Beaglebone Black Radio Challenge - Review

Table of contents

RoadTest: Beaglebone Black Radio Challenge

Author: fvan

Creation date:

Evaluation Type: Independent Products

Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True

What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: Raspberry Pi

What were the biggest problems encountered?: Troubleshooting the soundcard: audio is available only when using specific video resolutions

Detailed Review:

 

As one of the contestants in element14's Beaglebone Black Radio Challenge, I've been given the chance to explore the functionalities of the Beaglebone Black for a couple of weeks now.

 

Specifications

 

The Beaglebone Black is a $45 single board computer which I find to be very similar to the Raspberry Pi (Model B Rev 2 - $35).

 

The Beaglebone Black (or BBB) has following characteristics:

  • 1 GHz ARM CPU
  • 512 MB DDR3 RAM
  • 2 GB on-board flash memory
  • microSD slot for additional storage/flashing the BBB
  • microHDMI connector video and audio
  • Standard A USB + miniUSB connector
  • 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port
  • 5V DC barrel jack input
  • 2x 46 pins headers for GPIO, PWM outputs, analog inputs, I2C, etc ...

 

 

 

Capes

 

Just like an Arduino has shields and the Raspberry Pi has expansion boards, the BBB has "capes".

 

For the Radio challenge, we were given a LCD touch cape (CircuitCo:BeagleBone LCD4 - eLinux.org) to use with the BBB. There are however many other types of capes available, ranging from battery capes, to audio capes or even prototyping capes.

 

A listing of capes and their compatibility with the Beaglebone Black can be found here: Beagleboard:BeagleBone Capes - eLinux.org

 

My experiences with the LCD4 cape were good, but there are some downsides as well:

  • plug and play
  • touch screen
  • cape provides controls: up, left, right, down and enter, but also power and reset
  • low resolution: 480x272
  • no audio: due to the resolution, the audio wasn't working and I had to use a USB soundcard

 

I haven't had the chance to play with other capes for now, but I will certainly consider them for future projects.

 

 

Operating System

 

The Beaglebone Black comes by default with a Linux distribution called "Angstrom".

 

Just like with the Raspberry Pi, there is a variety of other operating systems available for the Beaglebone Black:

 

I remained with the default Angstrom for my project and found it to be very similar to other distros. It just required some getting used to, as for example the packet manager is called "opkg" while I was used to using "apt-get". But overall, I managed to work with the Angstrom distribution without encountering too many problems.

 

It is also possible to experiment with other distributions on the Beaglebone without flashing the onboard storage, by booting from a microSD card with the alternative image.

 

 

Peripherals & Accessories

 

For this Roadtest, I also used a variety of peripherals and accessories in combination with the Beaglebone Black.

 

I was really surprised that most of the peripherals were either plug and play or very straightforward to get installed on the most recent version of the Angstrom distribution.

 

Some examples:

  • USB WiFi adapter (Logic Supply UWN-200): plug and play
  • USB soundcard (eBay): plug and play
  • RTL SDR USB Stick (Adafruit SDR Receiver USB Stick): straightforward installation
  • Powered USB HUB (LogiLink 4 ports USB HUB): plug and play

 

There was also a protective case from Adafruit provided for this Roadtest. Because of the LCD cape, the top half had to be removed. I was however pleasantly surprised to see that the bottom half would still fit, even with the LCD cape on, and as such still providing protection to the back of the Beaglebone Black.

 

Project

 

I'm in the process of finalising my Beaglebone Black Radio.

 

You can find my blog posts about it here:

 

They contain additional information and thoughts on the different components as I was using them. I hope you enjoyed this review and that it will be useful in any way.

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