Building tech is the new buying tech. With tiny, energy-efficient computers like the Raspberry Pi racking up millions of sales to those keen to learn coding, build media centres or brew the perfect pint (and other hardware projects), the demand for what basically amount to smartphones without screens (or boxes) is amazingly high.
And now, British company Imagination’s Creator CI20, the first of a promised range of Creator boards, has entered the build-your-own-tech fray.
Unlike the Raspberry Pi, the CI20 should work out of the box: it has 4GB of built-in storage (plus SD card expandability) that comes pre-loaded with either Debian Linux or Android 4.4 KitKat. That means no faffing around flashing an SD card with your OS. Instead you just hook up an HDMI monitor and a USB keyboard and mouse to its two USB2.0 ports and get cracking.
Connecting to the web should be straightforward, too, via built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi or Ethernet. In short, it’s a DIY PC that’s takes a fair bit of doing it yourself out of the process.
The CI20 combines two of Imagination’s in-house technologies. It consists of the PowerVR SGX540 graphics processor (which once found home in the Samsung Galaxy S phone and original Kindle Fire tablet, and a dual-core 1.2GHz MIPS processor, supported by 1GB of DDR3 RAM.
According to Imagination, the whole setup takes less than 2.4W to run a demanding 1080p graphics test, as compared to the 4W of Raspberry Pi. It also trumps the Pi by including Bluetooth 4.0, which should make it straightforward to use to make interesting wireless Internet of Things projects and to connect to Bluetooth speakers, fitness monitors and more. Another neat inclusion is an infra-red receiver: get XMBC or Plex running on it and in theory you could control it with a normal remote control.
Are there negatives? Well, at $65 (R730), the CI20 is around twice the price of a Raspberry Pi Model B+, and it’s a fair bit bigger too. And if we’re being ultra-picky its specs don’t set the world alight when compared to something like, say, the internals of the Motorola Moto G. But really, none of that is anything to get worked up about: the price and size are still relatively tiny, and the Moto G isn’t a flexible, elegant solution aimed at home developers.
Developer-centric features such as a hardware debugger and a Raspberry Pi-compatible expansion header are also present and correct, which Imagination tells us will make it straightforward to port Pi projects over to the Creator. It’s not equipped to talk to Arduino out of the box, but other Linux distributions such as Yocto will happily run on it, too.