22/12/2015

Intel Edison, jack of all trades, but maybe master of none

The Intel Edison is a small system-on-chip (SoC) that measures about 35.5 × 25.0 × 3.9 mm (on its carrier PCB) which has a connector on it allowing it to be plugged into other things (it is possible to get the SoC on just the PCB without the edge connector).

The SoC board can then be plugged on to various boards from Intel, one is a breakout board which exposes various pins and has some USB sockets, there's also an Arduino compatible PCB allowing Arduino shields to be used.

The Edison tries to be everything to everyone, but doesn't always succeed. It actually has two processors inside, a dual thread dual core Atom running at 500MHz and a Quark 32 bit micro-controller running at 100MHz. The Atom runs Yocto Linux and the Quark a Real-time Operating System (RTOS).

It has 1GB of RAM and 4GB of Flash, 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0

There's a total of 40 I/O pins that can be configured to be: -

  • SD card - 1 interface
  • UART - 2 controllers, 1 with full flow control
  • I2C - 2 controllers
  • SPI - 1 controller with 2 chip selects
  • I2S - 1 controller
  • GPIO - 12 with 4 capable of PWM
  • USB 2.0 - 1 OTG controller
  • Clock output - 32 kHz, 19.2 MHz

Intel provide multiple ways of programming the system: -

  • Arduino IDE (v1.6+, no longer requires an Intel specific build)
  • Eclipse supporting: C, C++, and Python
  • Intel XDK supporting: Node.JS and HTML5

There are other environments that also support Edison (in Arduino or direct mode) such as the node.js Johnny-Five system. Node-red can also be installed directly on the Edison and accessed through its web server. Google's Brillo is also an option now.

Running Linux does have benefits if you're into Linux environments as there's lots of packages that can be downloaded for it or indeed built as required.

You'll either love or hate Intel's development environment (XDK).

Integrating Edison into your own projects does give you a lot of flexibility, though the power requirements aren't as low as some other Arduino types (but by the time shields have been added to give the same functionality, power requirements increase with them). In theory it is possible to put the Atom to sleep and have the Quark micro controller do background non CPU intensive tasks and then it can wake the Atom up to do some hard processing or data transfers through WiFi say, but it's not meant to be 'easy' to actually implement.

The basic Edison (just the board) is around £42, on the small breakout board it's about £72 and on the Arduino base it's £96 though on-line pricing varies.

Overall the Edison really does tries to be everything to everyone and it's a pretty powerful computer (well 2), but it may be too generic for lots of things and the variety of programming modes etc can be confusing.

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