Blog  /  pcDuino: A User-Friendly Open-Source Mini-PC Platform

pcDuino: A User-Friendly Open-Source Mini-PC Platform

As embedded systems become more compact and advanced, they need tinier, more powerful computers to run. And while there are several options in the market, the pcDuino stands out due to its high performance. We will take a closer look at this mini-PC platform and compare it with the available competitors in the market. Let's get started!

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What is pcDuino?

pcDuino is a complete mini computer that requires an operating system to work and can run PC-like operating systems like Android 4.0 ICS and Lubuntu. It can accommodate a micro-SD card of up to 32GB and comes with 2GB flash memory. Also, it features an HDMI port for video output, an ethernet port, and a header hardware interface with Arduino board compatibility.

pcDuino Specifications

CPU ARM Cortex A8 1GHz
GPU OpenVG 1.1 Mali 400 core, OpenGL ES2.0
RAM 1GB
Storage 2GB flash (internal) and an SD card slot (up to 32GB)
Video Output HDMI
OS Android and Linux
Network Interface USB WiFi dongle and RJ45
Extension Interface 2.54mm headers (compatible with Arduino shields)
Cost $59

What pcDuino Can Do

You can use this mini PC in the following applications

  • Learning programming and how to use Linux Ubuntu
  • Low-level electronics hardware interfacing
  • Internet browsing and document creation using the Ubuntu application suite
  • Entertainment (playing games and watching movies)
  • Other DIY projects

pcDuino vs. Arduino

Although the names rhyme, Arduino and pcDuino boards are not the same. Arduino boards are microcontrollers, while pcDuino boards are computers. So Arduino-type boards don't have operating systems but run written code that their firmware interprets. In a nutshell, Arduino boards run code on "bare metal."

But pcDuino comes with an OS and the Arduino IDE installed by default. So you can use it to program an Arduino board via its USB port.

An Arduino microcontroller with an expansion board

An Arduino microcontroller with an expansion board

Also, Arduino has no API, meaning zero user interactivity because there's no OS. However, pcDuino has an API that gives users access to all the functions you expect when running an Arduino-style language.

So Arduino is ideal for prototyping and electronics projects, and you need an IDE installed in an external computer to upload source code to the device via USB. After uploading the code, you can unplug the USB and power the microcontroller using a battery to run it forever.

The most typical Arduino microcontroller is the UNO. It has the following specifications.

The Arduino UNO R3 single-board computer

The Arduino UNO R3 single-board computer

Arduino Specifications

Microcontroller ATmega328P
Recommended Input Voltage 7-12V
Operating Voltage 5V
Input Voltage Limits 6-20V
Analog Input Pins 6
Digital I/O Pins 14
DC per I/O Pin 20 mA
DC for 3.3V Pin 50 mA
Flash Memory 32 KB (0.5 KB reserved for the bootloader)
EEPROM 1 KB
SRAM 2 KB
Clock Speed 16 MHz

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pcDuino vs. Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi is more similar to pcDuino because it is a complete mini computer that requires an OS to function. However, it gets all its storage from an SD card, so there's no onboard flash memory. But it has an ethernet port for network connectivity. Here is a close look at the Raspberry Pi model B specifications.

 

A Raspberry Pi board. Note the dual USB 2.0 connector

A Raspberry Pi board. Note the dual USB 2.0 connector.

 

Raspberry Pi Model B Specifications

Chip Full HD multimedia applications processor Broadcom BCM2835 SoC
CPU Applications Processor 700 MHz Low Power ARM1176JZ-F
GPU Multimedia Co-Processor Dual Core VideoCore IV
SDRAM 512MB
Storage SD, SDIO, MMC card slot
Operating System Linux
Network Interface 10/100 Ethernet RJ45 jack
USB Dual USB 2.0 Connector
Video Output HDMI (rev 1.3 and 1.4), Composite RCA (PAL & NTSC)
Audio Output HDMI, 3.5mm jack

pcDuino vs. BeagleBone Black

The BeagleBone Black and Raspberry Pi have some similarities, but the former is more powerful. It features the TI Sitara AM335x, an application processor SoC with the ARM Cortex A8 core. So it gives you more controllable pins.

The BeagleBone Black mini computer

The BeagleBone Black mini computer

BeagleBone Black Specifications

Chip TI AM3359
CPU ARM Cortex-A8 1 GHz
GPU PowerVR SGX530
RAM 512 MB DDR3
Pins 2x 46
USB 2.0 type A, dedicated single mini-USB 2.0 client port
Video & Audio Output Micro HDMI
Storage 8-bit eMMC 2 GB, microSD card 3.3V supported
Operating System Android, Linux, Cloud9 IDE on Node.js with BoneScript library

Getting Started with the pcDuino

This mini-PC comes with Lubuntu installed, so you can use this OS, install another Linux OS, or switch to Android. Connect it to a TV or monitor and a keyboard to make these modifications. Or you can use a serial monitor in place of a monitor to access the terminal and install the required software. The HDMI connection to a TV or monitor will give you an easy-to-use UI to get started. But if you use the command line interface, begin with the "start" command to launch the GUI.

Next, connect the pcDuino to the internet using the WiFi USB dongle or ethernet port. After creating a successful connection, run the "sudo apt-get updates" command to update the board and install the required new software.

Install VNC Server

You have to connect the pcDuino to a monitor and keyboard every time you use it, which is inconvenient. An easier option is to install a VNC server to set up your computer or laptop as the display and keyboard for the mini PC.

 

Linux terminal commands

Linux terminal commands

 

While connected to the internet, run the "ifconfig" command to get the pcDuino's IP address. Next, ensure you have root access, then type "Sudo apt-get install tightvncserver" and hit enter.

After installation, start the server using the "Sudo TightVNC server" command.

Set Up a Windows VNC Client

With a server installed, you need a client to access it. And you can download clients like Real VNC for this task. You can download the client or use it as a plugin on Google Chrome.

Once installed, launch the client and connect it to pcDuino using its IP address, which you got earlier using the "ifconfig" command.

From here, you can explore the mini PC and program it using C++ or Python for the following functions:

  • For serial, I2C, and SPI communication
  • Accessing GPIO pins
  • For analog input and output

Wrap Up

As you can see, the pcDuino is a step or more above its competition, making it more practical for powering advanced embedded systems. However, this power comes at a slightly higher cost. So you should weigh your options and pick the mini PC if you need a lot of processing power and it fits your budget. That's it for this article. Thanks for your time.

 

 

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