Innovation

​Raspberry Pi Zero W challenger: $8 NanoPi Duo is faster, plug-and-play board

For less than $10, the NanoPi Duo packs a more powerful and newer CPU than the Pi Zero W, and the same built-in Wi-Fi.

If you're looking for a cheap computer that lets you build your own gadgets and the $10 Raspberry Pi Zero W is too expensive, maybe the $8 NanoPi Duo will appeal.

Like the Pi Zero W, the NanoPi Duo is a tiny single-board computer that is suited to being built into prototypes of appliances, robots and other homemade electronics.

For less than $10 and despite being no bigger than two quarters, the NanoPi Duo packs a more powerful and newer CPU than the Pi Zero W, and offers the same built-in Wi-Fi.

Perhaps the biggest contrast to the Pi Zero W is the ease with which the NanoPi Duo can be used for hardware hacking. Both boards can be wired up to other hardware, such as sensors and motors, via their pin headers. However, the Pi Zero W has an unpopulated 40-pin header, which requires the user to solder the pins on themselves. In contrast, the Duo includes 2 x 16-pins that can be slotted straight into breadboards, plugboards that allow electronic circuits to be easily wired together.

However, the Duo, designed by Chinese firm Friendly Arm, lags behind the Zero W in several regards. The $8 version only has 256MB of memory, half that of the Zero W, although an $11.99 Duo is available with 512MB. The Duo is also missing the Zero W's support for Bluetooth 4.1 and mini-HDMI port. Another indication of possible limitation of the Duo is that the board is sold with an optional $2.99 heatsink, which covers most of the board and is designed to deliver optimal performance under load.

SEE: Hardware spotlight: The Raspberry Pi

While the breadboard-compatible pins are a plus for the Duo, the Pi is typically more accessible to new users and easier to use out of the box relative to rival boards, due to the extensive range of software, projects and community support that have grown up around the multi-million selling board since it launched five years ago. The Zero W can run multiple Linux desktop OSes, such as the Pi's default Raspbian OS, which is simple to use and bundles office, web and programming software. In contrast the Duo runs Ubuntu Core, a minimal OS that typically requires users to remotely connect to the device from another machine via the command line.

The Pi also has a reputation for remaining useable years after purchase, thanks to its ongoing support. That legacy support was recently given a boost by the development of open-source drivers for the Pi's VideoCore GPU.

For those who want to use the Duo as more of a traditional computer, it can be plugged into a $9.98 mini-shield board that offers 4 x USB 2.0 ports, 10/100 Ethernet, 5mm audio input and output, and a 2 x 9 GPIO header.

Specs

System on a chip (SoC): Allwinner H2+ quad-core Cortex A7-based processor at 1.2GHz with Mali-400MP2 GPU at 600MHz

Memory: 256 / 512MB DDR3-1866 SDRAM

Storage: microSD card slot. Support for SPI flash

Connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi using Allwinner XR819 module with chip antenna, and u.FL/IPEX connector for external antenna

USB: 1 x Micro-USB OTG port

Expansion: 2x 16-pin, breadboard-compatible headers with 2x USB host ports, GPIO, UART, SPI, I2C, MIC, Line Out, CVBS (composite video), Ethernet, 5V, 3.3V, and GND

Power supply: 5V via Micro-USB port

Dimensions: 50 x 25.4mm

Weight: 7.76 grams

Temperature range: -40°C to +80°C

Software support: Ubuntu Core 16.04 / Linux 4.11.2 mainline kernel.

duo01-900x630.jpg
Image: Friendly ARM

Read more about the Raspberry Pi

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox