"... and no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame; But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star, shall draw the thing as he sees it, for the god of things as they are"

-Kipling

 

Beaglebone Black and Debian 3.8 Linux armhf O/S Hardware Setup

Summary

This page describes a hardware setup which can be used when developing in C# and Mono on the Beaglebone Black. The following pages in this series describe the procedure for installing the Debian armhf O/S and C# on the Beaglebone Black and the contents of this page are necessarily oriented towards that end result.

A Diagram of the Beaglebone Black and the Armhf 3.8 Development Environment

 

Note: Much of this hardware setup discussed here is designed around the fact that installing C# and Mono on the Beaglebone Black requires a hard float armhf Linux distribution as opposed to the default soft float armel operating system with which the current Beaglebone Black ships. The Linux operating system which is installed by default the Beaglebone Black (Rev C) board is an armel Linux 3.8 distribution and previously there was no Linux 3.8 armhf version tailored specifically for the Beaglebone Black. A generic Ubuntu 3.14 armhf version could be downloaded from armhf.com and it worked well. However this version, being generic, was not configured in the same way as the one you get with the Beaglebone Black when you take it out of the box. Which is not to say it couldn't be similarly configured - it just wasn't because the people spending their time putting the package together made a generic armhf install with fewer of the bells and whistles.

This situation has now been addressed and a Debian armhf 3.8 Linux version specifically tailored for the Beaglebone Black is now available for download from http://beagleboard.org/latest-images. As of the time of this writing the latest version available is Debian (BeagleBone, BeagleBone Black - 4GB SD) 2015-03-01 and all discussions on this page and the subsequent series of pages will reference that operating system. You can find the installation instructions in the "Update board with latest software" section of the Beaglebone Black Get Started page.

Now that there is a Beaglebone Black specific version of the 3.8 armhf operating system you have a choice of connecting it to the Internet in one of two ways. You can either connect the USB cable from the Beaglebone Black to a PC (running Windows, Linux, or Mac O/S) and then convince that PC to route the Beaglebone Black's TCP/IP packets out through its Internet connection or you can use an ethernet cable to directly plug your Beaglebone Black into your local area network (an ISP Hub for example) and let it connect to Internet with no intermediary.

In my opinion, for development work with C# and Mono, the best way is to use the Ethernet cable method and simply make the Beaglebone Black a device on your local area network. This method has the advantage that it is much simpler, faster and, on my system at least, less troublesome since Windows seemed to have trouble remembering how to route the packets every time I rebooted it. In addition, later when you adjust the Beaglebone Blacks device tree (and you probably will), you will find that the ability to log into the Beaglebone Black using only a keyboard and monitor is invaluable if you mess things up.

The following discussion and hardware setup is solely concerned with the direct Ethernet method of connecting the Beaglebone Black to the Internet. If you wish to use the USB method of connecting the Beaglebone Black to the Internet a short discussion on How to Connect the Beaglebone Black to the Internet via USB has been posted over in the Beagle Notes section.

USB Hub, Keyboard and Mouse

Assuming you do wish to connect your Beaglebone Black to the internet via ethernet rather than through the USB cable the first thing you will need to do is to somehow get access to a shell prompt or other console window. You cannot just connect via ssh even though the ethernet connectivity is probably functional because until you login you will not know the IP address - by default a random IP address will be assigned to the Beaglebone Black automatically. To connect via a console you either use a serial connection (not discussed here) or you plug in a keyboard, mouse and monitor.

The Beaglebone Black contains two USB ports. One is a host port and one is a client port. The client port is used to make the Beaglebone Black look like a client device to a USB host such as a PC. This port is the one that has a mini USB connector and for which you probably received a USB cable with your purchase. You do NOT want to hook up the key board and mouse to this port. To manage a keyboard and mouse, the Beaglebone Black needs to act as a USB host - just like a PC. The USB host port is located on the opposite end from the RJ45 ethernet connector.

You can plug a mouse or keyboard directly into the Beaglebone Blacks USB Host port and it will work. However, as there is only one port, you can only hook up one at a time. You may wish to plug in a USB Hub and then connect both the keyboard and mouse into that. I used a Belkin 4-port Travel Hub (model F5U407cwBLK) I had lying around and it worked fine. I imagine pretty much any USB hub would do the job.

Video

In order to log in and make changes you are going to need to see what is going on. To do this you need video output.

The Beaglebone Black has built-in HDMI output which is accessible via a micro HDMI connector located on the end opposite the ethernet RJ45 connector. If you have an HDMI capable monitor handy all you need is a micro HDMI to HDMI cable and you are good to go. If, like me, you have a shortage of bench space on which to place HDMI capable monitors (they don't seem to sell small ones these days) and a massive oversupply of perfectly useable old VGA flat screen monitors you may well wish to purchase an HDMI to VGA converter.

I hooked up an old 1024x768 VGA monitor to a Cable Matters Active Micro HDMI to VGA Male to Female Adapter (Model 113048-WHITE) and this worked perfectly. Well worth the small cost of the adapter. Note that you need to supply this Adapter with external power via a USB connection using the supplied cable. The Beaglebone Black is not really up to supplying the required power via its USB port. I plugged the USB connector cable into an old phone charger and this worked well. Plugging it into a PC USB port would also work just fine.

Ethernet

The Debian 2015-03-01 armhf distribution has working ethernet connectivity straight out of the box. I just used a Cat5 ethernet cable and plugged the Beaglebone Black into the TCP/IP hub provided by my Internet Service Provider. In my case, this hub has both internet connectivity and also the DHCP server needed to provide the Beaglebone Black with an IP address.

Note: If you do not have a DHCP server on the local area network, the armhf installation on the Beaglebone Black will take a while (2 minutes perhaps) to boot up. This is because it is looking for an IP address from a DHCP server as part of the boot sequence and has to wait for that request to time out before it can continue. If you wish to disable this, once you finally get logged on, you can just edit the /etc/network/interfaces file and comment out the line in the eth0 section that contains the word dhcp.

Micro SD Card

This isn't, strictly speaking, a part of the hardware setup. However you are going to need a micro SD card in future steps in order to install the Linux 3.8 armhf version tailored specifically for the Beaglebone Black. You might as well get one ahead of time. You should probably get one at least 8 GB in size. 4 GB will probably work but you will probably find yourself running out of space quite quickly.

Booting off a micro SD card also has a number of advantages - the primary one being that if you make a change and the Beaglebone Black refuses to boot you can just boot off the original default installation (the default installation does not get removed when you boot from the SD card), mount the SD card into the original filesystem and fix up or undo whatever changes you might have made. The alternative, if one messes up an EMMC based installation, is to reformat the EMMC memory from scratch and go back to square one. You can also keep multiple SD cards handy if you are trying different things and there are occasions where you might wish to disable the EMMC memory in order to enable various GPIO's and other OCP devices which share the same internal resources.

In short, an SD card installation is just as fast and, due to its increased recoverability, it is a lot more usable as a development platform. Later, when you have everything sorted out the way you wish, you can just flash the EMMC memory from the contents of the SD card and carry on from there.

Power

Normally, when using the standard USB connection method, the Beaglebone Black gets its power via a USB connection the host PC. Since there is no working USB connection in this setup you may wish to do something different. I just found an old wall wart power transformer which outputs 5v and 1Amp and plugged that into the supplied barrel jack located close to the RJ45 ethernet connector. You can, if you wish, still plug in the USB cable to the PC for the purposes of power. Just don't expect to connect the Beaglebone Black to the Internet via the USB port unless you go to a considerable amount of trouble to set it up.

Development PC

As mentioned previously, I wished to use a PC to remotely develop, compile and debug the C# code executing on the Beaglebone Black. On my system I used an old laptop running Ubuntu Linux 14.1.4 as the Development PC. This proved to have more than sufficient power to handle MonoDevelop and also the remote debugging.

A Windows 7 PC is also present in the environment. However, for this project, it is mostly just used for documentation and to back up the Dropbox directories containing the source code built over on the Development PC. I did try to get Mono remote compiling and debugging operational in Visual Studio and/or MonoDevelop installed on the Windows 7 PC but was not successful. It probably is possible to do it but I did not pursue that aspect in any depth since the Ubuntu Linux 14.1.4 PC was available and things started working on it fairly easily.

License

The contents of this web page are provided "as is" without any warranty of any kind and without any claim to accuracy. Please be aware that the information provided may be out-of-date, incomplete, erroneous or simply unsuitable for your purposes. Any use you make of the information is entirely at your discretion and any consequences of that use are entirely your responsibility. All source code is provided under the terms of the MIT License.

Acknowledgements

Various internet resources were used to help understand the workings of the Beaglebone Black. Especially useful were Derek Molloys Beaglebone pages. Thank you Derek!.