What is wrong with all those cheap developer boards?

I own several developer boards and used many others. During last two years more and more so called cheap developer boards arrived on market but are they good or not?

This week I am at Linaro Connect Q3.11 now and there are many boxes here with Origen boards so I looked at one of them.

Board looks quite nice — there is CPU module and carrier board. 2 SD/MMC slots, serial, jtag, usb device, usb host (just one), power, audio in/out, lcd connector, few keys and microHDMI (cable to normal HDMI provided). Guess what is missing… Yes, they forgot to put Ethernet on board. Someone may say “but there is WiFi instead” but show me wireless operating at 100Mbps in all situations… I also got information that provided HDMI cable is quite fragile and can break. Normal size video output would fit without problems…

But board design problems are not limited to Samsung one. There is this nice i.mx53 Quick Start board from Freescale. You get VGA output and several other connectors. Nice change compared to other boards is SATA connector. But this also can be a problem cause you have to provide separate power for your Serial-ATA device. HDMI output (with audio) costs extra 49 USD but as this board is really small (3x3”) there was no space for it.

Next one? ST-Ericsson Snowball - board with lot of connectors with huge amount of different signals but without USB host ports. There is one USB OTG port and one USB device. Is USB host cable provided? No, it costs 8.04EUR more. What worries me is lack of USB signals in expansion slots (at least thats how I understood documentation). CPU for mobile phones^Wdevices only?

What we left? PandaBoard from Texas Instruments. I think that this is still best cheap developer board when it comes to ARMv7 cpus. It is not perfect (slow USB, lack of SATA) but things supported by OMAP4 processor are available. Ethernet is on USB but better such then none, 4 USB ports (2 on edge, 2 on expansion) and normal HDMI connectors for video.

Note that I do not compare speed of boards or how good/bad they are supported in mainline kernel — some of those things can not be compared, other are changing daily. For now I am staying with 2 Pandaboards and will wait for other boards to get up to it with kernel support.

development linaro origen pandaboard quickstart snowball