A new single board computer range offers developers flexibility and the option of custom hardware.
RS Group’s single board computer development and manufacturing unit OKdo is now working with Rockchip vendor Radxa on a range of SBC systems using Radxa’s ROCK designs. It’s an interesting partnership, giving Raxda access to OKdo’s experience in at-scale manufacturing and to its global support channels.
The intent of the new partnership is to give engineers the tools they need to build products around Radxa’s designs, while still supporting a maker community and students looking for a powerful, low-cost computing platform. As well as OKdo’s own support services, ROCK is supported through Radxa’s own online community tools.
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Introducing the ROCK 4 SE
The first board from the new partnership, the ROCK 4 SE, is now available. Based on Radxa’s Rockchip hexacore RK3399-T processor with 4GB of RAM, it offers a modern ARM big.LITTLE pairing of dual Cortex A72 CPUs with a quadcore Cortex A53 and ARM’s Mali GPU. The result is a more flexible option than the familiar Raspberry Pi 4, with support for on-board eMMC storage modules and an m.2 connector for NVMe SSDs.
More importantly for makers, the board includes a real-time clock with battery connector, so it can keep track of time even when powered off. Alternatively, there’s the ability to save power by powering down elements of the SBC when they’re not in use. You can use any USB-C PD power supply, so you’re not limited to any one supplier and can work with modern high-density batteries as well as mains power.
A 40 pin GPIO port means it’s compatible with many existing off-the-shelf accessories, including power-over-Ethernet adapters. Other ports include a full-size HDMI video connection supporting 4K displays, as well as two USB 2 and two USB 3 ports (one of which can be used for OTG connection to mobile devices), and a combined microphone and headphone socket.
The ROCK 4 SE is OKdo’s derivative of Radxa’s existing family of ROCK 4 SBCs, and is intended to be the first in a new range of Rockchip-based SBCs and pluggable compute modules. Using the slogan “Your board, your way,” OKdo is providing not only hardware, but also targeted support for all users of its ROCK hardware, from individual makers to large companies building systems around ROCK-based compute modules.
Coming soon: The ROCK 4C+
A second board, the ROCK 4C+, is under development and will be released soon, along with the CM3 compute model and a next-generation SBC. Usefully, the ROCK 4C+ will add a feature that’s usually missing from SBCs: a physical on/off switch. It will even include a separate header for a cooling fan, so you won’t need to lose any GPIO pins. An additional connector allows you to plug in your own Wi-Fi antenna, improving performance for devices that might be deployed anywhere there’s a weak signal.
Ongoing supply chain issues were the reason behind the RS Group company OKdo recently stepping away from its Raspberry Pi manufacturing license and adopting a wider range of silicon providers, including ROCK’s parent company Radxa and IoT chipset specialists NXP. ROCK’s silicon comes from fabless vendor Rockchip, which uses multiple fabs to reduce supply chain risk, as chips are manufactured across the world. Rockchip might not be as well-known as other IoT processor companies like Broadcom, but its chips are competitive and come with support from familiar Linuxes as well as Android, giving you additional options for both application development and user experiences.
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An advantage that the ROCK platform has over other SBCs is the ability to deliver boards as custom System-on-Module systems, avoiding component wastage. Once you’ve prototyped hardware using devices like the ROCK 4 SE, you can then work with OKdo to design a SOM for your production hardware that only includes the features you need, helping keep costs to a minimum and reducing your exposure to supply chain risk. The ability to work with both a manufacturer like OKdo and a board designer like Radxa helps optimize board designs and ensure your project gets the hardware it needs, when it needs it.
A custom future for hardware
OKdo’s customization service builds on the company’s experience, removing components as needed and redesigning the SBC board to fit within hardware constraints. This isn’t a service for the home user or the hobbyist maker; it requires a commitment to volume production where OKdo will build thousands of boards or modules. Typical changes include removing the ethernet port in favor of wireless operation, not only saving space but cost, as a redesigned board won’t need specialized controller chips and any associated components. OKdo can add components to a board, changing interfaces or adding memory.
As OKdo points out, there are added benefits to a custom solution. If you’re shipping thousands of units, even a small reduction in size and weight can help with environmental commitments, reducing shipping weight or the amount of packaging needed. Working with a company like OKdo on custom hardware allows you to take advantage of their existing testing services, ensuring that changes don’t put the custom board out of compliance with any applicable regulations.
Radxa’s proven designs have been popular in China and the rest of Asia, so it’s good to see a vendor the size of RS Group making a commitment to bringing the platform to the U.S. and Europe. Supply chain issues are still making it hard to buy many SBCs, with large customers getting priority, so having capable hardware in stock now should give developers access to the devices they need to develop new IoT hardware without having to wait any longer.
The ROCK 4 SE is already available in OKdo’s ROCK shop, and additional hardware should arrive soon.