Intel has already been involved in the IoT market with the releases of the Intel Galileo Gen 2 and Intel Edison development kits. Now they're looking to push the boundaries of what can be fit into a tiny package with their Intel Joule. With a module measuring at only 24 by 48 mm (0.94 in by 1.89 in), it is more powerful than both the Galileo and Edison.
The 570x model was just released this month, with the 550x model due to be released sometime in the coming months. Since the 570x is already available, it will be the focus of this article.
Infographic of the Joule's features. Image courtesy of the Intel Developer Forum.
The Joule's Specs
Underneath the curvy heatsink, the Intel Joule 570x packs a 64-bit, 1.7 GHz quad core Intel Atom T5700 processor, with 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM and 16GB of onboard flash memory.
As the Intel Edison had Bluetooth and Wi-Fi built in, the Joule gets a little more powerful with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1. If needed, there are U.FL connectors for added range for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Of course, it comes with the standard UART, I2C, SPI, SD card interface, and a number of GPIO. There are 8 GPIO readily available but, through a bios tool to be released in the future, that can be expanded to 48 GPIO if other hardware features are not used.
USB 3.0 is also included, as the developer breakout board is connected to the host computer through a USB Type-C cable to USB 3.0. There is, however, a host USB Type-A connector available on the expansion board as well.
One huge feature that has not been available on Intel’s previous developer kits is the inclusion of a graphics module and HDMI 1.4b output. With the expansion board, it is possible to get 1080p at 60fps. Intel’s HD Graphics technology is available with 4K video capture and display, which the hardware is capable of but is seemingly not implemented on the development board.
The graphics module supports H.264, MVC, VP8, VP9, MPEG2, VC-1, WMV9, and JPEG/MPEG encoding and decoding. While clock speeds aren’t everything, the graphics clock runs at 450MHz, with a 650MHz Turbo setting.
To the delight of those who like having additional choices in their operating systems, the Intel Joule supports a wider array of Linux distributions as well as the Microsoft Windows 10 IoT Core. Yes, it is now possible to run Ubuntu on your Intel IoT device instead of the Yocto Linux distribution available on the Edison and Galileo.
A look inside the Intel Joule 570x kit: development breakout board, wireless antennas, a heat sink with metal fixture, SD card, and USB Type-C cable. Image courtesy of Intel.
The Joule in the Dev Board Market
Certainly, the Intel Joule is one of the most powerful modules to date with specifications matching/exceeding early 2000s computers.
While most people would assume the Joule is a stab at the Raspberry Pi, the Joule matches up more with the NVIDIA Jetson TX1. The Jetson TX1 module comes packed with a 64-bit ARM A57, an NVIDIA Maxwell GPU with 256 CUDA cores, 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, 16GB of flash storage, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The list can go on.
These specifications sound familiar to the Joule, with both focusing their power on image processing and machine vision applications. NVIDIA, being a graphics card company, would be the presumable winner in terms of performance, but no direct comparison between the two devices has been made as of yet.
The recent comparisons of the Raspberry Pi and Intel Joule isn’t a great one because, while they can both be used in similar applications, the Joule is more geared towards video applications with high performance. From a certain perspective, the Raspberry Pi (or clone boards) is a better choice based purely on the massive difference in their price. But the Raspberry Pi fails to address the niche the Joule is trying to fulfill.
While the Joule can certainly compete in the general IoT market, it is simply not cost-effective for most applications which is why it has been downplayed since its announcement. In a few months time, it will be more apparent where the Joule fits into the large array of development kits.