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Open spec x86 SBCs gain prototyping add-ons

Apr 3, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 1,322 views

Newark Element14 launched a $20 motor control add-on for AMD’s Gizmo 2 SBC, and tipped a new “Lure” LED add-on for the Minnowboard Max.

From the start, the Raspberry Pi and the BeagleBoard (BeagleBone) projects have followed the Arduino project’s lead in providing Shield-like expansion modules to attract hobbyists and third party developers. Several other community-backed open-spec SBCs have attempted to do the same, but with mixed results. On the x86 side, Intel’s project offers a “Lure” add-on module spec for its MinnowBoard Max, and AMD’s GizmoSphere project has its own daughter board expansion spec for its Gizmo 2 SBC.

Intel’s Tadpole (green) and AMD’s Gizmo Explorer (red), roughly to scale
(click image to enlarge) and Gizmo 2 distributor Newark Element14 have announced the very first Gizmo 2 daughter card: the Gizmo Explorer Board. At the recent Embedded Linux Conference, Intel’s project showed off a new Lure add-on to the MinnowBoard Max called the Tadpole Lure.

Gizmo Explorer Board

The Gizmo Explorer Board offers features and peripherals for use in motor control, human machine interface (HMI), and control system applications, says Newark Element14. These are said to include robotics, antenna rotators, operator interfaces, household appliances, office equipment, and applications that require precise speed, direction, or position control.

Gizmo Explorer Board and keypad
(click image to enlarge)

The L-shaped daughter board, which is almost as big as the Gizmo 2 itself, slots into the Gizmo 2’s edge-mounted low-speed expansion interface. It does not appear to work with the original Gizmo SBC, which shipped with its own Gizmo Explorer expansion board.

Two details views of the Gizmo Explorer Board
(click images to enlarge)

The Gizmo Explorer Board integrates a keypad, a small LCD display, motor control hardware, and a prototyping area. Other features include a GPIO header, interfaces to SPI, I2C, and UART peripherals, and “processor I/O signal access break out access,” says Newark Element14.

The 4.0 x 4.0-inch Gizmo 2 SBC runs Linux and other OSes on a dual-core, 1GHz AMD GX210HA G-Series SoC with 1GB DDR3-1600 RAM. Other features include PCIe and mini-PCIe expansion, a gigabit Ethernet port, and dual SATA interfaces. The 12V board also provides HDMI, DisplayPort, and LVDS display interfaces, as well as microSD, mSATA, and USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, among other I/O.

Tadpole Lure’s Tadpole Lure is described as a “small low-speed adapter” that uses GPIO to control RGB LEDs. You can order the PCB and other parts now, and there are full schematics, Eagle CAD, and Gerbers files, as well as assembly guidelines. Several third parties have indicated they are interested in developing and selling pre-assembled versions of the Tadpole Lure.

Tadpole Lure alone (left) and stacked on MinnowBoard Max
(click images to enlarge)

The Tadpole Lure joins a half dozen open source Lures for the MinnowBoard Max and original MinnowBoard. These include the Proto Lure breadboard and the Calamari Lure for testing GPIO and low speed interfaces.

Tadpole Lure PCB, front and back
(click image to enlarge)

Like other Lures, the Tadpole Lure stacks directly on top of the MinnowBoard Max. Tadpole Lure components include three PNP transistors, an RGB LED, six 1/8 Watt resistors of various values, and a “female connector.” The PCB also offers a prototyping area.

Like the Gizmo 2, the MinnowBoard Max is a second generation SBC. The 3.9 x 2.9-inch board runs Linux or Android 4.4 on a single- or dual-core Atom E3800 SoC, backed up with 1GB to 4GB of DDR3 RAM. Coastline ports include a microSD slot, micro-HDMI port, gigabit Ethernet port, a SATA port, and dual USB ports, including a USB 3.0 port.

Lures designed for the original MinnowBoard are incompatible on the Max, but some Max Lures will run on the original. The Max provides a low-speed 26-pin expansion connector, which is used by the Tadpole Lure, as well as a 60-pin high-speed expansion connector. Since the low-speed connector is similar to that of an Arduino shield connector, it is expected that Arduino Shields can be fairly easily converted to the format.

Further information

The Gizmo Explorer Board is available for $19.95 at Newark Element14 in North America, Farnell Element14 in Europe, and Element14 in APAC. The Tadpole Lure is not yet available as a production board, and has not been priced, but has posted schematics, CAD files, and instructions on the Tadpole Lure wiki page, for free downloading.

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