The Odd Bargain

Long term readers will know that I occasionally wander off subject (the ESP8266 and related hardware and software) by quite a way, but usually within the bounds of the  more general subject of “technology”.  One of the consistently popular pages on the site over the past couple of years has been the story of the tiny Z8350 fanless system which I bought a while ago to replace a power-hungry infrastructure server on my home network.  Despite a very rocky start, that little machine turned out to be one of my better buys in recent years and has encouraged me to try some of the other, low-cost systems appearing on the market (mostly with a lot less success than the original Z83).

Anyway, in the course of these experiments, I’ve been finding new outlets and even better deals on more of these “mini PCs” (as they have come to be called) and have been updating the original Z83 page with these odd bargains, as I find them.  For instance:-


Update May 6th 2019 —  !!EUROPE ONLY!! —  A very similar box (Z8350 but with 4GB/64GB and VGA/HDMI video connectors) is now selling for €69.99 (~$78) at Cdiscount (France).   If you’re not in Europe and don’t have a plug-adapter to hand, you can still get an updated 64GB eMMC version with dual video outputs (one VGA, one HDMI) for $99.99 (plus shipping).


(The first one has recently dropped to €65.99, or about $74 US).


Update July 13th 2019  —  !!EUROPE ONLY!!  —  …and the cheapest yet, 4GB/64GB with HDMI and VGA for just €47.95 (about $54) from CDiscount.  Read the small print carefully!


Update Aug 6th 2019 —  As Z8350 afficionados will know, the “Z85” version of this popular little box is generally regarded as the “big brother” of the version described in the body of this article, as it comes with an added VGA port and (usually) 4GB of RAM and a 64GB eMMC.  Well you can currently get the Z85 from this seller on Aliexpress in the 2GB/32GB configuration (definitely –not– recommended for Windows 10) for just $78.16 including free shipping (or $86.19 for the 4GB/64GB version).


I’ve become fascinated recently by the emergence of even more capable systems in roughly the same price range, which are more substantially built (usually with aluminium cases with integrated heat sinks) and slightly more powerful processors.  They’re still not the sort of machine where you’d run a company database or even use for serious gaming, but they are solid little workhorses which, importantly, just sip power and are eminently suitable for 24/7 operations.

One of the common processors used to power these systems is the Celeron J3160, a stablemate of the Atom Z8350 used in the mini-PC systems referenced above.  Both were  introduced at the same time and have remarkably similar specs, with the J3160 having very slightly better general performance, better memory bus throughput and an improved on-board GPU.  Because these chips are no longer leading-edge, the systems using them are now going for very reasonable, or sometimes even “bargain basement” prices.  Here’s the best bargain I’ve come across this week (so far):-

Picture courtesy of Venoen/AliExpressThe VENOEN store on AliExpress is currently offering a J3160 based, barebones system with dual (Realtek) GbE ports, dual HDMI ports, a single RS232 COM port, one internal mini PCI-E (mSATA) slot, one internal mini half-height PCI-E, one internal DDR3L SIMM slot, two USB-3.0 ports and four USB-2.0 ports — for $96.11.  There’s also a normal SATA connector on the motherboard and (apparently) space in the case for a 2.5″ drive (although in a fanless system, it would make sense to limit that to an SSD).

To select the J3160 model at that price, click on “No RAM, No HD, No WiFi” and “2-LAN, 1-COM, J3160”  (careful, there’s an “N3160” button right next to it).  Shipping is free (for my geographical region, anyway).


Update June 25th 2019 —  !!EUROPE ONLY!! —  Another one of those deals for people in central Europe, available from CDiscount.com.  This is a bare-bones J3160 system from Hystou which comes (as far as I can tell) in a plastic case, with no external heat sink.  It is advertised as fanless and otherwise looks pretty much identical to the system above (although it is rather difficult to confirm, because of the lack of specs on the CDiscount page).  It is currently on sale at €69.99 (about $78.50).



†  —  Disclaimer #1 – I don’t own either of these specific models, but I do have a couple of very similar, fanless J3160 systems (review coming soon).

‡  —  Disclaimer #2 – I have never used this specific AliExpress store, or CDiscount, so there is no implied recommendation for either seller.

£  —  Disclaimer #3 – This blog is not monetized in any way.  I do not receive free products to review nor do I get any recompense for “clicks”.  Any products reviewed here are purchased at my own expense and you will find (honest and sometime unflattering) comments on the performance of the suppliers in the reviews.

Weekend Reads [2016/06/25]

 

To begin with …a non-event.  This week we were treated to yet another “ESP8266 Killer!” shock-horror headline.  I suspect that the headline was very much tongue-in-cheek, because the publication in question, Hackaday, certainly knows better.  The article referred to the ESP8285, which was actually announced by Espressif way back in March and,  as the press release makes clear in the heading, the ESP8285 is nothing more than an ESP8266 with on-chip flash memory of 1MB.  For most of us, this was a big yawn item.  The currently available modules generally have more flash on board nowadays and generally, as hobby users, we rarely buy the chips themselves (mainly because it’s more expensive than buying the pre-built modules).  If you are itching to get your hands on an ESP8285 though, there are details below on where you can grab a brand-spanking-new breakout board.

1-btn ESP8266 ...button

On a lighter note …have you ever seen a crowdfunding campaign which reached 384,900% (yes, that’s three-hundred and eighty-four-thousand and nine-hundred percent!) of the funding target?  Well, here you go!  Of course, it’s an ESP8266 product.

 

For this weeks recommended reads, we touch on a few hardware items which look quite interesting:-

  • Here’s a slightly different take on the Sonoff.  Tinkerman bought some non-RF units and then discovered that he needed RF control after all …so he hacked in an RF board to suit his existing remote control unit.
  • Kris Winer at Pesky Products has a nice ESP8285 adapter board for sale on Tindie.  It’s a wee bit on the expensive side (compared to the el-cheapo 8266 modules we’re all used to), but has a lot on-board, with a LDO regulator, LiPo battery charger, USB-to-Serial, a USB micro-connector, reset and programming buttons, four LEDs and, of course, a breadboard friendly size and layout. ESP8285 dev board There are also pads available for an optional BME280 temp/humidity/pressure sensor and an optional VEML6040 light sensor (Kris can supply boards with these two sensor already populated for an extra $10).  Anyone who regularly browses OSH Park’s “Shared Projects” pages will know that Kris is constantly refining and updating his designs; he has a lot of design experience under his belt, so it’s a good bet that there aren’t going to be any nasty surprises with this module.
  • At the other end of the breakout board scale, Spence Konde (aka Dr Azzy) has a bare board for the ESP8266 which sells on Tindie for only $3.50.  It certainly isn’t as polished as the Pesky Products board, but it does have the advantage of having a good chunk of available prototyping space, along with a very basic power-supply area and break-outs for all of the ESP pins.  Top of DrAzzy ESP8266 breakout boardEither an ESP-07 or ESP-12 module can be used on the board and there are a couple of nice touches — there are different versions of the voltage regulator on the top and bottom of the board (so you use the pads on the bottom of the board for centre-ground versions and the pads on the top for centre-v-out versions), there are both SMD pads and through-hole pads available for some of the components, there are pads for FET drivers on the back of the board (SMD), as well as a couple of positions for WS2812 LED packages.
  • If you’re looking for a vertical,Vertical adapter with 4MB ESP  solderless-breadboard friendly adapter with the ESP8266 already attached at a competitive price, check this offering from Aerial.net (Greece), who also seem to have very reasonable postage rates.

No apologies (but an explanation) for the number of Tindie links this week.  A couple of weeks ago I had started writing a short piece on how disappointing the state of ESP8266 offerings were on Tindie (at that stage there were a fairly large number of vendors simply re-selling the bog-standard AI-Thinker modules and a large number of those were the el-crapo ESP-01 modules, at that).  That article was shelved (who want’s to read what’s not available?!), but I’ve been checking back in with Tindie since then to see if the situation is improving any and, as you can see, slowly but surely it is …but my take-away opinion on this is that you could still make a name for yourself in the ESP8266 world (and, perhaps, a killing) on Tindie if you have a useful, well-priced product aimed at the hobby market right now.

Weekend Reads [2016/06/04]

This week we have a couple of hardware projects at the front of our queue, so you might want to switch your soldering iron on to heat up now.

Finally, here’s a teaser from a high-school in Spain where they are using cascaded ESP8266’es (rather than mesh networking).  I class it as a teaser because there’s an explanation and a video (in Spanish), but no code or example configs that I can see (updates welcome in the comments section, below).

 

Weekend Reads [2016/5/28]

Another eclectic electric collection for your delectation.

One of Theo’s more recent updates is to add a couple of photos to the README.md for the Sonoff-MQTT-OTA-Arduino project (scroll down to the bottom of the page) of a (broken) Kaku 433Mhz mains switch which he has gutted and replaced with an ESP8266 to make a Sonoff look-alike.  I can’t find any further details of the project, but from what we can see from the photograph (click to enlarge) and what we already know of the Sonoff, it should be relatively easy to duplicate this if you have any of these older Kaku units gathering dust.

Weekend Reads [21st May 2016]

Here we go with a few more links which tickled my ESP8266 fancy.  Enjoy!

 

This final link needs a couple of warnings …the first is that it is not ESP8266 specific, but it has a metric ton of great information for those of us who want to use an RTC with the ESP8266 in data-logging applications; the second is that you are going to lose a lot of time once you start reading …this whole blog is just chock-full of interesting stuff.  Edward Mallon shows us how to implement an RTC (and temperature sensing) on his “Cave Pearl” underwater sensors.  A fascinating read.

 

Weekend Reads [14th May 2016]

Here’s another small selection of interesting stuff from the web.

Weekend Reads [7th May 2016]

As a little bit of a break from the ongoing TASMOTA series, here are a few links for some light, ESP-related, weekend reading.

Finally, here’s one just to amuse you.  It’s not an ESP8266 project, but a project along the same lines of the ESP relay switching boards which have generated so much discussion in the forums recently (about the relative safety of their designs).  This one popped up in the Editor’s Choice newsletter from Instructables (and obviously, when it comes to basic electronics,  the Instructables editor is as clueless as the original submitter).

What I’d like to know though, is how the submitter actually did what he did?  Take a look at the “$1 AUTOMATIC WATER LEVEL CONTROLLER” project and see how many mistakes you can spot (you’ll need to  scroll well down in the comments to see an image of the bottom of the board).  I’ll give you a clue for the first one …I’m colour-blind, but not that colour-blind!  At any rate, please feel free to ignore the author’s advice that this is a working design for an AC pump.

Have a good one!