Last week, I got the opportunity to interview one of the co-founders of the electronics startup “The PINE64” about their Single Board Computer PINEA64. You can check my previous article about the board here.
Q1: First before we dive in and start talking about the PINE A64 board can tell the readers about the pine64 company, also about yourself and your position at the company?
My name is Johnson Jeng, one of the co-founders of PINE64 with TL Lim. PINE64 is an electronics startup, with our first product being a 64 bit, quad core open source, single board computer, capable of 4K video outputs and up to 2GB of ram, and starting at just $15. We’re fully expandable and can operate Android 5.1.1 in 64 bit, and are working with multiple Linux developers to port Linux operating systems over. We also are compatible with openHAB project, an open source home automation software.
Q2: You have to tell us how did the idea of making the PINE A64 started, the story behind choosing the name of pine and also were you expecting to make such a buzz on the internet and social media?
TL and I both have companies that required a basic computer to run our requirements, and we both wanted to get together to build this computer. It wasn’t until midway, we thought that something like this should be shared to the world, and savings passed on directly to the consumers so everyone can benefit. We decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign and we’ll take what we got – but from a combination of a great PR company and timing, we were able to grab buzz on the internet. PINE64 is derived of Pi and Euler’s number, two of the never ending numbers, so PI N E equals PINE and 64 means 64 bit.
Q3: Some of the features of the PINE A64 is the CPU it has a 1.2 GHz quad Core ARM cortex A53 64 Bit processor and a Dual Core Mali 400 MP2 graphics. Some non tech savvy people don’t know the true power of the cortex A53 64 bit processors, so can you tell them how powerful is the PINE A64 processor and how does it perform comparing to some similar products in the market?
The best explanation to people is that almost everything we use today electronics is some sort of computer. A computer simply means a device that inputs and outputs data. The simple way is to say the system is just pretty as fast as a Sony Playstation 4, and the video graphics is just as good as the original Xbox. For a handheld device comparison, we beat the HTC One M7 in benchmark performances and also better than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.0, in which both devices are about 2-3 years old. At our price range, it’s pretty good bang for the buck!
Q4: Also it has 2x I/O expansion slots for adding modules. What kind of modules that can be added or paired with the board?
We currently are developing modules for the unit, but one of the I/O expansion slots is built on same platform as Raspberry Pi, so it will be compatible with many raspberry Pi products. Contingency of this is software compatibility, but that can be updated over time. Some of our own modules include a 802.11BGN and Bluetooth 4.0 module, ZigBee modules, and even GPS and cellular modules under development. We’re constantly working with other hardware companies to provide other hardware support depending on demand.
Q5: For now, the board can only run Android Lollipop 5.1 or Linux distribution Ubuntu. Many of the tech enthusiast and community are waiting for the board to support the Windows OS, so when will see the board running full Microsoft windows OS?
Windows OS will be tough one, as Microsoft requires a x86 computing platform such as Intel to run Windows OS. however, we do know that the Windows 10 IoT version is compatible with ARM based boards and we are currently looking into that, however we don’t have an exact timeframe yet. Other Linux distributions also are in the process like CentOS, and even cloud computing platforms like Cozy.IO are all in development.
Q6: Lately we’ve seen not just smart-phones more powerful but getting cheaper but also computer board like pine A64, how did the team manage to make such a powerful chip but in the same time keeps the cost low and affordable for consumers?
We’re not making much margins, if even any on our $15 board. We believe that building the unit in mass quantity and sharing the savings onto the world to everyone is a great idea to attract more users in developing products. Many companies share similar visions like C.H.I.P with a $9 computer and Raspberry Pi Zero with a $5 computer. Both are great companies with different focuses on specialized markets while our product is a more expandable and well-rounded product for multiple uses. Our profits come from corporate partnerships to develop modules and customized versions PINE64s for special use cases.
Q7: Some exclusive news for us. Can you tell us about future development of the board or future plans of the company, are we going to see more products like that?
We can’t give away too much info. but the PINE64 is named A64 for ARM powered 64, however due to the demand, we are exploring options with Intel powered boards to release a Windows capable PINE64. However, don’t take it for granted, we’re purely in the research phase and it may not come true! So I suggest you guys pick up a A64 board now before we sell out!
Q8: Last question, why do you think hobbyist and tech enthusiast should buy or use the PINE A64 board in their projects, and how they can use the board in different ways?
Some of the great uses include:
1) Media player – similar to an Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV, the PINE64 can load media software such as KODI or other programs and perform similar tasks like the Apple TV and watch your favorite shows and movies.
2) Android or Linux Computer – This is a great platform to service a consumer’s basic needs of computing – watch YouTube, run office productivity software, check your email, and surf the web, from a device well under $50 fully built and ready to go.
3) Digital Advertising – The PINE64 can be modified and enclosed in a waterproof container or non-waterproof, to be used indoors and outdoors for digital advertising and billboard display purposes. User can run their Linux or Android based proprietary software, and live stream media through Ethernet or Wifi.
4) Robotics and Makers – We currently are working with individuals now on this, where we want to see this used as a robotics or maker platform, where you can develop different products as our quad core processor with up to 2GB of ram is way powerful than many competitors in the price range.
5) IoT – Internet of Things and Home Automation – by partnering up with openHAB, a home automation open source software, we’re able to tap into the growing market of connecting your devices. There are many companies on the IoT platform, where you can turn off and on your lights, control your thermostats, open garages, TV or more with the device.
These are the some of the 5 uses we’ve explored so far, and we’re constantly working with more companies to develop cooler stuff – some of these uses include Bitcoin mining, cluster computing, cloud server, and even data management or implementation into educational games.