Curious as to your thoughts re: Beaglebone Black

Ron K. Jeffries rjeffries at
Thu Apr 25 17:04:01 EDT 2013

My post did NOT intend to suggest that Beaglebone Black is a totally open
platform that meets the goals of qi-hardware.
But who among us uses pure open hardware compute platforms for all of our
general computer work?

That Venn diagram describes the null set. Every single one of you (I would
assume) use one or more non-open hardware computers for the vast majority
of your work.

There may come a day (not soon) when some person or group with deep pockets
creates a USABLE, for normal applications, computer system that is patent
free and totally open. It is not impossible, and work by Sebastian and
Wolfgang is significant and much appreciated.

The first such device will be based on FPGA technology, which is advancing
at a mind-boggling pace. More LUTS, cheaper prices, faster speeds, lower
power consumption, it's all good.

The Milkymist design, rather nice (!!!) does not appear to be adequate AT
THIS POINT IN TIME to replace even a middling PC in terms of compute
performance, never mind other aspects of usability. But that doesn't mean
it can not, eventually get done.

The challenge then will be to take the design and convert it to an SOC.
That is technically challenging, as we all know requires a lot of resources
in both engineering talent, time and money. It is not a casual project, it
will need on the order of a few million dollars, and may or may not work
after a first ASIC spin.

But let's assume some very wealthy person funds that effort. That could

At that point there could be a low to mid performance engine. It's an open
question what peripherals might be included, based on concerns about
totally open hardware.

This project is not impossible, but it is not happening right now that I am
aware of.

In the interim, if you need a nice, cheap little server to provide say a
file server or web server or mail server or other general computing tasks,
and you desire low energy consumption, then any of several mass produced
developer boards such as Beaglebone Black will serve your needs
brilliantly. This one is more open than some competing offerings. Others
that seem interesting to me include any of a few that leverage the Allwinner
SOCs most especially Cubieboard.

This is NOT perfection. It is a commercially available product that can run
any of several Linux distros. It costs $45, and is shipping now.

That's all. It is not alleged to be the second coming of Christ, nor the
answer to every desire someone who owns the venerable Ben Nanonote might
have. It is not a pocket, self-contained Linux clam shell. But it costs
less than half of a Nanonote, supports a broad array of peripherals, has
good access to low-level i/o e.g. gpio, SPI, I2C, analog capability and, oh
by the way, full-on USB.

It is a clever, cheap Linux box. Nothing wrong with that. Nobody is forced
to purchase it. LOL

I am pretty sure you will like it better than the wildly popular (well over
a million shipped) Raspberry Pi.

--Ron K Jeffries

Ron K. Jeffries

On Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 1:32 PM, Paul Boddie <paul at> wrote:

> On Thursday 25 April 2013 18:23:29 Werner Almesberger wrote:
> > Sébastien Bourdeauducq wrote:
> > > What a news. Must be useful for those people who can't copy a TI
> > > reference design.
> >
> > TI's OMAPs actually seem to have earned a remarkably foul
> > reputation in that regard :) Maybe the AMxxxx have some of that,
> > too.
> My impression was that at least in its earliest days and in certain forms,
> OMAP wasn't even properly usable unless, perhaps, you were a big
> manufacturer
> with contacts in TI to help you use the on-chip functionality correctly.
> Meanwhile, the AM-series SoCs seem to have varying qualities:
> > Of course, this raises the question whether you really want to
> > base your work on a platform which you may not be able to modify
> > at the chip level.
> For some people it is not interesting; for others it is enough for their
> needs
> or level of expertise.
> > But then, you see people go to great lengths even trying to
> > squeeze some Arduino module into a device they're building,
> > apparently completely oblivious to just how ridiculously easy it
> > would be for them to make their own AVR-based board instead.
> If they're going out of their way to make actual boards to work with
> Arduino
> where both of those things could be replaced by something simpler, then I
> guess they should be investigating the AVR components independently. But
> Arduino is pretty good as something people don't have to think too hard
> about
> (or argue about) as they get started on a project.
> > Maybe there's a big business opportunity: getting good money for
> > designing the Whatever-uino out of people's projects ;-)
> As always, I think the big money contradicts you... ;-)
> The latter one gives an impression similar to the one you'd get if the Fiat
> Cinquecento were remade for the American market by the American car
> industry,
> but maybe there is a good reason for making a large board with everything
> on
> it after all.
> Paul
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