Exploring BeagleBoards Open-Software Computers

Learn about the different BeagleBoards to discover which one will fit your needs.

By: Megan Tung

BeagleBoards are low-power open-source single-board computers. Starting your BeagleBoard is so simple it can be done in 3 easy steps:

    Step 1: Provide Power
    Step 2: Enable a Network Connection
    Step 3: Explore the Capabilities of Your Board

Some of the features include:

  • All functionality of a basic computer
  • Easily powered from a USB connector or a separate 5V power supply
  • A low-cost Linux computer with tremendous expansibility
  • Provide the opportunity to learn many programming aspects from educators online
  • Openness and flexibility

BeagleBoards are often used in colleges to teach open-source hardware and software capabilities. The board uses Cadence OrCAD for schematics and Cadence Allegro for PCB manufacturing. The Processor is Octavo Systems OSD3358 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8, which is the smallest Texas Instruments AM335x module. There are various boards, but the BeagleBone Black, BeagleBone Blue, PocketBeagle, and SeeedStudio BeagleBone Green are the most popular. In addition to the boards, there are capes. Capes are expansion boards that can be stack onto the BeagleBone Boards. Up to four capes can be stacked at a time. Capes are more generally known as daughterboards.

BeagleBone Black

BeagleBone_black The BeagleBone Black is an upgrade from the BeagleBone. There is increased RAM, increased processor clock, an added HDMI, and an additional 2GB of eMMC flash memory. The processor is an AM335x 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 with 512MB DDR3 RAM, 4GB 8-bit eMMC on-board flash storage, 3D graphics accelerator, NEON floating-point accelerator, and 2x PRU 32-bit microcontrollers. As for connectivity, there are two 46-pin headers, USB client for power and communications, USB host, Ethernet, and HDMI connections.

Here are various capes that are compatible with the BeagleBone Black:

  • Comms Cape: For industrial communication applications
  • Load Cape: Drive high-current loads like relays, motors, solenoids, and high current LEDs
  • Motor Cape: Drive DC motors with direction and PWM control
  • Power Cape: Complete power interface. Provides regulated 3.3V and system out from the BeagleBone itself as well as an on-board regulator to provide separate additional 3.3V and 5V out. The input voltage can go up to 30V. Also includes an interface to the BeagleBone power button and system reset
  • Proto Cape: A blank slate to design any type of application. Has plated through-holes for external component soldering and a few on-board components (buttons, multi-colored LED, and a basic LED) to assist design process. The ID EEPROM can have the address be re-assigned to allow for seamless integration into the BeagleBone cape schema
  • Relay Cape: Quick and easy relay solution for home and other automation needs
  • Robotics Cape: Everything needed for mobile robotics. Has a huge array of on-board sensors and controllers and even more expansion options
  • Servo Cape: Provides numerous servo outputs for many remote control, robotics and automation project

BeagleBone Blue

BeagleBone_blue The BeagleBone Blue is an all-in-one Linux-based computer for robotics. It has real-time performance, flexible networking, and a rich set of robotics-oriented capabilities, which make building mobile robots with the BeagleBone Blue fast, streamlined, affordable, and fun. The BeagleBone Blue is designed to be more independent from the computers used to program it, which is why there is a power button, reset button, and two programmable buttons on the board. For this reason, this BeagleBone is good for mobile robots and aerial drones. Linux can be booted in around 10 seconds, and you could be developing through your web browser in less than 5 minutes with just a single USB cable.

The processor is an Octavo Systems OSD3358 SiP (system-in-package). It has AM335x 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor, 4GB 8-bit eMMC flash storage, 512MB DDR3 RAM, integrated power management, 2x32-bit 200MHz programmable real-time units, NEON floating point accelerator, ARM Cortex-M3, USB2 client for power and communications, USB2 host, and is programmed with Debian Linux.

Compared to the BeagleBone Black, the BeagleBone Blue lost some GPIO pins and does not have an HDMI port. However, the board gained battery support through a 2-cell LiPo with balancing, LED state-of-change monitor and charger input of 9-18V. There are motor control outputs in the form of eight 6V servo outs, four DC motor outs, and four quadrature encoder inputs. The Blue has wireless capabilities 802.11 bgm, Bluetooth 4.1 and BLE. There is a 9-axis IMU (accelerometers, gyros, magnetometer), barometer, and thermometer for built-on sensors and connection interfaces for even more sensors. It has easy-connect JST interfaces for adding additional buses and peripherals including: GPS, DSM2 radio, UARTs, SPI, I2C, 1.8V analog, and 3.3V GPIOs.

PocketBeagle

PocketBeagle The PocketBeagle has the same computing performance as the BeagleBone Black, but there is a 50% reduction in size, a 75% reduction in weight, and a 40% cheaper purchase price. The size reduction is made possible through the Octavo Systems OSD3358-SM that shrinks all the major subsystems of the BeagleBone Black into a single ceramic package attached using a ball grid array. There is 64KB dedicated to RAM and 64KB shared L3 RAM, 3D-ready PowerVR SGX530 graphics, two 32-bit 200MHz programmable real-time units, and 512MB of DDR3 RAM and 4KM EEPROM. The PocketBeagle uses the same processor as the BeagleBone.

However, there are some costs that come along with the reduction in size. These costs include the removal of all built-in connectors (except for a single micro USB port), the removal of on-board eMMC flash storage, and the reduction of header pins from 92 down to 72. Due to the reduction of header pins, most capes will not work at all with the PocketBeagle or will need heavy modifications to work. The capes that will work are:

  • TechLab Cape: For getting your first introduction to programming, Linux, or hacking the Linux kernel itself
  • GamePup Cape: For making a handheld arcade emulator

SeeedStudio BeagleBone Green Wireless

BeagleBone_green SeeedStudio BeagleBone Green Wireless (BBGW) is based on the open-source hardware design of the BeagleBone Black. The BBGW includes a high-performance flexible WiFi/Bluetooth interface and two Grove connectors. The Grove connectors allow easy connection to the large family of Grove sensors. To make room for the wireless features and Grove connectors, the on-board HDMI and Ethernet are removed. The processor is an AM335x 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8, which has 512MB DDR3 RAM, 4GB 8-bit eMMC on-board flash storage, 3D graphics accelerator, NEON floating-point accelerator, and 2x PRU 32-bit microcontrollers. You may be interested in:
PocketBeagle vs. Raspberry Pi Zero

If for some reason you can't find what you need, write us at [email protected], and we'll do our best to source it.
Megan Tung is an intern at Jameco Electronics. Megan is a rising junior at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is interested in photography, music, business, and engineering.