The MaaXBoard's use of an enterprise-targeted SoC with at least a decade of support from the manufacturer could undercut the issues seen with budget Raspberry Pi competitors.
Embest, a division of Phoenix-based electronics firm Avnet, unveiled the MaaXBoard single-board computer (SBC) on their website earlier this month. While the Raspberry Pi remains the most popular SBC, the popularity of the fruit-themed SBC prompted a bevy of competing low-cost boards for hobbyist and commercial projects.
Unfortunately, many of those boards suffer a relatively poor fate, with shaky to nonexistent software support, anemic ecosystems, and poorly supported systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) at the core of the design. The MaaXBoard stands a decent chance of clearing those hurdles with the use of the enterprise-targeted NXP i.MX 8M SoC.
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Although i.MX 8M debuted in 2017, NXP supports the SoC in its 10 and 15-year "Longevity Program," providing updated and/or security-patched kernels for the SoC, making it substantially easier to continue using and supporting products built around the SoC for an extended lifespan.
MaaXBoard NXP i.MX 8M Specifications
CPU: NXP i.MX 8M: 1.5 GHz Quad-core Arm Cortex-A53, Cortex-M4F
Video Output: 4Kp60 HEVC/H.265 main, and main 10 decoder, 4Kp60 VP9 decoder, 4Kp30 AVC/H.264 decoder, 1080p60 MPEG-2, MPEG-4p2, VC-1, VP8, RV9, AVS, MJPEG, H.263 decoder
RAM: 2GB DDR4 SDRAM
Storage: microSD Slot, up to 64 GB eMMC (optional)
Connectors: 1x HDMI, 1x MIPI DSI, 1x MIPI CSI, 2x SAI, 2x USB 3.0, 1x GPIO, 1x USB-C Power, 40-pin Raspberry Pi HAT expansion pins
Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth Low-Energy 4.1
Embest provides Android 9 and Yocto Linux 2.5 images, with the latter using U-Boot 2018.03, kernel 4.14.78, and Qt 5.10.1. There are hardware Back and Home buttons on the board for use with Android. Embest recommends the MaaXBoard for Human-Machine Interaction (HMI), Artificial Intelligence (AI), entertainment, automation, education, machine vision, medical imaging, and embedded computing use cases.
The MaaXBoard should outpace the last-generation Raspberry Pi 3B, though fall slightly short of the Raspberry Pi 4. The NXP-powered board offering slightly more in the way of boutique connectivity, though the Pi 4 offers a secondary HDMI and two USB 2.0 ports, and is likely to be more approachable for beginners.
Embest's asking price is $60, though this is board-only, requiring the user to provide a power supply. Of note, CNX-Software implies that a version with 4GB RAM is available, though Embest has not published this, or pricing for it.
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