Earlier this year, a new single board computer was announced, and subsequently made its way onto the market. The Tinker Board was a little different from the rest of the crop of Raspberry Pi lookalikes, it didn’t come from a no-name company or a crowdfunding site, instead it came from a trusted name, Asus. As a result, it is a very high quality piece of hardware, upon which we remarked when we reviewed it.
Unfortunately, though we were extremely impressed with the board itself, we panned the Asus software and support offering of the time, because it was so patchy as to be non-existent. We had reached out to Asus while writing the review but received no answer, but subsequently they contacted us with a sorry tale of some Tinker Boards finding their way onto the market early, before their official launch and before they had put together their support offering. We updated our review accordingly, after all it is a very good product and we didn’t like to have to pan it in our review.
This week then, news has come through from Asus that they have now launched the board officially. There is a new OS version based on Debian 9, which features hardware acceleration for both the Chromium web browser and the bundled UHD media player. There is also an upcoming Android release though it is still in beta at time of writing and there is little more information.
The Tinker Board is one of the best of the current crop of Raspberry Pi-like single board computers, and it easily trounces the Pi itself on most counts. To see it launched alongside a meaningful software and support offering will give it a chance to prove itself. In our original review we urged tech-savvy readers to buy one anyway, now it has some of the backup it deserves we’d urge you to buy one for your non-technical family members too.
In the years since the launch of the original Raspberry Pi we have seen the little British ARM-based board become one of the more popular single board computers in the hobbyist, maker, and hacker communities. It has retained that position despite the best efforts of other manufacturers, and we have seen a succession of competitor boards directly copying it by imitating its form factor. None of them have made a significant dent in the sales figures enjoyed by the Pi, yet they continue to appear on a regular basis.
We recently brought you news of the latest challenger in this arena, in the form of the Asus Tinker Board. This is a board that has made us sit up and take notice because unlike previous players this time we have a product from a giant of the industry. Most of us are likely to own at least one Asus product, indeed there is a good chance that you might be reading this on an Asus computer or monitor. Asus have made some very high quality hardware in their time, so perhaps this product will inherit some of that heritage. Thus it was with a sense of expectation that we ordered one of the first batch of Tinker Boards, and waited eagerly for the postman.
A member of the Asus Marketing team read this review and contacted Hackaday with some updated information. According to our discussion, the Tinker Board has not officially launched. This explains a lot about the current state of the Tinker Board. As Jenny mentions in her review below, the software support for the board is not yet in place, and as comments on this review have mentioned, you can’t source it in the US and most other markets. An internal slide deck was leaked on SlideShare shortly after CES (which explains our earlier coverage), followed by one retailer in the UK market selling the boards ahead of Asus’ launch date (which is how we got our hands on this unit).
Asus tells us that they are aiming for an end of February launch date, perhaps as soon as the 26th for the United States, UK, and Taiwan. Other markets might have some variation, all of this contingent on agreements with and getting stock to regional distributors. With the launch will come the final OS Distribution (TinkerOS based on Debian), schematics, mechanical block diagrams, etc. Asus tells Hackaday it is a top priority to deliver hardware video acceleration for the Rockchip on the Tinker Board. The Board Support Package which hooks the feature into Linux is not yet finished but will come either on launch day or soon after. This is the end of the update, please enjoy Jenny List’s full review below.
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 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.
One of the perks of writing for Hackaday is that we often find hacks that we’ve been meaning to do ourselves. Here’s one that will let us fix our borked ASUS computer monitor buttons. [Silviu] has the same monitor we do, an ASUS VW202, and had the same problem of stuck buttons. We already cracked ours open and realized that the buttons are not easily replaced (you’ve got to source the right one). We just unstuck the offender and vowed not to press that button again, but [Silviu] actually figured out how to disassemble and repair the PCB mount switches.
As with most consumer electronics these days the worst part of the process is getting the monitor’s case apart. The plastic bezel has little spring tabs all around it that must be gently pried apart. Once the PCB which hosts the buttons was removed, he took the metal housing off of the broken switch. Inside he found that a bit of metal particulate (leftovers from manufacturing?) were causing the problem. A quick cleaning with a cotton swab removed the debris and got the tactile switch working again.
[Dave] has an ASUS tablet PC with a little problem. The device is charged via the docking connector’s USB cable when plugged into a special wall transformer. The problem is that the wall unit tends to overheat, and is shut down by a thermister inside to avoid permanent damage. The word on the Internet is to drop it in a zipper bag and chill it in the freezer for a bit. Although this works, it’s not the permanent solution that he was looking for. Instead, he hit the parts bin and built his own power supply replacement without buying anything.
The device is simply looking for 12V on the power pin (pin 1) of the USB cable. [Dave] dug through his mountain of unused AC adapters and found one that fit the voltage and current specs of the stock unit. He also grabbed a dusty old motherboard and plucked the USB ports off of the back. A bit of protoboard makes for a good base to connect the AC adapter wires to the ports, which was then covered with one big shrink tube. The result is seen above, and demonstrated in the clip after the break.
Feeling bad that his access point was being made fun of by models with beefier external antennas, [Customer Service] decided to do something about it. After cracking open the Asus wl-330ge he found it would be quite easy to add a connector. This access point has two internal antennas that are quite small and use a spring connection to the signal and ground pads on the PCB. Those pads are fairly large and separated, making it easy to solder the connections. Scavenging an antenna connector from an older device, [Customer Service] soldered it in place and drilled a mounting hole in the plastic case. After flashing DD-WRT firmware he’s now got everything he wants from the little guy.
Hack a Day reader [The_Glu] shared with us a project of his. He used an Eee PC 701 he had lying around with a broken LCD, along with three 1TB SATA drives to create a custom NAS server for his house. The server features a number of other interesting components, including USB2SATA converters to connect the hard drives, as well as a 2 line LCD to display RAID information and server status. The entire project is wrapped up in a custom made Plexiglas enclosure with case fans to keep the whole thing cool. While this may not be the first Eee PC NAS, or the fastest, this is a wonderful way to repurpose a broken netbook. We also love the idea of netbooks being used more and more in projects like these as the first generation reaches its end of usefulness age. More pictures after the break.