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Notes from a BeagleBone Black newbie

A long while back, when Radio Shack was going out of business in Cupertino, I picked up a BeagleBone Black to play around with. Thanks to the pandemic, that time has finally come.

I’m confident in my geek credibility, but this thing has really taxed my skills. All the documentation I could find was, if not obtuse, written with a lot of knowledge assumptions. Here, then, are the things that I had to either discover myself, or suss out from a lot of different places.

  • The board has an OS in firmware, so unlike a Raspberry Pi, it will boot up out of the box.
  • If you do install a memory card that contains an updated OS distro, it will boot up from that instead, provided that you flashed the card with the .img and not the .xz file. Don’t believe the misleading documentation that says the etcher will decompress the file for you. It will, but only the .img, not the .xz.
  • Bonus tip: On a Mac, use the great utility BetterZip to decompress the .xz file.
  • Apparently you can update the firmware with the new OS by editing a single line in image’s config file. You will find instructions about how to do this by booting with buttons held down, but that’s the old method. I didn’t try either method as I’m happy running from a 32GB card.
  • The Display connector is a microHDMI port. Not MiniHDMI like the Raspberry Pi Zero. Time to check your junk drawer for yet another obscure adapter.
  • The mDNS (Bonjour) name will be, by default “beagleboard.local” The only user is “root” and there is no password assigned to that account.
  • If all the LEDs on the board are lit up, something went wrong during startup. If you’re trying to run headless (see microHDMI, above) this is the only way to know there’s a problem. When the unit is running correctly one of the LEDs will flash repeatedly in what is supposed to be a “heartbeat” (but if my heart ever beats like that, please call an ambulance).
  • Raspberry Pi users will be pleased to discover that the unit has a power switch.
  • Once booted, the unit is running a web server. This will show you a few details about your device.

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the device, altho it comes with a lot of stuff pre-installed and I have no idea what it’s all for. (Now I know how Android phone users feel.)

I made a pleasant discovery about how to create a box to hold the board, which I described previously: Beaglebone Black Card Box

Most of the notes above were written early in the pandemic, and so far my Beaglebone has an uptime of well over 400 days. During that period I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to restart the Raspberry Pi.


I do not accept advertising, but the Amazon want you to know that some links may contain affiliate codes that dangle the promise of earning me a few pennies towards running this site (at no additional expense to you). Humbly, Gordon Meyer

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