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BeagleBoard Officially Reveals the X15 — And it’s a Beast

BeagleBoardX15FirstLook

The BeagleBoard X15 is the latest embedded development board from the non-profit BeagleBoard.org foundation and it is one powerful, open source hardware puppy!

While the board has been a poorly kept open secret, with details emerging on various social networks and even coverage on a few blogs, the foundation has not released any official specifications until today.

This thing is seriously powerful. It basically doubles every spec on the BeagleBone Black. Here are the impressive specifications provided to Make: by the foundation:

Official Specs.

  • Dual-core Sitara AM5728 ARM Cortex A15 @ 1.5Ghz
  • 750-MHz C66x DSP for analytics
  • Quad-core PRU for real-time control
  • Dual-core Cortex-M4 for even more real-time control
  • 4GB eMMC
  • 157 general purpose input/output (GPIO)
  • 20-pin ARM JTAG
  • eSATA
  • HDMI
  • 2 1Gb ethernet ports
  • 2GB DDR3L
  • µSD card slot
  • Micro USB 2.0 slave
  • 3 ports on a USB3.0 host
  • Audio in and out jacks

Unfortunately the X15 is not shipping today, but expect an announcement with release info later in Q4 of 2015.

Software Experience

The X15 will ship with a Debian Linux image on the eMMC, but you can set jumpers to change the boot priority, moving the boot order of the µSD or even eSATA ahead of the eMMC. I’m personally looking forward to hooking up a large disk and testing out the boot experience over eSATA.

The overall software experience with the board is the same solid experience as with the BeagleBone Black. The device boots straight into X windows, but you can change this if you prefer a straight to command line boot. Tons of packages are available and you can easily apt-get install more if you need them.

Audio out, audio in, reset, and three USB 3.0 connectors on the BeagleBoard X15
Audio out, audio in, reset, µSD, micro USB 2.0 slave, and three USB 3.0 connectors on the BeagleBoard X15

Hardware Design Focus

As the specifications reveal, the X15 is all about pushing the boundaries on a couple fronts. The sheer number of high-speed input and output packed into the 4″×4.2″ form factor is spectacular, and so too is the number of I/O that are actually broken out with easily accessible connectors. The majority of function specific ports are found along two edges of the X15.

Dual 1GB ethernet, eSATA, HDMI, 12V power, and power button on the BeagleBoard X15
Dual 1GB ethernet, eSATA, HDMI, 12V power, and power button on the BeagleBoard X15

The Cost of Complex Design

Unfortunately, due to all the awesome power and connectivity this board offers, it is going to cost a significant amount more than popular BeagleBones. Both the BeagleBone White and BeagleBone Black were attempts at a smaller PCB footprint and price point. The X15 and previous BeagleBoards are all about the power and connectivity, which comes at a higher cost.

Though the price has not been finalized, word is that the X15 will set you back between $199–$249. Before you clamor that you can buy a cheap computer for that price, consider the difficulty in accessing useful GPIO pins without rigging up crazy hardware hacks on a bargain PC or Chromebook. These tend to quickly become expensive and are not easy. (I’d love to be wrong on this point, so if you know a good, inexpensive hardware hack on a bargain PC, don’t be shy, put it in the comments below!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Underside of the BeagleBoard X15, GPIO header pins are not populated on the beta release of the X15 we have

Hardware Nuances

On the version of the BeagleBoard X15 we received for testing the four banks of 60 header pins are unpopulated. Note that of the 240 exposed pins, only 157 of them are available as GPIO pins. You can see the four banks of exposed solder pads in the image above on the right and left edges of the board. In production boards the headers will obviously be populated with the appropriate headers for easy connection to accessory boards.

The nearly square form factor of the X15 is a nod to the original BeagleBoard released in 2008 (shown to the right)BeagleBoard and the BeagleBoard xM, released in 2010. And like the two BeagleBoards before it, the BeagleBoard X15 focuses on packing a ton of processing power for both applications and graphics, plus delivering a wide variety of input and output connections to ease integration with other devices. This is a board targeting not only Makers, but also professional embedded engineers. The change in form factor also means that capes — i.e. accessory boards in the BeagleBoard ecosystem — that fit the BeagleBone boards will not fit the X15.

Gone too are the Black’s blue LEDs fit for an airport runway. In their place are the more subdued red LEDs that will not make you feel like you are at a rave.

BeagleBone Black fans will note the blindingly bright blue LEDs are gone on the X15 in favor of softer red LEDs
BeagleBone Black fans will note the blindingly bright blue LEDs are gone on the X15 in favor of softer red LEDs.

Planning My First X15 Project

The X15 is certainly a high-end development board for Makers, but it is not an unreasonable board to design even basic projects around. In the short time I have had to play with the board, a few of the project ideas that have crossed my mind are an all-in-one penetration testing device for network security, utilizing the two Gb ethernet ports, beefy CPU, and ease of adding Wi-Fi USB dongles. Another project angle is to use the the X15’s four PRUs and two M4 chips to build a crazy robot with tons of real-time control — perhaps a CNC or pick and place machine. An obvious project to try is a media center, since leveraging the power of the CPU, GPU, and ability to connect to eSATA drive just screams, “build a media center.” But what I really want to build is a portable BeagleBoard X15 outfitted with a battery, LCD, and mini keyboard — heck, the board is big, but it is a lot smaller than my laptop.

Once you get your hands on a BeagleBoard X15, what will you build? Tell us about it in the comments below. Who knows, your project idea just might inspire us at Make: to try our hand at building your idea.

23 thoughts on “BeagleBoard Officially Reveals the X15 — And it’s a Beast

  1. Honestly, there’s too much in there to be useful. Not actually kidding. You will always be leaving something idle more than likely. That said, I had one great idea, and I may pursue it starting next year.

    It would be the perfect one stop shop for controlling all aspects of a brewery, and not having a bunch of remote units all connected through a single controller. The M4’s (why two M4’s and 4 PRU’s?) can do the heavy lifting on timing, sensors, and valve control, while the A15’s can do the display, network, and logging. Honestly, it’s still a bit of overkill, but I can see using it that way. Be a pretty good project overall.

    Any word on what they will use to run on the M4’s? FreeRTOS? MQX? There’s a lot of choices. Just wondering if you had a chance to dig into it a bit.

    1. Peter,
      I love your idea! You are right, even with a big brewing control project, you’d likely have some power left over. In fact, I struggled with reasonable examples that utilized all of the various specifications.

      Nonetheless, I am very excited to see this board in projects and curious to see the derivative open source hardware projects that will spin out from the BeagleBoard X15 project.

    2. In the context on what *may* run on the M4’s. TI-RTOS I could see as a possibility, but it looks like for example: TI seems to be shifting the PRU’s on the Beaglebone board towards remoteproc in their latest images. I’m not terribly familiar with remoteproc, but from what I understand that means we have the option of running whatever we like – Or perhaps I misunderstand what remoteproc actually *is* ?

      1. Remoteproc is the firmware loading mechanism used by Linux to load and boot firmware on remote processors, it has no real effect on what can be loaded onto the chips. Rpmsg is the communication framework that is being used to facilitate a uniform communication protocol with the host OS. An OS running on these processors may support this protocol or use any other IPC method the developer would like.

        1. Well, I’ve read of people running dual core processor boards, with Linux on a single core, and bare metal on the second by way of remoteproc. The point was, *if* you have an API / set of utilities such as remoteproc, and whatever else it takes. You can run whatever you want on additional cores – Whatever they may be.

          As it stands, This gives “us” the option of TI-RTOS, or bare metal. With TI-RTOS as a possibility. As it runs on all of TI’s other Cortex MCUs, with the exception of the R4 line.

          That is: once remoteproc and the rest is supported on TI processors. As it stands, for the PRU’s, you write a main processor app, which then loads the binary for the PRU(s) then communicate with it, or them. I would *assume* the M4 processors would be no different.

          Blah bad wording. I should say that a main processor application loads the PRU execution code, and data segment, and then has the option of communicating with the PRU;s through various means. But that does not mean the PRU’s have to communicate with the application processor at all. These PRU’s also shares interconnect fabric with main processor core. Which means they can write / read to/from the main processors DDR memory, and directly / indirectly manipulate some pins, and peripherals. M point here however is that I’m assuming the M4 cores will be similar in nature, so even if remoteproc is not an option soon. There will still be ways to use them. I’ve yet to read the data sheet on the X15’s processor, so know very little about it . . .

  2. Perhaps a better question is how this compares with Qualcomm’s recently announced $75 DragonBoard 401c. It features a quad core 64 bit Cortex-A53 at 1.2 GHz, rather than dual core Cortex-A15 at 1.5 GHz, but Qualcomm’s board lacks the DSP & M4 & PRU coprocessors, and has only 1GB memory instead of 2GB. Then again, it has a powerful GPU and wireless, at less than half the price.

    Many exciting options for projects needing high-end Linux single board computers!

    1. Paul,
      You describe the difficulty of choosing a board well. In my experience, selecting a board is a careful process of determining which of the many specifications actually matter for the project you are trying to build. In fact, when I pick a board I work backwards from project requirements to board selection.

      You’re absolutely right, it is currently an exciting time full of different options for high-end Linux SBCs. Thanks for writing in!

  3. Nvidia’s Jetson-TK1 board, with 4 Arm15 Cortex-A cores and CUDA programmable GPU is more powerful, cheaper AT $192, and has been available for over a year. How come MAKE ignores it?

    1. tonyvr,
      Thanks for the feedback. The Jetson TK1 is certainly a powerful board with a strong focus on GPU acceleration, and I’d certainly use it for any cryptography or video projects. I wish it were open source hardware and had more GPIO, but no board can have everything.

      Do you have any suggestions for good TK1 projects for Make: to investigate? In no way is it intentional to ignore particular boards.

      1. What degree of open source are you looking for? All of the schematics and pinouts are available, and its wiki has a whole bunch of getting started information, including tutorials.

      2. Hi David,

        I say ignored because despite being one of the most powerful and unique Linux SBC devkits out there, MAKE has never featured, nor even mentioned it. Alasdair Allan, who often covers SBCs here, dismissed the GPU programmability of the Jetson as something Makers wouldn’t need or be interested in (in response to a plug I made for it in a comment). I strongly disagree with his attitude, because the Jetson-TK1 supports openCV for realtime video processing, game programming, Robot OS, and serious GPU number crunching, enabling projects that the Raspberry Pi and the BeagleBone users can only dream about.

        Check out the autonomous race cars that maneuvered through MIT’s winding basement corridors last January: http://sertac.scripts.mit.edu/racecar/

        Check out the JetsonHacks website, and his Jetsonbot:
        http://jetsonhacks.com/category/jetsonbot/
        (Don’t miss the rest of his terrific site, either!)

        Check out my cluster computer project at:
        https://www.youmagine.com/designs/p2c2-portable-personal-computer-cluster

        Check out Google’s Project Tango devkit (a Tegra-K1 android tablet PACKED with cool sensors and a sophisticated navigation software toolkit — the price was recently lowered to $512, and sales have been opened to anyone with a Google ID):
        https://store.google.com/product/project_tango_tablet_development_kit

        Check out the eLinux Jetson-TK1 site for tons of info:
        http://elinux.org/Jetson_TK1

        And finally, visit Nvidia’s thriving Jetson forum at: https://devtalk.nvidia.com/default/board/139/
        I have no affiliation with Nvidia, I just think that the Jetson-TK1 board should have at least SOME visibility on the best Maker’s site in the world.

        1. I just clicked all your “check out…” links and many more pages about Jetson. It looks really interesting.

          It also looks like it’s meant only for people with considerable Linux and OpenCV experience. The few tutorials end up with being able to run OpenCV demos. Even those are rare. Most of the info is quite technical.

          Makers, especially those who read Make Magazine, span a very wide range of skills with a huge portion a beginner level or mastery of non-electronics, non-linux subjects (woodworking, sewing, etc). I believe Jetson will be usable for only a very tiny fraction of Make’s readers.

          Beaglebone and Raspberry Pi are popular partly because they’ve made hardware that fits the limited budgets of many Makers, but also because they’ve put a lot of work into beginner-oriented tutorials and usage of scripting languages and mix-and-match of Linux servers/scripts and other ways for beginners to achieve results as they learn.

          Likewise, Arduino became massively popular and dwarfed numerous other traditional microcontroller development environments (at least as far as Makers are concerned) due to its emphasis on simplified programming models and ease of learning and tutorials, and also on the affordable nature of the hardware.

          Jetson doesn’t appear to have beginner oriented tutorials. Dozens of command line steps isn’t beginner oriented! OpenCV’s steep learning curve (or worse, CUDA programming) seems to be the only path to leveraging Jetson’s make benefit of vision-based projects. The $200 price is also outside of nearly all Maker’s casual spending range. Any one of those will greatly impede any dev board’s adoption with Makers, but no amount of wishful thinking and “check this out” commenting will overcome all 3.

          Jetson still looks totally awesome on a technical level. I’ve been using Linux since 1994 and learning OpenCV has been on my “bucket list” for a few years. When/if I dive into OpenCV, I’ll probably pick up a Jetson if I want to make a portable project.

          1. HI Paul,

            I’d be the first to agree that the Jetson-TK1 is not for the beginner. It is not out of reach for a Raspberry Pi graduate, however. If you want a nice programming environment for it with LOTS of examples, install QtCreator.

            This new beagleboard and other recent posts for powerful Linux SBCs show aren’t for beginners either, and their appearance shows there is interest and demand for dev-kits in the Jetson’s class. I’d just like MAKE to let people know it exists.

  4. Can a SATA drive be powered from the board or would the drive need a separate power supply? If SATA can be powered from the board, this would make a great headless server. A media machine would be possible, but I wouldn’t want to be beholden to Imagination Tech to keep providing proprietary binaries for the graphics chip.

    1. Can’t answer your tech question (although surely David or another commenter can), just wanted to say hey! We’ve crossed paths in Petaluma, nice to see a familiar face reading Make. Let us know if you ever want to share cool stuff that you’re working on!

      1. As soon as I rebuild my GNU Linux powered chicken coop door, I’ll be sure to let you know. Now that I live elsewhere, I really miss the taco options in Petaluma.

        1. awesome, can’t wait! Hope all is well in your new corner of the universe, and that you find some comparable tacos.

  5. Well, the board *could* be used as a headless, or even headed SAN / NAS server. That’s kind of a brain dead, under utilized use case.

    But a good use case for saturating many of the peripherals, could be power conversion / power monitoring. With a web interface, or direct control via a touchscreen, or just keyboard + mouse + monitor. The Beaglebone black can work as a power monitoring device. But I have serious reservations thinking that it could act as a power monitor, with the ability to act on that data in real time ( power control stage ). With quad PRU’s, two cortex M4’s, and fast DSP’s . . . I do not think that would be much of a problem with the X15.

    SATA, USB3, and GbE Ethernet all improve on a possible means of logging data – By comparison.

    In the context of this board versus , I think in many of the cases it’s going to be about real-time control. No other board out there has processors that can act independently from the main processor(s). Read: PRU’s, on die M4’s and on die DSP’s. Also, what is the landscape like out there for number of GPIO’s / peripherals exposed to the “outside world” on these other boards ? In the case of the X15 we have a *real* embedded system. Can that be said for the others ?

    Take for example the Beaglebone black versus the rPI. They both have their uses. Which in my mind basically equates to: Need good graphics ? -> rPI – Everything else -> Beaglebone black.

  6. A simple way to get GPIO pins on a cheap PC is a USB-capable microcontroller. Do the heavy processing on the PC and interface to external relays/LEDs/etc with the uC. It’s not as fast as direct hardware access, but fast enough for the majority of applications.

    1. Just hang an ATMega off of the USB running tinyusb. Three pins required for the USB. The rest are available for IO.

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I love to tinker and write about electronics. My days are spent building projects and working as a Technical Editor for MAKE.

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