Not too long ago, I received a Minnowboard Max, the dualcore 1.3Ghz model, and it is a sweet bit of kit.

Hear is my quick review of the hardware.


  1. A power button!
    Every time I shutdown an SBC like the Raspberry Pi or Beaglebone by pulling the power connector, I cringe and hope I don't mess up the file system. Thank you Minnowboard Max for the graceful shutdown.

  2. intel graphics
    A graphics chip with Open Source drivers maintained by the chip manufacturer? yes please!

  3. x86 processor
    Apparently this makes #2 possible. Well not really, but there don't seem to be any other SBCs that have an Open Source driver for the graphics chip that are not x86 based.

  4. SATA connector
    at some point, it would be great to add copious amounts of storage to this SBC


  1. No OS images are available with a kernel that has GPIO enabled. To be fair, this is not the boards fault. On a side note, I tried to compile the 3.16 kernel with GPIO and PWM support but I ended up borking something. No surprise there. /me is horrible at compiling kernels.

  2. UEFI in the firmware. bummer. This isn't as bad as it sounds either, although it is slightly more complicated than "install boot media and power up the device". Personally, I would love to skip UEFI and let the underlying BIOS handle all of my startup needs.

wow. how phenomenally indepth. :)

So what did I do with it? I'm glad you asked....

What I did with it

First, I tried to install Arch, but I couldn't get the /etc/fstab to properly recognize the /boot partition that had the UEFI boot jibberjabber on it. Can I blame this issue on UEFI? Does it have something to do with the UEFI requirement that the boot partition is formatted FAT32? Does that mean I can blame Microsoft as well? Does it matter that I was installing to the Micro SD card?

we may never know. Perhaps I was too hasty to give up, but I was itching to create, and not to debug.

Following the instructions at elinux.org, I installed Debian 8 (jessie) using the AMD64 netinstall image and then began installing the packages that I needed for compiling software and running scripts. A USB soundcard and an 802.11n wireless card were collected for the build. Then I put shit together.

Make A Case

For the most part, I recycled the case from the horrid Odroidx computer.

Suspend the board

zip ties, yarn, and small eye screws make great stand-offs.

Here is the USB card with small speakers connected to it. A sweet microphone was later added to the mix.

Bend some metal

This is part of the sheet metal that was donated to me by the recipient of windchime #3. Thanks Buddy!

What you are looking at is a microphone holding bracket screwed to the wall.

Microphone check! one two one two

Oh my, is that a sweet rewired mic that I see there? yes, yes it is.

Did I mention that I reused a lot of projects in this project?

On the wall!

There she is: Cronos, right next to the "music room".

Recycling projects made this a bit of a breeze. The toughest part was wiring the electrical outlet behind the case so that I wouldn't have to expose any wires. keeping it clean. BOOYAH!


A build is fine and dandy, but what is it running, and what does it do?

Chime the hour

Every hour, on the hour, cron runs a fairly simple Ruby script to play a "chime" for each hour of the hour. The cron code looks like

0 * * * * /usr/bin/ruby /opt/chime/chimer.rb

And the ruby script is:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby

#where is the chime?
this_dir File.expand_path(File.dirname(__FILE__))
chime File.join(this_dir'chime.ogg')
vol 1.0

hour Time.now.hour
if hour 22 or hour 7
  vol 0.1
elsif hour 21 or hour 8
  vol 0.4

#what command plays the audio?
play_cmd "gst-launch-1.0 playbin uri=file://#{chimevolume=#{vol&"
puts play_cmd

hour -=12 if hour 12
hour.times do |i|
  sleep 2

And the chime audio is a recording of low note from wind chime number 2 with the pitch shifted. Hey! Where is the video of windchime 2?

Text to speech

Thanks to the USB sound card, the computer has audio out other than through HDMI.

For converting Text to Speech, I am using festival with Arctic voices.

Aside from the system itself using festival for text to speech, I am also running a modified version of my ruby webrick based web server for text to speech that uses festival and allows me to send text to speech commands to the computer from any network connected device.

I should mention that although the Minnowboard Max is a fairly speedy little computer, festival text to speech is quite the resource consumer and there is a delay between when a request for speech happens and when the resulting audio is actually heard. This lead to a feature in Blather.

Damn it computer! Do what I tell you!

Blather handles all of the voice commands for telling devices on my network what to do.

Because I needed some sort of instant feedback for whether Blather accepted my voice command or not, an option was added for running a script when a valid voice command was detected. Similarly, an option was added for running a script when an invalid voice command was detected.

In this implementation, the "valid script" plays an "affirmative beep" and the 'invalid script" plays a "negative beep". Since no one offered to help me with the audio, I busted out my cheapo USB mic and recorded my own files. :) oh man....

Affirmative: bing!

Negative: booduhbooduh

Well there she is. Now if you will excuse me.... "Play Iron Maiden"

2014-09-05 Alison Chaiken:
Another amazing and inspiring post! I'd be happy to help you compile the kernel if you want to take another whack at it.
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