The tinkerers price levels list – June 2011: low budget hardware to build smart stuff

Posted on June 23, 2011


What is this list about?

  1. Tipping point for the “Internet of Things” – I believe one of the main factors for a break through of DIY Smart Spaces and DIY “Internet of Things” is price: the cost of building and buying your own stuff.
  2. Same price, more options – As time progresses, more possibilities are offered for the same price.
  3. Tabs on developments – This list keeps a tab on the cost of hardware and highlights specific developments or discoveries per “scan”.

General purpose

  1. My target audience are people with a limited budget – If you have all the money to spare it is quite simple to create anything with the best of the best. Most people do not have these resources.
  2. I want people to be able to reproduce and rebuild my experiments – Whether it is a smart house monitoring itself and reporting to the owner or a simple solution changing the light in a room to the mood of the user via a tablet.
  3. Less spendings for similar results is better – If you can use a less fashionable brand with close to the same specs for less money, that hardware will end up in the top list. Unless it is crap that breaks on you.

Find of the month: Poluxu Wixels!

One of the nicest discoveries while scanning SparkFun for processors and info are Wixels. See their site. Wixels are basically what happens when Arduino and XBee mate. It is a programmable micro controller with its own wireless module.

With 20 euros you have a “programmable XBee” which is an awesome deal.


I left Apple out of the list for two reasons:

  1. My own focus – I am currently focusing on Android and Wintel. This makes my June 2011 view biased and limited
  2. Budget – I am looking for hardware that is low budget, to build solutions for minimal costs. Apple – unfortunately – does not serve that range.

Screens and touch technology

I did not include screens in this overview. I have some things coming up (and waiting in my lab). But I simply have not had the time to create the series of articles and: “How I did this” exposing their relevance in setups with the stuff below.

Conclusions for June, 2011

  1. Archos/Arnova + IOIO = 150 euro of smart fun with WiFi and a screen – Using the Archos / Arnova tablets and IOIO you can write plain Java code to run the show on a low budget, energy efficient solid state (no moving parts) computer with WiFi and enough brains to run complex stuff including business logic capable of making decisions and a simple Socket Server.
  2. Archos/Arnova + IOIO + Poluxu Wixel = 170 euro of more portable fun with smart cells – As the Wixels have roughly the same possibilities of Arduino + XBee, but put into one single package, you can build great, smart stuff for smart money.
  3. Trimslice + Poluxu Wixel = 200 euro of power and smart, managed drones – Using the Dual core A9 Trimslice with the Poluxu Wixel allows you to build smart local cells on a relatively powerful machine that is roughly the size of your phone.
  4. Wintel Netbook + Poluxu Wixel = 220 euro with a fan, a screen and without much compromise – As ARM is still a platform in development and not all drivers might work out of the box, 220 euro buys you something that will work. The only drawback is that your Netbook is cooled by a fan. Especially when you need solid-state kind of solutions this might be a reason to go for ARM based devices.

The list

As WordPress completely destroys my tables, I made screen shots.

Note: regarding the prices in USD above – 200 USD is roughly 140 euro.


Smarts – Running on CPU

  1. Cheap, low energy 100 euro ARM based computing – While there are boards like the Beagle Board, they currently are more expensive than the Arnova- and Archos low end Tablet series, while the specs are close to be the same. If you use the SparkFun IOIO with an Android Tablet, you are basically ready to go.
  2. Adding more power: using 140 euro dual core A9 “NetTops” – Both Trimslice and Pandaboard offer great ARM based computing power for a good price. Both come with the possibility to attach two screens and run HD output. Both can run full (adapted) Linux versions like Ubuntu 10. You pay up to 140 euro (transportation cost excluded), which is less cost than a run of the mill Netbook.
  3. Stepping up the game to 150 euro: GSM and GPRS – If you need your solution to be able to call you, send SMSes and be independent of your WiFi, the low end region of Android phones will do the trick for you. With 150 euro (outside of special offers that can reach bottoms of 99 euro) you have – again – a small scale computer that can compete with the Beagle Board.
  4. 200 euro: versitile, low energy and relatively powerful computing – Netbooks are still the cheapest hardware to use when you want to have it all. Where Windows might be frowned down upon by some, it is supported by many and gives you a lot of leeway where Linux might have you jump through hoops.

Connecting to the world – Doing the IO dance

  1. 20 euro connects your computer to the  world – Using either the SparkFun Arduino Pro or the Teensy (transportation and import costs included).
  2. 20 euro gives you a wireless microcontroller – Which is the Poluxu Wixel. Which is like Arduino merged with XBee. A wireless microcontroller gives you best of both worlds: allowing you to send and receive data and take local action based on locally defined code.
  3. 23 euro gives you XBee modules – Which is cool for real time stuff but might be overshadowed by the much more promising Poluxu Wixel.
  4. 50 euros extra – gives you the XBee base station, connected to a Linux / Windows / Mac OS computer to handle the XBee modules.
  5. 50 euro makes your Android device talk – To the world of devices that is. Combine that with XBee and you could have a winner.
  6. 85 euro gives you real time stuff over WiFi – Like the XBee, but without the need for a base station.

Changes since last list