Hands-on with the latest challenger to the Raspberry Pi

MIPS Creator CI20

The four million or so sales of the $35 Raspberry Pi has inspired the creation of a number of tiny, low-cost computers.

The latest Pi-alike is the MIPS Creator CI20 - a single board computer that is more powerful than the Pi, but also more expensive.

The board, from British chip designer Imagination Technologies, features a dual-core processor clocked at close to twice the speed of the Pi's CPU, and double the memory of the highest-specced Pi. It uses the graphics processor that powered the original Amazon Kindle Fire and runs 1080p video at 30 frames per second. For 3D gaming and graphics it includes supports OpenGL 2.1, which allows it to run a greater range of 3D games without the need for tweaking.

When it comes to connectivity the CI20 also trumps the Pi, coming with built-in support for 802.11n wifi. It also features on-board storage.

Power wise the CI20 draws 2.5W under load according to Imagination, which it says puts its consumption somewhere between the Pi Model A+ and B+. Its energy usage is low enough that the board is being considered for several battery-powered projects, such as driving robots.

The board is available to pre-order for £50/$65 or 63 euros in North America and Europe from http://store.imgtec.com/, and is expected to start shipping from the end of January 2015.

Close to 1,000 boards have already been sent to university students, developers, and hobbyists who took part in a contest to suggest a use for the board.

Alongside the usual projects to build home automation systems, media servers and retro game emulators, others have branched out into using it to control plant hydroponics and even more leftfield uses.

"One person thinks their cat is overeating and wants to use it to build a monitor," said Alex Voica, technology PR specialist for Imagination Technologies.

The specs

  • Processor: 1.2 GHz dual-core, MIPS32-based Ingenic JZ4780 SoC, 32kB L1 I- and D-cache, 512kB L2 cache
  • FPU: IEEE754 Floating Point Unit, XBurst MXU
  • Multimedia: PowerVR SGX540 GPU, hardware-accelerated video playback up to 1080p at 60 fps. Supports OpenGL and Open GLES.
  • Memory: 1 GB DDR3 SDRAM, 4 GB flash memory, 1 x SD card
  • Audio: AC97 audio, via 4-pin input/output jack and HDMI connector
  • Camera interface: ITU-R BT.645 controller
  • Connectivity: 10/100 Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0. Has Ensigma RPU.
  • Display: 1 x HDMI up to 2K resolution.
  • USB: 1 x USB host, 1 x USB OTG device
  • I/O peripherals: 2 x UART, 25 x GPIO, 2 x SPI, I2C, ADC, expansion headers, 14-pin ETAG connector

Image: Nick Heath / TechRepublic

By Nick Heath

Nick Heath is a computer science student and was formerly a journalist at TechRepublic and ZDNet.