Last week Imagination launched the Creator CI20 development board. This device is quite interesting because of the combination of architecture, features, developer support, form factor, and pricing. It also has some historical significance as it houses the first SoC to combine a MIPS CPU with PowerVR graphics. Imagination (the company behind PowerVR) purchased MIPS Technologies in February of 2013, and now the fruit of that investment can be found in silicon. That SoC is the Ingenic JZ4780. Ingenic is also known for the development of the Newton platform and XBurst CPUs.

At a high level, the easiest way to describe the CI20 is Raspberry Pi on steroids. Or perhaps this is what the Raspberry Pi could have been if redesigned two years later with about 60% more cost and a larger PCB size budget. This was clearly a target of Imagination as the CI20 contains the exact same expansion connector as the Raspberry Pi.

  Imagination Creator CI20 Raspberry Pi Model B+
SoC Ingenic JZ4780 Broadcom BCM2835
CPU Dual 1.2GHz XBurst
(MIPS32 instruction set)
700 MHz ARM1176JZF-S
(ARM11 family, ARMv6 instruction set)
GPU PowerVR SGX 540 @ Unknown MHz Broadcom VideoCore IV @ 250 MHz
Memory 1GB DDR3 512MB DDR2
USB 1x USB OTG (A and Mini connectors)
1x USB Host
4 USB 2.0 Host
Camera Interface 24-pin connector (ITU-R BT.645) 15-pin MIPI (CSI) connector
Video Output HDMI 1.4a HDMI 1.3a
Composite video 3.5mm jack
Audio In 3.5mm jack shared with output via I²S interface
Audio Output HDMI
3.5mm jack shared with input
3.5mm jack
I²S interface
Storage 8GB NAND
1x full SD slot
1x SD slot via expansion header
via MicroSD
Network 10/100 Ethernet
2.4GHz WiFi b/g/n + BT 4.0 (BCM4330)
10/100 Ethernet
IR Input (IRM-2638A) -
Max Power Consumption 4 Watts 3 Watts
Power Connector 5V barrel connector MicroUSB
Size Approx. 90mm x 95mm (3.54 in x 3.74 in) 85.60 mm × 56.5 mm (3.37 in × 2.22 in)
Price $65 or £50 $35 without MPEG2 and VC1 codecs
$40.60 with MPEG2 and VC1 codecs

(Update 2/3/2015: Creator CI20 non-eval production units shipped with 8GB of NAND)

As you can see from the above table, the CI20 is in a completely different league when it comes to technical specifications. A much more powerful SoC, featuring MIPS and PowerVR, headlines the CI20, but the wealth of interfaces combined with improved storage/memory completes an impressive package for the price. Both the Raspberry Pi and the CI20 feature similar encode and decode support, except the pricing for the CI20 includes licenses to do so. Also, the CI20 supports 1080p60 decode, an upgrade over the 1080p30 of the Raspberry Pi.

For the software side of things, Imagination provides images for the CI20 of both Android Kitkat 4.4.4, Debian 7, Gentoo Linux, Yacto Sato, and Angstrom. Arch and OpenWRT are works in progress. For home media center users, there has also been some investigation running XBMC with Debian on the CI20.

I personally use XBMC on a Raspberry Pi at home. I requested a CI20 review unit from Imagination and received it this past Friday. I plan on doing some performance and power measurements on the device for a future article. Those interested in acquiring a CI20 can preorder (shipping at end of January) at the Imagination Store and enter a giveaway from Imagination.

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  • Memo.Ray - Monday, December 8, 2014 - link

    I was looking last week for a board that is more powerful than the Rpi with better connectivity and on-board storage. This seems a great fit at a great price! Thanks for bringing it up. I will be looking forward for the full review.
  • extide - Monday, December 8, 2014 - link

    Don't forget the Beaglebone Black :)
  • ddriver - Monday, December 8, 2014 - link

    Don't forget ODROID. Cheapest version is US$65.00, you get quad core at 1.7 GHz with 2 gigs of ram. It will eat the CI20 for breakfast and remain hungry.

    What I dislike about this board the most is the poor PCB shape and connector placement. Seems really clumsy design.
  • Memo.Ray - Monday, December 8, 2014 - link

    I have to say, I'm not impressed by the board layout :)
  • ddriver - Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - link

    Meanwhile... this was released just today and looks like a 100% winner:

    ODROID-C1 features an Amlogic S805 SoC that features a 1.5GHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A5 processor and Mali 450MP2 graphics. This board also has 1GB of DDDR3 memory, Gigabit Ethernet, 40 GPIO pins, eMMC / microSD storage, four USB 2.0 ports, and one USB OTG port.
  • ddriver - Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - link

    Forgot the most important bit - it is only 35 bucks.
  • jospoortvliet - Thursday, December 11, 2014 - link

    Note that you can get a banana pi (dual a7) with SATA any 1gbit network port for 5-10 bucks over raspberry pi, too. Has been around for over half a year at EUR 40 in Europe, USD 55 in USA.
  • alexvoica - Tuesday, December 9, 2014 - link

    Hungry as in power-hungry?
  • ddriver - Tuesday, December 9, 2014 - link

    Read before you make stupid claims. ODROID U3 has much better performance/watt ratio.
  • alexvoica - Tuesday, December 9, 2014 - link

    Can you please provide mW/mHz numbers for the processor inside the board you've quoted to back up your claim?

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