Since the introduction of the Raspberry Pi low-power mini computer in 2011 we’ve seen a number of tiny computers and developer boards hit the market. Many pack more power than the Raspberry Pi, and most also have higher price tags. But they tend to rely on ARM-based processors in order to keep prices (and power consumption) low.

The Minnowboard takes another approach. It’s a $199 dev board powered by an Intel Atom E640 processor. It’s aimed at developers, hackers, and other folks looking to put together a DIY system with an x86 processor as well as professional developers looking for a device that helps build prototypes for embedded systems.

Minnowboard

The Minnowboard measures about 4″ x 4″ and features 1GB of RAM and just 4MB of flash storage for the firmware. It uses a microSD card slot or a SATA II drive for primary storage.

It has a 1 GHz Atom E640 32-bit processor, GMA 600 graphics, HDMI output, a USB port, Ethernet jack, and GPIO pins. You can hook up expansion boards called

There’s a version of Ångström Linux for the device, but the Minnowboard is also compatible with the Yocto Project, which lets you roll your own custom Linux distribution.

Since the board has an x86 processor, it should be compatible with a wide range of operating systems, although the Atom E640 chip is a low-power processor designed for embedded systems, so you’re probably not going to get a great experience if you try to run heavy-duty software like Windows 8.

The project comes out of Intel’s Open Source Technology Center, and the company is calling it an open hardware device — meaning that as much of the software as possible is open source, and the schematics and other hardware details are available. There are some closed source binaries in the UEFI boot firmware and 3D graphics driver among other things.

Folks who want to rely on open software as much as possible can use the device without hardware-accelerated graphics using open source video drivers. But there are no available open source drivers for GMA 600 graphics which support 3D acceleration at this point.

You can order the MinnowBoard for $199 from a handful of distributors in the US.

Update: In case it wasn’t already clear, the MinnowBoard can be used as a PC, but it’s basically a tool for developers, hobbyists, and professionals. Even the folks behind the product say that folks looking for a general-purpose computer might be better off buying something like an Intel NUC system.

Update 2: The folks behind the $199 Gizmo Explorer dev board with an AMD G-series chip, which launched earlier this year, are making a pretty strong case that their device may be a better option for many folks looking for a low-cost development board for x86 applications. Check out their comparison chart to see how the Gizmo Explorer compares to the Minnowboard in terms of input and output options and graphics capabilities.

via CNX Software and The Register



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30 replies on “Intel’s Minnowboard open source, low-power dev board ships for $199”

  1. I could buy an ASUS motherboard with an AMD chip for less than $100. Yes, this is an Intel, but I’d take an AMD chip for half the cost.

    1. This is an ATOM based board, it isn’t high margin like Intel’s Core processors… So there’s no guarantee a AMD developer board would be any cheaper…

      For example, a Gizmo Board, a similar AMD based product, also goes for $199! Though, it’s a kit but we don’t know yet what the Minnowboard will ship with or not…

      Thing to keep in mind is this is a deverloper board and not to be confused with a bare bones PC…

      1. You can buy any number of developer boards with more useful ports than this for less than half the price. (Cubieboard for example)

        Why in the world would you pay double to have a creaky old Atom instead of an ARM chip???

        Not to mention, if you want a dev board to develop an actual product, I’d be doubling my BOM for no reason, and loose the open source option.

        .
        Is there anyone left who actually needs to rely on having x86 in a device like this?

        1. People developing for x86 based embedded products come to mind.

          While many of those ARM based boards may be cheaper but they using old SoCs too.

          Cortex A8 and older is hardly cutting edge and even this Atom can offer more performance.

          While being easier to combine and use with other x86 systems.

          Some boards do offer more default connector options but most also use daughter boards and other accessories as well.

          So you’ll be going beyond base price and configuration with all of them unless you only mess with the software or only need the defaults but that’ll limit what you can do.

          In the end it’s an option, for some it’s preferable and for others it’s not.

      2. That’s what I was talking about. The ASUS model IS a dev board. It isn’t a barebones PC.

        1. What model?

          Only one that seems to match your description I can find is the ASUS C60M1-I but that’s not really a developer board…

          Products like Minnowboard, Gizmo Board, Raspberry Pi, Panda Board, Beagle Board, etc. are primarily for individual users for experimentations, tinkering, educational usages, and the like.

          While the closest to a developer board Asus usually comes out with is a one of the ASUS industrial PC (IPC) motherboards, which uses EPIC (Embedded Platform for Industrial Computing) form factor for industrial-quality single-board computers that’s pretty flexible but meant more for making final products than doing experiments…

  2. Various quad core, 2 gb ram, 8 gb flash Android sticks and boxes for under $100.

      1. @CyberGusa:disqus

        You fail miserably, any computer can be used as development kit and this piece of crap is useless even for x86 since it is not a 64 bit so it is useless for modern computers!

        1. lol, sorry but you’re completely way off base here.

          This has absolutely nothing to do with programming for modern computers! You are never going to be using this as your personal PC!

          Maybe a media streamer but that’s about it…

          A developer board is for working with embedded designs. Just like working with a electronic bread board to prototype before finalizing the design or using it to learn all the things involved with developing embedded systems.

          These are never meant as off the self bare bones computers that you just add RAM, HDD/SSD, and a OS!

          But rather for things like robotics, electronic signage, custom routers, and a lot of other things regular computers aren’t intended to be applied to because you’d have to hack the hardware and create major alterations for every project and regular computers aren’t designed for that type of usage.

          Really, people would be using this with projects that includes things like Arduino’s and most of the cost of the board is the board itself… The ATOM SoC is listed at just $29 for minimum quantities…

          http://ark.intel.com/products/52493/Intel-Atom-Processor-E640-512K-Cache-1_00-GHz

          While, like the AMD developer kit mentioned in another post, this Minnowboard may also come with some basic accessories… but the main reason it costs so much is because it’s a low quantity production product!

          Anything can be made cheap if large enough quantities are made to cut down unit costs but these type of products are just for niche market of electronic hobbyists, developers, Maker Communities, etc.

          It’s one of the reasons why even the Beagle Board costs $125-$149 and it’s a ARM based developer board.

          Besides, all those ARM based developer boards are also only 32bit and like this ATOM, they’re all using older gen hardware. Since you don’t need cutting edge to work on these type of projects.

          Thus, why even the Raspberry Pi can be useful!

  3. this is far from opensource, gma600=powervr=closedsource ie no foss replacement for it.

    1. I’m also confused why such a troublesome GPU choice is still being pushed out into sales channels in any form. Nvidia has similar issues as far as I can tell but perhaps even more extreme.

      1. Same issue with the Raspberry Pi and it’s Broadcom VideoCore IV GPU…

        Binary has to be used but rest is open…

      2. Closed binary video drivers is enough of a problem for normal embedded vendors to deal with that the practice would end in a more sane world. But to pick such a problematic product for a project you intend to push as “open hardware” just shows somebody in a high position at Intel still doesn’t ‘get it.’ 90% open is like 10% preggers, there is no such thing.

        And the same goes for the Pi btw. Never seen the attraction of that project either and for the same reason; the Videocore device is by far the most powerful and interesting part of that SoC, the ARM CPU is just a required management component. And it is entirely closed. Heck, the Videocore is what boots and has ultimate control of memory, locking the ARM out of any areas it doesn’t want it poking around with.

        1. this is pretty much the truth for the beagleboard, pandaboard and beaglebone, atleast they didnt advertise opensource. we should be backing qualcomm, tegra and exynos based dev boards.

        2. Unfortunately, Imagination Technologies PowerVR GPU IP has about 78% market share for the mobile market… So hard to avoid…

          Nvidia doesn’t provide Open Source drivers for the Tegra but there are 3rd party drivers available that are open source but no guarantee it would work with the latest Tegra…

          While Samsung alternates on which GPU they use, and they are one of the companies that also uses Imagination PowerVR GPUs… So no guarantee they’ll offer open source…

          The Qualcomm Snapdragon with Adreno GPU would be a good solution though…

  4. 200$ for a single core Atom clocked at 1Ghz with two threads? Rip off…

    100$ Ouya is way more powerful, even outdated E350 is way more powerful.

    1. It’s a development board!

      Like the Raspberry Pi and Beagle Board! Performance isn’t the point of the product!

      1. For developing what? What exactly can you do with this that you can’t do with a random EPIA board? Just stuffing a couple of GPIO pins on a header makes it a developer product?

        Good grief, why doesn’t someone just build a PCIe (and a mini version of course) board with a standardized set of generally useful GPIO, PWM, i2c, SPI, serial, etc. pins and a set of drivers for Linux/Android, *BSD/OSX, Win* and have done with it.

        1. First, it does have PCIe, USB, SPI, I²C, and CAN… along with SATA, GbE, GPIO, SDIO, UARTs, LVDS, and SDVO…

          While it’s intended to be combined with other daughter cards and components, depending on what the deverloper, maker, or hacker wants to do…

          Developer boards are intended to be very basic and are generally for things like prototyping, or used as a learning tool to do experiments with, or apply to non-standard applications…

          Since, for hobbyist, part of the fun is learning how to work around the limitations and being creative with how it is used.

          Just like the Raspberry Pi and Beagle Board, the intent is to be flexible and creative…

          Unlike traditional computing products that have specific usages in mind and can’t be just re-designed/re-purposed easily and whenever you want.

        2. Basic and generic unit of computing…. again, you just defined the ‘PC’. The PC is a generic computer perfectly suited for the hobbyist. The only disadvantages are power consumption and size vs the typical embedded system. Both are already addressable with existing products for those who know where to look. So again, what can you do with this product that you couldn’t do with one of a dozen already existing EPIA boards?

          With the exception of readily available GPIO, etc. I/O, which is why I suggested somebody just rip the CPU out of a ‘system on chip’ and stuff the rest onto a PCI bus, then any machine can cheaply have that sort of I/O and we can forget about the problem.

          As for the other products you mention, those at least have the advantage of being really inexpensive and suitable for hobby projects. Unlike a $200 product that is underpowered compared to already existing x86 products in only slightly larger form factors.

        3. No, I did not define the PC… The PC is not suited for hobbyist because it’s not suited to be easily reconfigured whenever someone wants to try something new.

          A PC is a general purpose device and is only really flexible in software.

          The typical person is never going to rip apart their PC and throw in sensors, link up with Arduinos, add custom daughter boards, or anything like that!

          Typical PC’s at best are only customized once and then left alone until either upgraded or replaced!

          And no, the Beagle Board is well over $100 and is a less powerful solution than this Minnowboard. Only the Raspberry Pi is really low priced and it’s pretty much the exception for developer board pricing.

          Developer boards tend to be much higher priced than one off devices because they can be re-used over and over and aren’t mass produced in the same numbers as commercial products.

          If you order enough, you can probably knock the price down a lot though but unless you’re going into business for yourself that doesn’t make sense for end consumers.

          Point is though these aren’t intended to be used like you would a PC or even a bare bones PC. It’s a developers/hobbyist/hacker product and is designed for that in mind!

        4. Guess you don’t know that a ‘parallel’ port is nothing but a bunch of GPIO pins if you know how to get at em. I do. 🙂 And for that matter so are serial ports if you are willing to work around the +/- voltages. And that sound cards are a good source of D/A and A/D channels for many purposes beyond speakers and microphones. And PC hardware is dirt cheap… especially if it doesn’t have to be ‘factory fresh.’ Unleash your hacker spirit!

        5. Sorry but the technical details of components has absolutely nothing to do with the difference in application being discussed here!

          No one will ever user a normal PC for things like hardware prototyping because it’s simply not practical!

          A normal PC isn’t designed to be manipulated and reconfigured easily.

          Really, you’d have to hack the hardware of a typical PC just to be able to do what this is designed to do from the start!

          It’s like the difference between working with electronics plugged into a bread board vs something that’s already soldered and final design.

          You’re just being stubborn in not accepting that there is a difference!

        6. I don’t do “shilling” or BS, I just point out what’s true and what’s not.

          It’s a fact this is a developer board, and it’s a fact that developer boards are not used for all the same things that regular PC systems are used for!

          These are meant to make it easy to experiment, just like a electronic bread board makes it easy to mix and match components before you finalize a design.

          Anyone who bothers to do any research can find this out for themselves!

        7. And what you said is true, but fails to explain the ridiculous price. There is a multitude of great developer boards for less than $100

        8. The boards that are less than $100 are because the parts used total less! The same equivalent ARM devices that aren’t meant for development would cost even less for them as well.

          Products like Beagle Board are hardly cutting edge but still cost over a $100, only the more basic versions go below $100 like the Beagle Bone, etc.

          This board is more powerful than those and can run a greater range of software and hardware peripherals.

          Like I pointed out to someone else, even the AMD version kit costs about the same as this.

  5. I hope to see some more of these types of boards when Intel Silvermont based chips come out. I’d like to use one for more consumer oriented end-user type tasks.

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