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Creator Ci40 SBC runs OpenWRT, Debian, Brillo on dual-core MIPS

Nov 23, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 2,481 views

[Updated: June 2, 2016] — Imagination’s IoT-focused “Creator Ci40” SBC runs OpenWRT, Debian, and Brillo on a dual-core MIPS CPU, and offers Raspberry Pi and MikroBus Click expansion.

Imagination’s Creator Ci40, which debuted today on Kickstarter, follows up on the Creator Ci20 hacker board, which launched a year ago. The Ci20 was updated in May in a new version with a squared-off design, better WiFi, and a built-in FlowCloud IoT API.

Like the Creator Ci20, the Creator Ci40 is an open-spec, community-backed SBC that runs Linux on a dual-core MIPS processor. This time, however, instead of tapping Ingenic’s MIPS-based JZ4780, there’s a new Imagination-branded cXT200 SoC optimized for IoT applications (see farther below). Notably, the cXT200 SoC lacks a graphics controller, and like its SoC, the Creator Ci40 SBC is a headless design.

Creator Ci40
(click image to enlarge)

Other major changes include better wireless support, plus new MikroBus Click and Raspberry Pi compatible expansion interfaces. Applications are said to include home automation, e-health, efficient gardening and agriculture, smart cities, security and surveillance, safety-critical connected sensors, and environment and air quality monitoring.

Creator Ci40 basic kit (left) and three Click modules (left to right): Relay, Motion, Thermo
(click images to enlarge)

As with the original Creator, the Ci40 runs Debian Linux, but this time the default is the lightweight, networking focused OpenWRT Linux. OpenWRT dominates the market for MIPS-based COMs, SBCs, and wearable and IoT devices that run on WiFi-enabled MIPS SoCs like Qualcomm’s Atheros AR9331. While the Ci20 supported Android, this has now been replaced with Google’s lightweight, Android-derived Brillo distribution. Buildroot is also supported.

The price has jumped from 50 Pounds to 80 Pounds ($121), which reflects the expansion to a modular kit that aims to provide everything a developer needs to get started on MIPS-based IoT applications. The first 200 participants, however, can get the kit for 70 Pounds ($106). The price includes two wireless, battery-powered MikroElektronika “Clicker” carrier boards for Click modules. It also includes three Click expansion modules that can either plug into either the Ci40 SBC or the Clicker boards: a temperature sensor, a motion sensor, and a relay switch (see farther below). Hundreds more Click modules are available from MikroElektronika.

Simplified (left) and detailed Ci40 software architecture diagrams
(click images to enlarge)

Like the revised version of the Ci20, the Ci40 includes access to Imagination’s FlowCloud, a cloud platform that helps connect devices to the Internet, “enabling easy product registration and updates as well as access to partner-enabled services,” says Imagination. The platform is said to enable rapid construction and management of machine-to-machine and man-to-machine connected services.

Imagination FlowCloud architecture
(click image to enlarge)

FlowCloud is somewhat similar to the cloud-based IoT management platforms we’ve seen in products like Amazon’s AWS IoT, Mentor Graphics’s SysDK, and Wind River’s Wind River Helix Cloud. Each Ci40 comes with a free FlowCloud subscription that supports up to five connected devices. You also get a centralized FlowCloud dashboard to monitor usage, documentation, a support forum, and open source APIs.

The Creator Ci40 is supported with open source GNU Linux tools and libraries optimized for the MIPS architecture, as well as documentation and additional software and drivers. All hardware schematics and related board design files will be made available for free to the community.

Imagination cXT200 SoC

Imagination’s new, 550MHz cXT200 SoC is slower than the similarly dual-core Ingenics JZ4780 found on the Ci20, but is optimized specifically for IoT applications. The dual-threaded cXT200 is based on Imagination’s IoT-focused MIPS InterAptiv platform. Fabricated by GlobalFoundries using a 40nm process, the processor integrates dual 32KB L1 caches, a 512KB L2 cache, and an FPU.

MIPS cXT200 block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

There’s no PowerVR GPU for open source developers to complain about. In fact, there’s no GPU at all. The SoC does, however, integrate Imagination’s Ensigma MACSec connectivity engine for accelerating performance of the Ci40’s 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO WiFi, Bluetooth Classic, and Bluetooth Smart (LE). The cXT200 also includes a dedicated 802.15.4 chip and more peripheral connectivity. Separate from the cXT200 i9s a standard dedicated TPM security chip.

Creator Ci40 hardware details

The Creator Ci40 board, which is slightly larger than the Ci20 at 106 x 100mm, backs up the cXT200 SoC with a more modest allotment of memories. You get 256MB of DDR3 RAM, 512MB NAND, and a microSD slot. The only real-world ports are the 10/100 Ethernet port, an audio jack, and a micro-USB 2.0 OTG port, which can be used for data, or for connecting to 5V power. A 9V power jack is also available.

Creator Ci40 detail view
(click image to enlarge)

The Ci40 is equipped with WiFi-ac, Bluetooth 4.1 (Classic and BLE), and 6LoWPAN (802.15.4) wireless features. There are no video ports, but in addition to the analog audio jack, you get an S/PDIF audio connector and a JTAG connector. A 40-pin Raspberry Pi compatible interface provides onboard interfaces including 32x GPIOs, as well as SPI, i2C, ADC, UART, and PWM.

MikroBus/Click details

The Ci40 is further equipped with a pair of MikroBus expansion sockets, each consisting of a pair of 8-pin single-inline female headers. The MikroBus “Click” modules can plug directly into these locations, and run off the Ci40’s power. Alternatively, you can load them onto the Clicker boards, along with with dual AAA batteries, and communicate them wirelessly via 6LoWPAN from the Ci40 SBC. The IPv6-savvy 6LoWPAN wireless protocol, which uses the same core IEEE 802.15.4 networking standard as ZigBee, is also used by the Google-backed Thread platform. Imagination says it is evaluating potential support for Thread.

Like Seeed’s Grove sensor platform, MikroElektronika’s Click platform has seen increasing adoption among hacker boards looking to tap into a ready-made sensor ecosystem for IoT. SolidRun, for example, uses Click to expand its HummingBoard SBCs and new ClearFog networking SBC.

Clicker board with GPS Click module (left) and flipside with batteries
(click images to enlarge)

Each Clicker board is built around a dedicated, MIPS M4K-based PIC32MX microcontroller unit (MCU) from Microchip. You can program the PIC32MX, which runs the open source Contiki RTOS, using a USB/HID bootloader. Contiki RTOS offers a “small memory footprint, full IP networking stack, standardized IETF protocols for low-power IPv6 networking, dynamic module loading, and multi-threaded programming mechanisms,” says Imagination. Each Clicker board also includes a USB port, buttons and LEDs, and additional pads for external electronics.

Creator Ci40 specs

Creator Ci40 specifications provided by Imagination include:

  • Processor — Imagination cXT200 (2x MIPS InterAptiv cores @ 550MHz with 512KB L2, IEEE 754 FPU); TPM security chip
  • Memory:
    • 256MB DDR3 RAM
    • 512MB NAND flash
    • MicroSD slot
  • Wireless:
    • WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac 2×2 WiFi (Ensigma C4500 RPU)
    • Bluetooth 4.1 (Classic and Smart/LE)
    • 802.15.4 6LoWPAN
  • Networking — 10/100 Ethernet port
  • Other on-board I/O:
    • Micro-USB 2.0 OTG port (with power support)
    • 3.5mm audio I/O jack
    • S/PDIF audio I/O connector
    • JTAG (14-pin MIPS ETAG header)
  • I/O via Raspberry Pi compatible expansion interface:
    • 32x GPIOs
    • SPI
    • 2x I2C
    • 5x ADC
    • 2x UART
    • 4x PWM
  • MikroBus expansion — 2x Click sockets, compatible various Click modules (Thermo2, Relay, Motion, etc.)
  • Other features — 9x LEDs
  • Power — 5V DC (micro-USB) or 9V DC (barrel adapter)
  • Dimensions — 106 x 100mm
  • Operating system — OpenWRT (default); supports Debian Linux, Buildroot, and Brillo; Contiki OS included for Clicker boards; free 5-endpoint FlowCloud cloud IoT management access

Creator Ci40 MikroBus Click expansion explained in 42 seconds

Further information

  • Original Kickstarter campaign details — The Creator Ci40 development kit is available on Kickstarter through Dec. 23, with delivery available in April 2016. Packages start at 35 Pounds ($53) for the Creator Ci40 board on its own, or 70 Pounds ($106) for the first 200 funders buying the basic kit with 2x Clicker boards and 3x Click modules. This package then moves to 80 Pounds ($121). Imagination Technologies also provides packages that add more Creator boards, Clicker boards and/or Click modules in various combinations. More information may be found at the Creator Ci40 Kickstarter page.
  • Updated information as of June 2, 2016 — Imagination Technologies now has a Creator Ci40 product page. The boards are expected to ship to Kickstarter supporters next month. Additional boards can be pre-ordered from Mouser without the MikroElektronika add-ons here, and as a complete kit including add-ons here.


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