Imagination CI20 Throws Down Barebones PC Gauntlet

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

British firm reveals more powerful alternative to the barebones Raspberry Pi personal computer

The gauntlet has been thrown down in the barebones PC market after a British firm unveiled a faster alternative to the Raspberry Pi.

Hertfordshire-based Imagination Technologies has revealed its barebones PC, called the MIPS Creator CI20.

Developer Board

The new computer enters an increasingly crowded barebones PC market. The Raspberry Pi is perhaps the best known device here and has now reportedly sold nearly 4 million computers. But there are also alternative barebone PCs from the likes of Microsoft, Intel, and others including the BeagleBone Black and Arduino Uno.

The CI20 will cost £50 ($65) and only be available from the end of January next year. It runs either Linux (Debian 7 at the moment, but other distros are also available) or Google Android (4.4). The device itself seems to be targeted mostly at the developer community for use in their individual projects. That said, it is also suitable for students, hobbyists and others.

MIPSCreatorCI20“We are very excited to be taking part in the growing interest within the open source and maker communities for affordable, fully featured development platforms,” said Tony King-Smith, EVP of marketing for Imagination. “Creator CI20 has been designed for people who want high performance and advanced features for their development projects and to create access at the software and hardware level to allow creativity to come to the fore.”

So what exactly is the MIPS Creator CI20 packing in the hardware stakes? Well it comes with a 1.2 GHz MIPS32-based, dual-core processor, which is apparently “designed for superior performance and low power computing”. There is also 1GB DDR3 memory, 4GB flash memory and an SD card expansion slot.

A PowerVR SGX540 graphics chip offers support for OpenGL 2.1 and OpenGL ES 2.0, and also has dedicated video hardware for low power 1080p decoding at 30 fps.

Connectivity wise, the MIPS Creator CI20 offers a number of options including Ethernet, as well as 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0. A USB port is also available. The company says that there is “high-quality audio playback”, and a “comprehensive set of peripherals, including GPIO, SPI, I2C, UART, etc.”

Creator CI20 also boasts FlowCloud support for application development focused on the Internet of Things (IoT). For those in the dark about this, FlowCloud is an IoT platform from Imagination that enables users to construct solutions for a wide range of applications, including security, personal and professional health monitoring, energy management, and cloud-based systems for content delivery etc.

Raspberry Pi Challenge?

It remains to be seen whether the Creator CI20 can launch a credible challenge to the Raspberry Pi.

Last month, Raspberry Pi Foundation released the Raspberry Pi A+, a smaller, cheaper version of its Linux-based computer. That device boasts many features of the more expensive B+ model revealed earlier this year.

Since its arrival in February 2012, the Raspberry Pi has become immensely popular among hobbyists, programmers and prototype designers worldwide. It has been used to create everything from Internet of Things sensor networks to Enterprise Resource Planning (EPR) platforms, sea-faring research robots, and even a so-called “supercomputer”.

Most recently, a team of graduates created the world’s first 3D-printed laptop using one of the computers.

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