MIPS Creator CI20: Challenge for the Raspberry Pi?

Although the Raspberry Pi or the RBPi did bring a revolution in the world of tiny computers that can teach children the intricacies of computer programming with inexpensive ease, not all are happy about its capabilities. There are two main points of contention with the credit-card sized single board computer – the low amount of RAM and the lack of onboard storage.

A quick recap of the RBPi’s specifications shows that it uses a system on a chip (Broadcom BCM2835). This includes the 700MHz processor (ARM1176JZF-S) and a GPU (Videocore IV). Initially, the board shipped with 256MB of RAM, but later up-gradations had 512MB in the Models B and B+. There is no built-in storage device and RBPi uses the SD card for booting and persistent storage. The latest model B+ has four USB2.0 ports, one Ethernet port, one 15-pin MIPI camera interface, one composite video output, one HDMI output and one audio output on 3.5mm jack. The 40-pin expansion header has 27 GPIO pins.

Now, there is a more powerful computer in the market to challenge the RBPi. Moreover, it is available free. The MIPS Creator CI20 is a development board from Imagination Technologies and it can run Linux distributions such as Gentoo, Arch and Debian 7.

The CI20 runs on a dual core processor based on the MIPS architecture and operating at 1.2GHz. The GPU, a PowerVRSGX540, is capable of running OpenGL ES 2.0.The onboard RAM size is 1GB, with 8GB onboard flash storage. The board features an SD expansion slot, one pair of USB 2.0 ports, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi and Ethernet. The expansion header features 25 GPIO pins and 2 SPI buses. You can boot the board from either the SD slot or the flash memory.

Compared with the RBPi model B+, the advantages that CI20 has are – double the RAM, a faster processor, onboard storage and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. In addition, CI20 has its power supply onboard, which the B+ does not. The disadvantages are – CI20 has only two USB ports compared to the four on the B+. In addition, the form factor of the CI20 is larger than what the B+ has.

Since the CI20 has higher capabilities such as more computing power, onboard storage and wireless connectivity, it is assumed that it will cost more than the current price of the RBPi B+ ($35). However, Imagination Technologies have not yet revealed the price of their new board. Imagination, instead of selling the initial batch of CI20s, is giving them away free to tinkerers.

Therefore, if you want to lay your hands on a CI20, you must have a grand project idea for the board. That means this giveaway is not actually meant for the hobbyists, but rather aimed at developers. However, do not be discouraged even if you are planning to create a video arcade console/home entertainment center/TOR proxy at home. It may turn out that your CI20 based home automation hub is interesting enough for Imagination and they are willing to send one of their free development boards your way.