Genuino 101 review

For Intel’s desire to break into the maker market dominated by ARM and microcontrollers, is the third time the charm?



Intel has been trying to break into the maker market for a few years now, having seen the success of the Arduino project and the Raspberry Pi. The Intel Galileo (reviewed in LU&D Issue 138, 4/5) proved unpopular thanks to poor IO performance from the Quark processor. Its successor, the Edison (reviewed in LU&D Issue 151, 4/5), added an Atom processor to address performance issues but its odd form factor and high-density connectors were off-putting.

The Genuino 101 is Intel’s third crack of the whip. Abandoning its previous approach of producing an Arduino-compatible microcontroller, the company has partnered with the Arduino project to create a fully official Arduino board – known as the Arduino 101 in the US and Genuino 101 elsewhere thanks to ongoing trademark issues. The result is a device which, at a casual glance, looks just like the classic microcontroller-based Arduino Uno. Yet, while it shares the Uno’s layout, the Genuino 101 is a different beast.

At its heart is the Curie module, an ultra-compact, low-power system-on-chip (SoC) designed primarily for wearable projects. Inside this chip is a pair of processors: a 32MHz Quark core acts as the central processor, while a 32MHz Argonaut RISC Core (ARC) is present as a co-processor – a tacit admission from Intel that the Quark’s ability to directly drive IO pins isn’t quite where it should be.

The presence of two processors splits the Curie module in an interesting manner. The Quark, which is a fully compatible x86 architecture processor based on the company’s old Pentium microarchitecture, runs a real-time operating system (RTOS); the ARC is used to execute whatever Arduino program you care to upload, and in a manner which is theoretically indistinguishable from any other Arduino.

In theory, this split architecture offers the best of both worlds: the flexibility and power of a microcomputer with the real-time operation and low power of a microcontroller. Sadly, at present, the RTOS is locked-down and closed-source. Intel has pledged to open-source the RTOS in March 2016, at which point the true potential of the Genuino 101 should become apparent – such as the ability to offload your own tasks to the Quark, or even to install and run a cut-down Linux directly on the device.

Want to find out more about what we thought of the Genuino 101? Check out the full review in issue 163 of LU&D!