ETH008 – Small Computers

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HeEverything Hamradio Podcastllo everybody and welcome back to the Everything Ham Radio Podcast. In the last episode we talked about Computers in your Shack. In this episode we are going to talk about another aspect of this topic, but we are going to be talking about the types of computers that have been dubbed Small Computers. By Small Computers, I am talking about things like a Raspberry Pi, an Aurdino and a Beagle Bone.

Before we actually dive into these three, I first should point out that each of these can be setup to use as a computer in your shack or in your emergency Go Kit or SOTA operating setup. If you have a small 7” screen, a “small computer” and a wireless keyboard and mouse, you can use this for logging, or what have you while you are operating. This could be a cheap way of getting you a computer in your shack.

Raspberry Pi

First off, what exactly is a Raspberry PI? According to the Raspberry Pi website, when asked what a Raspberry Pi is, their answer was

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It is a capable little computer which can be used in electronics projects, and for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing, browsing the internet and games. It also plays high-definition video. We want to see it being used by kids all over the world to learn programming.

Prices for the Raspberry Pi’s range anywhere from $5 for the Raspberry Zero to $35 for the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B. Raspberry Pi 2 Model B InfographicsSo much can be done with these little computers that it blows my mind. I had heard back with the original Nintendo Gameboys came out that they had more computing power than the computer that was used to land on the Moon! Now looking at these little things, that probably 100x the computing power of the Gameboys. It just amazes me sometimes when I think of how far we have come as a society.

But we are getting off track here. So what can you do with a Raspberry Pi? You can do pretty much anything. It is basically a mini computer, it has a built in wired ethernet, several USB ports, video out, sound out, and numerous i/o ports. There is a good size following for it as well and tons of information on projects and how-to articles and videos on different uses for it.

As far as what it can do with amateur radio, there is quite a bit of projects that can be found on it as well. One of the websites that I found for it, it has links for a an Echolink Project, a DStar project, a Software Defined Radio Project, and an APRS project. The site that I found these on has these and more and can be found here

Another project that I found was the Open Repeater Project. The Open Repeater Project is basically a project where the creator is using a Raspberry Pi as a repeater controller connected to two radios to be used as a emergency or backup repeater.

How about a weather station? I know that I would love to have a weather station at my house and not have to shell out the hundreds of dollars to have a commercial weather station that would connect to my computer and maybe to the APRS network. I found this little project that is a total DIY Raspberry Pi weather station.

Want to learn CW? I found a project that shows you how to make a CW practice keyer. It will even decode what you are sending and display it on a screen.

UPDATE: As of 3/1/2016, the latest version of the Raspberry Pi has been released. The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B has an upgrade processor now running on a 1.2 GHz Quad Core BCM2837 ARMv8 64bit Processor and has a built-in WiFi (802.11B/G/N) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) on board! The on board Wifi and Bluetooth is a huge advantage over the other small computers in this article. The price of the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B is still just $35 and the will fit any case that the Pi 2 would fit in, however, the status LED’s were changed so you if you want to upgrade in an old case, you will need to drill new holes to see the LED’s.

ArduinoArduino Layout

The Arduino has been around a little longer than the Raspberry Pi has, so it has a bigger following, therefore it has better user support and more projects out there that are available for you to find.

There are several book that have been written that you can buy talking about using an arduino in an amateur radio project.

Check out the W5DOR Amateur Radio Station. This page that has quite a few links on it to Arduino projects.

Beaglebone Black

I really couldn’t find a lot about the Beaglebone Black as far as amateur Beaglebone Black Layoutradio project go. However I am sure that once it is up and running on some version of Linux, it is going to be pretty much the same on how to set it up as a SDR or TNC or whatever. I did find a nice article that was written by a ham named Bernhard Wolf. I don’t know his call sign cause he doesn’t have it listed on his page. In this post, he talks about how he used the Raspberry Pi in his ham shack and then decided to try a Beaglebone black and was pleasantly surprised at the results.

If you want to give the Beaglebone Black a shot, here is their website. The Beaglebone does have a higher price tag than the Raspberry Pi does. It comes at a price of $55.

Comparison

As I was reading through several different posts while researching for this podcast, everyone had a different opinion on which was best. I really can’t give my opinion as far as actually using them and testing them out myself and seeing what kind of performance each of them has but I can look at the stats of each.

The Raspberry Pi 2 Model B has the best specs out of the three with a 900 MHz quad-core ARM A7 processor, 1G of Ram, 4 USB ports, 40 GPIO pins, Full HDMI port, Ethernet port, a combined video and audio 3.5mm jack, camera interface, display interface, a microSD card slot and a VideoCore IV 3D graphics Core.

The Beaglebone Black is the next best according to the specs with a AM335X 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 Processor, 512MB Ram, 4G On board flash memory, 3D Graphics Accelerator, Ethernet, HDMI, 2 46 pin Headers, and what appears to just be ONE USB port. I read several comparison articles between the above two devices and one said the Pi was better and the other said the Bone was better. The one that said the Bone was better said that it was faster, more stable and he had less interference in his ham radio gear. Looking at these stats, I am guessing he probably wasn’t talking about the Pi 2 Model B in that article because I can’t see something that only has 100 MHz difference in the CPU and half the ram being twice as fast.

Last on my list is the Arduino, which really surprised me. I have heard a lot of good things about the Arduino, granted it has fallen to the wayside as of late with the Pi. As I was looking at the specs of these three things, the best Arduino that I could find on had a clock speed of 32 kHz and like 32Kb of ram! Really?! It really looks like to me that the Arduino is suited more for a set it once and forget it at some remote location type thing. It doesn’t have the I/O that the other two have and it certainly doesn’t have the power or memory of the other two.

Surprisingly enough the Pi is the cheapest of the three coming in at about $33, the Arduino is about $45 and the Bone is about $55. I will probably end up getting the Raspberry Pi for my upcoming projects, might get the Bone for one because of the higher number of I/O ports. Which do you use? Please let me know in the comments below and please let us know what kind of projects you have built with either of these three.

I guess that about wraps up this episode, thanks for stopping by and please, subscribe to my site and my podcast. To get emails from when when I publish a new post or podcast episode, Click on the subscribe button at the top of the page, fill out the form that comes up and then click the confirmation link in the email that you will receive from me. Once all that is done, you will start getting emails from me. Also please give me an honest star rating and review on ITunes to help me move up in the rankings so that others can find me easier on ITunes if they are not searching for my podcast specifically.

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Until next time…

73 de Curtis, K5CLM

 


Amateur Radio Club Spotlight

ECARA Logo

Eastern Connecticut Amateur Radio Association

Website: http://www.ecara.net/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/k1muj/

Meetings

The ECARA hosts a general meeting the second Monday of every month at Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam CT. The meeting starts at 7:00 pm and takes place in one of the conference rooms located in the back of the hospital.

Repeaters

  • 2 Meters — 147.225 MHz pl 156.7 == K1MUJ — East Killingly, CT
  • 70 cm DMR — 444.800 MHz pl 156.7 — KZ1M — East Killingly, CT

Flea Market

When: Saturday, March 19, 2016 From 8am to 12pm

Where: St. Joseph’s Church Hall, 350 Hartford Pike (Rt 101), Dayville, CT

Admission Price: $3 Donation

Door Prizes, VE Testing Session, Radio Raffle

Coffee and Donuts Available

Public Service

Every year the Eastern Connecticut Amateur Radio Association provides radio communication for many public service events.  These include:

  • Jog with Judy in Woodstock, Connecticut– May
  • Woodstock Road Race in Woodstock Connecticut — Memorial Day.
  • Deary Road Race in Putnam, Connecticut– August
  • The VJ Day parade in Moosup, Connecticut — August
  • The Brooklyn Fair in Brooklyn, Connecticut — August
  • Thompson Community Day — Thompson, CT– September


Monthly Newsletter – SinePost

The newsletter is put out regularly and for the couple that I read, seem to have some really good information in them. Kudos to the Editor and anyone that helps them, I know how much work goes into a newsletter.

 

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  • Richard Slusher

    Great show, Curtis! A new version of the Raspberry Pi came out last week, the 3 B. It’s got on-board WiFi and Bluetooth. Also you can purchase a 10.1″ screen from Adafruit Industries for about $140. I’m currently working on a Go-Kit with one side of a Pelican case housing the Raspberry P and all it’s accessories on one side and a Yaesu FT-8900R on the other. The screen and some speakers will be in the lid.

    • Yea it came out about three days after I recorded the episode. I updated the show notes but couldn’t rerecord the episode because I am moving last week and this…

      That sounds like a neat go pack…would love to see pics of it or maybe even a guest post about your build…:)

  • Steve

    In your discussion of the comparisons between these devices, I think that you kind of missed a pretty important distinction between the Raspberry Pi and Beaglebone, compared to the Arduino. The Pi and BB are both what are sometimes called “single board computers” and they work like a standard computer. They run an operating system (usually some form of linux) and by plugging in a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, you can use them like you would a standard computer and run the same software that you would on a regular computer. The Arduino is not the same at all. It is better described as a micro-controller and probably better compared to other micro-controllers, such as the PIC or Basic Stamp. It does not run an operating system. It really only runs one program at a time. You develop your software using tools on a regular computer, compile the code, and then transfer it to the Arduino where it then runs. All 3 devices can be used as a controller, but all 3 devices can not be used as a regular computer. Which one is best for a given project depends on many factors of course.

    I like your show. Keep up the good work.

    • Curtis Mohr

      You are correct, I forgot about that “little” aspect of it. Thanks for sharing!

  • Deric

    I think you should take a look at the pine64 micro computer. It’s got 8gb of ram, 2.4ghz dual processor, and can use up to 128gb of memory. It’ll run android, Linux, and other is. It has built in WiFi and Bluetooth as well. Its also only $39