Saturday, 11 April 2015

Intel Edison

Intel Edison

Caught on the hop by the popularity of the Raspberry Pi, is the Edison Intel’s ticket to winning over the maker and hobbyist crowd?

The launch of the Raspberry Pi was something of an epiphany for Intel. Long the dominating force in mainstream computing, Intel had ignored the maker market until the Pi came along and started selling its ARM-based hobbyist boards in the millions.

In an attempt to break into the market it had long ignored, Intel’s initial approach was somewhat scatter-shot. It partnered with CircuitCo to launch the open-hardware MinnowBoard, then the more powerful MinnowBoard Max. At the same time it launched a new chip, the Quark, within a makercentric development board dubbed the Galileo.

Then at the Consumer Electronics Show it unveiled yet another entry into the market: the Edison, an SD card hiding a Quark-powered Linux computer. Sadly, the Edison Intel demonstrated at CES never made it to market, but thankfully its replacement is a considerable improvement. Following feedback from users of its Quark-powered Galileo, Intel revised the design and paired a 100MHz Quark co-processor with a 500MHz dual-core Atom chip. While this meant losing the eye-catching SD card form factor, the new Edison is barely any larger than its predecessor at 35.5mm wide and 25mm tall.

That may sound impressive, but an Edison on its own isn’t capable of doing much. The only connectivity on the module itself, bar a small chip antenna for the integrated radio, is a uFL connector for an external antenna and a hobbyist-unfriendly high-density 70-pin Hirose DF40 on the underside.

There is method in Intel’s madness, however. While it’s possible to buy the Edison as a bare module for under £40, this is designed for device builders who have created an Edison-based gadget and are heading to production. The more common method of buying an Edison will be with a breakout board and the most common of those is Intel’s own Arduino breakout kit.

As the name suggests, the Arduino breakout kit takes an Edison module and turns it into something more hobbyist-friendly. When mated with the board, the Edison becomes the equivalent of an Arduino Uno microcontroller connected to a surprisingly powerful computer running the Yocto Linux distribution. Near-full compatibility with the Arduino platform is provided, bar a drop in the number of pins featuring pulse-width modulation (PWM) control from six to four – the Edison’s upper limit. The board also provides USB connectivity, a serial-over-USB monitor and input for 7-15V power, but no power supply is included.

The Edison isn’t restricted to Intel’s own boards, however. US hobbyist specialist SparkFun has created a range of boards – which are being dubbed Blocks – that break out of the Edison’s various features in a far more compact manner. These Blocks feature Hirose connectors on both sides, enabling the user to stack multiple Blocks together with an Edison placed on top.

The bundled Linux distribution, stored on an integrated 4GB eMMC fl ash module, is spartan but functional, and the dual-core 500MHz Atom is far more powerful than rival boards at this price point. The 1GB of memory is equally as generous and the design’s lack of graphics processor means no RAM is reserved for GPU use.

The only real sour note is its configuration. Setting the Edison up for the first time is not the friendliest process, and while Intel has included extensive documentation on its freshly launched makers’ site, it veers on the verbose side and has occasional mistakes in steps and imagery. Gareth Halfacree

The Edison packs a lot of computing power into a tiny form, with a familiar Linux interface and Arduino compatibility.

Using the module as it is likely to be hard for hobbyists, and when put into the Arduino carrier board the Edison loses its size advantage.


The Edison is a really neat idea but one which is poorly demonstrated by Intel’s own official hardware bundles. Its flexibility becomes clear when you move away from the official breakout boards and pair the module with third-party modules such as SparkFun’s stackable Block family, while its computing power does offer considerable potential for exciting embedded projects.


Operating System Yocto Linux
Processor 32-bit Intel Atom Dual-Core at 500MHz
Co-Processor 32-bit Intel Quark Single-Core at 100MHz
Memory/Storage 1GB LPDDR3 / 4GB eMMC
Dimensions 74mmx104mmx22mm
Networking 802.11a/b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and 2.1 EDR
GPIO 40 pins via Hirose DF4070-pin connector, configurable as SD, 2x UART, 2xI²C, SPI, I²S, 14xGPIO (4PWM)
Price £95.99 (with breakout kit)