Earlier this summer, a new development board hit the market that has proven itself to be a worthy contender against the legendary Raspberry Pi. The BeagleBone Black arrived on the scene back in April, and was met with great fanfare as it provided similar functionality to the Raspberry Pi, but with a much more powerful processor, faster RAM, and several times the GPIO ports.
Naturally, when I first heard of the BeagleBone Black's existence, I knew that I had to have one. Unfortunately, my BeagleBone Black arrived at the same time life caught up with me and it sat on my workbench for a few months. Today, I finally get to sit down and introduce you to the BeagleBone Black.
The BeagleBone Black features some pretty powerful hardware that is packed into a tiny, credit card-sized package. Sporting an ARM Cortex A8 processor that is clocked at 1GHz, and 512MB of DDR3 RAM to keep things running nice and smooth, this little microcomputer development board is one of the most feature-packed hobbyist level development boards of all time. Additional features include 2GB of on-board 8-bit eMMC NAND flash memory, two PRU 32-bit microcontrollers, and an on-board USB controller that provides power, connectivity, and networking through the mini-USB port.
The BeagleBone Black also features a 10/100 Ethernet connection, PMIC, serial debugging headers, and onboard HDMI output. One of the biggest features on the board, however, are the very prominent double row headers that are stacked on each side of the PCB. These headers house 96 GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output) pins, which can be used to do just about anything you can imagine. Finally, the absolute coolest feature is the Black's ability to run Linux or Android straight out of the box. In fact, the Black ships with Angstrom Linux from the factory with Node.js pre-installed, and thanks to the USB network connectivity and Cloud9 IDE, you can be up and running within minutes of plugging in a single USB cable.
The BeagleBone Black arrives in a pretty plain package, which bears the usual product images, logos, and a cute graphic of a beagle in a black tuxedo. The kit appears to be manufactured in the USA by Circuitco, a PCB manufacturing house. Circuitco has posted a neat video showing the assembly process, which can be found here.
Upon opening the box, we find the BeagleBone Black, a USB cable, and a useful "Getting Started" card. The Black comes sealed in an anti-static package that protects it from any accidental static electricity discharges.
BeagleBoard.org includes this handy little "Getting Started" card which walks you through the setup process, something we will cover more in-depth in a little bit. Much like the Google Chromecast I recently reviewed, setting up the BeagleBone Black is about a simple as it gets.
Upon inspecting the BeagleBone Black a little closer, we can see that this is nothing like the Arduino you have in your workbench drawer. The Black is a sophisticated piece of hardware, and rightfully so as it is a fully functioning Linux PC that has been shrunken down to the size of a credit card.
Flipping it over, we can see even more of the minute and almost microscopic SMD mount components that make the Black tick. Here we can also see the micro-SD slot, the Mini USB, and Micro HDMI connectors as well.
Let's flip the BeagleBone Black back over and take a look at some of the major components that make it such a great board. You will first notice the large 1GHz Sitara AM3358 microprocessor from Texas Instruments with the 512MB DDR3 DRAM chip from Micron. Also visible is the 2GB NAND flash memory chip from Micron. A USB host port, serial debug headers, boot button and reset button are also notable features. On the next page we will dig a little deeper into each of these devices and learn a little more about them.