Initial Thoughts on the Intel Edison

To be perfectly honest, when I made this video, I had not even powered up an Edison. I feel weird promoting something that I have not played with, but that’s the way business goes sometimes, I suppose.

Holding up the Edison

A week later, I was able to get my hands on a working Edison unit. Flying home from Maker Faire, New York, I decided to pull out my laptop and the Edison to see what I could do – unassisted by the Internet (Well, OK, the night before I downloaded the drivers and firmware update from Intel’s site). As an aside, I’m always surprised no one freaks out whenever I pull out an Arduino to work on in the middle of a flight…

Close up of the Edison

To my surprise, the Edison worked with little effort right out of the box. To program it with Arduino, you need to download Intel’s Edison driver suite (assuming you’re on Windows) and a modified version of the Arduino 1.5 software. However, if you want to terminal into Linux running on the Edison (yes, Linux is running on the Edison right out of the box), then you just need a terminal software (and FTDI drivers). Luckily, I already had the last two on my Windows laptop.

If you plug in 2 USB cables to the 2 available ports on the Edison mini breakout board, it will power up and give you a serial terminal into Linux. It’s that simple. I used PuTTY to give me a console, and was browsing the internal file system in no time. I noticed that gcc and Python 2.7 were loaded by default, so I whipped up quick “Hello World” programs in C and Python. No troubles there.

Intel's Mini Breakout Board for the Edison

Out of the box, I was pretty pleased with what the Edison could do, even if it was pretty basic Linux.

Pros

  • Tiny footprint
  • Low power
  • WiFi and Bluetooth included
  • Linux worked out of the box
  • C compiler and Python included
  • The Yocto Project is an established project for creating your own embedded Linux

Cons

  • The Hirose connector is a pain. You NEED some kind of baseboard to work with the Edison.
  • No video out (see this for my cohort’s thoughts on the video issue)
  • 1.8V logic. You will have to convert it to 3.3V or 5V in almost all cases.
  • The Yocto Project is not exactly beginner friendly
  • There is no package manager (yet). You’ll be compiling libraries manually for now, which is not fun.

Despite my gripes, the Edison looks like a promising toy highly sophisticated computing module. I’ve heard that a package manager is in the works and even better, we might be getting a port of Debian Linux for it (Hooray! I’m most familiar with Debian). I’m excited to see what people will make with it.

2 Responses

  1. Ha! Nice video of the Edison, even though you hadn’t used one yet 😉

    I’m perfectly ok without a display. I don’t think I’ve ever plugged in the hdmi of my BeagleBones and the only reason I used it on the Pi is because it is required to install it.

    Yocto is probably the way to go with this thing but honestly, it’s s till a PIA. The lack of packages *really* limit the device. There is so much software out there for debian that again, installs very easily on the Beagle.

    The baseboard thing is ok too. I think the use case is load your code on it and embedded it somewhere. However, it’s misleading b/c the total cost of ownership is at least $100 for the Edison + dev tools.

    You can’t have everything though 🙂 The form factor, power consumption, and linux capability will make this popular. It’s going to need some community love though…

    1. The Edison is more of a direct competition with the Gumstix line, and so far, I’ve found the Edison much easier to use. You’re right, though, its fate hangs on getting good community support.

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