New Part Day: Hackboard 2, An X86 Single-Board Computer

From the old Gumstix boards to everyone’s favorite Raspberry Pi, common single-board computers (SBCs) have traditionally had at least one thing in common: an ARM processor. But that’s not to say hackers and makers haven’t been interested in an SBC with a proper x86 processor. Which is why the $99 Hackboard 2 is so exciting. With a modern x86 chip at the core it’s akin to a small footprint desktop motherboard, but with all the extra features that we’ve come to expect in a hacker-friendly SBC.

So what’s the big deal? In a word, compatibility. The fact that these diminutive computing devices shied away from the x86 architecture that most of us have been using on our desktops and laptops since the 1980s originally introduced software compatibility issues, but this was largely outweighed by the advantages of ARM. The latest NVIDIA Jetson is running on an ARM chip for the same reason the smartphone in your pocket is: they’re smaller, cheaper, and more energy efficient than x86.

However they’re rarely more powerful. Even the latest and greatest Raspberry Pi 4, often touted as a viable desktop replacement thanks to its quad core Cortex-A72, will get absolutely trounced by the pokiest of Intel’s Celeron CPUs. The performance gap is just too great. While the Pi can admirably handle most of the tasks the hacker community asks of it, there will always be a call for a board that puts raw processing power before anything else.

Sucking down nearly 40 watts at full tilt, the Hackboard 2 isn’t the SBC you’d want to use for a solar powered weather station. But if you’re putting together a set top box to play back video and run the occasional emulator, its Celeron N4020 processor and Intel UHD 600 GPU represent the most powerful combination available for a device of this size.

The Total Package

That Celeron processor also means the Hackboard 2 can run Windows, if you’re into that sort of thing. While hacker types are usually more than happy with running Linux or potentially BSD on their ARM boards, there’s unquestionably a subset of the community that feels more comfortable with Clippy looking over their shoulder. Or maybe they’ve got some project that requires a piece of Windows software that doesn’t play well with WINE. Either way, getting a proprietary OS preinstalled on your SBC is going to cost you: it’s an extra $40 to get your Hackboard 2 with a copy of Windows 10 Pro on its 64 GB eMMC.

While we can’t complain about the CPU and GPU given what the competition is packing, the fact that there’s only 4 GB of RAM onboard is something of a disappointment. Especially when the cheaper Raspberry Pi 4 includes up to 8 GB. It’s certainly enough for most Linux distributions, but pretty skimpy for a Windows box. Depending on what software you’re hoping to install, it might even be a non-starter. If you’re looking for a cheap machine to run Photoshop on, you’ll want to look elsewhere.

On the plus side, the Hackboard 2 has no shortage of expandability options. Storage certainly won’t be a problem with the dual NVMe M.2 slots, and there’s three USB 3.0 ports to connect whatever high-speed gadgets you might need. There’s also a Pi-compatible 40 pin GPIO header, as well as connectors for a camera, touch screen, and eDP display. When you want to reach out and touch someone, the board has dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 5.1, and Gigabit Ethernet. One of those NVMe slots can even be fitted with a cellular modem.

All told, the Hackboard 2 is a very impressive SBC at a more than reasonable price. Not offering a version with more RAM seems a pretty serious oversight, but of course it took awhile before the 8 GB variant of the Pi 4 hit the market as well. We’d certainly welcome some similar post-release SKU shuffling for the Hackboard, but at a hundred bucks, it’s pretty hard to complain.

Prototype Impressions

If you’re wondering how the release of the original Hackboard 1 somehow passed you by; it didn’t. There was indeed an earlier version of the Hackboard, but it was considered more of a pathfinder prototype. While never released commercially, we were sent one of these prototype boards by Crowd Supply to give us a taste of what the team had in mind for the final hardware.

While we naturally appreciate getting a hands-on with the hardware, this put us in somewhat of an unusual situation. For one thing, there’s no point in doing any benchmarks on the prototype Hackboard since it has a different CPU than the commercial version. Several notable hardware changes have also been made, perhaps chief among them the removal of the prototype’s micro SD slot in favor of a second NVMe M.2 slot. In short, the prototype is different enough from the hardware that paying customers will receive in 2021 that doing a proper review just doesn’t seem appropriate.

So what can we say about the prototype Hackboard? Well, it exists. That should come as a comfort to anyone who’s worried about the team’s ability to deliver the goods. While they’ve still got work ahead of them to make the changes necessary for the Hackboard 2, it’s not as if they have to start from scratch.

More practically, it’s nice to have an SBC that’s essentially just a tiny PC. It has a traditional BIOS menu that allows you to easily configure all the hardware and change around the boot order. Enabling USB booting allowed me to start up the Arch and Mint installers without a problem, and everything worked out of the box.

Compared to ARM boards that generally need to run a custom build of your favorite Linux distribution, the Hackboard will be happy with whatever you throw at it. Naturally that means you can buy the $99 version and install your own copy of Windows after the fact as well.

Again, this isn’t the final hardware and things will absolutely change between now and when the Hackboard 2 starts shipping out to customers. But the prototype is undoubtedly impressive, and there’s arguably nothing on the market that can compete with it at this price. We hope to bring you a full review in the future, but until then, this is certainly a product to keep a close eye on.

119 thoughts on “New Part Day: Hackboard 2, An X86 Single-Board Computer

  1. Seems like it would run the snot out of FreeDOS or FreeRTOS. And if you’re going in that direction, even 1G of RAM would be fine, especially if it could hit a $50 or $35 price point

    1. except it is targeted as a Windows-only solution for those who are technically challenged and only can know one operating system. The Ubuntu pre-installed version is temporary and only for the crowdsourced advertising period.

      Did you notice they compare it to an 8GB version of the rPi4 instead of the 4GB or 2GB version of the rPi4? Marketing games for the non-technical types.

    1. You know how many people love rooting around in that bin? This thing would go over a bomb in the retro community, especially dos gamers, and if they made it a little cheaper it would do even better.

      1. Indeed for the right price I would jump in for one, as while the Pi4 really can do everything you might want a desktop to do there are programs out there you ‘have’ to use even if you would rather use something else, and emulation of x86 always has overheads, why put up with them if native hardware is cheap and efficient enough.

        Yeah modern intel/amd’s wipe the floor with a Pi in total performance, but for 99% of use it doesn’t matter at all, very little of the usual computer use is CPU bound, more likely to find issues with the Pi’s GPU not doing in hardware encoding or decoding something the usual tower gpu’s do.

      2. Why would you pay $99 for this board, if you can get a normal-sized board+cpu+memory with the same kind of performance, for free? Go have a walk around your neighborhood. There’s probably a PC with better specs than this board standing somewhere along a road, waiting to be picked up by the trash collectors. Or just ask around, someone is bound to have kept onto their old, useless, PC, and would be glad to give that old junk to you.

        I don’t see any other point to this board, other than that it has a small footprint. Even the 40W is not low at all.

          1. Three words, really.

            Sure you can go find someone’s discarded desktop easy and get something that “does the job” that this board can do… probably for cheap/free too.
            But its bigger, may not be as supportable, and certainly not as power efficient.
            This board, but lil less ram, $60? Thats “hey honey can I get…” territory.
            40 watts full tilt boogie? Far easier sell than 40 watts at idle at best.
            Fits in a case a little bigger than a Readers Digest? Now I can stuff it somewhere and still fit the local decor.

          2. How small is your TV if you worry about space behind it?

            This is a bare-board system so it is no taller than a standard x86 motherboard. Seriously consider getting a bigger TV if you can’t fit a motherboard behind it. And it’s $140 and probably more after the crowd-source marketing game ends. The $99 version is a one-off for these guys and you have to pay the Windows tax($40) after the expiration date.

          3. Just repack an old desktop into smaller chassis.
            Mount everything horizontally and use low profile components if possible.
            It’s good enough to get 1U box or even 1/2U (if really try it hard), and mount it horizontally on wall with few brackets.
            There are quite a lot options of such SBC under 75$ but none make sense because of soldered ram which big chance to be bad and more expensive then even with double size (so-)dimm(‘s) with smaller number of expansion even by comparison with laptop motherboards.
            SBC with better parameters and modern Ryzen around 150-$200 which is overly expensive for such hardware.
            It’s tinker hardware, c’mon $50 is max and $25 is more realistic price.

          4. Just rip open (or only remove the screen) a laptop with a broken screen. The cheap ones usually have only one small motherboard and as a bonus you get backup power from the battery.

        1. I will not be buying one, but I have always dreamed for a PC (running Linux) with a Pi like GPIO header.

          For anything else, you’re right. I have 5 old laptops hanging around the house for the odd needs here and there.

      1. Except that in most cases our available choices are determined by consumers without the same demands. Want almost any modern device with long battery life? Almost impossible because other consumers care more about size, weight and bigger displays.

    2. It’s funny…thirty-two years ago I wrote my PhD dissertation on a C64 with the word processor Paperclip, and it would do things that Word STILL doesn’t do. In particular it would let you do ONE super/subscript/underline/italic/bold with one stroke (two keys), after which the enhancement turned back to regular text. Since you didn’t have to [turn on-type character-turn off] each subscript, it was a godsend for chemistry work, or for science in general.

      Funny how Word, WordPerfect, and all the others still cannot do this. No doubt there’s a macro that would do the same thing…but I’ve never seen it. Two keys, next character will be superscripted, automatically goes back to regular text.

      Antique does not mean useless. Far from it.

      1. I wrote my dissertation using the vi editor and embedded ditroff formatting commands on a Digital Equipment vax running BSD 4.2 which was definitely a bit more annoying than your experience.

        1. I wrote my dissertation on clay tablets using chisels and rocks to hit the chisels with.
          This board would not be able to replicate the experience in composing it or the quality of the work.

          1. errrmmm with clay tablets you don’t use chisels nor any significant force, theres a reed cut into triangle like stamp and you just stamp it on clay. Wet clay is soft to the point where you leave fingerprints if you aren’t careful enough. The beuty is you can edit what you wrote if you did mistake, you can reuse it just kneed it and spread it on board again, if it got dry just water it kneed it and its fresh again. And if its something important to be permament then you can fire it like pots or bricks. Similar technology in later times where wax tablets you had wooden tablet similar in size to iPad with bees wax in it, you jut scribed on it with sharp nail like “pen” and if there was mistake just use hot knife like tool to melt mistake and write on it again.

          2. Do we need to do that though, if clay takes impressions we can just mod an old daisy wheel to print everything in MIME 64 code, or uuencode… or whatever works with lowest common denominator daisywheel character set.

        2. For my internship I wrote a program that would translate SCRIPT documents to TROFF. Which was actually fun. Except, after I finished, they decided that they would not use TROFF either, and go for something wysiwyg. Shame, because my program worked great.

        1. In LibreOffice (currently 6.4.5) CTL + SHIFT + P toggles Superscript On/Off, and CTL + SHIFT + B does the same with Subscript. The keyboard shortcuts are very, very powerful, but I don’t know (yet) whether any can be set to automatically turn off. It could well be possible, as there is a feature with the superscripts for dates which does. Type a number from 1 to 31, type th or rd and space and it superscripts that automatically and turns off. Since I don’t use Word, I can’t remember whether it has that.

    3. Listen I get the Celeron isn’t exactly high-end computing, but this is a nonsense take. The N4020 this board uses was introduced less than a year ago. There’s an excellent chance the majority of people reading this post are doing so on an older chip, and a good chunk of them will be running something less powerful.

      This thing absolutely smokes any ARM board on the market, and for $99. If you’re looking to do some kind of custom portable computer, this is a very compelling product.

      1. I don’t see a link to a board one can buy on that intel page, only chip specs. Are you talking of another $99 board with that chip, or just posting specs of the chip on the board discussed here? Shame the manufacturers don’t sell their own basic dev boards for some of the common chip types, something pi like with all your basic io, peripherals and connectors. As they produce laptops all the time with much mroe involved in them I doubt it would be hard for the manufactuers to take a laptop board design, take off the things not relevant to an SBC (optical disc interfacing, HDD connection, battery management….) and regularise the shape, then sell in a pi like cofngiruation ready for one to boot up from USB and install your own OS to some sort of SD card that was in place of an HDD. They might not be able to sell it in such bulk as laptops, but as it wouldn’t be much extra effort on their part to make it alongside laptops they could make a tidy prfit while selling it cheap.

      2. For a single core, the N4020 is quicker than, for example, the Raspberry Pi 4, but it only has two cores compared to the Pi’s 4, so there’s not much in it, and the Pi isn’t the most powerful ARM based SBC. I think you’re overstating your case.

        1. I used a LattePanda with a N4100 for Ubuntu and Zone Minder and spent under $300, with a case and a 1/5TB M.2 (M2s were pricy a couple years ago). The RPI3 I was fiddling with just didn’t compare. I also grabbed the first series of RPi4 and found it was still behind the much older N4100, for my purposes. Obviously I am doing h.264 compression and RPi, of any variety, doesn’t have the ability to do in hardware compression, just decompression. All of this makes it very difficult to be recording, motion sensing and viewing a half dozen cameras without significant lag. I grabbed a Arm based oodroid and played with that too, it was not very well supported for this application either, mostly seemed to be used as an emulation machine. Just from playing with these cheap SBCs it seems to me that the x86 platforms are mature and very well supported for most functions while the Arm platforms can be a mixed bag. For my little my little home projects I seem to be gravitating to x86 or Arduino. The Arm based SBCs just didn’t fit any of my needs.

          1. The problem with that is that you can get a full blown Ryzen 2500U based mini-PC for about the same money, and the Ryzen stomps all over any Celeron CPU that Intel field.
            Horses for courses. For media editing and encoding then the Celeron in an SBC is underpowered and not cheaper than an off-the-shelf mini-PC.

        2. Regardless, a genuine intel x86 chip can do things for cheap that only higher/midrange ARM chips can do, chiefly being video encoding. I love watching Intel get their nose bloodied as much as the next guy but they’ve made an absolutely stellar hardware encoder with QSV and I’ve been desperately waiting for an efficient, small, and cheap SBC that can do good video encoding.

      3. I have long thought a combination of x86 and ARM is logical. Legacy Windows drivers and code use an x86 core, with newer code taking advantage of the lower power requirements of ARM cores.

        1. Isn’t that what those advanced management engines are, low power ARM that you can send a packet to saying “Hey, wake the boss up, we gots crap to get done” then set your power saving aggressive so it goes to sleep again right after.

    1. For me, this looks like a nice device to run old 286/386 era DOS games, or even Win 3.1.1. Stuff that is old enough that emulation on modern Windows is a trial and that it isn’t worth booting a modern x86-64 CPU into 286 mode to get. The old Jane’s & EA flight sims spring to mind.

      1. That was my first take too! Shame Win95 won’t run on it there are few rare games that play only on win95 and that b#^#! of a system cant handle CPU faster than 500 MHz not to mention rest of the stuff. I wish MS would release source code for Win95 and Win98 we could have Open versions that could handle more.

    2. Running a variety of operating systems from BSD to Windows to Haiku seems like a good start. On a less ambitions scale, this would let you run whatever distro of Linux you’d like to.
      The virtualization capabilities would be another good use case. Maybe it would make an acceptable deep learning platform.

      It seems like a great board for home-labbers trying to work with RasPi boards for the software choice it offers at this price point.

  2. “SBC” :) Its the lowest of the low end laptop motherboard designs adapted to pretend to be a dev board. It even has an ITE KBC on the underside.
    Sure, 2 core Celeron N4020 is 50-100% faster than Raspberry Pi 4, but at the same time its 20-30% slower than 9 year old i5-2520M from Thinkpad X220, and you can get working motherboards from those for as low as $10 (scrap value).

    1. Exhibiting your usual enthusiastic support of the glory that is x86 I see :-D

      Though really it happened, x86 support has been dropped across major linux distros, x86 is dead, long live AMD64

      1. Personally I think AMD64 aught to be dead by now too.. the x86-64 stuff is proven, and there’s some impressive peak performers out there… But its so much worse at calcs per watt, a metric that is probably going to become the one that really matters.

        Only reason I don’t want x86-64 to die too soon is that there is still too much software around you might be ‘forced’ into using that will never be available for Arm or RiskV, and emulation overheads can be crippling…

  3. All the negativity. I think this is a great device. Lots of programs made for x86 and windows, without the archaic size of older systems and decaying hardware that has random issues due to the age. Nice connections, updated display connection. No big tower to pullout just for your dos games, real hardware and not emulator. I fired up virtual box for some programs last night, likely to forget why I installed what I did on the vdi but a dedicated system might seem more persistent. If they keep selling it for a while (lasting more than some of the industrial x86 stuff that sells off once the stock is depleted) I may consider picking one up.

    1. I have some worries about long term availability. I’ve asked the crowd supply page to clarify on that, but I fear the worst when they say that only a windows version will be on sale after the campaign, does that mean they’ve got MS’s support to produce this and are paying MS back via a “windows tax” afterwards, or does it mean that this will be a board which can’t have a different OS installed on it other than the one it is sold with? It would be useless to hackers if the latter were the case (and a long term availability disaster too, as anything you workd on on an early bought linux one couldn’t be easily redone on a new bought windows one) , just an inconvenient extra exoense if the former is the case, but perhaps worth wasting some money in to MS’s grubby paws so long as it can get you a convenient x86 SBC that you can put linux on for yourself.

      1. I wouldn’t worry too much. This SBC is the same hardware found in Chromebooks and sub $300 Windows laptops. Performance wise it comes close to a very old Core 2 Duo P8400 which seems to work fine for word-processing, browsing and streaming on the most current iterations of Windows. Why do I mention this… I have a this nearly decades computer attached to the TV and use it for streaming, it still works. If it dies, I would probably spring for something much better but I may be tempted in buying one of these cheap SBCs since they are very similar.

  4. I’m not sure exactly what the use case for this board is. A SBC pulling 40 Watts is comparable to many of the small form factor PC’s that you can buy today, which come with more cores and ram.

    If people are looking for an Intel based platform for building embedded systems, then there is likely more value in picking a more mature ITX based offering, rather than another ‘also ran’ solution. These are typically available from suppliers with the other bits that you need (e.g. cases, power supplies, etc.) and come with a range of I/O options.

    The Raspberry Pi I/O header is useful due to its ubiquity, however X86 systems would more likely benefit form a longer term standard such as PC104 headers, where both interface boards and I/O libraries and code examples have existed for a while.

    I can’t see a definitive use case for this platform – not enough to differentiate it from many other offerings in the long standing X86 embedded environment.

    1. That is something that I do wonder about. I often think that itx boards do not get the love they should on HAD.
      I grabbed this board off Amazon for $65
      It has a Ton of IO pcie, mpcie, msata, 8 com ports 4 USB 3.0 4 USB 2.0 GPIO and even a watchdog timer.
      It is out of stock now but you can get this one for around 80.
      Add a pico PS and a cheap SATA SSD and you are good to go.
      I used the first board for a NAS but I am going to swap it out for a slightly newer less feature rich board I got. The cool industrial board will end up as a hacking tool for me.

  5. If x86 SBCs are going to be made, I’d rather have a 486 or Pentium processor, maybe 32 MB of RAM, and things like integrated IDE floppy and hard drive controllers, and breakout edge connectors for ISA cards, so I could use them to replace legacy hardware that talks to custom expansion cards.

    1. I learned something the other day, still have to do down that rabbit hole all the way. But 486es (And up) are meant to have a JTAG interface implemented. Now this may open the door for persuading them to run without much of a motherboard and have i/o emulated on an ESP32 or similar. This might be worth messing with even if you only get to use them in V86 mode not protected mode. Now this ain’t much x86 oomph, but 486es remain just about on the edge of breadboardable, and can be passive cooled if you keep it below 33mhz. Should results prove fruitful then we could try maybe mobile module MMXs, Winchips, or later lower power stuff. Though not much pre 2000 is gonna be available in any quantity for other than experimentation, most of it had a minimum of $15 worth of gold in. So probably need to walk it all the way up the experience tree to P4Ms etc. Then you get to wondering why you aren’t ripping $80 windows tablets open with a crowbar and retrofitting them with USB ISA card cages.

      1. Many modern X86 processors have an interface called LPC that is more or less ISA over SPI. The Celeron here probably uses LPC to interface to the EC (the ITE QFP chip). You may be able to find an older LPC SuperIO chip with the usual legacy interfaces, or an LPC to ISA bridge.

        They may not be supported by the board’s BIOS for bare metal legacy, but their IO space and interrupts could potentially be exposed through Linux to a VM instance.

        1. FYI: LPC uses 4-bit parallel data witha frame and a clock line. It is simple enough that a CPLD can be used as a bridge to an address/data bus e,g, some of the early original Xbox mod boards uses a CPLD and regular FLASH chip to emulate a special LPC ROM.

          Most of the SuperIO chips actually have all the parallel, serial, PS/2 ports etc, but they are not connected and disabled in the BIOS/UEFI.

          LPC bus is on the connector for optional TPM.

  6. > Clippy looking over their shoulder
    Brilliant description of Microsoft telemetry, even when Disabled, it still sends some telemetry. It is almost like Microsoft have decided to redefine disabled within windows to mean reduced to a minimum. Unless you have enterprise then you can actually truly disable telemetry.

  7. First I would not consider Windows on anything…. But, one thing that stands out is the 64G of onboard flash + 2 M.2 slots for a lot of fast ‘disk space’ unlike with the RPI, I had to go with an external USB 3 SSD. Now where that would be useful? Maybe a very small solid state NAS type device or security monitoring storage. One still would then have the USB ports freed up for something else. Fast disk connections has been something the RPI crowd has always ‘wanted’…. Anyway that is one thing that sets this apart from the other SBCs. For me 4GB is ‘a lot’ of memory. Most use cases 1GB is more than plenty.

    1. One of my older toys is a Lenovo S10-3t convertible netbook with a 10 inch touch screen. The screen itself is fantastic and responsive, but the Atom N450 based board is a pure dog. The only OS that can even run on it in a usable fashion is OpenBSD, and that only with an SSD. I love the form factor, and I don’t think it would be difficult to gut the old mobo and swap in one of these for a huge leap in performance.

  8. There is NO POINT in putting a Raspberry Pi header on a computer unless a pigpio compatible library is also provided with full support for SPI, I2C etc. Most of this kind of junk doesnt ship with ANY kernel support for GPIO, or it is incomplete and buggy. If you think your hat will work with this thing you will be disappointed.

    1. I agree to a point, but having GPIO pins is nice on any SBC, You just need a way to access them. I don’t mind doing a little hacking if that is what it takes … IF I was so inclined to buy this board, it would NOT be for the RPI compatibility…. I have RPIs for that!

      I can see what they are trying to do is leverage the hats/addons that are already developed though for another reason to go to this SBC, As you say, this will probably be a disappointment when you attempt it…. Or maybe they’ll get it right with a downloadable driver for Linux (for whatever flavor of Linux you are using). Time will tell.

  9. Great idea for us dinosaurs, but you can get a full fanless PC from Amazon for the same money, and it’s got SSD , and Windows 10 installed … I went to stacking up the fanless PCs and ditched the Pi … Linux just isn’t for me beyond Pi Hole and Octoprint

  10. Every single board computer developer runs away from SATA and PCIe like they see the devil in person. And for rpi4-compute you cant have both at the same time.

    WTF? Your local beer… not good for brain overclocking while working to implement hardware stuff? Need help?

    So… no, thanks.
    Sun Ultrasparc never did let me down. Ever.

    1. UltraSPARC IIi and III CompactPCI modules are cheaper than this SBC on the used market as Netra T1 servers or old 3g controllers.

      Sadly no native PCIe or SATA, max 512M RAM, and the fun of having to deal with dead or dying Sun NVRAM modules. But that’s a small price for a machine capable of running the first and last hobbyist-friendly Solaris release and getting your Forth fix with that sweet, sweet OBP.

    2. From what I’ve seen, software enumerable busses and dynamic hardware configurations are not things welcomed by embedded systems developers. Any licensing costs incurred by that sort of thing is just more reason to stay away from it.

      And for embedded systems, it makes total sense. These are supposed to be single purpose devices made as cheaply as possible.

      But what happens when the purpose of the embedded device is to be something general purpose?

      I’ve been watching the battle between computers based on PC architecture battling with purpose built embedded systems for nearly a decade. As each tries to gain ground on the other’s turf, they suffer terrible losses.
      The ARM guys seem to be slowly figuring out how to be a general purpose platform and doing that just a bit faster than Intel is figuring out how to cut their designs down to be embedded systems.

      I can see some potentially interesting NAS designs with the Hackerboard 2 with those M.2 slots. A PCIe x2 and x4 slot provide some options for HBAs and high speed networking (assuming they can function as PCIe slots).

  11. Day late and dollar short. Why would anyone want an x86 SBC in this day and age? The notion that x86 will outrun ARM is in general about as valid as current claims about election fraud. It all depends on the specific chips of course. Talk to Apple if you don’t believe me.

      1. Also got to take into account the wattage though – that’s the real killer for Arm over the x86/x86_64 stuff. There have been a few similarly potent arms out there, but they are rarer – probably because most of what you might want a computer for can be handled with ease on the more normal Smartphone/Pi type Arms… And what can’t for software reasons isn’t being brought to Arm platforms – so there isn’t a real market for them.

    1. Compatibility, not performance. The performance tradeoff that x86 can bring is more than worth it if it maks it easier for you to interface with existing x86 software. This is why I’ll have to keep getting x86 computers for lap and desk top my whole life, only they can run the legacy software I use (thankfully that software, in my case, runs nicely under wine so I can use linux and not the telemetry infested horror of win 10). Computation is cheap (we can waste performance if we have to), the work involved to transfer things from where they work fine on x86 to a new ARM environment is not.

    2. The answer is that x86 lets you run any distro way easier than ARM, which requires hardware specific device tree crap all over just to boot successfully. x86 has EFI/UEFI/BIOS and every single chip can boot from the same distro. ARM really screwed the pooch on that one.

      1. You hit the nail on the head. Being OS and distro agnostic across product lines, chip generations, and even chip vendors is an underappreciated advantage of X86 (until it comes time to get the latest OS security patches).

    3. Apple doesn’t make any single board computers anywhere near this price range. Apple also only has a 10% market share, so don’t fool yourself into thinking they are the most popular thing ever. There are plenty of reasons why this x86 device makes sense for some applications. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t make it pointless.

  12. Hmm, Hardkernel has had the H2 and now H2+ for quite a while. Uses a Celeron J4115, which seems very comparable in performance. Cost is a tad more and RAM is extra (SODIMM) but then you can put 32GB in, so plusses and minuses…

    1. About 70% more number crunching ability on the ODROID H2+
      One thing I love about the H2+ is the eMMc is not soldered to the board, so when it’s useful life is over and it fails read-only you do not need mad soldering skills to replace it. And the two SATA 3.0 ports is very nice (unfortunately without support for FIS, frame information structure, SATA Port multipliers), it does support the older one disk at a time SATA multipliers, but they are more useful for additional capacity than optimal throughput (you can not interleave reads/writes for maximum throughput while using cheaper slower disks). DDR4 RAM from 4GB up to 32GB can be installed in the pair of SO-DIMM slots.

      But 64GB eMMc and 4GB of RAM on the above board is still pretty sweet for the price point. ~$20 cheaper with 64GB onboard eMMc, 4 GB RAM and three USB 3.0 ports instead of 2.

  13. If, like me, you’re a linux user reliant on a couple of pieces of windows software which DO play well with WINE this is still useful. Having an x86 board means one can run a normal linux distro, rather than a special ARM one, a normal wine install, hence normal exe files, and ofcourse any normal precompiled linux binaries too (some open source projects are too much effort to compile for yourself). I could really see the use of this for semi-embedded (£99 seems a bit steep for something which ends up forever build in to one project, so I’d envision making projects to which this thing can be easily switched between them) applications where you want to closely link your wonderful creation to some process which can only be handled in a piece of software which either needs WINE, or is only easily available as a pre-compield linux binary.

  14. Hang on, just noticed something weird about this board. The ebsite says the linux version is only available during the crodfunding campaign and after that they sell the windows one only. Does that mean that this board is set up such that the windows one cannot have linux instaleld by the user on to it instead? Have the makers of this done some sort of deal with MS to add the “microsoft tax” and ship boards, in future, only with MS’s cut of profit added in? More worryingly is it just going to be a cut fof profit for MS, or is it going to be boards which a user cannot change to run linux instead, which would be a frankly useless product If the team behind this board wants it to really take off in the way that raspberry pi boards have then they’ll need to make sure that these boards can all be tinkered with by the user to run any OS the user so pleases, and they’ll need to ensure that the same type of board is consistently available long in to the future, the Rasp Pi foundation has been very strongly praised for its efforts in doing that, it ensures a project you set up for a pi now will probably still run on a mroe recent pi, or if not you can still in future buy earlier models of the pi which will work with it.

  15. Two more alternatives that I didn’t see mentioned, maybe because they seem new in the last quarter or so..
    Rock PI X

    and the bruiser of the genre Udoo X86 II which is probably capable of running the less demanding of semi-current games. (Prolly not cyberpunk, but maybe rocketleague??) Click username link for notebookcheck piece about it. 8GB dual channel and 4 core “Pentium” (Gussied up atom based celeron) are the highlight, but they hit you in the wallet for the segment leading spec sheet.

    1. Indeed, I really liked the looks of the Rock Pi… Not terrible price/performance/size or power use trade offs for a native x86. The Udoo seems to me like you might as well just go for one of the smaller atx form factors though… Its kinda cool, but seems very pricey. Though its certainly got heaps of oomph in a small formfactor, so some folks will love it.

      It is nice there are a few more SBC that arn’t Arm around… but so far I think for how little you get probably easier and better to get ye oldie netbook/laptop board still, which is a little disappointing.

      1. Yes, for darn near $400 you can get a refurb SFF desktop from dell or lenovo, 3rd, 4th or 5th gen i5 stick a low profile 1030 or 550 in it and get into the min spec envelope of a lot more recent games, and it’s footprint isn’t a lot more than a monitor base or the stack of books you’ve got it standing on, so unlikely to really get in the way if you’ve just got a small desk. For tighter tight spaces though, I don’t know if you’d be a whole lot better with the Udoo as it may need breathing room, or whiny blowers to keep it cool crammed in somewhere. Even if you’d want to wall mount I think it’d be 30″ or smaller monitor or TV that wouldn’t hide a SFF box, or sit far enough off the wall. Some of the 4th and 5th gen are using the low power chips too so might only be 20W. On top of that you get a good 50-150% more grunt.

      1. ??? irrelevant fact is irrelevant. simply design a battery pack that suits the purpose. 4 watts 40 watts or 400 watts. It doesn’t matter. I make battery packs that deliver 2 KILLO watts for 30 minutes. 40 watts is nothing.

  16. In their ‘Comparisons’ table they compare with Pi 8GB instead of 4GB (adds $20) and then add bunch of accessories into price including SD card and then they mention card as “sold separately”. And after all this it still comes up cheaper.

  17. No schematics or tech documents available without NDA. It doesn’t seem like there would be that much proprietary involved with this board, but that sort of thing is an immediate red flag for me. I think of the ill fated Intel Galileo. If you want a little board to run Windows 10 for some reason, maybe this makes sense, but that would seem to be a tough market. If you want a board with gpio, there are so many full open ARM options. This does offer dual cores running 2.8 Ghz, but the tradeoff is 40W power required and a lot of heat.

    1. That’s the rub though, the “I want industry standard interfaces that require association membership fees to share in their IP” and “I want it fully open source too” aren’t very compatible.

  18. My issue with hardware reviewers of SBCs and many of the comments here is that the review (or comment) comes in the form of comparing it’s use cases to that of your desktop laptop or mobile phone. Entirely missing the point of the SBC market. If you are not embedding great processing power into tight spaces you are using them wrong. It is not the hobbyist looking for a tinker board to to play games on or run photo shop or watch netflix that drives the SBC market.
    I think Raspberry pi kind of ruined the SBC market in that it made everyone associate SBCs as only being an overly elaborate way to blink some LEDs learn python and teach kids to scratch. Or a linux box for people too timid to set up their main machine to dual boot or make the switch all together. But I digress…
    There are still lots of factory machines out there running on Windows. And it is cheaper to replace that big box with a little Intel SBC and throw away half the (now empty) cabinetry than to replace the whole machine outright.
    There are developers on the periphery of hardware projects that would rather work in Windows and the hardware guys really don’t care one way or the other so long as its smaller than 10 cm square and runs on 5 volts (I had to accommodate this exact scenario recently).
    Plenty of high end robotics research products embed small intel SBCs in their robots because OS flexibility and raw performance is more important to their customers than cost.
    Its pretty simple; if you dont understand why anyone would want this then you aren’t the target customer. Go back to your Pi.

    1. Yah, that’s not 40W of sink, but it’s not 40W of CPU, supposedly TDP is 6W for the 4020/600 combo, but you know Intel quotes those at “faffing around on the desktop” levels these days, so might only be with one core at half speed and the rest idling. So maybe 20W there when it’s got all cores at full steam. Then fast ethernets and high def and fast storage interfaces etc all tend to want 5W a piece.

      1. Forgot to indicate, that yes I think it does need more heatsink for serious use. Probably about K6-2 sized or Celeron 420 pancake style, or whatever you last pulled out of a 5+ year old laptop.

    1. If you use 32 bit OS (which is default for Rasbian – I refuse to accept the new boring name) its pretty easy to make a pi play the streaming services – you just need to rip the widevine module out of chromeos and place it in your Pi’s chrome. You are right though as there is no native arm64 widevine (yet at least, here is hoping it happens one day soon) if you want to use a 64 bit OS you have some hoops to jump though – I’m sure its possible, as between multiarch qemu stuff and chroots etc you can run 32 bit or even x86 etc apps, but boy is it a faff to do so yourself.

      Personally I just set up a dual boot Pi – streaming services are not a big part of my life so not worth the setup faff, and its really handy have multiple OS images just one config switch away for other reasons.

      Worth noting while LVM thin volumes sound good they do seems to be more trouble than they are worth as a boot partition (some sort of recurring bug that means the thin partitioning tools don’t always get put in the initramfs without manual intervention) so if you want to do the same stick to normal lvm (if you want snaphots, and easier resizing) or a standard partition on the disk. Also remember you need the USB boot enabled firmware (or to use an SDcard for the boot partition), a fat boot partition for the bootloader to read (make it larger than normal say 1G), the root partitions and at minimum a line in config.txt that points to a new cmdline file that specifies the correct root partition for each install (the initramfs stuff doesn’t have to unique to each one, though that is probably wise so is what I’ve done – hence the need for larger boot partition – allows me to have init and cmd for each os and a folder full of config files to select between OS and pi features.

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