New Part Day: The $239 Pi Clone

Linaro has announced a new ARM-based single board computer.

The HiKey 960, built in collaboration with 96Boards, gives the user 4 ARM Cortex-A73 cores clocked at 2.4GHz, 4 ARM Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.8 GHz, a Mali GPU (ugh), 32GB of Flash storage, 3GB of LPDDR4, HDMI 1.2, WiFi, Bluetooth, USB 3.0 type A, PCIe on an M.2 connector, and a familiar 40-pin GPIO connector whose configuration is not published yet but is one we can make a very educated guess about. This is a powerful ARM-based single-board computer that’s the same size as a credit card.

This single board computer draws more power than a Raspberry Pi (but less than 24 W with a 12V supply), but that’s what you get when you need a powerful ARM chip. Interestingly, the HiKey 960 places all the connectors on one side of the board. This is a feature very often overlooked in ARM-based single board computers; all the ports on your desktop are on the back, and it only makes sense to constrain the cables and dongles to one side of a Nintendo-shaped 3D printed enclosure.

This is not the first ARM-based single board computer that markets itself as a more powerful Pi. The Pine64 was supposed to be significantly more powerful, handle 4K HDMI, and bring Android to the desktop. The first versions of the Pine64 really, really sucked. However, most of the kinks have been worked out and the folks behind the Pine64 are now shipping a somewhat reasonable low-end Chromebookesque laptop for $89. This is a laptop for under a Benjamin, whereas the HiKey 960 will sell for $239. That’s the same price as an Intel NUC or other mini PC running an x86 CPU. Of course, the HiKey 960 will have higher performance compared to the latest Pi, or other Pi Killer such as the Asus Tinker board, but there must be a point of diminishing returns. Either way, we look forward to getting our hands on one of these powerful single board computers.

72 thoughts on “New Part Day: The $239 Pi Clone

    1. What is it with these manufacturers and their inability to understand the raspberry pi price point??? for $249 I could buy a whole smart phone with screen, battery, and cell capability and use it as a computer more powerful than this board. Connect that smart phone to an arduino and it’s still cheaper, faster, smaller, and more capable.

      1. While also being less integratable. That’s honestly not that great of a comparison, and you can buy decently powerful tablets for $35 (for our purposes. anyway).
        A much better comparison would be other SBCs that are in that price point, that offer so much more (and no, a smartphone won’t offer that much more)

        1. I think he does that because SBCs are SBCs. You have to get the peripherals to even make them a usable “computer” of any sort. I am not even sure what the last line of your counterpoint is suggesting other than to prove his point.

          1. Then there are guys like us trying to integrate a Linux board into a product for sale. Esp didn’t /quite/ cut it, so a Pi in the box and done. I want less speed, less battery, and importantly, less cost. That seems to be an underserved niche. There is a place for high end boards, but cheap and slow has a place as well.

    2. It’s got a lot more memory and 8 processors. It’s hardly in the same bracket. If you take a bunch of pis and connect them together as a system, now you have a ton of network traffic to deal with as a bottleneck.

  1. “This is a laptop for under a Benjamin”

    Come on, Brian, by now you should know that this is a site read by a lot of international readers. Can’t you just say “for under $100”? (assuming a Benjamin is 100 dollar here, because I really don’t know)

      1. We must also assume that there are more than one Benjamin. So which Benjamin we are talking about? Are we going to fit Pi clones under each and every Benjamin on the planet?

    1. @veda, I live in S.E. Asia – and I can confirm that Everyone knows what a “Benjamin” means – especially when reading content on a site originated in the U.S. in English. Maybe you [veda] should do us all a favor and get a “Safe-Space” where you can wall yourself in, and leave the rest of the World alone.

      1. I live in Sweden and could only construe from context what a Benjamin is.
        Had he written “a Dag Hammarsköld” I might have known the value that was hinted.

        (no, who am I kidding, with the new monopoly money we have, I have no idea who’s on the face of our bills anymore)

      1. Honestly: Not enough performance increase to justify the price.

        If this were a Qualcomm reference board (with the associated software pedigree) then it would have a chance of being a sensible purchase. Qualcomm’s CodeAurora reference implementations are quite solid.

        This will have the same problem as the Pine64 – crippled by garbage software. Huawei has a longstanding track record of GPL violations and poor-quality software going back many years. (Such as having the accelerometer axes rotated in the Ideos S7 – they just hacked up their apps to work with the wrong setup, but any other Android app that wanted to use the accelerometer got bad data which would hose any attempt to determine device orientation.)

    1. looking at the early beagleboards for an example of why this will not go anywhere. I suppose there was a community for a while, but it’s gone now. $150 was too much for the kind of projects that people make with a throwaway computer, much less $240.

      1. Just like any of the open source garbage it is only as strong as its community and the two devs that actually know what they are doing reliably posting to the forums. I love seeing threads that haven’t been updated in 6 years with someone trying to make an led blink haha. The manufacturers always promise the world upon release but inevitably go silent after the first quarter of sales has posted and they are on pet rock 2.0.
        Sorry for my tone, I actually agree with you. Frustrated with these products as well.

  2. honestly these pi killers always miss the point, we don’t need faster arm chips. what we need is real time gpio without sacrificing the nicety of linux. throw on a m0 core and an fpga!

    1. That and proper documentation/support. I love the Banana Pi Pro, but trying to get usb gadgets working or get serial access via the UART pins is a nightmare, and isn’t well documented, unlike the Raspberry Pi.

        1. Yeah, I pre-ordered one of them back in 2015. Still waiting for them to finalize the design of the pi-inspired breakout module… Probably won’t get it til 2018…

        1. Maybe time to push behind the Lima project. Or make more wide spread how the “community” handled the effort. Hackaday staff can investigate, like they did for Xpra.

          1. Wow, today posting worked. So more info:
            There was a project, called Lima, and it even had Quake3 running as demo, 4 years ago. FOUR, lost. See limadriver org. FOSS “colaboration” made the coder lose interest. Check libv livejournal com 27461 html (newer post also talks about RadeonHD driver… killed too) It inspired other ARM GPU reverse engineering projects, but for now Mali one is stopped. And the revelations make me realize FOSS is as back stabbing prone as closed, specially when companies are involved.

          1. Thank you reboots for the link to an exhaustive list of articles containing the words beaglebone and pru. Is there a series introducing us to the toolchain, getting started writing code for the PRU et.c written by Mike Szczys in there?

    2. For what seems like years, I’ve been slaving an arduino/teensy/ESP to pies for realtime IO, so as to have time-determinism for that, yet keep the pre-emptive pi opsys and huge open source toolbox on the pi – including the dev platform for the slave computer. This works fine up the the speed it can go over, say, USB – and the slave code on the pi is a nice backup if you let the smoke out of the slave.

      1. Further, for this money, it makes a lot more sense to get an Intel NUC – i5 or so. Same power consumption, about the same money, and will eat this thing’s lunch on speed and storage capacity…a little trickier for IO – and there’s your arduino/teensy/ESP plan again.
        My NUCs all run linux just fine…you almost don’t even have to change the code from a pi implementation other than to take into account the NUCs far greater speed.

        1. Hasn’t somebody made a hybrid device that can handle both actual speed and actual storage along with other things like display and networking and such but ALSO has a real time module built in for a bunch of I/O and defined routines you want from something like an Arduino? Nothing from ARM? I see a few “higher end” Arduinos out there but they are 3.3 volt and are more of a hot rodded microcontroller only anyway.

          1. BeagleBone PRU is sort of on the right track at least but looking for basically a full fledged CPU that has an interface to a real time microcontroller and has it all integrated together. Bonus points for some optical interfaces to prevent voltage spikes on the base device.

  3. I have trouble seeing the value-proposition here. Sure, these ARM-boards may be fine, if you just want to crunch numbers or such, but the instant you want multimedia, you’re better off with an x86-based board — especially so, if the ARM-board has a Mali GPU which suck major ass under Linux! You rarely have video encoding at all, video decoding may just about work with some very specific files, you only get OpenGL ES instead of full OpenGL and so on, whereas with e.g. Up or Up^2 boards you get all the same multimedia-capabilities as you would on a desktop, just slower.

  4. I Like the 96boards standardized form factors and boards with mainline kernel support via the Android Common Kernel (AOSP) project. Realistically this board has as much processing power as a high end phone and this immediately puts it in a class of its own. It is intended for Phone App development/Android developers and perhaps not so much GNULinux/ GNULinux developers.

    This is not a Raspberry Pi nor was it intended to replace RPi or even be a highend RPi. I think Android developers would be the ideal candidate for the board. I also imagine that all IO is 1.8V as opposed to 3.3V making interfacing electronics a tad bit more inconvenient.

  5. at that price point, go buy the NUC6CAYH (Intel NUC) which has a Celeron Processor clocked at 2.3 Ghz (you know, a REAL processing chip) and then go drop 60 or so dollars to put 8 GB of ram in it (RAM running at 1866 Mhz I should add, which is another point these Pi clones always fail at)

    If you are working on some application where its just going to sit on your desk or in a closet in your house, it really doesnt need to run off a 5V USB.

  6. O dear Brian 4x 64Bit CPUs 4×32 PCI-e 3GB ram ,WIFI,BT,LTE modem etc … No Brian not a RPI but an expensive dev board. 2MM connector so defo not RPI …..
    Not meant to be a RPI clone.Nice part pity it wasnt cheaper for the likes of us but OK for Pro devs

    This is a 64 bit dev platform nothing to do with RPI

  7. OK, wildly overpriced — and no wired ethernet. I’ve already lost interest, but without gigabit ethernet I have no interest whatsover. Put this alongside that overpriced Juice-o-matic that was recently reviewed here. The only thing interesting or maybe we should say amusing is the price.

  8. !@#$ Brian, _you_ claimed this is a Raspberry Pi clone, *they* don’t. Raspberry didn’t invent the Single Board Computer concept and not all SBCs are Raspberry Pi clones. Thus the comparison to Raspberry is pointless and misleading.

    This is an interesting SBC which, on paper, offers a lot of storage bandwidth and memory, backed with a fair amount of compute. PCIe alone makes this very interesting.

  9. So, pi clone eh? does the IO pins match 100% to the pi? can i just pump 5V power into it like a pi? does development software work 100% with the system? does it come with its own dev software?

    when I see “pi clone”, I expected a clone, to the Rasberry Pi.. no no its just another arm based SBC, for more then a Pi. with More this and More that for more then 25x the price of a PiZeroW? (if they really are $10, like hell I can find a zero for $5)

    the way this has been presented, its a NUC Killer, not a Pi Killer.

  10. Seems to me there are lots of options available–

    1. Odroid XU4–

    Now, TODAY $59.00…
    USB 3.0: Genesys GL3521 2-port, low-power, configurable SuperSpeed hub controller….
    REAL 10/100/1000 Ethernet: Realtek RTL8211F complies with
    1000Base-T IEEE 802.3 standards….
    4/8 core processor: Samsung Exynos OctaCore 5422…
    64 GB eMMC; 64 GB UHS-1 SD card…
    2 GB RAM…
    Runs Ubuntu, Android, Fedora, ARCHLinux, Debian, OpenELEC..
    1920 X 1200 HDMI…

    $59.00, and you’ve got everything you need to build a REAL computer.

    2. Lenovo T420 laptop–

    8 GB RAM; 500 MB HDD; Win7 Pro (replaced w/ Mint 17.3); Refurbished like new; new extended battery; warranty from
    a top internet source–$180.00.

    3. The sheeple option–

    Of course, if you insist on paying $35.00 for a device which blinks LEDs almost as fast as a 555 timer (and only AFTER an operating system has been loaded), and can’t do much else–including NOT giving you real ethernet (10/100 only, run through a USB(!) chip)–then this is your cup of tea (and not much else).

    Isn’t modern technology wonderful, in that it provides us with so many different options to perform a task? Of course, the only problem is determining when an option really isn’t.

    1. BTW the RPi can toggle GPIOs at speeds upwards of 25MHz when accessing the GPIO directly by mmaping into /dev/mem or /dev/gpiomem. I’ve yet to see a 555 Timer hit that toggling frequency.

      1. You may be correct–I am referring to the commonly-reported attempts at bit-banging–to achieve maximum speed–which show up in the popular press.
        These speeds usually result in rates of around 40kHz to 50 kHz.

        Don’t you think it very odd–assuming your info is accurate (and we must assume it is, no matter how far the ability to do this deviates from the capabilities of the intended RPi audience), that a machine with a clock speed in the 1 GHz–or higher– range can only manage to toggle an I/O bit at 25 MHz?

        Of course, if one could truly program the Raspberry P in assembly language, that speed (“bit-banging speed”) would be dramatically increased…but then again, the power of the Raspberry Pi would be dramatically increased as well…

        1. It’s normal for GPIO toggling speed to not necessarily match the maximum clock speed of the CPU. 1 GHZ GPIO toggle speed (even 500MHz) is probably not possible because the GPIO peripheral is usually placed on one of the slower buses. Not to mention that it would be crazy and would make things like breadboard prototyping very hard.

          This is standard fare with many microprocessors and microcontrollers. The STM32F0 for example has a max CPU clock of 48MHz but max GPIO toggle speed is only 12MHz.

          The RPi is not intended to be an amazing performant platform with Gigabit Ethernet, SATA, PCIE and USB3.0. It is merely a single board computer whose goal is to introduce school kids to the world of programming on the cheap. Many of us hackers/makers like the fact that it is cheap and has lots of support and is easy to use with the plethora of C/C++/Java/Python libraries available. When you factor in performance, cost and accessibility, the Raspberry Pi boards are unbeatable.

          This is coming from a guy who owned all sorts of Banana Pis, BeagleBones, Dragonboards, Intel Edisons, Odroids e.t.c. Many of these boards are great and I would never diss them. But I find that for simple fun projects with modest requirements, and especially for those that are new to programming and Linux; the Raspberry Pi is the easiest to work with.

          Basically the Raspberry Pi to Single Board Computers, is what the Arduino is to microcontrollers. If you like to have more lower level hardware control, better performance and building things from scratch/almost scratch yourself, you will not like the RPi nor Arduino. If you just want to speed up development and have access to a ton of support and pre-coded libraries e.t.c then you’ll go with Arduino/RPi

          BTW i achieved 25MHz toggling speed on the RPI and documented here:

          The waveforms look funny because my scope was acting up and I didn’t configure the GPIO’s pad settings for fast rise times. You can check RPi GPIO benchmarks here as well:

  11. It looks like ODROID-XU4 on the CPU speed and RAM boost, but why would you want us to pay 240$ for it!?… when you can get ~60% of it’s performance for just 59$ with XU4 + additional 42$ for 32GB v.5.0 eMMC card that is 2-3x faster then any USB3.0 flash storage. Although new M.2 connector is welcomed and respectably faster solution, but 240 is… ;(

    1. @Jovan Ivković–

      Well done, Jovan; you have just summarised this $240 machine’s biggest problem.

      If you like the ODROID-XU4, you may want to wait a while to see what improvements Hardkernel has to offer (according to [halherta], above).

      1. Do not get me wrong I really do respect theirs effort and would like to have and pay for some new stronger SoC system that will offer performance much better then my Odroid XU4 and Rasperry Pi3 have, BUT NOT for this over the roof price.
        $240 is like 2x UDOO X86 ADVANCED, it is more expensive then NVIDIA Jetson TK1 Development Kit, and it is almost at the same level with a manufacturing price of Samsung Galaxy Note 7/8 core board (without fire).
        So do we see it as 4x better then new ASUS Tinker board and Odroids XU4 to justify 240$ price, I think not.

  12. I’m still waiting for a Raspi-like (in performance and price) x86 board.

    My daughter wanted her own computer, I gave her a Raspi in a Lego case. She loves it! It’s powerful enough for her and the size is great for her desk.

    But… just yesterday she was asking to play some math game that she plays at school, in class (first grade). It’s Flash! I wish Flash would just die completely already as much as anyone but… it still hasn’t happened! Until then either a good (and cheap) Intel SBC or Flash for Arm is very much needed.

    Ok.. I know.. I could put Android on it… then it wouldn’t be a ‘real computer’ to her anymore. It would be tablet that can’t be carried around.

  13. These are 64bit A73 hybrid SOC’s, likely 16nm or 10nm node size. Not the same as the more common A53 raspberry pi clones. You can get MediaTek X20 boards for a little less, but this class of ARM SOC is still quite new and pricey.

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