At the end of the early home computing era we saw a dramatic collapse in the number of form factors. Afterwards almost every computer was yet another featureless beige box that lived under, or on top of, your desk.
After a period where micro-controller boards came in a bewildering number of form factors, we’re now seeing the same sort of thing happen to micro-controllers and single-board computers.
I’ve talked about this before, and over the last couple of months we’ve seen a growing number of boards — the Tinker Board, ROCK64, NanoPi K2, Le Potato and even hobby boards like the Z-Berry — starting to imitate the Raspberry Pi form factor. However the new VoltaStream ZERO from PolyVection is somewhat different, it copies the Raspberry Pi Zero form factor instead.
But while the VoltaStream ZERO board may have the same footprint as the Raspberry Pi Zero, it’s a very different beast. Gone are the two micro USB ports, and the HDMI connector. Designed as a audio streaming module it comes with an integrated DAC with hardware volume control, a digital TOSLINK output, and full-sized USB A connector.
However the 40-pin header was “designed to give maximal compatibility to Raspberry Pi” and gives access to 28 GPIO pins.
Based around the NXP i.MX6ULL processor, an ARM Cortex-A7 running at 996MHz, the board can be configured with either 512MB or 1GB or RAM, and the choice between the TI PCM5121 or PCM5142 DACs. There’s even a real-time clock.
Power consumption is a low 0.25 W when idle, rising to 1.1 W when the WiFi dongle included in the kit is in use.
The story behind the board is an interesting four year journey by PolyVection’s sole founder Philip Voigt, and the meticulous reference documentation and getting started guide speaks to the amount of time that Philip has sunk into the project.
VoltaStream ZERO pricing starts at €49.90 (approximately $59) plus shipping, compared with $5 for the Raspberry Pi Zero, or $10 for the wireless version, and it’s being sold in small batches of 100 as an evaluation board/kit, so it doesn’t come with FCC or CE certifications.
If you’re looking for a small footprint, high build quality audio board, you should take a serious look at it. Or, if you want to create your own, the PCB design has been released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license. You can download the board’s schematics and KiCAD project files from the project’s GitHub repository.