At just $35, the Raspberry Pi is tremendous value for a computer that can serve so many different purposes.
But as you'd expect for the price, the Pi also has limitations in how readily its core specs can be upgraded.
Now hardware company Gigabyte has announced a rival board that sits somewhere between the Pi and a typical PC, both in size and upgradeability.
The GA-SBCAP3350 is bigger than the Pi, 146mm x 102mm, but allows users to run a computer off a solid state drive (SSD), upgrade memory to 8GB, has two USB 3.0 ports and runs the desktop version of Windows 10.
The Gigabyte board's support for SSDs over mSATA should provide a nice speed boost. In contrast the Pi 3 typically boots from an SD card, a far slower form of storage, and while an SSD can be hooked to the Pi 3 via USB 2.0, transfers are bottlenecked by the USB connection.
The inclusion of upgradable memory is a nice addition to the Gigabyte board versus the fixed 1GB of RAM on the Pi 3, and the supported RAM is also DDR3, which on paper can operate effectively twice as fast as the DDR2 memory found on the Pi 3.
Another big bonus is the Gigabyte board's two USB 3.0 ports, in addition to support for four USB 2.0 ports via internal headers, again a step up from the four USB 2.0 ports on the Pi 3. Gigabyte's device also includes dual Gigabit Ethernet, an improvement over the single 10/100 Ethernet port on the Pi. The Pi 3 does have built-in support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, something the Gigabyte machine lacks although it has a mini-PCIe slot for the addition of a Wi-Fi card.
Processor-wise, the Gigabyte packs a dual-core Intel Celeron N3350 CPU with a base clock speed of 1.1GHz and turbo speed of 2.4GHz. In comparison, the Pi has a quad-core Broadcom processor based on the ARM Cortex A53 architecture, with the cores clocked at 1.2GHz. One difference is that the Gigabyte board's x86 instruction set allows it to run the full version of Windows.
While the Gigabyte's board can output a 4K resolution at 30Hz via HDMI, Gigabyte stops short of claiming smooth 4K video playback, instead highlighting smooth HD (1080) video playback, similar to the Pi 3.
One big potential drawback could be the price, with Gigabyte yet to announce pricing or availability for the board, although given its specs it's likely to cost more than the $35 Pi 3. The board has many similarities with an Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) small form factor PC, which typically sell for considerably more than the Pi.
As with all Pi competitors, the usual caveats apply, particularly that the attraction of the Pi is not that it's the fastest board around. A key selling point for the Pi is its accessibility to new users and ease of 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 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.
CPU: Intel dual-core Celeron N3350 SoC (1.6 GHz) with 2 MB Cache
Memory: 1 x DDR3L SO-DIMM sockets supporting up to 8GB memory. Support for DDR3L 1866/1600/1333 MHz memory modules
Graphics: Integrated Intel HD Graphics 500 with maximum shared memory of 512 MB
Video: 1 x D-Sub port, supporting a maximum resolution of 1920x1200@60 Hz, 1 x HDMI port, supporting a maximum resolution of 3840x2160@30 Hz
OS: Support for Windows 10 64-bit
Audio: Realtek ALC255 codec, high definition audio, 2-channel
LAN: 2 x Realtek GbE LAN chips (10/100/1000 Mbit)
Expansion slots: 1 x half size Mini PCIe slot (conforms to PCI Express 2.0 standard)
Storage interface: 2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors, 1 x MSATA connector
USB: 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports on the back panel, 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports available through the internal USB headers
Internal I/O: 1 x DC-In power connector, 1 x system fan header, 2 x SATA 6Gb/s connectors, 2 x SATA power connectors, 1 x front panel header, 1 x battery cable header, 2 x USB 2.0/1.1, headers, 4 x serial port headers, 4 x serial port power select jumpers, 1 x speaker header 1 x GPIO power selection jumper, 1 x GPIO status configuration jumper, 1 x LVDS header, 1 x LVDS drive voltage jumper, 1 x flat panel display header, 1 x flat panel display switch header, 1 x backlight switch header, 1 x volume control header, 1 x buzzer header, 1 x LPT/GPIO header, 1 x LPT configuration jumper, 1 x I2C, 1 x SMBUS, 1 x BIOS Select jumper, 1 x Clear CMOS jumper, 1 x chassis intrusion header.
Back panel connectors: 1 x HDMI port, 1 x D-Sub port, 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports, 2 x RJ-45 ports, 1 x audio jack (headphone and microphone combo jack)
I/O controller: iTE I/O Controller Chip
H/W Monitoring: Voltage detection, Temperature detection, Fan speed detection, Fan speed control
BIOS: 2 x 64 Mbit flash, Use of licensed AMI UEFI BIOS, Support for DualBIOS, PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.7, WfM 2.0, SM BIOS 2.7, ACPI 5.0
Other features: Support for Xpress Install, Support for @BIOS, Support for APP Center
Bundled software: Norton Internet Security (OEM version)
Dimensions: 14.6cm x 10.2cm
Read more about the Raspberry Pi
- Raspberry Pi: The smart person's guide
- GCHQ builds monster Raspberry Pi cloud with OctaPi formation (ZDNet)
- Raspberry Pi 3: The inside story from the new $35 computer's creator
- Raspberry Pi in 2017: New boards, new OSes and more
- Choosing a Raspberry Pi OS? Here's the definitive list
- Raspberry Pi rival delivers a 4K Android computer for just $25
- Raspberry Pi and Docker: Tiny $35 computer gets major new release of HypriotOS (ZDNet)
- Turn any hard drive into networked storage with Raspberry Pi (CNET)
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.