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$39 network switching Pico-ITX SBC runs Linux on Cortex-A53

Oct 3, 2016 — by Eric Brown — 1,574 views

Globalscale’s “EspressoBin” network switching Pico-ITX SBC offers Marvell’s dual-core, Cortex-A53 Armada 3720 SoC, plus 2x GbE, 1x WAN, SATA, and mini-PCIe.

Globalscale Technologies and its hardware partner Marvell, which have previously collaborated on products such as the Armada 370 Mirabox, have joined forces on a Linux-fueled EspressoBin network switching single-board computer. The EspressoBin is based on a more powerful Marvell Armada SoC: a dual-core, Cortex-A53 Armada 3720 clocked to 1.2GHz.

EspressoBin front (left) and back views
(click images to enlarge)

The 100 x 72mm, Pico-ITX form-factor EspressoBin SBC stands out from the crowd with its Marvell Topaz Network Switch. The SBC offers two standard GbE ports, plus a WAN input. Other features include SATA, mini-PCIe, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, and 92x GPIO. You also get up to 1GB RAM, 4GB optional eMMC, and a microSD slot. The EspressoBin offers open source Linux software with Mainline Kernel support, but the hardware is proprietary.

EspressoBin angled view
(click image to enlarge)

The EspressoBin just went live on Kickstarter, starting at a fetching $39 for an initial production run shipping in January 2017. This model lacks the 12V supply for Network-Attached Storage (NAS) applications, but still has the 5V micro-USB input. The standard $49 version ships in March with the 12V supply, and a $69 version also due in March will include a 4GB microSD card along with a WiFi module for the SBC’s mini-PCIe slot.

EspressoBin details
(click image to enlarge)

The EspressoBin is aimed at a variety of applications including home and office NAS, media streaming, and IoT. Specific examples include a NAS video streaming solution that streams SATA-stored video through WiFi, as well as a video camera monitor and a Plex media server. You can also create a stacking switch cluster that acts as an IoT gateway that converts ZigBee or Z-Wave to Ethernet, or Bluetooth LE to IP, says Globalscale.

EspressoBin expansion header (P8 and P9) signals
(click image to enlarge)

The Armada 3720 is part of the Armada 3700 family of dual-core Cortex-A53 SoCs. The Armada 3270 lacks a GPU, but offers networking features like 3x high-speed SERDES lanes, a package processor, and a security engine. Armada also has a number of quad-core -A53 SoCs such as the Armada 1500 Ultra STB SoC or the Marvell IAP140, which is used on the 96Boards form-factor Andromeda Box Edge SBC.

Marvell Armada 3720 block diagram (left) and Marvell Topaz Network Switch diagram
(click images to enlarge)

Marvell is hosting software for the Armada 3700 designed for the EspressoBin on GitHub and an upcoming wiki. The software features Linux Kernel 4.4.1 with Mainline Kernel support, with supported distributions including Ubuntu Core, ArchLinuxARM, Debian, OpenWrt, and Yocto Project.

Documentation for the EspressoBin is not yet fully definitive, but close enough for a spec list:

  • Processor — Marvell Armada 3270 (2x ARMv8, 64-bit Cortex-A53 @ 1.2GHz)
  • Memory/storage:
    • 512MB or 1GB of DDR3 RAM
    • Optional 4GB eMMC
    • MicroSD slot with optional 4GB card
    • Powered SATA interface
  • Wireless — optional WiFi module for mini-PCIe slot
  • Networking:
    • 2x Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports
    • 1x GbE WAN port
    • Topaz Networking Switch (Marvell 88E6141)
  • 2x USB ports — 1x USB 3.0 and 1x USB 2.0
  • mini-PCI slot for WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.
  • 2x 46-pin expansion headers containing GPIO, UART, I2C, SPI, PWM, and MMC signals from the Armada 3270 SoC, plus reset and 3.3V power
  • Power — 12V jack and/or 5V (micro-USB); 1W typical consumption @ 1GHz with thermal dissipation
  • Dimensions — 100 x 72mm (Pico-ITX form factor)
  • Operating system — Linux Kernel 4.4.1 (Mainline Kernel support), supporting Ubuntu Core, ArchLinuxARM, Debian, OpenWrt, and Yocto Project distributions

EspressoBin demo video

Further information

The EspressoBin is available on Kickstarter in $39, $49, and $69 packages as well as volume discounts, with shipments due in January or March 2017. More information may be found at the Globalscale Technologies EspressoBin Kickstarer page.

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5 responses to “$39 network switching Pico-ITX SBC runs Linux on Cortex-A53”

  1. asdf says:

    It seems a bit strange that they’re trying to sell it as a media playback device, but I suppose there’s more people willing to shell out for those than for homebrew routers.

  2. Harley says:

    Looks like good hardware but they have extremely high shipping costs per board (example $50 US to Sweden) so I personally will not be buying one, even though I really think that the hardware do look to have great potential if the right software projects support it.

  3. Harley says:

    Hard to reach the people working at the company behind this ESPRESSOBin boards so I will post this as an open letter:

    Hello makers of the ESPRESSOBin boards! I want to plead to you to please urgently try to make contact with the people behind the pfSense project about adding their support to your Marvell ESPRESSOBin Board

    If you could donate/gift a bunch of your ESPRESSOBin boards to the pfSense project then they could add their support which would benifit your company a lot too.

    The owner behind the company that makes pfSense (the worlds most popular open source firewall/router software) is actually already one of your backers on Kickstarter.

    Please contact Jim Thompson (a.k.a. Hacker S. Thompson on Kickstarter) to talk about a collaboration between your company and the pfSense project!

    Marvell ESPRESSOBin Board would be perfect hardware for the pfSense open source firewall/router software, and your board could be the first ARM board they support.

    There is in addition an competing fork of OPNsense software/project called OPNsense which also might be a good idea for you to support as well by donating hardware to.

    Also, since pfSense (and OPNsense) is based on the FreeBSD operating-system just like the popular FreeNAS open source NAS software you could get another project working on FreeBSD (BSD) support for board.

    So if you do the same for the FreeNAS project and donate/gift a bunch of your boards to their developers then you would have two very popular project supporting your hardware.

    If you could later say in your marketing material that your board supports both pfSense and FreeNAS then I am willing to bet that you will sell more than ten (10) times and many board as you would without having the support from those projects.

  4. uninterested says:

    50$ shipping to Switzerland…

    I think of the hundreds of packets I receive / year from China with FREE SHIPPING…

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