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Tiny quad-core ARM mini-PC runs Ubuntu with Cinnamon

Nov 26, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 15,140 views

A startup is pitching a $129-$199 “Imp” mini-PC on Indiegogo based on a quad-core Odroid-U3 SBC, with HDMI streaming and an Ubuntu/Cinnamon Linux desktop.

A day after reporting on one Israeli-based, non-Android ARM mini-PC — SolidRun’s $100 CuBoxTV with OpenElec Linux — here comes another. Aside from the usual hyperbole found on crowdfunding pages — are we really “democratizing the digital home experience” or just buying an embedded ARM computer? — the Ubuntu-based Imp mini-PC looks like a pretty good deal.

That’s especially true if you can still get your hands on one of the $129 early bird funding package on Indiegogo (flexible funding), with shipments due in April. The standard $149 pricing seems reasonable too, though the expected MSRP of $199 seems on the high side.

Imp from two angles
(click images to enlarge)

Named for the diminutive Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones, both the startup and its flagship mini-PC are showing a Tyrion-like independence by selecting Ubuntu 14.04 instead of the Android stacks that typically run on similar ARM mini-PCs. Imp has tossed out Ubuntu’s Unity desktop in favor of its own Imp Desktop, based on the Cinnamon UI stack beloved of Linux Mint users.

The Imp Desktop includes a media server, private cloud services, “continuity” features for media playback handoffs with other devices, and the ability to stream to and from any device, according to Imp. The computer ships with a wide variety of multimedia, social networking, and productivity apps, as well as push notifications, a file manager, and wireless video- and audio-casting to any DLNA compatible device. Like the CuBoxTV, it supports the Kodi/XBMC media stack, and an Imp mobile app for Android and iOS supports media remote control and other features.

Imp with Cinnamon-based Imp Desktop on display
(click image to enlarge)

So while the Imp may not be the cheapest quad-core Cortex-A9 mini-PC you can buy, you’re also getting a full suite of software services you wouldn’t normally find. Imp also touts the box’s open source software policy, differentiating it from somewhat similarly priced Chromebox devices. In particular, the company compares its box with the $159, Intel Celeron-based Asus Chromebox, whose Chrome OS platform makes it more difficult to customize and swap in and out different packages.

Imp hardware details

The 4.3 x 4.3 x 1.2-inch Imp is built around Hardkernel’s community-backed Odroid-U3 single board computer, which runs on a 1.7GHz Samsung Exynos 4412 Prime SoC featuring four Cortex-A9 cores and a Mali-400 GPU. The $59 hacker SBC came in third place out of 32 entries in this year’s LinuxGizmos/ Open Source Hacker SBC Survey, right after the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black. According to the Imp Indiegogo page: “The Odroid U3 enables HD streaming to your TV, while using imp’s desktop at the same time, which is impressive to say the least.”

Odroid-U3 board details and block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

The Imp ships with 2GB of RAM, and either 8GB or 16GB of flash memory. The 16GB version is available only in a $199 “Premium” edition that features a carbon top on the casing. A microSD slot and eMMC flash socket are both said to be optional, but no pricing was listed. In addition, the computer ships with the ownCloud private cloud service.

Imp port detail
(click image to enlarge)

The Imp integrates a 10/100 Ethernet port, and the standard package includes a WiFi USB stick. Like the Odroid-U3, it offers a micro-HDMI port, three USB 2.0 host ports, a micro-USB device port, and an audio jack. There’s also an optional wireless HDMI streaming stick with DLNA and Airplay support for $18. The Odroid-U3’s internal 8-pin expansion connector is also said to be accessible.

Summary of Imp specs

Specifications listed for the Imp include:

  • Processor (via Odroid-U3) — Samsung Exynos 4412 Prime (4x Cortex-A9 cores @ 1.7GHz); Mali-400 GPU (440MHz)
  • Memory/storage:
    • 2GB LP-DDR2 880MHz RAM
    • 8GB or 16GB flash
    • Optional microSD slot
    • Optional eMMC flash socket
    • ownCloud private cloud
  • Wireless — WiFi via USB stick (RTL8188-CUS chipset)
  • Networking — 10/100 Ethernet port (Auto-MDIX support)
  • Other I/O:
    • Micro-HDMI port with audio support and converter cable to full HDMI.
    • 3x USB 2.0 ports
    • Micro-USB device port
    • 3.5mm audio jack
    • Internal 8-pin expansion header for GPIO, UART, I2C, SPI
  • Other features — Optional wireless keyboard and trackpad ($19); optional wireless HDMI streaming stick with DLNA and Airplay support ($18)
  • Power — 5V/2A DC with AC charger
  • Dimensions — 4.3 x 4.3 x 1.2 in.
  • Operating system — Ubuntu 14.04 with Imp Desktop, based on Cinnamon


Imp fundraising campaign video

Further information

The Imp is available on Indiegogo through Dec. 28, with shipments due in April for $129 (early bird), $149 (8GB), or $199 (16GB with carbon top). There’s also a $249 “Social Responsibility” package in which you buy one Imp and donate a second one to Dandora HipHop City, a community art center in Nairobi, Kenya. More information on the Imp may be found at the Imp Indiegogo page and Imp website.

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0 responses to “Tiny quad-core ARM mini-PC runs Ubuntu with Cinnamon”

  1. sola says:

    I am all for these ARM machines (creating competition to Intel & AMD…etc) but I am wary of the non-standardized state in the ARM camp.

    For example, you will only be able to use this box with the factory shipping OS (custom kernel, custom bootloader…etc) and if the producer stops shipping OS updates, you are on your own. At least, with x86 machines, you always have the option of installing a newer, stock Ubuntu and expect it to work reasonably well.

  2. Gavin says:

    sola, are you sure that’s true? I mean, you might have to compile everything (or use debian).

    I think LFS, gentoo, nixos or debian are all good options in this area. I wouldn’t use ubuntu ever anyways.

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