The Emergence of BBB: the BeagleBone Black

Many a time we have wished our bulky PCs that occupy so much of the desktop space could somehow be magically squeezed into a portable unit. Although such systems are there including the new smartphones and tablets, their sky-high prices are very discouraging for most of us.

Despair not, for such a package has arrived and is well within the reach of an average person’s pocket. Moreover, if you are technically oriented, you could build one yourself. Texas Instruments has provided the core processor and BeagleBoard has provided the packaging. The result is the low-cost, low power, fan-less, single-board computer called the BeagleBone, a latest addition to the BeagleBoard family.

The low-cost, fan-less, low power, single-board computers from BeagleBoard utilize the Texas Instruments’ OMAP3530 application processor. This offers laptop like performance and facility for expansion, without the bulk, the noise and the expense that are typical of desktop machines. Within the OMAP3530, there is a 600MHz ARM Cortex-A8 Micro Controller Unit (MCU), which predicts branches with high accuracy and a 256KB L2 cache memory.

The on-board USB 2.0 OTG port serves a dual purpose; you can transfer data out from the board or allow the board to read data in from an external source. Although the board has a separate 5V DC power socket, power to the board can be supplied through the USB port as well. The board also has a mini-A connector, to which you can connect standard PC peripherals using a standard-A to mini-A cable adapter. A DVI-D connector allows a HDMI display to be connected using a HDMI to DVI-D adapter. The third connector is the MMC/SD/SDIO card connector. To give you the best graphics experience, the BeageBoard has a state of the art POWERVR graphics hardware, which will render 10 million polygons each second.

For people who were not satisfied with the power of the BeagleBoard single-board computer, BeagleBoard has added the BeagleBone Black or BBB. This is the newest addition to the BeagleBoard family, and continues the saga of the low-cost, low power, single-board computers. To provide the additional features, an advanced MCU, the Texas Instruments’ Sitara AM3359 has been used. This is an ARM Cortex-A8 32-bit RISC processor, featuring a speed of 1GHz, and gives BBB the power along with a 512-MB DDR3L 400MHz SDRAM and 2GB 8-bit eMMC on-board flash memory. This frees up the micro SD card slot for further expansions.

The 92-pin headers are Cape compatible, meaning the existing family of cape plug-in boards can be used as well. The on-board HDMI allows direct connection to monitors and TVs. External electronics circuitry can be controlled by the UART0 serial port. For connecting to the Internet, a 10/100 RJ45 Ethernet connector has been provided.

You will need the latest Angstrom distribution eMMC flasher to load the latest Linux distribution. This is a 4GB image, that has to be uncompressed using unxz and written to a micro SD card. Connect an HDMI monitor, and after plugging in the micro SD card in the slot of the BBB, you can power on your single-board Linux computer. Take care to hold the boot button on while powering, and watch the LEDs on the BBB flash and then stay on.