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Raspberry Pi Alternatives

On February 29, 2012, Raspberry Pi Foundation started selling single-board computers trademarked as Raspberry Pi. It was difficult to buy one right away, but by July of the same year things got better. Raspberry Pi Model B was a single-board Linux computer with 700MHz CPU, 512 MB RAM, USB, Ethernet and 26-pin GPIO (general-purpose input/output) that allowed to connect external boards, I/O devices, actuators and other peripherals. The board itself was constructed on the basis of a cheap 4-layer PCB, had a low production cost and a modest end-user price of $35. The alpha version of Raspberry Pi Model B was a winner of the «Hardware Design» category at ARM TechCon 2011.

The series has continued to evolve. The flagships were getting better and faster — the 3B+ model has a 1.5GHz quad-core 64-bit CPU, 1GB RAM, four USB ports and supports Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.2. The low-end models have also emerged — Raspberry Pi Zero with a smaller (65x30mm) board starts at $5 ($10 for a Raspberry Pi Zero W with Wi-Fi 802.11n support).

The next version will be called Raspberry Pi 4. It has been announced that the 4th generation will be powered by Broadcom BCM2711 SoC with a 1.5GHz quad-core 64-bit Cortex-A72 processor. The Pi will have two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, Bluetooth 5.0 and will support a dual-monitor setup. VideoCore VI GPU will be able to handle 4K/60 fps videostream. There will be options with different amounts of RAM available — 1, 2 or 4GB of LPDDR4 SDRAM.

Raspberry Pi's popularity created a whole new market segment — portable single-board computers. There is also plenty alternatives, and we can take a look at them using Raspberry Pi 3B+ as a reference. We will list the specs of the competing devices, as well as their selling points and prices. Let's get to it.

 

Orange Pi Prime

Its main advantage over Raspberry Pi 3 is 2GB RAM and Mali-450 GPU integrated into AllWinner H5 SoC. The latter will allow you to play video in 2K. There's also an IR receiver that allows the device to be controlled by TV remotes and smartphones with IR blasters. It also has an internal mic and CSI interface that supports video up to 1080p/30FPS.

The PCB's size is 98x60mm. The device has a microSD card slot (up to 32GB), supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0. It also has Gigabit Ethernet, four USB ports (three USB 2.0 Host and one USB 2.0 OTG) and 40-pin GPIO header. There's also a serial port with TTL levels (TTL UART). Apart from the internal mic mentioned above, there's a line output and an HDMI audio output socket. Computer's graphics accelerator supports OpenGL ES 2.0 and OpenVG 1.1 standards. Orange Pi Prime supports Ubuntu, Debian and Android 5.1.

Orange Pi is one of the most successful competitors of Raspberry. Orange has launched a whole series of single-board computers, such as Orange Pi 4G-IOT ( has a GSM/GPS/LTE module) and Orange Pi Zero (that supports PoE (Power over Internet), so it can be powered without using the main line).

 

Banana Pi M3

Banana series made by a Chinese company SinoVoip has been closely following in Raspberry Foundation's footsteps. There are various models available, such as Banana Pi M1, M1 Plus, M2 Plus, M2 Ultra, M2 Zero, M3.

Banana Pi M3 is a flagship model powered by Allwinner A83T SoC with 8 cores (ARM Cortex-A7 processor and PowerVR SGX544MP1 GPU), that can be overclocked up to 1.8 GHz. It also has 2GB RAM, 8GB of flash memory, two USB ports and supports Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 and HDMI, and moreover, the board has a SATA interface. Similarly to Orange Pi Prime, it includes an IR receiver, CSI interface, UART, internal mic, line audio output and HDMI sound. Unlike the Orange series, Pi M3 features a MIPI DSI display interface with an I2C. It also has a 40-pin GPIO header.

 

Rock64

This Rock64 single-board computer has 4GB of RAM, 64-bit ARM Cortex A53 processor. Its GPU is able to stream at 4K/60FPS. It can be powered using POE. ARM Mali 450MP2 GPU supports OpenGL ES 2.0 and OpenVG 1.1 standards. Rock64 is compatible with Debian, Cent OS, Fedora and Android 8, along with many other Linux-based systems. Rock64 is supplied with the detailed documentation and has an active community, which combined with relatively powerful specs and a good price makes it a perfect Raspberry Pi's alternative for resource-intensive projects.

Rock64 has 64 GPIO pins that even support Ethernet, so the device is recommended for controlling branched external peripherals. There's also a USB3.0 port.

There's a more powerful version called ROCKPro64, its SoC is 64-bit Rockchip RK3399 (with 4 ARM Cortex A53 processors and 2 ARM Cortex A72), it has 4GB LPDDR4 RAM and two USB 3.0 ports. PINE64, a Rock64 manufacturer is a great example of business built in the DIY segment. Just like Sparkfun and Adafruit, this company supplements its devices with all the design documents, and still manages to turn profit. 

 

ASUS Tinker board S

Tinker board S uses Rockchip RK3288 SoC with four ARM Cortex-A17 processors. The operating system is Debian-based TinkerOS, there's also an optional Android support. Mali-T760 MP4 GPU is compatible with OpenGL ES 3.1, OpenCL 1.1, Renderscript and Direct3D 11.1 interfaces.

GPIO header is color coded, so it is easier to connect external hardware. A passive heatsink is already installed, which is a good selling point over the most of competition that require users to install it themselves.

There was also a low-end model Asus Tinker board (no S) that didn't have onboard flash memory, but it wasn't very popular and can rarely be found in stores these days.

 

Libre Computer Renegade and Renegade Elite

Renegade (Libre Computer ROC-Rk3328-CC Renegade) is designed to be as similar internally as possible to Raspberry Pi. You can easily install this computer inside a case made for a Raspberry model.

RK-3328 SoC has 1.5GHz quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53 1.5GHz CPU. SoC is the same as the one inside Rock64, so the end user gets a Mali 450MP2 GPU (500MHz). You can choose from computers with different RAM options that include 1GB DDR4 ($35), 2GB ($50) and 4GB ($80). It supports various operating systems: Ubuntu 18.04, Debian 9, OpenMediaVault 4, Station OS and Android 7.1. Similarly to Asus Tinker board (not the S one), Renegade doesn't have flash memory.

In the summer of 2018 Libre Computer has launched the production of Renegade Elite (Libre Computer ROC-Rk3328-CC Renegade Elite) — a single-board computer powered by 6-core Rockchip RK3399 SoC (2 ARM Cortex-A72 and 4 ARM Cortex-A53 processors) and ARM Mali-T860 MP4 GPU. It has 2 USB 3.0 Type-C, 60-pin PCIe, 128Mb of flash memory and 60-pin GPIO header. There's an optional PoE support, and the computer supports Linux 4.19 and Android 8.

 

Odroid H2

Odroid H2 might end up being very competitive in its market segment, thanks to its really low price. It's powered by quad-core 64-bit Intel Celeron Gemini Lake J4105, so it's a nice alternative for those in need of an x86-compatible solution. Board size is 110x110mm, there's a passive cooling system, Intel UHD Graphics 600 GPU, PCI-E gen2 and a Dual SATA 6Gb/s connector.

According to the Intel specifications, maximum RAM limit is 8GB (SO-DIMM DDR4 2400 MHz which is bought separately), but the manufacturer says the machine was able to handle 2x16GB RAM. The device supports Windows 10/Linux x64, DirectX 12, OpenGL 4.3, OGL ES 3.0, OpenCL 2.0.

Among x86-compatible solutions, a viable alternative to Odroid H2 might be UDOO X86 (with options such as Intel Pentium N3710 2.56 GHz and Intel Celeron N3160 2.24GHz).

 

Arduino Mega 2560

Many of you may be surprised that we decided to include Arduino in this list. Of course, there's a world of difference between Arduino and Raspberry Pi. They're in different market segments and their purposes aren't really similar after all. However, if you take a look at the comparative table below, you’ll see that there's one thing these models have in common: the price. Arduino Mega 2560 Rev3 costs $31 and Arduino Uno WiFi Rev2 goes for $42.

Let’s take a look at what’s inside this model. Microchip 8-bit AVR RISC-based microcontroller Atmega256 (16MHz), 256 KB flash memory (half of which is taken by a bootloader), 8KB RAM and 4KB EEPROM. Connections include Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Arduino Mega 2560 has 4 UARTs, with one being connected to a USB-UART converter which in turn uses AVR, Atmega8U2-MU microcontroller, but there's also an FTDI option. Current capability is 20mA and 15 GPIO pins support PWM output. The manufacturer says that Arduino Mega is intended for 3D printing and robotics related hobby projects.

In the world of Arduino, there's a Raspberry Pi Zero counterpart and it's called Arduino Nano. It has an Atmega328P microcontroller, the board size is 18x45 mm. The specs include 2KB RAM and 32KB flash memory, 16MHz processor and 22 GPIO pins, 6 of which support PWM.

Arduino series managed to stay popular even after the rise of Raspberry Pi and its clones. Initially, it was so popular due to the dominance of AVR (developed by Atmel) among microcontrollers in the mid-2000s. The 8-bit microcontroller market wasn't exactly empty at the time, there were i51 and PIC, and even energy efficient 16-bit MSP430. But AVR looked like something from the future: it used a new (at the time) RISC-architecture with 1 clock per instruction (which was a huge selling point over i51 that took 12 clocks per instruction) and emerged during the time when flash memory was getting cheaper.

Arduino IDE might be another reason for the series to stay afloat despite all the changes in the market. It makes software development easier and the community is great and friendly. So there are good reasons to choose Arduino over Pi. Maybe the reason why many developers prefer the former is that it's more complicated to work with modern ARM processors of an A family. And the hobbyists won't find it worth learning the details. We can hope for something similar to STM32CubeMX (software for an easier setup intended for STM32 microcontrollers like ARM Cortex-M0… Cortex-M4 models) to appear, so many enthusiasts could switch to Raspberry.

 

Final thoughts

There are many other Raspberry Pi alternatives. They exist and cover wide price ranges. Apart from those reviewed above, there are other single-board computers such as Odroid-C2 ($59); Odroid-XU4 ($80, an OGST Gaming Console Case for Odroid XU4 can be bought for $25); Pine A64-LTS ($32); NanoPi NEO4 ($45); Cubieboard4 CC-A80 with PowerVR G6230 GPU ($130); Nvidia Jetson Nano powered by quad-core Tegra X1 ($140); BeagleBoard X15 with two Ethernet ports, PowerVR GPU with 4GB RAM ($263); LattePanda Alpha with Intel Atom X5-Z8350 ($240); Hikey 960 with octa-core Kirin 960 with four ARM Cortex A73 processors which can be overclocked up to 2.3 GHz and with four ARM Cortex A53 processors with 1.8 GHz ($268). And the last but not least, Arduino alternative called BBC micro:bit ($15).

Overview: main specs

     
Model
  

SoC CPU GPU

Number

of

cores

Frequency

Board

size

(mm)

Price

Raspberry

Pi 3B+

Broadcom

BCM2837B0

ARM

Cortex A53

Broadcom

VideoCore IV

4 1.4 GHz 85.6x56.5 $35

Raspberry

Pi Zero

Broadcom

BCM2835

ARM1176JZF-S

Broadcom

VideoCore IV

1 1.0 GHz 65x30  $5

Raspberry

Pi Zero W

Broadcom

BCM2835

ARM1176JZF-S

Broadcom

VideoCore IV

1 1.0 GHz 65x30  $10

Banana

Pi M3

Allwinner

A83T

ARM

Cortex-A7

PowerVR 544MP1 8 1.8 GHz 92x60  $68

Banana

Pi M2 Zero

Allwinner

H2

ARM

Cortex-A7

Mali400 MP2 4 1.0 GHz 60x30  $18
Rock64

Rockchip

RK3328

ARM

Cortex A53

Mali 450MP2 4 1.5 GHz 56x85 $45

Asus Tinker

board S

Rockchip

RK3288

ARM

Cortex-A17

Mali T760 MP4 4 1.8 GHz 54x86  $92

Libre

Computer

Renegade

Rockchip

RK-3328

ARM

Cortex-A53

Mali 450MP2 4 1.5 GHz 85x56  $80

Libre

Computer

Renegade Elite

Rockchip

RK3399

ARM Cortex-A72

+

Cortex-A53

Mali-T860 6 2.0 GHz 120x72  $100
Odroid H2 -

Intel

Celeron J4105

Intel UHD

Graphics 600

4 2.3 GHz 110x110  $111

Arduino Mega

-

ATmega2560

- 1 16 MHz 53x102  $31

   

Overview: memory and interfaces

     
Model
  

RAM

Flash memory GPIO USB Ethernet Wi-Fi Bluetooth

Raspberry

Pi 3B+

1GB MicroSDHC 40 4

1000

Mbit/s 

802.11

b/g/n/ac

2.4/5 GHz

4.2 LS BLE

Raspberry

Pi Zero

512 MB MicroSDHC 40 1 - - -

Raspberry

Pi Zero W

512 MB MicroSDHC 40 1 -

802.11

b/g/n

4.1 BLE

Banana

Pi M3

2 GB

LPDDR3

8GB eMMC 40

3 (2x2.0,

1xOTG)

1000

Mbit/s 

802.11

b/g/n

4

Banana

Pi M2 Zero

512 MB

DDR3

MicroSDHC 40

1xUSB 2.0

OTG

- 802.11 n 4
Rock64

4 GB

LPDDR3

128 MB 64

3 (3.0,

2.0, OTG)

1000

Mbit/s 

802.11

b/g/n

4

Asus Tinker

board S

2GB

LPDDR3

16GB eMMC 40 4xUSB 2.0

1000

Mbit/s 

802.11

b/g/n

4

Libre

Computer

Renegade

4GB

DDR4

- 40

3 (1x3.0,

1x 2.0)

1000

Mbit/s 

- -

Libre

Computer

Renegade Elite

4GB

DDR4

128 MB 60

5 (2x3.0,

3x2.0)

1000

Mbit/s 

- -
Odroid H2

2 slots of

DDR4 SO-DIMM

128 MB (BIOS),

eMMC slot

-

4 (2x3.0,

2x2.0)

2x1000

Mbit/s 

- -
Arduino Mega 8 KB 256 KB 54

USB-UART

converter

- - -

 

Recently, many interesting things have been going on in the world of single-board computers. Some models emerge, the others disappear. It applies to every market niche, from Arduino to Raspberry Pi and x86-compatible solutions. For example, there was a recent crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, the project is called UP Xtreme and it's an Intel-compatible computing board. On the other hand, the development of Galileo, another promising project, was cancelled. Among the devices mentioned in this article, there is a successful example that used crowdfunding: Renegade Elite was funded by IndieGoGo. So keeping in touch with technology trends on crowdfunding platforms and websites is a good way to know about the changes in the single-board computer market.

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