A power-sipping Raspberry Pi alternative? New board squeezes extra efficiency out of modern tech

Cheap single-board computers are releasing thick and fast in 2019, but one new board is using fresh tech to stand out from the crowd.

While many notable Raspberry Pi challengers are based on either the Allwinner H6 or Rockchip RK3399 system-on-a-chips, the newly announced Nitrogen8M_Mini uses a more modern platform.

The new board is based around the i.MX 8M Mini platform, which is designed to be power efficient by scaling its clock speed to match demand, by swapping tasks between low and high-powered processors, and thanks to being manufactured using 14nm FinFet technology.

The system-on-a-chip pairs four Arm Cortex A53-based processor cores running at up to 2GHz with a 400MHz Arm Cortex M4-based processor, which is used for real-time signal processing.

Despite its low-power credentials, the board’s makers position it as a computer that can handle 1080p video playback, is capable of driving 2D and 3D graphics, of processing advanced audio, and also of collecting and preparing data for a machine-learning model on a cloud platform, both for training and inference.

SEE: Raspberry Pi: The inside story of the $35 computer

The board is designed for those developing home or industrial appliances, and can also be built into mass-produced final products, with a guaranteed 10-year lifespan.

When it comes to base specs the Nitrogen8M_Mini has several advantages over the flagship $35 Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+. The Pi is manufactured using a 40nm process technology, an older approach that results in boards less power efficient than those made using the 14nm FinFet process technology, such as the Nitrogen8M_Mini. The Nitrogen8M_Mini also offers twice the memory of the Pi 3 B+, of the faster LPDDR4 variety, and has a PCIe slot for expansion.

Meanwhile the Nitrogen8M_Mini offers half the number of USB ports as the Pi 3 B+.

The Android, Yocto, Ubuntu, and Debian operating systems are available for the new board and should enjoy long-term support from maker Boundary Devices.

The downside is the Nitrogen8M_Mini will almost certainly cost more than the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+. The Nitrogen8M_Mini’s bigger brother, the Nitrogen8M, costs around $170, although it offers higher specs and is larger than the Nitrogen8M_Mini, so this new board should be cheaper.

More information about the Nitrogen8M_Mini’s pricing and availability can be seen here.

Nitrogen8M_Mini Specs

CPU
CPU Name i.MX 8M Mini
CPU Cores 4 (Quad-Core)
CPU Type ARM Cortex-A53 + Cortex-M4F
Memory
RAM 2GB LPDDR4
eMMC 8GB eMMC (expandable to 128)
Multimedia
2D/3D Graphics Acceleration GCNanoUltra for 3D, GC320 for 2D
Video Encode / Decode 1080p60 H.264, VP8/1080p60 H.265, H.264, VP8, VP9
Camera Interfaces x1 4-Lane MIPI-CSI
Display
MIPI-DSI Yes
Networking
Ethernet 10/100/1GB
WiFi Optional QCA9377 BD-SDMAC 802.11 AC version
Bluetooth (included with WiFi Module) BT 4.1 (BD-SDMAC))
Audio
Headphone Yes
Microphone Analog MIC
Amplifier
Connectivity
I2C
SPI
USB USB 2.0: 1x Host, 1x OTG
RTC Yes
PCIe
PoE Optional (via daughter board)
SD / MMC UHS SD Card Support
Environmental Specifications
Commercial Temp (0 to 70C) Yes
Industrial Temp (-40C to +85C) Contact Us
OS Support
Android Yes
Linux Yocto, Ubuntu, Buildroot, Debian
FreeRTOS Yes (M4 core)
Mechanical Specifications
Dimensions (L x W) 114.3mm x 88.9mm
ixboard.jpg

Image: Boundary Devices

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