Best Raspberry Pi alternatives: The latest single-board computers

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Editor’s note: This article was first published in October 2018, and it was updated in February 2019 to include additional Raspberry Pi rivals.

As versatile as the $35 Raspberry Pi is, it is just one of many single-board computers available to buy today.

The Raspberry Pi strikes a fine balance between performance, price, and usability, but leaves plenty of room for other boards to tweak that formula.

In Fall 2018, there was the release of a swathe of new boards, some ramping up the price to add PC-like features — such as support for fast SSD storage and Intel Core processors — while others trim specs to cut costs.

These boards are generally aimed at software developers, hardware hackers, and tech enthusiasts working on projects like home media servers. However, it’s worth pointing out that few boards are as accessible or offer the same breadth of stable software as the Raspberry Pi.

SEE: Inside the Raspberry Pi: The story of the $35 computer that changed the world (TechRepublic cover story PDF)

Here are the most interesting single-board computers revealed or released in recent months.

La Frite

Image: Libre Computer Project

What the La Frite offers

The $15 La Frite comes close to matching the $35 Raspberry Pi 3 B+ in some key respects, using the same underlying Arm-based CPU and even offering faster DDR4 memory.

On paper, the La Frite also promises comparable video playback performance to the Raspberry Pi 3 B+, can output to 1080p displays via HDMI 1.4, and offers two USB 2.0 ports.

As you’d expect there are various cutbacks compared to the Pi and other Raspberry Pi competitors. The board is missing the Raspberry Pi 3 B+’s Wi-Fi support, offers a slightly slower wired Ethernet connection, and has a slightly slower processor.

Specs for the La Frite

  • Quad 64-bit ARM Cortex-A53 CPU Cores at 1.2GHz
  • 2 Geometry + 3 Pixel ARM Mali-450 GPU Cores
  • 512MB or 1GB DDR4 @ 2400MHz
  • 128Mb SPI NOR
  • HDMI 1.4 with 1080P Output
  • 100Mb Fast Ethernet
  • USB 2.0 Host
  • USB 2.0 OTG
  • IR Sensor

Where to buy the La Frite

The board is available to buy here for $15.

NanoPi NEO4

neo4nanopi.jpg

Image: FriendlyElec

What the NanoPi NEO4 offers

The cheapest six-core single-board computer to be released, boasting relatively modern features like USB 3.0 and support for 4K displays.

But there’s a catch, the board may only cost $45, only $10 more than the Raspberry Pi 3 B+, but it only comes with 1GB of memory, has slower Wi-Fi, and fewer Type-A USB ports.

If you can work within limitations of the memory, the board also supports reasonably fast data transfer via its USB 3.0 and Gigabit Ethernet ports, as well as one USB 2.0 Type-C port. Additionally, there’s potential for adding fast SSD storage via a PCIe x2 interface and 4K video out via HDMI 2.0.

Specs for the NanoPi NEO4

CPU Model: Rockchip RK3399; Number of Cores: big.LITTLE, 64-bit Dual Core Cortex-A72 + Quad Core Cortex-A53; Frequency: Cortex-A72 (up to 2.0GHz), Cortex-A53 (up to 1.5GHz)
GPU Mali-T864 GPU, supports OpenGL ES1.1/2.0/3.0/3.1, OpenVG1.1, OpenCL, DX11, and AFBC
VPU 4K VP9 and 4K 10bits H265/H264 60fps decoding, Dual VOP, etc.
DDR3 RAM 1GB DDR3-1866
Storage eMMC: No Onboard eMMC, but has an eMMC socket
USB Host USB 3.0*1: USB 3.0 Type-A ports; USB Type-C*1: Supports USB2.0 OTG and Power input; USB 2.0*2: USB 2.0 Host, one is Type-A, the other is 2.54mm header
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 combo module
Antenna Interface Antenna*1: IPX Connector
Audio input/output Port Video input: One 4-Lane MIPI CSI, up to 13MPix/s; Video Output: HDMI*1: HDMI 2.0a, supports 4K@60Hz, HDCP 1.4/2
MicroSD Slot MicroSD*1 for external storage up to 128GB
LED Power LED (Red)*1; GPIO Controlled LED (Green)*1
PCB Dimension 8 Layer; 60*45mm
Power DC 5V/3A

Where to buy the NanoPi NEO4

Available here for $45.

NanoPi M4

nanopim4.jpg

Image: FriendlyElec

What the NanoPi M4 offers

The NanoPi M4 is almost double the price the $35 Raspberry Pi but ups its specs across the board.

Notable features include four USB 3.0 ports, a USB Type-C port, 2GB DDR3 memory, a six-core processor, support for 4K displays and hardware-accelerated 4K video playback, and 64 general-purpose input-output (GPIO) pins for hooking up hardware. It also includes an interface that supports two 13-megapixel cameras.

While the Pi supports a far wider range of open-source operating systems, the NanoPi M4 is listed as supporting Android 7.1, alongside Ubuntu 18.04 Desktop and Ubuntu Core.

It’s worth noting that some users of recent NanoPi boards have also encountered driver problems and system setup issues, so this board and the NEO4 may be one for the more technically proficient.

Specs for the NanoPi M4

CPU Model: Rockchip RK3399

Cores: Six cores, 2GHz 64-bit dual-core Cortex-A72 and 1.5GHz quad-core Cortex-A53

GPU Mali-T864, supports OpenGL ES1.1/2.0/3.0/3.1, OpenVG1.1, OpenCL, DX11, and AFBC
Supported codecs 4K VP9 and 4K 10bits H265/H264 60fps decoding, Dual VOP
Memory Dual-channel 4GB LPDDR3-1866 (for an additional $30) or dual-channel 2GB DDR3-1866
Storage eMMC: no Onboard eMMC, but has a eMMC socketMicroSD

Slot: MicroSD for external storage up to 128GB

Connectivity Ethernet: Native Gbps Ethernet

WiFi: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combo module, dual antenna interface

Audio 3.5mm dual-channel headphone jack, or HDMI

Audio Input: microphone input interface

Video Input One or two four-Lane MIPI-CSI, dual ISP, up to 13MPix/s, supports simultaneous input of dual camera data
Video Output HDMI 2.0a, supports 4K@60Hz, HDCP 1.4/2.24-Lane MIPI-DSI*1
USB 4 x USB 3.0 Type-A ports

USB Type-C: Supports USB2.0 OTG and Power input

2 x USB Host, included in GPIO2 2.54mm pitch pin header

Pin-headers 40-pin GPIO, 2.54mm pitch pin-header

3 x 3V/1.8V I2C, up to 1 x 3V UART, 1 x 3V SPI, 1 x SPDIF_TX, up to 8 x 3V GPIOs, 1.8V 8 channels I2S

24-pin GPIO, 2.54mm pitch pin-header

2 x independent native USB 2.0 Host interfaces, PCIe x2, PWM, PowerKey

Serial Debug Port: 2.54mm pitch four-pin-header, 3V level, 1500000bps

LED Power LED (Red), GPIO Controlled LED (Green)
Others RTC: Two-pin 1.27/1.25mm RTC battery input connector. Working Temperature: -20℃ to 70℃
Power DC 5V/3A

Where to buy the NanoPi M4

Available to buy here for $65.

LattePanda Alpha

lattepandaalpha.jpg

Image: LattePanda

What the LattePanda Alpha offers

Not a Pi competitor, but the $358 LattePanda Alpha does use the same class of Intel processor as found in the $1,200 12-inch MacBook.

The board’s high price buys you PC-like specs, including 8GB of DDR3 memory and 64GB of fast eMMC v5.0 Flash storage, alongside Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 ports, a USB Type-C port, 4K video out and dual M.2 connectors that could be used for hooking up fast NVMe SSD storage.

The board is available with Windows 10 Pro, which pushes the price up to $398, as well as being compatible with a broad range of Linux-based operating systems. The Alpha also has 2 x 50-pin headers for hooking up hardware, as well as an Arduino Leonardo co-processor.

Specs for the LattePanda Alpha

CPU Intel 7th Gen Core m3-7y30
Core 1.6-2.6GHz Dual-Core, Four-Thread
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 615, 300-900MHz
RAM 8GB LPDDR3 1866MHz Dual-Channel
Connectors 1x M.2 M Key, PCIe 4x, supports NVMe SSD and SATA SSD. 1x M.2 E Key, PCIe 2x,supports USB2.0, UART, PCM
Connectivity WiFi 802.11 AC, 2.4G & 5G Dual Band. Bluetooth 4.2. Gigabyte Ethernet
USB Ports 3x USB 3.0 Type A. 1x USB Type C, supports PD, DP, USB 3.0
Display HDMI Output Type-C DP Support Extendable eDP touch displays
Co-processor Arduino Leonardo
GPIO & other features 2x 50 GPIOs including I2C, I2S, USB, RS232, UART, RTC. Power Management. Extendable power button
OS Windows 10 Pro, various Linux

Where to buy the LattePanda Alpha

Available here from $358.

Odroid-H2

sodroid-h2.jpg

Image: Hardkernel

What the Odroid-H2 offers

With specs more akin to a low-end PC, the Odroid-H2 costs almost three times the price of the $35 Raspberry Pi 3 B+.

As an x86 Intel Celeron based board, it can run a wider range of Linux-based operating systems than a typical Arm-based, single-board computer.

Its specs stand out from the crowd too, with the ability to add fast SSD storage via its 4 x PCIe 2.0 NMVe interface and SATA 3.0 ports, and support for up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM. Additionally, there is fast network connectivity via the two gigabit Ethernet ports, although no mention of Wi-Fi support. However, while Odroid boards have a good reputation for software support, this board doesn’t appear to be targeting hardware hackers, with only a 20-pin expansion header.

The board’s 2.3GHz Intel J4105 processor — a “Gemini Lake” system-on-a-chip dating from 2017 — is also faster than the Arm Cortex A53 / A72-based CPUs found in recent SBCs.

Specs for the Odroid-H2

CPU 2.3Ghz Quad-core processor J4105 (14nm) with 4MiB cache
Memory Dual-channel Memory DDR4-PC19200 (2400MT/s), support for up to 32GB RAM with two SO-DIMM slots
Expansion 4 x PCIe 2.0 for one NVMe storage, 2 x gigabit Ethernet ports, 2 x SATA 3.0
GPU Intel UHD Graphics (Gen9.5) 600 (GT1) 700Mhz. Support for SSE4.2 accelerator (SMM, FPU, NX, MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3, SSE4.1, SSE4.2, AES)
Display HDMI 2.0 and DP 1.2 multiple video output

Where to buy the Odroid-H2

Available here for $111.

Orange Pi 3

orangepi3.jpg

Image: Shenzhen Xunlong Software

What the Orange Pi 3 offers

Orange Pi’s latest flagship board boasts specs better than the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ for the same price as the $35 computer.

The latest board in the Orange Pi family, the Orange Pi 3, packs a quad-core 1.8GHz CPU, 2GB DDR3 RAM, four USB 3.0 ports, support for 4K displays via HDMI 2.0a, Gigabit Ethernet, onboard mPCIe 2.0, and Bluetooth 5.0.

All of these specs improve on the most powerful Raspberry Pi, the Pi 3 Model B+, and the makers of the Orange Pi 3 suggest their board has a similar range of uses to Raspberry Pi, from desktop computer to media center.

Android 7, Ubuntu, and Debian are listed as officially supported operating systems on the Orange Pi 3 and are available to download here. However, it’s worth noting that historically Orange Pi boards have been criticized for having poor driver support, missing software, and unstable versions of older operating systems.

The Orange Pi 3 also lacks the expandability of the Raspberry Pi, as it only has a 26-pin header for hooking up the machine to other electronics.

The board is built around the same Allwinner H6 SoC as last year’s $20 Orange Pi One Plus, but the Orange Pi 3 adds additional USB ports and memory.

Specs for the Orange Pi 3

CPU H6 Quad-core 64-bit 1.8GHZ ARM Cortex-A53
GPU
  • High-performance multi-core GPU Mali T720
  • OpenGL ES3.1/3.0/2.0/1.1
  • Microsoft DirectX 11 FL9_3
  • ASTC (Adaptive Scalable Texture Compression)
  • Floating point operation greater than 70 GFLOPS
  • Memory + Onboard Storage Four Types:

    • 1GB LPDDR3 (shared with GPU)+EMMC (Default Empty)
    • 2GB LPDDR3 (shared with GPU)+EMMC (Default Empty)
    • 1GB LPDDR3 (shared with GPU)+8GB EMMC Flash
    • 2GB LPDDR3 (shared with GPU)+8GB EMMC Flash
    Wi-Fi + BT AP6256, IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, BT5.0
    Onboard Network 10/100M/1000M, ethernet RJ45
    Network Chip RTL8211
    Audio Input MIC
    Audio Output HDMI 2.0a and 3.5 mm AV Jack
    Video Output HDMI 2.0a and CVBS
    Video Decoding
  • H265/HEVC Main/Main10 profile@Level5.2 High-tier; 4K@60fps, up to 6Kx4K@30fps
  • H264/AVC BP/MP/HP@level5.1, MVC, 4K@30fps
  • VP9, Profile 0/2, 4K@30fps
  • AVS+/AVS JIZHUN profile@level 6.0, 1080P@60fps
  • PCIE
  • Supports RC mode
  • Supports x1 Gen2 (5.0Gbps) lane
  • Complies with PCI Express Base 2.0 Specification
  • Power Source DC input, MicroUSB (OTG)
    PMU AXP805
    USB 2.0 Ports 1*USB 2.0 Host, 1*USB OTG 2.0
    USB 3.0 Ports 4*USB 3.0 Host
    Low-level peripherals 26 Pin
    GPIO (1×3) pin UART, ground
    LED Power LED, Status LED, and USB 3.0 LED
    IR YES
    Key Power (SW4)
    Supported OS Android 7.0, Ubuntu, Debian

    Where to buy the Orange Pi 3

    The Orange Pi 3 is available to buy here for $35, with a 1GB version also available for $30. The boards are also available with 1GB RAM / 8GB eMMC Flash storage for $35 and 2GB RAM / 8GB eMMC Flash storage for $40.

    Rock Pi 4

    img-1721.jpg

    Image: TechRepublic/Nick Heath

    What the Rock Pi 4 offers

    The Rock Pi 4 promises a decent balance between price and power. The Rock Pi 4 starts at $39, making it the cheapest single-board computer based on the powerful Rockchip RK3399 system-on-a-chip.

    The processor is capable for the price, with a dual-core 2.0GHz Arm Cortex-A72 paired with a quad-core 1.5GHz Arm Cortex-A53, smooth 4K playback is possible with the right media player courtesy of the HDMI 2.0 port and Mali-T864 GPU, fast SSD storage is also an option, via an M.2 interface supporting up to a 2TB NVMe SSD, and the ability to add up to 128GB eMMC storage to the board. The memory is relatively fast — 64-bit, dual-channel 3,200Mb/s LPDDR4 — and ranges from 1GB ($39) to 4GB ($75).

    Portwise, there are four USB Type-A ports — one USB 3.0 host, one USB 3.0 OTG, and two USB 2.0 hosts. There’s also a 40-pin expansion header for connecting to other electronics, though this isn’t 100% GPIO compatible with the header on the Raspberry Pi. The $39 Model A lacks wireless connectivity, while the $49 Model B offers 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0.

    The board supports more Linux distributions than some Raspberry Pi rivals, including: Android, Android TV, Debian, Ubuntu Server, Armbian 5.67, and retro-games OS Recalbox.

    In testing the $75 Rock Pi 4 Model B, TechRepublic found the board comprehensively outperformed the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, but also both the Android and Debian images suffered from some instability and jankiness. The Rock Pi 4 Model B also came with a heatsink, so board wouldn’t fit into most Raspberry Pi cases.

    Specs for the Rock Pi 4

    CPU 64-bit hexa core processor dual core 1.8GHz Cortex-A72 with quad 1.4GHz Cortex-A53
    GPU Mali T860MP4 supports OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0/3.0/3.1/3.2, Vulkan 1.0, Open CL 1.1 1.2, DX11
    Memory 64-bit dual channel LPDDR4@3200Mb/s between 1GB and 4GB
    Storage Optional industrial compatible high performance eMMC module, 8/16/32/64/128GB available. uSD slot supports up to 128G uSD card. M.2 connector supports up to 2T M.2 NVME SSD
    Display HDMI 2.0 up to 4k@60
    Audio Audio 3.5mm jack with mic, HD codec that supports up to 24-bit/96kHz audio
    USB USB 3.0 OTG x1, USB 3.0 HOST x1, USB 2.0 HOST x2
    Connectivity Gigabit Ethernet with PoE support (requires additional HAT), 802.11 ac Wi-Fi & Bluetooth 5.0 (Model B only)
    Peripherals MIPI DSI 2 lanes via FPC connector, HDMI and MIPI DSI can work at the same time, support mirror mode or extend mode, Camera MIPI CSI MIPI CSI 2 lanes via FPC connector, support up to 800MP camera
    Expansion 1 x UART, 2 x SPI bus, 2 x I2C bus, 1 x PCM/I2S, 1 x SPDIF, 1 x PWM, 1 x ADC, 6 x GPIO, 2 x 5V DC power in, 2 x 3.3V power pin

    Size: 85mm x 54mm

    Other RTC battery connector for time backup (optional)
    Power Supports USB Type-C PD 2.0, 9V/2A, 12V/2A, 15V/2A, 20V/2A power supplies. Qualcomm Quick Charge, supports QC3.0/2.0 adapter, 9V/2A, 12V/1.5A

    Where to buy the Rock Pi 4

    The Rock Pi Model A costs $39 with 1GB, $49 with 2GB, and $65 with 4GB. The Model B, which adds wireless 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0, sells for $49 for 1GB, $59 for 2GB, and $75 for 4GB.

    The Rock Pi 4 is available from various authorized resellers and you can get more information here.

    Pine H64 Model B

    rl42eps.jpg

    Image: Pine64

    What the Pine H64 Model B offers

    The Pine H64 Model B may be the same price as the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, but it offers double the memory, is capable of 4K video playback on paper, and has USB 3.0, HDMI 2.0, and Gigabit Ethernet. However, it has fewer USB ports overall than the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+.

    The board succeeds last year’s Pine H64 Model A, with the main improvement being support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

    Thanks to the possibility of hooking up storage, Wi-Fi cards, or USB 3.1 to the board’s mini-PCIe interface, the Pine H64 could be used as network-attached storage or as a server on top of the usual use case of a software and hardware development board.

    Unlike the Raspberry Pi, only a couple of operating systems, Armbian and Android 7.0, are officially supported by the single-board computer.

    Specs for the Pine H64 Model B

    System-on-a-chip Allwinner H6
    CPU Quad-core, Arm Cortex A53-based processor
    GPU Dual-core Mali-T720 MP2
    Memory 1/2/3GB LPDDR3
    Storage eMMC flash module, micro SD card (bootable), 128 Mbit SPI flash
    Video HDMI 2.0a output
    Audio 3.5mm stereo earphone/mic plug
    Connectivity Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
    USB 2 x USB 2.0 host, 1 x USB 3.0 host
    Expansion 2 x 20 Raspberry Pi 2-compatible GPIO header, mini-PCIe connector, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module header, SDIO 3.0 and UART
    Misc. IR receiver

    Where to buy the Pine H64 Model B

    The board will be available with 1GB for $24.95, 2GB for $34.95 and 3GB for $44.95 in 2019.

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