Intel’s Quarky Arduino Adventure

With all the cornucopia of Valve-related announcements for gamers over the past few weeks, it may be difficult to imagine that the Linux world could have any more good news in store. That supremely encouraging gaming news, surely, was enough to last us a few good months here in the Linux blogosphere.

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Well think again! In yet another expression of the never-ending fabulousness that is open source, none other than our friends at Intel have been busy at work with the interests of a different set of users in mind — specifically, makers and students.

“Introducing the Galileo development board, the first product in a new family of Arduino-compatible development boards featuring Intel architecture,” the chip giant wrote in its press release last week. “The platform is easy to use for new designers and for those looking to take designs to the next level.”

Yes, that’s right, Linux fans — Intel and Arduino. The universe has shifted again. Good thing the libations are never in short supply down at the blogosphere’s Punchy Penguin Saloon.

‘It Will Be Hard to Compete’

“Good for Intel to support creative thinking through Linux!” Google+ blogger Rodolfo Saenz told Linux Girl. “From projects like these brilliant people like Linus Torvalds or Steve Jobs become interested in technology and new Innovators are born.”

Indeed, “this can only be a good thing,” agreed Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone. “Competition is good. It may tank or it may push other players out of the market, but the market will get to decide.

“Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of unknowns regarding this board, one of which is the price,” Stone added. “It’s said that the Galileo will be under $60, but it will be hard to compete with Pi if its entry point is over twice as much.”

The fear for Intel is that “they will lose market share to ARM-based products,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl. “This is an attempt to head that off, and the rest of us benefit from a wider array of development boards.”

‘What Took So Long?’

In fact, “Intel has lost its contact with hobbyists and DIY enthusiasts,” Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol suggested. “And, all those proto-boards, with Arduinos and Raspberries Pi, are selling like hotcakes.

“Intel is just following the money,” Ebersol concluded. “And, of course, trying to stay relevant in this era of RISC Arm(ed) machines. The question here: What took you so long, Intel?”

Intel “surely knows ARM is growing… has already grown both in the IT ecosystem and in users’ attention, and is here to stay,” offered Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C. “The strong points of ARM processors are the lower consumption and ‘the RISC way of doing things’.”

This move by Intel “must be done if they want a good slice of the market,” Gonzalo Velasco C. added. “Some users are already happy because that Quark chip by Intel is x86, that has a whole portfolio regarding libraries, applications, research done, etc.

“It’s interesting to see how the old Pentium (I) generation is recycled into the Atom and these Quark processors,” he concluded.

A Matter of Convenience?

Intel has always embraced standards “when they were convenient,” asserted Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza. “There isn’t really any other standard for connecting arbitrary tiny expansion boards to embedded computers, at least not when they don’t have SPI, I2C or similar onboard.

“This is well in line with Intel’s normal activity,” Espinoza said. “If this segment took off to the point where it was worth Intel’s time, they’d likely define their own standard and compete with Arduino, but that would be a waste of time and money for the foreseeable future.”

Truth be told, “there’s not really a lot you can do to the spec to change it anyway,” he concluded. “Due to the nature of the devices, you’d need basically the same pins to do the same job even if you moved them into another configuration, and what would you get out of doing that?”

‘It Looks Like a Growing Sector’

It’s always interesting to be “in the middle of a transformation, and right now there is one happening that involves lower-powered computers,” noted Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien. ‘Intel dominated the last wave, which was to produce ever-more-powerful CPUs, but at a certain point people start to notice that they don’t really need ever-more-powerful CPUs.

“Doubling the gigahertz does nothing for your ability to read e-mail, but those power-hungry systems certainly drive up your electricity bill,” O’Brien added.

So, “Intel has wisely made the move to get into this space in a number of ways,” he concluded. “This probably started to get into the consciousness of the public with the Raspberry Pi, but now others are starting to appear, and it looks like a growing sector.”

Intel has “often tried to stick a foot into any market for chips where there is money to be made,” Slashdot blogger hairyfeet pointed out. “Remember the Celeron? That was their way of getting into the low-end market Cyrix and WinChip had started, and of course netbooks where they came up with the Atom to counter the low-end ARM netbooks running Linux that had popped up.”

‘This Is Wise Behavior’

Last but not least, blogger Robert Pogson took a similar view.

“Intel, one of the two heads of the Wintel monster, is diversifying andactually producing products for a competing platform, GNU/Linux,” Pogson told Linux Girl. “Investing in the GNU/Linux environment is beginning to pay for many corporations and Intel does not want to be left at the dock when theWintel monopoly finally sinks. This is wise behavior and shows Intelat least knows how to behave as a normal business, unlike M$.”

Eventually, however, “I hope Intel decides to get back into the ARMed CPUbusiness, because ARM is better for many purposes,” he opined. “In robotics, forinstance, the job requires multitudes of networked computers, something that is much less expensive with ARM.

“Intel should sooner or later contribute its expertise to producing multi-core ARMed chips, but they probably can’t economically do that until Wintel is almostdead, something that will take a few years yet,” Pogson added.

Intel was “sucked into the black hole of monopoly riding on the coattails of M$, chasing easy money and making it easy to stifle its competitors,” he said. “That has all ended with GNU/Linux and ARM getting together to restore competition to IT supply-chains. So, let the whole team come to the game.

“Intel’s move is not a game-winner,” Pogson concluded. “It’s just one more play.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered ECT News Editor by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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