Top open-source PCs

Open-source PCs like the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBoard are finding interesting uses

By , IDG News Service |  Hardware

BeagleBoard's $45 BeagleBone Black has a Texas Instruments ARM Cortex-A8 processor, a 3D graphics accelerator and a USB port. Other hardware includes 512MB of DDR3 RAM and 2GB of on-board storage, and HDMI and Ethernet ports. The most expensive $149 BeagleBoard-XM packs in more power with its 1GHz Cortex-A8 processor and also has more connectivity options with four USB ports, an Ethernet port and an MMC/SD slot.

PandaBoard

The fastest open-source PC on the market could be the PandaBoard ES, which runs on Texas Instrument's dual-core OMAP4460 chip with a 1.2GHz ARM Cortex-A9 CPU. At $182, the board costs more than other open-source PCs, but it provides a variety of features not found on other boards. An outstanding feature is Imagination Technologies' PowerVR SGX540 graphics processor, which until recently was used in smartphones and tablets to render 1080p graphics. It also has wireless connectivity with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Other features include 1GB of DDR2 DRAM, camera attachment components, and SD, USB and HDMI ports.

The $222 PandaBoard has similar features and supports the Android, Chrome and Ubuntu operating systems. The lighter PC runs on the OMAP4430 1GHz processor, which is also based on the Cortex-A9 design.

MinnowBoard

MinnowBoard is the first open-source PC with Intel's x86 processor. At $200, it is expensive compared to ARM-based boards. The x86 board was developed jointly by CircuitCo and Intel. The target audience for the board is developers writing embedded applications for products such as home automation systems, set-top boxes, robots and in-car entertainment systems. Intel also hopes to expand the x86 development platform, said Scott Garman, a MinnowBoard evangelist at Intel. He doesn't know what the developer community will conjure up with the PC, but is expecting the unexpected.

Garman also pointed out that boards like Raspberry Pi are subsidized and that $200 is the actual development price of the MinnowBoard. Open-source PC makers will be unable to replicate the Pi for $25, but will be able to make a MinnowBoard within a $200 budget.

MinnowBoard's 1GHz Intel Atom E640 processor provides more processing power than ARM processors, Garman claimed.

But with a processor released in 2010 and older DDR2 memory, the hardware is mildly disappointing. There are, however, some highlights: It has a Gigabit Ethernet port and SATA support for high-speed storage. Open-source UEFI firmware gives developers the opportunity to write custom secure boot environments. It also has an HDMI port and a micro-SD slot for expandable storage.

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