This year has been off to a relatively good, if not busy, start. After winning RoadTest Review of the Year, whereas previously I was nominated but came dead last, I was surprised to hear from danzima who offered me a reward of a shopping cart of goods from element14. Seeing as element14 is pretty much one of my favourite places to shop (since I can get quite a few things which aren't otherwise easily found at retail), I set to work immediately building up a list of stuff to get.
At first, I was concerned about the random nature of the stuff I was going to get - after all, I suspect most people would be intent on getting one relatively substantial item to play with. But I chose another route ... On Friday, a box arrived for me, so to thank element14 for their generosity, I'll do an unboxing ...
A cardboard box with my name on it, shipped expedited (no less). It came in relatively good condition, which is nice.
In the name of environmentally friendly packaging, the void space within the package was packed with folded brown paper. Easily flattened and re-used or recycled. But what did I end up buying after all?
There's probably no chance that anyone were to be able to guess the list accurately because it's basically a smattering of components. For the most part, there are a lot of electrolytic capacitors of various values and voltage ranges. While they aren't items you'd ideally want to store for a while, they're vital when your philosophy is to keep things going by repairing them instead of letting them go straight into landfill. Failing capacitors still rank fairly high in the list of "common problems", especially when dealing with vintage computers and switching power supplies. Having these on hand would make my life much easier. Aside from that, I ordered a stash of eight stackable shielded banana jumper leads, all in red for some possible future experiments - jumper leads are always handy, but unfortunately, the all-red choice was made because of the fact that the black leads seem to be on a very long back-order. While it's probably not the safest to have everything in one colour (and I've been called a psycho for building breadboards with just green wire in the past), the colour doesn't affect the functionality, which is most of what I care about. Aside from that, there are a few BNC joiners (male to male) which I've long wanted/needed but never bothered to pick up.
Sensing that batteries will probably re-emerge as something I'd like to work with in the future, I went searching for a decent battery holder, settling on these models from Keystone. The generic "springy" holders may well do for many applications, but when it comes to proper testing, it seems they're actually making pretty poor contact.
Probably the most major thing in this whole order was a BeagleBone Black. I've been very much a Raspberry Pi user, also venturing into RIoTBoard (well too late) and Asus Tinkerboard territory, but I've never owned a BBB. I've been aware of their existence and even contemplated purchasing one of my own, except that I didn't see a killer app for it and it seemed like the competition kept pushing the performance envelope. After some recent mention of the board, I decided that I should at least grab one (and hopefully give it a go). The box (unfortunately covered by the inventory label) shows the board and is very much white on top and bottom. Interestingly, it says that it is manufactured by Embest, a Premier Farnell Company - something I wasn't aware of. The RIoTBoard is also an Embest product if I recall correctly, as are a number of other evaluation boards.
The sides have a little more colour, with some rather interesting information. One is that it is made in China - which is interesting as there is a BeagleBone Green from SeeedStudio which is also made in China but sporting the same specs. Speaking of which, the "colour" naming convention does take a little work to understand too ... there's the blue edition as well which sports wireless connectivity and an industrial version, as well as other Beagle-boards like the PocketBeagle. This one seems to make a rather interesting claim that "from kindergarten to Kickstarter" - I really wonder how many kids in kindergarten could be "programming electronics within minutes". Maybe the kids nowadays are quite capable? I certainly hope it's that easy! The specs are listed on thes ide including a 1Ghz CPU, 512MB RAM, 4GB eMMC storage, microHDMI, microSD, Ethernet and USB connectivity with a swathe of GPIOs and ADCs. Unlike the Raspberry Pi which features full size HDMI, the microHDMI port seems to make it a little more difficult to get started, along with the single USB port, as not everyone would have an adapter lying about or a hub for keyboard/mouse. I suppose then again, it's probably not targeted to interactive use, instead aiming for embedded/headless operation or with their LCD cape.
A quick-start guide is provided, which is a small fold-out leaflet, under which everything is protected by a sandwich of foam. The board is wrapped in an ESD shielding bag with desiccant (which is better than what present day Raspberry Pi boards are packed in) and also includes a USB to mini-USB cable for powering/connecting to a PC. The choice of connector is probably a little less common now that even micro-USB (its successor) is being replaced slowly by USB-C.
A look at the board from the top really does show its smaller size versus the Raspberry Pi and the greatly increased I/O capabilities. Having eMMC storage onboard also should provide a decent storage performance without the potential unreliability of consumer-grade microSD cards. Barrel-jack power, Ethernet and a single USB port are visible from the top as well. It seems that both RAM and FLASH come from Kingston, whereas the Ethernet comes from SMSC (now Microchip). The main CPU is an AM3558 from Texas Instruments and there appears to be a number of other support ICs onboard including a NXP HDMI interface, TI power management IC and clock source
The underside has a few other components including a crystal source, more power management related ICs, but also the important mini-USB and micro-HDMI ports and microSD interface. There is a serial number part on the silkscreen, but it seems this is left blank.
A look at the board from all sides seems to show the serial number is adhered to the GPIO headers which are female polarity (rather than the male pins as with an RPi).
A closer look at the cable doesn't seem to show anything special - 28AWG for the data pairs and 24AWG for the power pairs is fairly ordinary ... I guess the BBB isn't so power hungry on its own which is a good thing. It does seem to have a polyfuse which stands tall (to reduce heat influence/provide faster resetting) - I suspect that provides protection for the downstream USB port but does seem tall enough it could probably interfere with something or get knocked over.
Anyhow, that was my shopping cart. Thanks to the generosity of element14, I should have enough capacitors to keep me going through a lot more repairs, and I finally own a Beaglebone Black ... at long last!