THIS IS NOT A SPONSORED POST… now that we have gotten this out of the way, read on!
I am a huge fan of the Raspberry Pi family – particularly the Raspberry Pi 4 and the Raspberry Pi Zero. The RPi boards were a shot-in-the-arm for the maker community and practically re-ushered in the Single Board Computer (SBC) revolution that the BeagleBoards were the flag-bearers of!
However, I have always had some qualms about the RPi. The fact that we don’t get their design files is a bummer as we can’t use them in a custom PCB design. Yes, everyone loves the HATs – but not all the time!
Also, what if you wanted to run an RTOS and work with the device at the register level? There are some good boards here and there but truly open-source boards which pack decent performance, have good documentation for the main chip and popularly available tools are extremely rare…
Enter the Jupiter Nano!
I first came across the Jupiter Nano on CrowdSupply and it immediately appealed to me. It is designed by the amazing folks at Starcat. What’s not to like? Check out this laundry list of features I absolutely loved!
Form-factor? Check! It is tiny… just 2.86 cm x 6.35 cm ! (why else would they call it Nano, duh?!) Very similar to a Teensy board.
IO capabilities? Check! Plenty of IO exposed to the user! It comes in a 48-pin form factor.
Performance? Check! The Jupiter Nano features a very capable Cortex-A5 chip from Microchip which can be clocked up to 500 MHz without guzzling up a lot of power owing to the Cortex-A5 core.
Linux support? Check! Microchip has a good history of linux support and a lot of the code is mainlined – peace of mind!
RTOS and bare-metal programming support? Check and check! Runs NuttX (support upcoming), FreeRTOS and a bunch of others. You can always work at the register level using Microchip’s Harmony 3 framework. More on this in a later post!
DDRAM Support? Semi-check! The Microchip chip contains a 128 MB (1 Gbit) LPDDR2 memory inside it. While this is definitely lesser than the RPi boards, not everyone actually needs a huge RAM. However, along with the lack of a GPU, this factor makes it less of an SBC, more of a powerful open-source industrial computer.
SD Card support? Check! The Jupiter Nano boots up from a micro-SD card. What’s more? You don’t need to remove the SD card every time you want to flash a new image as the main CPU contains a feature-rich BootROM that allows you to interact with the micro-SD card over a USB connection and a host software called SAM-BA. Awesome, isn’t it?
JTAG-based debugging? Check! Since the chip supports bare-metal and RTOS programming, having debugging capability is a massive plus point! Well done, Starcat!
Easy battery connection? Check! It has a built-in LiPo battery charger – you can connect a battery to the Jupiter Nano and deploy it without worrying about powering the board. The small size also goes a long way here.
Check out the below image that shows you what’s on the board.
Feature requests for the next version
While the Jupiter Nano is awesome, it can always be better. Here’s my list of features that I would love to see in the next version!
USB Host Support – Can we have a proper USB host connector next time… pretty please? The size may go up by a bit… but if the chip has a dedicated USB host controller, I would want to use it!
Integrated Debugger – While having the JTAG connector on the board itself is awesome, how about an on-board debugger itself? This will definitely push up the cost of the board but also its value! Can’t think of many people out there who would have an external JTAG debugger to go with this board.
Ethernet or Wi-Fi – While this may never turn into a proper SBC hooked to a monitor, having some kind of connectivity like ethernet or Wi-Fi would be super-cool to have. What’s more? The SAMA5 chip actually has ethernet MAC built into it, begging for it to be used!!! For those who will be suggesting me to go for a USB-to-WiFi dongle, see the first request I have above! 😉
Onboard eMMC – This is a very niche request but hear me out on this! While the Jupiter Nano has all the makings of an amazing open-source industrial computer, having just the micro-SD option would prevent people from putting the board in harsh environments.. especially where there may be physical disturbances.
Jupiter Nano Lite ($$) – How about removing the JTAG adapter completely, replacing the onboard slightly expensive PMIC with a cheaper DC-DC converter, and yank off the USB-to-serial chip on the board and pass the reduced cost to us? What’s that you say? Do it yourself using the fully open-source design? Fine I will shut up now.
How to get the Jupiter Nano
If you too are excited and want to play with the board, head over to the Jupiter Nano CrowdSupply page and buy it now! According to the latest update, the board is under test and shall be dispatched to the initial backers and the buyers very soon… fingers crossed!
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