Single Board Computers


So here are the Beaglebone Black (left bottom) and the Creator CI20 (right bottom) single board computers. Also pictured is my Raspberry Pi B+ and my grocery store loyalty card for scale. Also, I’m hoping that Harris Teeter will cut me a fat check. But mostly it’s for scale.

The Beaglebone Black is courtesy of the Arm Connected Community who very kindly sent it to me free of charge for my Magic Window project idea. The fine folks at Imagination Technologies sent me this preview copy of the Creator CI20 free of charge for my project as well. Seriously, there’s a lot of generosity and support from the companies making SBC solutions! It was a strange week for me because I got these offers at practically the same time. I’m looking at this as a cool opportunity to do a bake off and post my thoughts in this space about how these two boards compare.

The Raspberry Pi is not competing, because it’s my retro gaming rig. But if the Raspberry Pi peeps want to send me a Raspberry Pi 2 B+ I’ll reconsider :-)

My grocery store loyalty card does not support Linux and is therefore disqualified.

Some initial observations:

  • The release version of the CI20 is purple, and it looks amazing! Seriously, take a look:
  • As you can see, the CI20 is slightly larger. It has WIFI and Bluetooth on board, as well as built-in memory (8GB on the release version, 4GB on my preview).
  • The CI20 is so new that no cases are available yet. I hope this changes soon, says the klutz!
  • Beaglebone Black has a very active support community as well as cases and other peripherals available. Check out my sweet case.
  • The one USB port on the Beaglebone Black is a little bit limiting, especially when compared with two on the CI20 and four on the Pi
  • Both the BBB and the CI20 have beefier processing power than my Raspberry Pi B+, so that’s nice. Raspberry Pi just released the 2 B+ board, which would probably be much more competitive with them. And the arms race continues…

Pretendo Entertainment System

Or “what I did on my Christmas vacation”. So, my first SBC (single board computer) project was a fairly simple one. I got a Raspberry Pi B+ for Christmas and made a retro gaming system with RetroPie.


This was such a basic project that I won’t describe it in too much detail.

In a nutshell:

1. assembled the hardware
2. burned latest retropie image to my MicroSD
3. booted the Raspberry Pi with MicroSD inserted
4. used raspi-config to a) expand disk to full size b) set the localization and keyboard settings to American (‘merica! Heck ya!) c) set overclock
5. booted startx and used the XWindows tool (wpa_gui) to configure my wifi
6. copied all my ROM’s over via the default SAMBA share
7. used RetroPie-Setup/ to a) update everything b) setup the default RetroArch controller for c) change the flash screen to the cool one with Mario and Luigi
8. created my controller settings in a file using the command line configuration tool:
cd /opt/retropie/emulators/RetroArch/installdir/bin
sudo ./retroarch-joyconfig -j 0 > /opt/retropie/configs/all/controllers.cfg
sudo ./retroarch-joyconfig -j 1 >> /opt/retropie/configs/all/controllers.cfg

9. Cleaned up my /opt/retropie/configs/all/retroarch.cfg file, removing keyboard controls and other junk
10. cat /opt/retropie/configs/all/controllers.cfg >> /opt/retropie/configs/all/retroarch.cfg
11. reboot
12. BOOM! Play games. My four year old son and I have been playing a lot of Ken Griffey Jr’s Winning Run and NBA Jam.

This probably is missing a couple of steps and ignores all of my mistakes. Seriously, there are better tutorials out there than this one!

My hardware includes copper heat sinks, but no fan. This is enough to support overclocking on “High” in retropie-config without the Pi ever getting hot, even after long gaming sessions. NES, SNES, and Genesis games all run smoothly for the most part. 90% of games just work.


Occasionally I try a ROM (usually not a major title) doesn’t work quite right, and very occasionally one won’t even load. I chalk this up to emulation optimizing the 90% case to get these running on Pi’s relatively limited hardware. SNES sound seems a little off on some titles (not broken but… off). But most of the time the games work as well as they would on the original systems. And the gaming world of 20+ years ago is brought back to life!

Project Idea: Eric’s Magic Window

This is a project idea that I have to turn a single board computer, LCD monitor, and a few other parts into a Magic Window. I’m hoping to actually work this idea and document it in this space, as I get parts/funding (funding is me saving up my fun money, I’m not looking for crowdsourcing). When it’s complete, I’ll probably share photos/video of the final product, system images, instructions, etc for anyone else looking to build one.

The Concept

Eric’s Magic Window is a framed LCD screen mounted to the wall. It looks sort of like a window. It is controlled by a remote control, and has the following operating modes:

1. The Digital Window – in this mode, it will stream one of several live camera feeds from around the world. In this mode, it will look most like a window. A number of live camera feeds are broadcast on sites such as

2. The Digital Frame – in this mode, family photos are shown slow slideshow style from a photo collection, either stored locally or in the cloud.

3. The Digital Gallery – same as digital frame mode, except we see landscape photos and paintings instead of family photos.

4. The Wall Calendar – in this mode, you see a month view of Google Calendar.

5. Weather Center – The current weather report. Stretch: figures out current location from IP address.

Parts Needed

1. Single Board Computer (e.g. Imagine Tech Creator CI20, Raspberry Pi B+, Banana Pi M2, or BeagleBone Black)
2. SD or MicroSD for storage, 16+ GB
3. WiFi dongle if board doesn’t have it built it
4. Remote control + receiver of some sort, possibly a mini-keyboard or maybe just a basic remote
5. LCD display w/ HDMI connector in the neighborhood of 13″ – 17″ + HDMI cable
6. Hardware to mount LCD on the wall
7. clever way to attach the board out of site behind the monitor
8. Custom cut wooden frame
9. I need some solution that will save me from having a power cable hang down my wall.

The Plan

My plan is to get enough parts to develop this and to get the proof of concept working. I’ll then tweak it until I’m happy, and only then tackle the mounting, framing, etc.

Resources and Challenges

I’ve been working with Linux for 20 years now, including some systems administration experience. I’ve been a professional software developer for 16 years and currently work as a web developer on a LAMP/js stack. I have the skills needed to make all the software do what it needs to do.

The biggest challenges for me will be on the mounting/building side of the project. Luckily, that comes last, which will give me time to figure it out I hope. If the challenge of this part of the project looks like it’ll be too much, I’ll just put the monitor on top of one of our bookcases and punt on the wall mounting.


As soon as I have what I need to get started, I’ll start the project and start blogging a developer’s diary here. I’ll take this as an opportunity to provide review information from any computer hardware I use for the project. Follow me on Twitter at @ericwburns if you want to keep tabs on this.