A Motherboard Manufacturer’s Take On A Raspberry Pi Competitor

In the almost five years since the launch of the original Raspberry Pi we have seen a huge array of competitors emerge in the inexpensive single board computer market. Many have created their own form factors, but an increasing number have gone straight for the jugular of the fruity board from Cambridge by copying its form factor and interfaces as closely as possible. We’ve seen sterling efforts from the likes of Banana Pi, Odroid, and several others, but none have yet succeeded in toppling it from its pedestal.

The ASUS Tinker specification.
The ASUS Tinker specification.

The latest contender in this arena might just make more of an impact though, because it comes from a major manufacturer, a name you will have heard of. Asus have quietly released their Tinker, board that follows the Pi form factor very closely, and packs a 1.8 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex A17 alongside an impressive spec we’ve captured as an image for this article. Though they are reticent about it on their website, there is a SlideShare presentation with some of the details, which we’ve placed below the break.

At £55 (about $68) where this is being written it’s more expensive than the Pi, but Asus go to great lengths to demonstrate that it is significantly faster. We will no doubt verify the accuracy of that claim as the boards find their way into the hands of our community. Still, it features a mostly-Pi-compatible I/O header, and the same display and camera connectors as the Pi. There is no information as to how compatible these last two are though.

Other boards in this arena have boasted impressive hardware, but have fallen down when it comes to the support for their operating systems. When you buy a Raspberry Pi it is not just the hardware you are taking on but the Raspbian operating system and its impressive community support. The Tinker supports Debian, so if Asus is to make a mark they must ensure that its support rivals that of the board it is targeting. If they succeed in that endeavor then the result can only be good news for us.

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Very, Very Tiny X86 Systems

The most interesting market for Intel in recent years has been very, very small form factor PCs. ARM is eating them alive, of course, but there are still places where very small and very low power x86 boards make sense. The latest release from SolidRun is the smallest we’ve seen yet. The SolidPC Q4 is one of the smallest x86 implementation you can find. It’s based around the MicroSoM, a module even smaller than a Raspberry Pi, and built around a carrier board that has all the ports you could ever want from the tiniest PC ever.

The SolidPC Q4 is technically only a carrier board featuring a microSD slot, Displayport, HDMI 1.4B, two RJ45 ports with the option for PoE, three USB 3.0 Host ports, jacks for mic and stereo sound, and an M.2 2230 connector for a wireless module. The interesting part of this launch is the MicroSoM, a System on Module based on Intel’s Braswell architecture. Two models are offered, based on the quad-core Atom E8000 and the Pentium N3710. Both modules feature up to 8GB of DDR3L RAM and 4GB of eMMC Flash.

The interesting part of this launch is the MicroSoM, a System on Module based on Intel’s Braswell architecture. Two models are offered, based on the quad-core Atom E8000 and the Pentium N3710. Both modules feature up to 8GB of DDR3L RAM and 4GB of eMMC Flash. The size of these modules is 52.8mm by 40mm, or just a shade larger than the stick-of-gum-sized Raspberry Pi Zero.

The SolidPC isn’t intended to be a Raspberry Pi competitor. While those cheap ARM boards are finding a lot of great uses in industry, they’re no replacement for a small, x86 single board computer. The pricing for this module starts at $157 according to the product literature, with a topped out configuration running somewhere between $300 and $350, depending on options like a heatsink, enclosure, or power adapter. If you want a small single board computer with drivers for everything, there aren’t many other options: you certainly wouldn’t pick a no-name Allwinner board.

Single Board Revolution: Preventing Flash Memory Corruption

An SD card is surely not an enterprise grade storage solution, but single board computers also aren’t just toys anymore. You find them in applications far beyond the educational purpose they have emerged from, and the line between non-critical and critical applications keeps getting blurred.

Laundry notification hacks and arcade machines fail without causing harm. But how about electronic access control, or an automatic pet feeder? Would you rely on the data integrity of a plain micro SD card stuffed into a single board computer to keep your pet fed when you’re on vacation and you back in afterward? After all, SD card corruption is a well-discussed topic in the Raspberry Pi community. What can we do to keep our favorite single board computers from failing at random, and is there a better solution to the problem of storage than a stack of SD cards?

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Hacker-Friendly SBCs: Which ones?

We have run out of fruits to name all the single-board computers on the market, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a rotten one. Bad documentation, incomplete specifications and deprecated firmwares are just some of the caveats of buying only by price and hardware features. To help you out in case you just need to find a great and open-enough SBC with community support, [Eric] has put together a decent list with 81 individually reviewed boards over at hackerboards.com.

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FriendlyARM: A Different Flavor of Raspberry

A lot of old science fiction movies show people wearing the same–or nearly the same–clothes. We’re left guessing if this is because there is a single centralized plant mass-producing skin-tight jumpsuits, or if everyone is under orders to dress the same. Now that we live in the past’s future, it looks like science fiction was a poor predictor of fashion. People want variety.

Which calls to mind development boards. How many different ones do we need? Need doesn’t matter, because we have plenty of them. There may be strong leaders: in the 8-bit world, you think of the Arduino, and on the Linux side, maybe the Raspberry Pi. But there are options.

[Eric Brown] recently compared several inexpensive development boards from FriendlyARM including the NanoPi M3, the NanoPi M1, and the NanoPC-T3. These range from about $11 to $60 with the M3 costing $35. You can see an M1 booting on an HDMI screen in the video below.

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Odroid C2 Bests Raspberry Pi 3 in Several Ways

It’s been a big week in the world of inexpensive single board computers, and everyone’s talking about the new Raspberry Pi 3. It blows away the competition they say, nobody can touch it for the price.

Almost nobody, that is.

With a lot less fanfare on these shores, another cheap and speedy 64-bit quad-core ARM-based SBC slips onto the market this week, Hardkernel’s Odroid C2. And looking at the specification it seems as though the Pi 3 may be given a run for its money. Like the BCM2837 in the Pi 3 its Amlogic S905 SoC is a quad-core ARM Cortex-A53, but the C2’s 2GHz clock speed gives the raspberry to the 1.2GHz of the Pi 3. There is twice the RAM of the Pi 3 at 2Gbytes, and the onboard Mali-450 GPU can deliver 4K video.

Unlike the Pi 3 there is no wireless or Bluetooth on board, but the C2 has a Gigabit Ethernet port which is wired directly into the SoC. Compared to the Pi 3’s 100 megabit port which suffers through being on a USB interface, that’s likely to be very quick.

Storage can be a choice of either the usual micro SD card or eMMC. Given that the two boards share a very similar form factor it is no surprise that they have very similar GPIO capabilities, however it is worth noting that the C2 has a built-in analog-to-digital converter. As to operating systems, the C2 can run Ubuntu 16.04, or Android Lollipop.

Of course, we’ve seen so many boards touted as Pi-killers, and like all those also-ran tablets touted as iPad killers a few years ago we’ve never heard of most of them again after a brief moment of chatter. They look so good on paper but the price always lets them down.

The C2 could just escape that fate though, its $40 price point is very close to that of the Pi 3. Setting aside for a moment how much shipping and customs might cost for a package from Korea, that sounds interesting to us.

Why might you buy a C2 then, and why might you buy a Pi 3? That the C2 has a much faster processor is beyond doubt. This and its faster wired networking would make it a much more interesting prospect for anyone whose work involves network-attached data processing. But even though a USB wireless network adaptor can be had for only a few dollars the Pi 3’s onboard wi-fi and Bluetooth makes it much more attractive to a home user or someone using a computer on a platform unfettered by wires.

However impressive the C2 may be it is overwhelmingly likely that the Pi 3 will outsell it many times over. This will not just be due to the massive publicity advantage achieved by the Pi Foundation, but the huge ecosystem of hardware and software developers that have made the Pi boards perform to the limit of their abilities in all directions. If you don’t mind forgoing that support though, you could just find that the board from Korea gives you enough extra bang for your buck to make having it on your bench worthwhile.

We’ve followed the Odroid products from the start here at Hackaday. The C2 is just the latest of a procession of boards from Hardkernel, and we’ve featured a few projects that include them. Theirs is always the name at the top of the list when the subject turns to Raspberry Pi competitors, perhaps with the C2 they’ve got a winner.

Our thanks to [Derrick].

THP Entry: A 6502 SBC Robot (On Multiple Boards)

SBC

Robots have always been a wonderful tool for learning electronics, but if you compare the robot kits from today against the robot kits from the 80s and early 90s, there’s a marked difference. There are fairly powerful microcontrollers in the new ones, and you program them in languages, and not straight machine code. Given this community’s propensity to say, ‘you could have just used a 555,’ this is obviously a problem.

[Carbon]’s entry for The Hackaday Prize is a great retro callback to the Heathkit HERO and robotic arms you can now find tucked away on a shelf in the electronics lab of every major educational institution. It’s a 65C02 single board computer, designed with robotics in mind.

The 6502 board is just what you would expect; a CPU, RAM, ROM, CPLD glue, and a serial port. The second board down on the stack is rather interesting – it’s a dual channel servo board made entirely out of discrete logic. The final board in the stack is an 8-channel ADC meant for a Pololu reflective sensor, making this 6502 in a Boe-bot chassis a proper line-following robot, coded in 6502 assembly.

[Carbon]’s video of his bot below.


SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.

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