I think it was a couple weeks ago when talking to my dad that I heard my brother had purchased some tiny computers. I had looked at them before but never really bother since I didn’t know what to do with them. I am not sure why this precipitated me getting some, but it doesn’t really matter now.
When looking at the really small computers two stood out for me. The Raspberry Pi and the BeagleBone Black. These are full blow ARM computers. They have network, USB, fast CPU, etc. Apparently the ones that my brother got, Teensy, were even smaller but not really what I would call a computer anymore since they don’t have much beyond the CPU.
So my master plan was that I was going to be a BeagleBone Black, since it has a faster CPU and looks a little nicer to put into a case and then turn that into a XBMC machine. Later one when I come up with some really cool idea (still looking for that.. Let me know if you have any!) I would buy a Raspberry Pi to play around with to make a more hardware/embedded system. But things never happen according to my plans.
I got all of the parts I new I thought needed, the board, an enclosure, and a power supply. When I started playing with it I realized that I would really need a micro SD card, because it doesn’t look like I can program it directly over the USB. So I ordered that. Then after hours of searching and playing with the system, I realize that people just aren’t trying to get XBMC on it because it doesn’t have a hardware decoder. I know that there is a difference between an ARM CPU and an x86 CPU, but XBMC was originally developed for the original Xbox, 733MHz system with 64MB of memory. I have seen one of those systems work just fine, so not sure what the problem is with the BeagleBone. But since the Raspberry Pi apparently has a hardware decoder chip, everyone is using those to setup XBMC which means that I will have people to tell me what to do. So I order a Raspberry Pi…
For the most part people put Linux on these machines since they are decent little computers and then write small little programs to twiddle the pins. (Completely different from the days of microcontrollers where you wrote/owned everything.) I haven’t spent much time in Linux, I dabbled some in college. Which means if I am going to be playing in Linux I want to go back to familiar ground, Gentoo. The BeagleBone ships with Angstrom, which seems ok, but I want to try to get Gentoo up and running. Luckily I found a guide. Step 1, get a Gentoo system… Doh, ok well I don’t have any spare computers so I’ll setup a VM on my computer. Oh wait, Virtual PC doesn’t support x64 guests… Hmm, but VirtualBox does!
All told I spent a good week trying to get Gentoo up and running with everything so that it was a decent system. I probably spent way too much time trying to trim out parts of the kernel I didn’t need, but oh well. I now have Gentoo running with a GUI… What did I need this for again?
During that week or so I got the micro SD card, then realized I needed an SD reader, got than and then realized I needed something else and so on. But I got the Raspberry Pi and started setting it up. Wow, RaspBMC makes it insanely easy to get XBMC up and running. It was one program and it installs itself on the SD, which then sets everything up and gets everything running for you.
So here is my gut feeling about the two devices. I feel like the BeagleBone is just a better designed device. It doesn’t have as many connectors sticking out from every side. (Yes, it has more GPIO, but those are more “contained.”) It has a dedicated power input, the schematics and such are right there on the product page, etc. It just looks and feels like a better device. However, it doesn’t have the Hardware Decoder.
The Raspberry Pi on the other hand seems kind of hectically put together. The ports are sticking out of every which side. I had to search to find the schematics, the site seems more of a blog than a central hub for the community. The device only is powered off of a Micro USB port, but it apparently is subject to a lot of power issues because those USB “chargers” weren’t really design to be power supplies. But there isn’t really any other good way to power the device, since every other way bypasses the polyfuse.
So that is where I am now, still need to figure out what all I want to try to do with these. Probably need to try to do a blinky light (Hello World of the Electronics world) or something. I’ll try to post updates as I go.