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Tiny $30 WiFi-enabled module runs OpenWrt on 1 Watt

Sep 21, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 4,257 views

[Updated: Sept. 24] — NixCore announced a $30 COM that runs OpenWrt on a Ralink RT5350 SoC with built-in WiFi on 1 Watt, and comes with detailed documentation and an Arduino IDE.

The NixCore X1 computer-on-module’s Ralink RT5350 system-on-chip, which appears to predate MediaTek’s acquisition of Ralink, is one of several Ralink SoC models that are roughly equivalent to the now Qualcomm owned Atheros line of processors. Both SoC families are equipped with built-in WiFi, and are designed to run OpenWrt Linux on 360MHz MIPS processors.

The Atheros line has seen increased adoption among embedded module and SBC products aimed at low-power Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Ralink has not enjoyed the same upswing, but this may be due primarily to the fact that it hasn’t enjoyed the same level of Linux support and documentation. NixCore may help change that, by providing comprehensive OpenWrt Linux support and documentation for the $30 NixCore X1.

NixCore X1
(click image to enlarge)

Like the Atheros SoCs, the Ralink models operate on very little power, enabling the $30 NixCore X1 COM to run at a single Watt, according to Westminster, Colorado based startup NixCore. The 360MHz device is further equipped with 32MB RAM , 8MB flash, a 10/100 Ethernet PHY, and an 802.11g WiFi radio. You also get dual UARTs, 24x GPIO, and I2C. I2S, SPI, and JTAG interfaces.

Ralink RT5350 SoC block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The NixCore X1 hardware is one of many Ralink based modules coming out of Shenzhen with very limited Linux support or documentation. NixCore wouldn’t say which one it uses, but it appears to be very similar, but not identical to this China-sourced this China-sourced RT5350 module.

NixCore X1 interface header pinout
(click image to enlarge)

NixCore’s Andrew Gaylo says he selected the module after evaluating a wide variety of Shenzhen COMs in the same price range. “After seeing a number of ‘easy’ to use SBCs I felt there was a gap between professional Linux modules in the SODIMM form factor and lower cost development boards,” wrote Gaylo in an email. “The intent of NixCore is to bridge that gap in the market. Our value added to this product is our software engineering and documentation. When we sourced the boards the only information we were provided was the processor data sheet and an image of a pinout (reversed and with unclear pin names). Over the past few months we have been developing download applications, scripts, documentation, adapter PCBs, and examples of how to use this board.”

The documentation provides examples of how to run code at startup, access the GPIO, and control communication buses such as I2C. A “fully open source” toolchain is said to be provided for not only OpenWrt, but also Windows, says NixCore. Firmware components include a full TCP/IP/UDP stack, an HTTP server, and SSL/TLS support. A development board is also available (see farther below).

Gaylo went on to say that while many development platforms offer only a single image build with a fixed set of services, NixCore will provide a number of OpenWrt system images. “Some will have just libraries for maximum space and processing power, some will have a web server, CGI and example scripts for processing user input, and some will be in between,” he explained.

The other major value-add is the Arduino IDE support. “The Arduino support is something the system designer can enable, instantly making their product extensible for end users,” writes Gaylo. “Of course, for security minded products this can be disabled and the system hardened to prevent access.”

Summary of NixCore X1 specs

Specifications listed for the NixCore X1 include:

  • Processor — Ralink RT5350 (1x MIPS-32 core @ 360MHz)
  • Memory — 32MB RAM (about 12MB user available); 8MB flash (about 4MB user available)
  • Wireless — 802.11n
  • Networking — 10/100 Ethernet PHY
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x UART
    • 24x GPIO
    • I2C, I2S, SPI
    • JTAG
  • Power — 3.3V; 1W consumption
  • Operating system — OpenWrt (Linux 3.18) or Windows; TCP/IP/UDP, HTTP, SSL/TLS, Arduino IDE support

Nixcore does not currently list the Nixcore X1 module’s dimensions, but we estimate it to be 30 x 48mm.

NixCore X1DEV baseboard

The $25 to $35 NixCore X1DEV board connects to the NixCore X1 via a header, and provides an Ethernet port, USB-A host port, USB-B power port, and an RS232 serial port. You also get 22 GPIO pins and five LEDs for testing purposes.

NixCore X1DEV
(click image to enlarge)


Testing the LED strip with a NixCore X1 and a web interface

Further information

The NixCore X1 is available now for $30, and the NixCore X1DEV board is available for $25, or $35 with power and USB-to-RS232 cables. More information may be found at the NixCore X1 product page.

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One response to “Tiny $30 WiFi-enabled module runs OpenWrt on 1 Watt”

  1. iridiumsat says:

    AR9331 still more interesting even only 1 UART that we can install uboot mod to freely use single UART.

    AR9331 modules come with 64MB ram and price down to around $22 on Aliexpress.

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