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MaaXBoard Single Board Computer + Accessories - Review

Scoring

Product Performed to Expectations: 10
Specifications were sufficient to design with: 10
Demo Software was of good quality: 10
Product was easy to use: 10
Support materials were available: 10
The price to performance ratio was good: 7
TotalScore: 57 / 60
  • RoadTest: MaaXBoard Single Board Computer + Accessories
  • Evaluation Type: Development Boards & Tools
  • Was everything in the box required?: Yes
  • Comparable Products/Other parts you considered: Raspberry Pi 4
  • What were the biggest problems encountered?: The lack of software support for the GPIO functions (pwm, low-level software drivers). A port of, for example, the WiringPi library would make developing a great deal easier.

  • Detailed Review:

    The Maaxboard hardware

    The Maaxboard came in a simple cardboard box, with a power supply, a 16GB micro-SD card, and a long HDMI cable. This was enough to set up a working environment for testing. From the support pages I was able to derive enough information to do the following:

    • download a Debian Linux image and flash it on the SD card
    • set up the system with networking, updating the software, and being able to log in to both a graphical environment and a text-based SSH session.

    The system looks and feels like a raspberry pi, only faster, although I haven't been able to compare it with a raspberry pi 4, but the 2GB of memory and fast processors do make me feel my raspberry pi 3's are sluggish…

    Linux Desktop & Graphics

    The Debian system comes with a working Wayland graphical interface, I had no problems to get that working, it looks nice, works smoothly, but it is a bit slow with loading applications. With some work, I was able to get a usable desktop, with the libreoffice office suite and the Chromium browser, but it is not fast enough to be a viable replacement for everyday computer use. Like with the raspberry pi, this probably takes some work on optimizing the drivers. The Wayland/weston graphical environment also seemed unfinished: there was no user management, no simple way to customize the menus, graphical package manager, etc.

    There are also a nice array of demos included on the image: these are pretty impressive, and show off the graphical capabilities quite nicely. I did not focus on this aspect in my review, but it is something to be noted: any application that needs a hefty graphical subsystem should find the maaxboard quite usable, especially with the camera and display interfaces and the 4K resolution.

    Performance

    To assess the general performance and usability of the system, I did an installation of a popular domotics platform: 'Home Assistant'; this is a python-based open-source system, which provides both the low-level infrastructure for the IoT processes, as a web-based graphical interface to access your devices. It also integrates with most commercial domotics systems, so it has a wide array of software interfaces. The installation requires quite a lot of software compilation, so it gave me a good impression of the maaxboard's hard- and software integration.

    I got the installation working without any serious problems, even though it was never tested on anything other than a raspberry pi system. So, kudos to the designers!

    GPIO interfacing and I2C

    My main focus was usability as a hardware platform, using the GPIO header. I first tried the i2c buses, of which there are 4 on the board, only 2 of which are connected to the 40-pin GPIO header. This I got working without problems, so I was able to use both a port expander and a BMP280 pressure/temperature sensor. The latter required compilation of a new kernel module, which I managed to do with the help of some developer documentation. Here I was again helped by the speedy processor and the ample memory of 2GB.

    Accessing the main GPIO pins was also doable, although it was hampered by the fact that there were no libraries available to access them in a structured way: I used the /sys/class/gpio filesystem, which gave basic access to reading and writing the GPIO pins. In the future, if a library like WiringPi or gpiozero were available, it would provide much easier access to the GPIO functions.

    Conclusion

    The Maaxboard is a very capable Single-Board computer, which is a worthy competitor to the Raspberry Pi boards. It is both usable as a general IoT hub, and a high-end platform for graphical processing, although this was not extensively tested by me (but I am planning to). If the software drivers become more mature, it could be a serious alternative to the raspberry Pi. At his point, the price point is a bit high: the Raspberry Pi 4 with the same amount of RAM (2GB) and 2 4K HDMI interfaces cost about half of what the maaxboard does at the moment.

     

    For more detailed blog posts about the tests I did:

    The Maaxboard

    Maaxboard roadtest - part 2

    Maaxboard roadtest: i2c interfacing

    Maaxboard roadtest: direct GPIO


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