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Linux/Android MIPS hacker SBC goes for $65

Dec 4, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 2,834 views

Imagination’s Linux/Android “Creator CI20” hacker SBC, featuring a dual MIPS core Ingenic JZ4780 SoC, 4GB flash, WiFi, and BT 4.0, is now selling for $65.

Imagination Technologies unveiled its MIPS Creator CI20 single board computer in August without pricing or availability information. The community-backed, MIPS-based hacker board was supplied free of charge to several hundred university students, developers, hobbyists, and partners who petitioned the MIPS ISA developer with the most compelling project ideas. Now, after strong demand, Imagination has announced $65 (50 UK Pounds) public pricing for the board, which ships in late January.

Creator CI20
(click image to enlarge)

The MIPS Creator CI20 SBC “enables open source developers, the maker community, system integrators and others to create a wide range of applications and projects, ranging from home automation and gaming to wireless multimedia streaming,” says Imagination. The board ships with Android 4.4 or version 7 of Debian Linux, which Imagination says “complies with the principles of the Free Software Foundation.” Gentoo and Yocto Linux builds are on the way.

The SBC appears to be almost identical to the original except that it has half the flash memory at 4GB. The less detailed specs announced with the new version also add mention of an IR receiver. There’s no longer any reference to a “Transport Stream Interface,” but Imagination does list the availability of “expansion headers,” which appear to be the same thing. As before, there was no mention of Arduino compatibility.

No dimension details were supplied in this latest announcement, but the SBC seems to be the same 90.2 x 95.3mm, 5VDC design. Once again, power consumption was unlisted. The product page for the board matches the original version’s specs, complete with the 8GB flash.

The Creator CI20 is built around an Ingenic JZ4780 system-on-chip, which integrates a pair of MIPS32 cores clocked at 1.2GHz. The SoC also integrates Imagination’s own PowerVR SGX540 GPU, which supports OpenGL 2.1 and OpenGL ES 2.0. The SGX540, which is commonly used in mobile devices, is less popular on ARM hacker boards, due largely to the opinion that the GPU is less transparent — and therefore less accessible to developers — than some others like the ARM Mali 400.

Ingenic JZ4780 SoC block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The MIPS Creator CI20 ships with 1GB of DDR3 DRAM, 4GB NAND flash, and an SD slot. As before, the SBC communicates externally with a 10/100 Ethernet port, as well as both WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0. An HDMI port supports video at up to 2K at 60fps.

Additional features include USB OTG and host ports, a CMOS camera input, and an audio in/out jack. You also get multiple analog inputs and digital I/Os, and a pair of serial UARTs. Other I/O includes a 14-pin MIPS JTAG header.

Creator CI20 with Debian 7 (left) and Android 4.4 applications
(click images to enlarge)

The Creator CI20 can run Imagination’s FlowCloud cloud platform for Internet of Things (IoT) device management. FlowCloud enables applications including security, personal and professional health monitoring, energy management, cloud-based systems for content delivery, and more, says Imagination.

Imagination has also posted a number of testimonials from developers. These describe ports of Kodi/XBMC, Limelight Game Streaming, Tencent games, and Pixel Hero Games’ Spiral Episode 1 game, as well as the Unreal Engine 3 gaming technology.

“The Creator CI20 is a fast development board for a really good price that combines two technologies we are very excited about: a dual-core MIPS CPU and a PowerVR GPU,” stated Neil Henning, technology lead for Codeplay.

Summary of MIPS Creator C120 specs

MIPS Creator CI20 specifications provided by Imagination include:

  • Processor — Ingenic JZ4780 system-on-chip
    • CPU — 2x 1.2GHz XBurst MIPS32 cores
    • GPU – PowerVR SGX540
    • FPU — IEEE754
    • Hardware video decoders — MPEG-2, VC-1, VP8, MPEG-4, H.264 (1080p at 30fps), RV9 (1080p at 60fps)
  • Memory:
    • 1GB (32-bit DDR3) RAM
    • 4GB NAND
    • SD slot plus second SD interface via expansion connector
  • Networking:
    • 10/100 Ethernet port
    • WiFi 802.11b/g/n
    • Bluetooth 4.0
    • IR
  • Other I/O:
    • HDMI port (up to 2k resolution)
    • 2x USB ports (OTG and host)
    • 25x GPIOs
    • CMOS camera input (ITU.R BT.645 connector)
    • 2x SPI
    • 1x I2C
    • 7x analog input channels
    • 2x UART
    • AC97 audio (via 4-pin I/O jack and HDMI connector)
    • JTAG (14-pin MIPS ETAG header)
    • Expansion headers
  • Power — 5VDC
  • Dimensions — 90.2 x 95.3mm
  • Operating system:
    • Android 4.4
    • Debian 7 Linux
    • Gentoo and Yocto Linux on the way
    • Ports of BeOS, ThreadX, and NetBSD in progress
    • Supports optional FlowCloud cloud IoT management platform

Creator CI20 vs. Raspberry Pi vs. BeagleBone Black
(click image to enlarge; source: Imagination Technologies)


Ingenic Newton2

Last month, Ingenic and Imagination announced an updated Newton2 computer-on-module for wearables that runs Linux and Android on a lower-power, single-core MIPS-based Ingenic M200 SoC. The 30 x 15 x 2.4mm module runs at only 150mW.

Further information

The MIPS Creator CI20 is available for pre-order in North America and Europe, with other markets to follow, at $65 (£50 in Europe). Shipments are expected in late Jan. 2015. Imagination Technologies is also giving away three free boards to those who closely follow the company’s Twitter feeds.

More information may be found at the Imagination blog announcement, which offers further details on the competition, as well as some early Creator CI20 projects. Pre-orders may be filed at the Imagination Store. Full specs on the almost identical, original developer version may be found on this page. Several interesting comments from LinuxGizmos readers can be found on our initial Creator C120 coverage.

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0 responses to “Linux/Android MIPS hacker SBC goes for $65”

  1. jezra says:

    Hopefully if they make enough profit off of the Open Source community, Imagination will give back to the community by Open Sourcing the driver for their PowerVR graphics chip.

  2. werewolfc says:

    The comparison against RPI and BBB is useless. Doesn’t matter if the specs are twice as goods as the other ones…. IF you have NO community and ZERO support from the manufacturer. You end up with a dev board thats fast but you can’t use it to it’s full potential. Some (RPI BB) got it and they are selling loads of dev board.
    IMHO It’s a fact that every dev board manufacturer (like wandboard, solidrun, cubieboard) should think of.

  3. CFWhitman says:

    A PowerVR GPU is not usually great news if you hope to run Linux on a device. Generally there are no open source drivers and not a lot of support for the closed source ones with PowerVR devices.

    I have both a Raspberry Pi model B and a SolidRun Cubox-i4Pro, and I’ve been pretty satisfied with both of them. It took a while for the Cubox-i software to shape up into something really usable, but it’s doing pretty well at this point.

    I’m generally developing a wait and see attitude about what comes out in this space these days. I’ve seen too many devices never reach anywhere near their full potential before the company that made them moved on to the next generation of technology. Then the software stack for the old hardware just withers away unless you find something else that can work on it.

    The Freescale i.MX6 SoC’s seem to have generated enough interest to have a significant community behind them, so I think they are a decent choice for SolidRun and Wandboard. Cubieboard seems to be the only reason that there is still much of any interest in the old AllWinner A10 and A20 chips at all (although is still going). The A80 seems to have some more interest because of its price/power ratio, but I’m not sure how far that will go yet. I like to see the Cubieboard do well, because it’s the only real hope of any updates to my old Mele A2000 with an AllWinner A10 SoC.

    • jezra says:

      “A PowerVR GPU is not usually great news if you hope to run Linux on a device. ” Very true.

      What really bothers me about this device, is that it is made by the the same company that makes PowerVR. Apparently the Linux community is good enough to profit off of, but not good enough to provide Open Source drivers to.

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