The Raspberry Pi is a wonderful platform that can be used to build your own home automation system. I recently used it to control a relay from anywhere in the world, and I also compared it to the Arduino platform in a previous article. Clearly, the Raspberry Pi board is perfect when being used as a “hub” for your home automation system, connecting to other open-source hardware parts like Arduino boards and sensors.
However, some people pointed out that the Raspberry Pi is not strictly an open-source hardware device (I will come back to that later in the article), so I looked for alternatives. And in this article I will compare the Raspberry Pi to a serious contender: the BeagleBone Black, released last April. Ready for the fight ? Let’s dive in!
Ease of Use
The first thing I consider when I receive a new product like this is how difficult it is to have the system running. On that point, the BeagleBone Black already has an advantage on the Raspberry Pi: it comes with built-in Flash storage, whereas you need to buy another SD card for the Raspberry Pi. They both have similar connectivity for the basic devices (USB, HDMI) and for power (DC jack for the BeagleBone, micro USB for the PI). Also, the BeagleBone comes with an operating system called Angstrom, whereas on the Pi you have absolutely nothing and you need first to install a Linux distribution on an SD card. Overall there are more resources on the web for the Raspberry Pi, but still the BeagleBone is easier to use out of the box, which is great if you are starting in home automation. So clearly, the BeagleBone wins this one.
Both boards have 512 MB of RAM, even if the RAM from the BeagleBone is faster. But the main difference is the processor: the Raspberry Pi has an ARM1176JZF-S 700 MHz processor, whereas the BeagleBone has a Sitara XAM3359AZCZ100 Cortex A8 ARM processor running at 1 GHz. On the paper, the BeagleBone is the clear winner. Benchmarks also confirm that the BeagleBone is nearly twice as fast than the Pi in pure computing power, mainly because it has a more recent ARM architecture and a slightly higher clock. So again, the BeagleBone wins.
That’s also an easy one. Both boards have GPIO connectors, and SPI & I2C connectivities. Both have USB ports, an HDMI output, and an Ethernet port. The Raspberry Pi has one advantage here: it has one audio jack output which can be great if you are also using the board as a multimedia system. The BeagleBone have CAN capabilities, and much more GPIO pins than the Pi. It also has analog input pins, but these are limited to 1.8V so they are not that useful. Also, if you want to use the boards as a “hub” for your home automation system, having more GPIO pins can definitely be an advantage. The winner here is clear: the BeagleBone Black.
The “default” operating system for the Raspberry Pi is Raspbian, and while it is possible to install other Linux distributions or systems like Android, it is still under development. On the other side, the BeagleBone Black comes with the Angstrom distribution, and there are detailed tutorials to run Android or Ubuntu on the board. Once more, the BeagleBone Black wins.
As I pointed out in the introduction of this article, the Raspberry Pi is not really open-source hardware: the Raspberry Pi foundation has all the rights to produce and to sell the boards. However, there have been some openings in the direction an open-source product: they released the schematics of the board, and more recently the drivers of the GPU which is inside the system-on-chip that powers the board. On the other side, the BeagleBone Black is really an open-source hardware product: all the schematics and layout files can be downloaded from the official wiki. The winner is once again the BeagleBone.
The community around the Raspberry Pi is huge, and usually you will find more articles that you will help you out with the Raspberry Pi than with the BeagleBone Black. For example, there are 1.000 people in the Google Plus BeagleBoard community, and 50.000 people in the Raspberry Pi community. And this can be really important if you are justing starting in the field of home automation using open-source hardware. Clearly, the Raspberry Pi wins this one.
The Rapsberry Pi (model B) can be found at $35 on Amazon, and the BeagleBone Black costs $49. The Raspberry Pi seems to have the advantage here, but don’t forget that it also needs a separate SD card to be functional, whereas you can use the BeagleBone out of the box. So on this point, we have a tie.
Well, I am a big fan of the Raspberry Pi, but the winner is quite clear: the BeagleBone Black is better on nearly all the points that we discussed in the article. I only see one thing that could make you chose the Pi: the community around it is much bigger than the BeagleBoard community, and that can change everything if you are starting out with the platform. But I am sure the BeagleBoard community will catch up in the next years. So what do you think, Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone Black ?