As the demand for low-cost, low-power, high performance ARM-based mini boards continues, alternatives to the ARM6 based Raspberry Pi have started to appear and they are proving just as popular.
Touting three times the CPU power of the Raspberry Pi and twice as much RAM, the board (which uses the Allwinner A10 Cortex A8 1 Ghz CPU) was available for just £40 UK pounds which is roughly $62 US dollars. It runs Android 4.0.3 out of the box, but support for Ubuntu and Arm Arch Linux is expected in the near future. It has 4GB of on-board flash and support for an additional 32GB via a micro SD memory card. On the connectivity front it has Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n, a mini USB port and HDMI out. It also comes with a charger included in the price!
Since it is an ARM-based board, its power consumption is low. The board uses just 4 watts when in use and only 2.3 watts when in standby. This makes it a perfect building block for enthusiasts who want to build Network Attached Storage (NAS) servers, media servers, or media players for use directly with a TV.
However there are some limitations… The first being that they have all sold out! The guys behind the Gooseberry only ordered 500 boards to start, and, as you can imagine, they went quickly, even though orders were limited to 1 per person. The next problem is that there is only 1 micro USB port which means you need to use a USB hub if you want to connect a mouse, keyboard and some form of external storage all at the same time. Finally, there is no LAN port, which could be detrimental when trying to use the device as a NAS.
The Gooseberry board guys ran a small competition to see who could come up with the coolest comment or video about how the Gooseberry can be used. The winner got a free Gooseberry board. Here is the winning video by Ryan Heatherly:
The demand for these low cost ARM boards is reminiscent of the home computer boom of the 80’s. Young adults and enthusiasts can get hold of these devices cheaply and plug them straight into a TV and start learning and playing. However, what I found odd about the Raspberry Pi (other than its underdog mentality) is that these ARM boards are readily available in cheap Android tablets. In fact that is where the Gooseberry owes its origin. The FAQ on the Gooseberry site clearly says: “The Gooseberry Board is a PCBA found within tablets. We have not designed nor manufactured this board. We have only recognized the potential it holds in both price and performance and so, have made it available and known to the public.” For their foresight and entrepreneurship, I congratulate them.
But here is the thing: you can buy (from China) a 7 inch capacitive touch screen Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich tablet with 512MB of RAM and 8GB of flash for less than $75. That is just £48 in UK terms. These devices can be connected to HDMI and use a mouse and keyboard exactly like the Raspberry Pi and Gooseberry board plus you get a touch screen and web camera! They have the same Allwinner CPU as the Gooseberry board and also include a free charger!
I know that there is something exotic about seeing a bare board hooked up to a bunch of leads and seeing little LEDs flashing as you hack away on your new gadget. But in terms of economics, it makes more sense to buy a cheap tablet and build your home projects around that. If you really want the exotic look, then take the circuit board out of the plastic case. The ARM based circuit board will look exactly the same as a Raspberry Pi or Gooseberry board. Trust me I know, that is what I did!
What do you think? Did you buy a Raspberry Pi? Do you want a Gooseberry board? Is my comment about buying cheap tablets and using those shear lunacy? Let me know by leaving a comment below.