Like me, a lot of embedded systems engineers learnt the concepts of linux image customization, IOCTL, Yocto, etc. on the BeagleBone Black. The Raspberry Pi boards have dominated the SBC space over the last few years owing to their dependable and cost-effective hardware boards/accessories coupled with a savvy community that took to these boards like a hand to a glove.
However for a lot of us, the Beagle series has a special place in our hearts. The Beagle series based on TI’s processors are (perhaps) the only ones that are truly open-source (no proprietary binaries), well-maintained as well as aggressively mainlined, and have a sizeable support community. Needless to say, they are still wildly popular with the tinkerer community as well as with organizations making their own products and deploying them in the market today.
The newest addition to the Beagle family is the recently-launched BeaglePlay and irrespective of who you are – it will blow your mind or at the very least, impress you!
Meet the BeaglePlay!
At the heart of the BeaglePlay is TI’s AM625 – a member of TI’s latest Sitara processors. Beagle fanboys will remember that the BeagleBone Black had TI’s AM335 Sitara processor. The AM625 is a huge jump over the AM335 in almost all respects while still retaining the software ease-of-use, TI’s software maintenance support and of course – Yocto support!
In the sections below, we talk about the key components of the BeaglePlay.
At the heart of the BeaglePlay is TI’s AM625 processor. More specifically, it has the AM6254ATCGHAALW variant on-board. Some salient features of this processor are mentioned below.
- 4x Cortex-A53 cores
- 1x Cortex-M4F core
- 3D Graphics Engine from Imagination (OpenGL ES 3.1, Vulkan 1.2)
- 1x DDR4/LPDDR4 controller (up to 8 GB DDR4 or up to 4 GB LPDDR4)
- 1x eMMC, 2x SD/SDIO
- 1x DPI, 1x LVDS
- 1x CSI2-RX with DPHY
- Plenty of serial communication peripherals – SPI, I2C, UART, CAN
- Plenty of control input/output peripherals – PWM, CAP, QEP
- Secure boot, internal HSM and cryptographic accelerators (AES, SHA, RSA, ECC, DRBG)
Although the processor itself supports higher DDR densities, the on-board memories are more conservative in their size.
- RAM – 2 GB DDR4
- eMMC – 16 GB eMMC
- SD card support – 1x micro SD slot
The BeaglePlay enables a zero download out-of-the-box experience through the pre-flashed Debian distro on the eMMC. So, you don’t need an SD card to get started with the board.
External Connector Support
What makes the BeaglePlay awesome is the presence of a lot of standard connectors on-board that support a number of extension modules and shields. This feature makes the board very easy to use as most of us already have such modules lying around.
Unfortunately, the BeaglePlay does not have a Raspberry Pi 40-pin standard header. Having it would have really helped unleashed the usability of the BeaglePlay as almost every maker has RPi shields lying around – ranging from basic sensors to IO expanders and even LCD displays.
Below is what you get on the board today.
- 1x mikroBUS connector
- 1x Grove connector
- 1x QWIIC connector
- 1x CSI2 camera connector (compatible with 22-pin camera modules used with other SBCs like the Raspberry Pi)
This is where the BeaglePlay excels over almost all other boards in this category. While this board has the usual Wi-Fi and BLE support, it is remarkable that the makers decided to go above and beyond the usual way to do it.
One of the biggest competitive advantages of the BeaglePlay is the presence of a dedicated microcontroller for doing BLE as well as 2.4 GHz and Sub-1 GHz wireless communication. This microcontroller is TI’s CC1352P7 which can support proprietary protocols as well as standard protocols like BLE 5.2, IEEE 802.15.4, Zigbee, Thread and Amazon Sidewalk to name a few. The AM625 processor is connected to the CC1352P7 over a UART bus which makes it simple to send data from one processor to the other. What’s more? The CC1352P7 has its own JTAG connector brought out which will let you develop your own firmware for it if you don’t want to use the pre-programmed BeagleConnect firmware.
Another segment-first feature in the BeaglePlay is the ability to do Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) with PODL (Power Over Data Lines) support. Basically, using special cables and connector, you can provide power supply as well as exchange data over ethernet with remote sensors thus enabling a wide variety of use-cases not often associated with readily available SBCs.
Below is a short summary of the connectivity options on the BeaglePlay on top of the serial communication interfaces supported by the external connectors.
- Dual-band Wi-Fi
- BLE 5.2
- 2.4/Sub-1 GHz 802.15.4
- 1x Gigabit Ethernet
- 1x SPE w/ PODL
- USB-A Host
- USB Type-C for Data and Power
TI’s AM625 has serious graphics capabilities which are utilized very well by the BeaglePlay configuration. It contains the entry-level but feature-packed AXE 1-16 GPU from Imagination Technologies which supports Vulkan 1.3 as well as OpenGL ES 3.1 API and a few others.
You can choose to interface an HDMI monitor to the BeaglePlay using the full-size HDMI connector (supported by the out-of-the-box image inside the eMMC) as well as interface an LVDS display over the OLDI connector present on the BeaglePlay.
The only way to power the BeaglePlay is through the USB Type-C connector which is pretty neat as it can double up as a data bus as well.
Although the documentation does not specify the minimum current consumption, it is a good idea to have a power supply that can supply at least 15W at 5V i.e. a 5V-3A supply during normal operation (display connected, connectivity enabled).
Some other misc features
On the BeaglePlay, you will find some more misc features as below that can make your life simpler as a developer.
- RTC chip for time-keeping
- EEPROM for data storage
- ADC chip (2 channel, 10-bit resolution) for analog inputs
- User LEDs (for CC1352P7 as well as AM625)
- Pushbuttons (user, reset and power)
- JTAG connector (for CC1352P7 as well as AM625)
- UART console for AM625
In a nutshell, the BeaglePlay is a fantastic SBC which has most features that we all expect from modern-day SBCs and then some – like the CC1352P7 microcontroller and SPE-PODL.
Another impressive feature is the number of connector standards (mikroBUS, Grove, QWIIC) it supports thus making development simpler for existing SBC users who have already invested money into buying standard modules. Having said that, the lack of a standard RPi 40-pin connector is a bummer!
The fact that the software for most components on board is free and open-source makes life simpler for someone who wants to build their image from scratch using Yocto or Debian. The software from TI can be expected to be well-maintained and this alone makes the BeaglePlay a good long-term investment.
Are there some features that you liked or disliked on the BeaglePlay? Do let me know through a comment below!