The EspressoBin: Something completely different? // Review

The EspressoBin is being marketed as a different type of SBC. How different is it and is that difference what you want? Find out in this video.


Unboxing

Like the website says the EspressoBin is a Single Board Computing platform unlike any other.This is true statement. However, like any SBC there are pros and cons. It’s up to the Maker to decide whether they can use it or not. EspressoBin sent me two units; one for a competition I ran, and this one.

There are 2 models in the line-up with a 1G and 2G version. Since it is a “platform unlike any other” it isn’t a board for everyone.

Taking a look at what it gives you, starting from the top right working clockwise:

  • USB2.0 host.
  • The first of two GPIO headers.
  • Reset button.
  • Boot and reflashing jumpers allowing you to boot from SPI flash, eMMC, or SATA.
  • SATA connector.
  • SATA power.
  • USB for console.
  • JTAG header.
  • 12v DC jack.
  • The second GPIO header.
  • USB3.0.
  • Three GbE ports.
  • and a mini PCIe slot.

The first thing you’ll notice is the lack of any video out. It is possible to add a graphics card via mini PCIe, but driver support would be limited and it’s not really designed for it. There are better options if you want graphics.

On the flip side we have:

  • an SD slot.
  • Armada 3720LP.
  • 1G of the installed 2G DDR3 RAM.
  • eMMC, which isn’t currently installed on mine.
  • Topaz 6 port GbE switch, (U15 – 88E6341), which incidentally is powered by a Z80 CPU core.
  • 4 channel logic level converter, (U5 – 74AVC4T245).
  • SPI flash, (U10 – W25Q32DWSIG).
  • and a bunch of ESD protection chips, (DZ1 – LXES4XBAA6-046).

Moving back to the front and removing the WiFi and Bluetooth PCIe card, we have:

  • One of many voltage regulators, (U2 – uP8809).
  • Two more of the little buggers, (U7,U23 – 6165AD), which are part of two buck converters providing 3.3 and 1.8 volts to the board.
  • USB ESD protection, (DZ4 – IP4223).
  • more ESD protection.
  • another buck converter chip, (U9 – RT6220).
  • yet more buck converter chips, (U18,U19,U20,U21 – 6163AD and also here).
  • and lastly an I2C logic level converter, (U14 – PCA9306).

So there’s several important design decision they’ve made here:

Power: EspressoBin took the decision to use a lot of step down regulators instead of using a PMIC. This could be due to cost savings or component sourcing. It’s not an issue either way, except that overclocking the board is now off the table.

Protection: There is plenty of ESD protection on the board, which is required when entering the European market.

Overall it’s a well designed board. However, there is a, “but”

There are plenty GPIOs provided, more so than any other SBC. Unfortunately, the Armada SoC is a 1.8v CPU, and is not tolerant of 3.3 or 5 volts. In cases like this the normal practice is to use logic level converters, however this introduces delays in signals causing havock with SPI and I2C. Even though they have provided 5v, 3.3v and 1.8v header pins, EspressoBin don’t have any logic level converters for the GPIOs.

So out of the box you will not be able to use any of them.

  • Juraj Kubi┼í

    Hi, can I ask when you plan to update your review? I wonder what WAN-LAN throughput is. I would like to use this device as a router. Thanks

    • MickMake

      I try to get around to doing a follow up review 6 months later, but sometimes don’t get around to doing that.
      I’d like to be able to run through a quick update on all the SBCs I’ve looked at in 2017 before the end, but a lot of my schedule is driven by Patreon voting. So, we’ll see.