and available exclusively from digikey.
The beagleboard is pretty open, the fact that it runs Linux tells you a lot. In addition, according to Jason Kridner, one of the TI developers, the schematics and layout are also available although I haven't yet located them on the website. TI provides a free compiler for non-commercial use for the DSP. If you're gonna do any serious development you'll need a hardware debugging "dongle" to connect to the JTAG port, check out the flyswatter, its a mere $49 and it uses the OpenOCD software. Check out the digikey beagleboard page for links to other needed goodies.
One of the first things you notice as you examine the beagleboard is that there's no ethernet and no wireless. I asked Jason about this and his response was that during early development the list of desired hardware additions grew to the point where the only reasonable solution was to deny them all, if it could be reasonably not be added to the board it wouldn't be. Essentially, this meant that if there was a reasonable USB solution then it wouldn't go onboard. The second thing you may notice is that you can't find the processor, the RAM or the Flash chip. The reason for that is that they are all squeezed on top of each other using a packaging technology called POP (Package On Package). So the chip in the center of the board that you would think ought to be the processor, is the processor, along with the RAM and Flash.
There's a growing community of developers out there. Check out beagleboard.org for more information.