Raspberry Pi vs BeagleBone Black: which one is the best for home automation ?

pivsbeagleThe 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 go !

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.

Power. 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.

Connectivity. 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.

Operating system. 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.

Open-Source Hardware. 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.

Community. 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.

Cost. 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 ?

11 replies
  1. Ricardo Cabral
    Ricardo Cabral says:

    Great post Marco. I would turn the tide in favor of the Raspberry Pi regarding the OS just because so many Linux distributions are supported. For home automation, I would recommend running Arch Linux instead of Raspbian.

    Reply
  2. Mladen Bruck
    Mladen Bruck says:

    I agree with you about community around PI….But we should consider that PI is much older pruducts also. Lest give BB some time. Things will change. I vote for BB.

    Reply
  3. daniel
    daniel says:

    I on the other hand think that the fact that you are not tied to only one OS is actually an advantage and thats why I think that RPi is actually better here because it is more versatile in the applications you can use it for.

    Reply
  4. Seba
    Seba says:

    I think both have different purpose. If you want a multi-purpose platform chose RPi and if you need an automation system BB may be a best option.
    I´ve bought a RPi but I thought it´s really a open hardware device :(

    Reply
  5. Stanley
    Stanley says:

    This is a very good comparison … Keep up th good work…

    On the power connector, micro USB is really a bad choice RPi , good for its size but really bad when u need to deploy it in a project.. I prefer a DC connector as they are more commonly available … I ended up purchasing a really expensive 2.5A powered USB hub just to provide stable power to the Pi.. ( additional cost added to the “Total Cost of Ownership” for the Pi ) Power related issues are the most common product returns for the RPi…

    On the other hand, the add-on camera module is really useful for security add-on to home automation..

    Reply
  6. Shawn
    Shawn says:

    There are a few other things to keep in mind:

    * Even though the RPi is much less powerful than the BBB, it is the only one of the two that has built in hardware decoding or encoding of 1080p video. This is important for anyone that plans on using their system for multimedia purposes. I believe it may (but don’t quote me on this) have better 3D acceleration support at the moment despite BBB being more open source in the long-term.

    * In addition to the more powerful main processor, the BBB has two additional “PRU” units that act as extremely fast 32-bit co-processors to offload work from the main CPU. While most main-stream, over-the-counter, software won’t take advantage of this, if you are a software developer willing to put in the effort to write some low-level code (Assembly code only for the time being as far as I know) then you can get much, much more power out of the system than even the 1GHz main CPU suggests.

    Reply
  7. Dirk Fromhein
    Dirk Fromhein says:

    You missed one HUGE point, the BeagleBone fits into an Altoids Tin! The Raspberry does not. ;-)

    (But seriously, the BB also has pre-drilled mounting holes on the board… this makes it so much easier to integrate)

    Reply
  8. hytekblue
    hytekblue says:

    I agree with your assertion that the beagle bone black is the winner in home automation. I do think it’s an apples and oranges sort of conversation though. The Raspberry Pi was built for completely different purposes but can certainly be adapted for home automation.

    Reply
  9. S.A.
    S.A. says:

    Can anybody tell me if anyone of the above support a strictly real time os , because I read that RasPi cannot be used for real time purposes.

    Reply

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