While the Raspberry Pi may have kick-started the popularity of single-board computers, it is by no means the only option out there. These days, new Pi-like boards are announced on a near-monthly basis, some offering comparable specs to the latest Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, with others bumping up specs to PC-like levels or throwing machine-learning capabilities into the mix.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have boards that have been stripped back to their bare essentials, making them perfect for complete beginners or for DIY maker projects that don’t require a lot of processing clout. These boards often carry an equally small price tag to match.
SEE: Raspberry Pi: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
Needless to say, there is something for everyone in the SBC market, regardless of your skill level or budget. Below, we’ve listed some of the latest alternatives to the Raspberry Pi that are worth checking out.
RockPi 4 Model C
The RockPi 4 Model C is high-performance Raspberry Pi 4 contender with a six-core Rockchip RK3399 processor and up to 4GB LPDDR4 RAM. The board features all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a single-board computer, alongside an AI stack with GPU acceleration courtesy of a Mali T860MP4 GPU. It features multiple storage options, including microSD, eMMC, USB3 and PCIE. There are dual micro HDMI and mini DisplayPort video outputs, providing 4K at 60Hz and 2560 x 1440 at 60Hz, respectively.
- 1.4GHz hexa-core Rockchip RK3399 (64bit)
- 4GB RAM
- Mali T860MP4 GPU
- Up to 128GB eMMC
- WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0
- USB 3.0
At half the size of the Raspberry Pi, this bite-sized board packs more punch than its miniature form factor suggests. The NanoPi NEO3 is newer, but less powerful, than last year’s NEO4, featuring a quad-core RockChip RK3328 based on the 64-bit Cortex A53 CPU. RAM has been doubled to 2GB and features the faster DDR4 memory type. There’s no Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or onboard storage, though a microSD card reader is included for use as a boot drive.
- 1.3GHz quad-core Rockchip RK3328 (64bit)
- 1GB/2GB RAM
- Gibabit Ethernet
- USB 3.0
The thought of a pocket-sized pooch is sure to appeal to everyone: alas, in this case, the name refers to a USB-sized single-board computer developed by BeagleBoard, and not the ultra-tiny English dog breed. The PocketBeagle board, which measures just 56mm x 35mm, features the Octavo Systems OSD3358-SM system-in-package that includes 512MB DDR3 RAM, 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 CPU, 2x 200-MHz PRUs, ARM Cortex-M3, 3D accelerator, power/battery management and EEPROM – proving that good things really can come in small packages.
- 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 CPU
- 512MB DDR3 RAM
- 3D accelerator
- microUSB host/client and microSD connectors
- 72 expansion pin headers high-speed USB
The Odroid-XU4 from Odroid is the only SBC in our line-up to feature a Samsung SoC, packing the smartphone maker’s eight-core Exynos 5422 chipset in the big.LITTLE configuration. In human terms, this comprises one ‘big’ quad-core Cortex-A15 processor clocked at 2.1GHz, stacked alongside a ‘little’ quad-core Cortex-A7 running at 1.4GHz. This gives the board a good balance of power and efficiency. Adding to its appeal, the Odroid-XU4 features a Mali-T628 GPU, eMMC 5.0 flash storage and gigabit Ethernet.
- Samsung Exynos5422 octa-core CPU
- 2GB LPDDR3 RAM
- Mali-T628 MP6 GPU
- eMMC 5.0 NHS400 flash storage
- USB 3.0
- HDMI 1.4a
Banana Pi M3
Raspberry Pi must have been onto something when they named their board after a fruit-bowl favourite. The Banana Pi M3 comes with a 1.8GHZ octa-core CPU courtesy of Allwinner, which is based on ARM’s Cortext-A7 architecture. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 are included in the package, as is 8GB eMMC flash storage, a SATA 2.0 port and an onboard microphone. The Banana Pi M3 also benefits from supporting both the Linux and Android operating systems.
- 1.8GHz Octa-Core Allwinner A83T
- 2 GB LPDDR3 RAM
- PowerVR GPU
- Wi-Fi 802.11 and Bluetooth 4.0
- HDMI/MIPI DSI
- USB-to-SATA bridge
Nvidia Jetson Nano Developer Kit
Not so much a hobbyist tinker board as a single-board computer for AI applications, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano Developer Kit features a full Linux desktop environment and supports popular machine-learning platforms including PyTorch, TensorFlow, Caffe and MXNe. At $99, it’s a little bit more expensive that the other boards on this list, though it does offer a reasonably affordable means of getting to grips with AI applications like image classification, object detection and speech processing – if you’re into that sort of thing.
- 128-core NVIDIA Maxwell GPU
- Quad-core ARM Cortex-A57 CPU
- 4GB 64-bit LPDDR4 RAM
- 4K Video @ 30 fps (H.264/H.265)
- Gigabit Ethernet
- OS Support: Linux for Tegra
The AML-S905C-CC – otherwise known as Le Potato – is the flagship board from Libre Computer and features support for Android 9.0 and Android TV, upstream Linux, u-boot, Kodi, and more. The board’s processor is based on the Amlogic S905X SoC, which packs a quad-core Cortex-A53 clocked at 1.5GHz. There’s also a penta-core 3D GPU on board, capable of handling H.265, H.264, and VP9 streams with HDR metadata, making it ideal for 4K setups.
- 1.5GHz Amlogic S905X SoC with cryptography extension
- 1GB/2GB DDR3 SDRAM
- 4 x USB 2.0 ports
- HDMI 2.0
- 100 Mb Fast Ethernet
- Infrared (IR) receiver
The LattePanda is somewhat different to typical developer boards, in that it comes running a full version of Windows 10 Home Edition out of the box. Naturally this requires a little extra processing power than a traditional maker board. With that in mind, the LattePanda comes equipped with a quad-core Intel processor clocked at 1.8GHz, alongside an Arduino co-processor. This is ideal if you plan on adding sensors and actuators to makeshift robots, IoT kits and other DIY projects.
- Intel Cherry Trail Z8350 Quad Core CPU
- 2GB/4GB DDR3L RAM
- Up to 64GB storage
- Intel HD Graphics GPU
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0
- Windows 10 preinstalled
With a powerful quad-core CPU and wallet-friendly price point, the Odroid-C4 has the Raspberry Pi 4 firmly in its sights. Coming in at $50, the Odroid C4 board features a 2.0GHz Amlogic S905X3 SoC powered by a quad-core Cortex-A55 processor, coupled with a decent 4GB RAM. Hardkernel reckons its latest generation single-board computer performs up to 55% faster than the previous generation Odroid-C2, which was launched 2016.
- 2.0Ghz quad-core Amlogic S905X3
- 650MHz Mali-G31 GPU
- 4GB DDR4 RAM
- USB 3.0
- eMMC module socket
- HDMI 2.0