The popular open-source ARM development platform BeagleBoard has been updated with a shiny new OMAP4 version - the dual-core 1GHz PandaBoard.
The PandaBoard is designed to be a refresh to the BeagleBoard platform: a teeny-tiny little fully-functional computer based around - in the case of the PandaBoard - TI's OMAP4430 ARM Cortex-A9 MPcore processor.
The idea is that use of the platform will speed up development of Linux-based embedded computing systems - and if you've ever wanted to play with embedded systems, the BeagleBoard and PandaBoard kits are easy to recommend.
If you do decide to get involved, the reference kit comes with plenty of hardware to get you started: based around a 1GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 chip, an on-board graphics accelerator gives it the poke required to do real-time high-resolution 3D graphics and handle 1080p full-HD video streams with ease. 1GB of low-power DDR2 RAM might not sound like a lot, but remember that you're dealing with embedded computing here - if you need more than 1GB, you're probably doing it wrong.
There are plenty of ports and connectivity on the PandaBoard, too: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networking are included as standard, and an SD slot provides on-board storage while an RS232 serial port, two USB 2.0 ports, stereo audio in and out, a 10/100 Ethernet connector, DVI and HDMI outputs, and an on-board connector for an LCD panel round out the connectivity. Interestingly, Texas Instruments has even thought to include a connector for camera hardware - and a universal expansion connector for third-party hardware.
Impressively, given the compute power, the entire unit runs from a single 5V supply - and requires no active cooling, which means it can be built into projects where moving parts and excess heat would pose a problem.
The key point to any development platform of this type is, of course, the price - and there's some good news on that front: it's free.
By filing a request with the PandaBoard.org community, you can get your hands on one completely free of charge - providing, that is, you meet the community's judging criteria. The judges look at your proposed project's "coolness factor," your likely ability to produce something of worth at the end, and the perceived need of your expertise in the PandaBoard community. If you're chosen, then you get the device to keep - providing that your project is an open-source one, that is.
If you're not lucky enough to get your hands on a free board, the device will be sold through various distribution channels - although an official launch date and expected pricing have not yet been provided.
For more information on the PandaBoard, or to apply for a free board, check out the PandaBoard.org website.