Cheap, Powerful Matchbox
They're not likely to replace their bigger, more powerful counterparts anytime soon, but a slew of
"matchbox computers" (a.k.a., thumb PCs) have become
available of late, and they are becoming increasingly
popular because of their low price, increasing power,
and ability to run open source software. One of the
latest is the BeagleBone Black which was developed in
a joint effort involving Texas Instruments, Digi-Key, and
Newark element 14. It is descended from a long line of
BeagleBoard products that stretch back to 2008.
Like the better known Raspberry Pi, it is cheap and
runs an ARM processor; in this case, a 1 GHz TI Sitara
AM3359 ARM Cortex A8. It comes with 512 MB of
RAM and 2 GB of storage in the form of an embedded
multi-media controller (eMMC). In terms of operating
systems, you have a choice of Linux, Android, Ubuntu,
One of the nice features of the BeagleBone is its
relatively extensive I/O capabilities, being fitted with
65 GPIO pins (compared to the Raspberry's eight pins).
Users also praise its ease of setup.
Using the (included) mini-USB cable, you can hook it
up to your PC's power supply and boot it from its own
storage. Linux boots in less than 10 seconds, and you can
start working on your project development in less than
five minutes. The Bone's main weakness seems to be
comparatively less robust audio and video capabilities.
For a mere $45, its power-to-price ratio is hard to
beat, however. For more info, the best place to start is the
official user community at beagleboard.org. ▲
EVENTS, ADVANCES, AND NEWS
■ The BeagleBone Black offers 1 GHz performance for the
price of a case of dog food.
November 2013 9
COMPUTERS and NETWORKING
World's Thinnest Keyboard
For those of us who grew up with the big fat IBM-style keyboards that offered deep comfortable cupped keys
and chattered like a wino's dentures in a blizzard, input
devices have been steadily getting worse. If thinner is
better though, then you need to take a look at a new
device from CSR ( www.csr.com). CSR has incorporated
its Bluetooth Smart wireless technology with a wireless
touch surface developed by Atmel
( www.atmel.com) and Conductive Ink Technology
(CIT, www.conductiveinkjet.com) to produce the
world's thinnest computing interface.
The device uses Atmel's touch silicon to sense
contact points on the surface which consist of a
flexible membrane employing CIT printed
conductors. The package is less than 0.5 mm
(0.02 inches) thick, or roughly the thickness of five
sheets of copy paper. You can also draw on it using
the nib of a modified pen.
The main idea is to extend the touch interface
of iOS7 tablets and smartphones and Windows 8
PCs, but there will no doubt be other applications.
As of this writing, you can't actually buy one, but it
was formally introduced in September at IFA Berlin
(Europe's version of our CES), so commercialization
can't be far off. ▲
■ The CRS/Atmel/CIT keyboard is less than 0.5 mm thick.