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Embedded Linux made easier: five ready-made hardware solutions to get you pumped for 2024

New year, new project, and if you’re working in the world of embedded Linux, the chances are that you’re probably focussing on the software side if you’re truly looking to push the boundaries.

Well, we at ipXchange would not be surprised if a great many Raspberry Pis have been scoffed over Christmas, so here are five alternative embedded Linux hardware solutions to use in your commercial projects. Save you and your team some development time and time to market!

Let’s start with the classic ipXchange pick: Elimo Engineering’s Impetus SoM (System on Module). Based on an Allwinner S3 SoC (System on Chip), this 42-mm, M2-form-factor system is well suited for compact builds. Elimo have made great efforts to bring out the most from the 1.2-GHz Cortex-A7 core, enabling it to run Debian-type Linux 5.11, with aims to drive this even further in future.

As well as a well-utilised processor, Impetus provides all the connectivity (wireless and wired) and audio-visual interfaces to support building a complete system, and all this can be tested with the Initium breakout board, which turns the Impetus into a complete single-board computer (SBC) system that can be powered via the USB-C port. It even has a screen on the back so you can test your build, though we at ipXchange find more amusement playing the DOOM build that Elimo sent us.

Read up on the full specifications on the dedicated board page, and ipXchange will be happy to connect you with Elimo for evaluation.

Next, let’s explore an arguably more compact solution in the form of Digi’s 29 x 29-mm surface-mountable ConnectCore MP157 SoM. These run Digi Embedded Yocto and feature industrial-grade security and reliability, with dual Cortex-A7 cores running at 650 MHz, as well as a Cortex-M4 core running at 209 MHz. As expected from Digi, you’ve got Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity – both slightly more advanced than those on the Impetus – but the main feature that we think will turn heads is the 3D GPU running at up to 533 MHz for up to 26 Mtriangle/s or 133 Mpixel/s performance; this is great for creating truly stunning user interfaces.

Another key point in Digi’s favour is their long standing in the industry, which gives developers access to plenty of other hardware connectivity solutions to add to your build, the software and cloud infrastructure to keep your IoT safe, and pin-compatibility with other ConnectCore 6UL SoMs if you want to explore alternative chipsets and/or alter existing designs with ease.

The development kit (pictured) nicely illustrates how much has been packed into this SoM, so learn more on the dedicated board page, and fill out a form if you’ve got a great use case.

Similarly, though slightly larger at 36 x 36 mm, PHYTEC’s phyCORE SoMs present designers with several pin-compatible solutions, with PHYTEC’s key boasts being low cost and low energy consumption for your embedded Yocto build. While still offering great hardware and software security, these SoMs don’t feature wireless connectivity, but with some featuring high-level edge-AI capabilities thanks to novel processing architectures, perhaps you won’t miss that; you won’t be needing the cloud!

High-quality audio-visual interfaces, including for camera input, make PHYTEC’s SoMs a great choice for those looking to build systems based on anything from a single 900-MHz Cortex-A7 core to dual-Cortex-A55 cores running at up to 1.7 GHz with an additional real-time Cortex-M33 core supported by an Ethos-U65 microNPU – that’s the key to low-power AI.

With options starting at 20 euros per unit at 10,000 pieces, PHYTEC’s solution puts embedded Linux at the same price as some MCU-based systems, so compare the options and give one a try by following this link to the dedicated board page, where you’ll find lot’s more technical information.

Now let’s get to the larger solutions where the possibilities become a little more overwhelming, starting with Arduino’s nine-core Portenta X8 from their industrial-grade PRO line; this comes with a pre-loaded Yocto OS for out-of-the-box testing, and there’s even a Raspberry-Pi-style breakout board so you can use your collection of Hats and gain easy access to peripherals!

Yes, nine cores might seem a little excessive, but when you’re designing a device with Linux and real-time control capabilities for high-end industrial systems, you might soon wish you had more for running calculations, user interfaces, and complex I/O-driven tasks. From the Linux side of things, the Portenta X8 presents designers with four Cortex-A53 cores running at up to 1.8 GHz per core in addition to 2D and 3D GPUs. The real-time control side features two Cortex-M4 and Cortex-M7 cores with a maximum operating frequency ranging from 240 MHz to 480 MHz.

Like some of the previously mentioned SoMs, the Portenta X8 features hardware security elements and the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity required by many systems, with the cloud services to support DevOps, additional cybersecurity, and over-the-air updates. While a 25.40 x 66.04-mm form factor and integration via two high-density connectors on the rear of the board makes Arduino’s solution a little larger and more challenging to integrate than surface-mountable solutions, there’s no question that you’re getting a lot of functionality in compensation, AND the comfort of an ecosystem that is familiar to many, with additional support for Python, Java, and Ruby programming languages.

Arduino has done a great job putting together a product to rival many better-known embedded Linux providers, so check out the full spec on the dedicated board page, and if you want to try it out, you know what to do.

Finally, we get to the largest of the embedded Linux solutions, which is far more than meets the eye: Red Pitaya’s STEMlab 125-14. Some of you might be thinking: “Hang on! Isn’t that just a bunch of measurement instruments?” Simply put, the answer ‘no’ does not quite cut it.

Yes, out of the box the STEMlab 125-14 provides engineers with plug-and-play access to a lab’s worth of oscilloscopes, spectrum analysers, signal generators, and more running at 125 Msps (megasamples per second) with 14-bit resolution from DC to 60 MHz, but at the heart of this board is a dual-Cortex-A9 processor. This means you can run the device as a Linux SBC that can be integrated into larger projects that require the levels of signal processing/analysis that make Red Pitaya’s boards so good as a compact test-and-measurement tool.

While the STEMlab 125-14 is not a wirelessly connected device, Wi-Fi functionality can be added via a dongle, and multiple units can be daisy-chained to create larger systems. Red Pitaya also makes a connectorless version for even higher levels of direct integration, so check out the various options available on the dedicated board page.

Of all the embedded Linux boards here, the STEMlab 125-14 seems most geared towards researchers, with support for Python, MATLAB, and LabVIEW programming. There is also a Github with free code examples to configure the onboard Xilinx Zynq FPGA, making the possibilities with Red Pitaya almost limitless.

Well, that’s plenty to get you thinking about as an embedded Linux developer, so all the best for 2024, apply to evaluate by following any of the links, and as always…

Keep designing!

(Images sourced from Elimo Engineering, Digi, PHYTEC, Arduino, and Red Pitaya)

Red Pitaya STEMlab 125-14 SBC/FPGA Test-And-Measurement Board For OEM Partners

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