MinnowBoard Raises the Bar on Embedded Computing



By John Baichtal

At World Maker Faire last weekend, I got the chance to check out Minnowboard, a new Open Source microcontroller board that is going after the Raspberry Pi market not by emulating the popular RasPi, but by blowing it out of the water with a four-inch $200 mini PC running Ångström Linux on an Intel Atom CPU. It has a host of intriguing features like x86 compatibility, gigabit ethernet, and a gig of DDR2 RAM, as well as the GPIO pins that hardware hackers like.

As a brand-new platform, the MinnowBoard has precious few accessories to offer. However, they have released the MinnowBoard’s specifications for their add-on boards, called Lures, enabling fans to start building compatible open-source products.

At Maker Faire, they had a neat demo at their booth — a hobbyist robotic arm controlled by a MinnowBoard and equipped with a camera and OpenCV computer vision library, enabling the MinnowBoard to detect an object and direct the manipulator to pick it up. 

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  • I'm using the Raspberry Pi today with it's H.264 hardware Encoder. Does any of these boards mentioned here have a H.264 hardware encoder ??

  • Cubieboard is also a very nice board if your interested in the micro arm things

    • Manufacturer: CubieTech
    • Processor (CPU): ARM ® Cortex ™-A7 Dual-Core
    • SoC: Allwinner A20
    • Graphics Card (GPU): ARM Mali-400
    • Memory RAM: 1GB DDR3 @ 960m
    • Built-in memory: 4GB NAND
    • Operating System: Android pre-installed, Linux via MicroSDHC or SATA
    • Power supply: via Mini-USB or DC
    • Video Output: HDMI
    • Audio Output: 3.5mm Jack, HDMI
    • Network: 10/100 RJ45
    • Storage slots: MicroSDHC, SATA (+5 V Power), USB
    • Other holders: Infrared, 2x USB
    • Dimensions: 10cm x 6cm x 2cm
    • Two 48pins * External Headers, Including: 
          i2c (TWI) 
          RGB / lvds 
          CSI / TS 
          -FM in 

    Soon they are releasing the Cubietruck, its a bigger brother with more options

    CubieBoard | A series of open source hardware

    take the quadcore and your still much cheaper.

    i have played with the dl and solo variant. both have a nice performance.

    the best is - you can use ubuntu :-)

    this is the best performance for your money you can get!

  • Developer

    Hi Tom,

    Without wanting to sound negative, but this is clearly lowering the bar on embedded computing. The E640 core is what we have been using 2010 on a much smaller footprint (Kontron / Lippert credit-card sized computers). A 1GHz single-core Atom is about as slow as it gets these days.

    And there is no need to spend $200. Please have a look at the Odroid series. It's what we currently use in the Pixhawk research project (yes, the autopilot was named after it). You get a 1.7 GHz QUAD core for $89 (Galaxy SIII processor) and a 1.6 GHz OCTA core for $169 (Galaxy S4 processor, the octa is not that interesting for high-performance, as its a hybrid design, so you're equipped off with the quad already).

    We'll be releasing a setup / demo tutorial soon.

  • Gary, They recently announced and verified - within the last two or three days - that they were indeed on schedule and would begin shipping the dual-core units to their Kickstarter backers on 9-26 (tomorrow!) with the quad-core units following shortly thereafter. I'll keep you posted.

  • Hi Joe, I had also seen the UDOO and the Quad core version with SATA certainly is an interesting device that burns less power than the Atom and certainly has enough power for some mid level vision stuff.

    And they have a reasonable pile of IO.

    I am most worried that with the level of over funding they have received that getting it together may prove to be a difficult challenge for them.

    If they actually are successful at meeting current orders, I will give them a serious look.

    At $129.00 it is very attractive.

  • So a $200 PC can blow a $35 raspberry pi out of the water.  Who knew.

  • Have you seen the UDOO board? Here's the feature list:

    • Freescale i.MX 6 ARM Cortex-A9 CPU Dual/Quad core 1GHz
    • Integrated graphics, each processor provides 3 separated accelerators for 2D, OpenGL® ES2.0 3D and OpenVG™
    • Atmel SAM3X8E ARM Cortex-M3 CPU (same as Arduino Due)
    • RAM DDR3 1GB
    • 76 fully available GPIO
    • Arduino-compatible R3 1.0 pinout
    • HDMI and LVDS + Touch (I2C signals)
    • Ethernet RJ45 (10/100/1000 MBit)
    • WiFi Module
    • Mini USB and Mini USB OTG
    • USB type A (x2) and USB connector (requires a specific wire)
    • Analog Audio and Mic
    • SATA (Only Quad-Core version)
    • Camera connection
    • Micro SD (boot device)
    • Power Supply 12V and External Battery connector

    I don't work for or represent them. I just think this is a real nice hobbyist / experimenter board and I'm waiting patiently for mine from their Kickstarter project.

    Their website is if y'all are interested in checking them out.


  • Admin


    The new CGS ( Link ) that I have just finished building has an Intel motherboard with twin embedded Atoms running at 1.8GHz, but is a heck of a lot bigger than this board:-)

    I agree with your observations. Too bad they could not have started with a full house instead of putting it off as future "lures".

    Thanks for the correction for the Minnowboard link.


    TCIII Admin

  • I first found the site for this board a couple of months ago (who's link should be not

    I have been looking at Atom based boards for some time and the fact is this one suffers from the same thing as many of the others.

    Namely, not enough native IO. 8 GPIO pins aren't really enough to do much with.

    This means you really need to plan on using it to communicate via a serial interface to something with a bunch of IO on it to actually do anything (lure or not).

    At slightly over 4" square it is small and the Linux is valuable but it really needs IO and CAN ought to be built in rather than a future "lure".

    As Thomas says above, you need this class of processor to do serious visual stuff, whether SLAM, object recognition or even decent avoidance and path finding.

    I want a PixCondor with an Atom, Sata, a decent GPU, CAN and plenty of RAM and even more IO.

    And yes I'll be happy to pay over $200.00 for it and put a fan on it.

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