Cheap single-board computers are releasing thick and fast in 2019, but one new board is using fresh tech to stand out from the crowd.
While many notable Raspberry Pi challengers are based on either the Allwinner H6 or Rockchip RK3399 system-on-a-chips, the newly announced Nitrogen8M_Mini uses a more modern platform.
The new board is based around the i.MX 8M Mini platform, which is designed to be power efficient by scaling its clock speed to match demand, by swapping tasks between low and high-powered processors, and thanks to being manufactured using 14nm FinFet technology.
The system-on-a-chip pairs four Arm Cortex A53-based processor cores running at up to 2GHz with a 400MHz Arm Cortex M4-based processor, which is used for real-time signal processing.
Despite its low-power credentials, the board's makers position it as a computer that can handle 1080p video playback, is capable of driving 2D and 3D graphics, of processing advanced audio, and also of collecting and preparing data for a machine-learning model on a cloud platform, both for training and inference.
The board is designed for those developing home or industrial appliances, and can also be built into mass-produced final products, with a guaranteed 10-year lifespan.
When it comes to base specs the Nitrogen8M_Mini has several advantages over the flagship $35 Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+. The Pi is manufactured using a 40nm process technology, an older approach that results in boards less power efficient than those made using the 14nm FinFet process technology, such as the Nitrogen8M_Mini. The Nitrogen8M_Mini also offers twice the memory of the Pi 3 B+, of the faster LPDDR4 variety, and has a PCIe slot for expansion.
Meanwhile the Nitrogen8M_Mini offers half the number of USB ports as the Pi 3 B+.
The Android, Yocto, Ubuntu, and Debian operating systems are available for the new board and should enjoy long-term support from maker Boundary Devices.
The downside is the Nitrogen8M_Mini will almost certainly cost more than the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+. The Nitrogen8M_Mini's bigger brother, the Nitrogen8M, costs around $170, although it offers higher specs and is larger than the Nitrogen8M_Mini, so this new board should be cheaper.
More information about the Nitrogen8M_Mini's pricing and availability can be seen here.
|CPU Name||i.MX 8M Mini|
|CPU Cores||4 (Quad-Core)|
|CPU Type||ARM Cortex-A53 + Cortex-M4F|
|eMMC||8GB eMMC (expandable to 128)|
|2D/3D Graphics Acceleration||GCNanoUltra for 3D, GC320 for 2D|
|Video Encode / Decode||1080p60 H.264, VP8/1080p60 H.265, H.264, VP8, VP9|
|Camera Interfaces||x1 4-Lane MIPI-CSI|
|WiFi||Optional QCA9377 BD-SDMAC 802.11 AC version|
|Bluetooth||(included with WiFi Module) BT 4.1 (BD-SDMAC))|
|USB||USB 2.0: 1x Host, 1x OTG|
|PoE||Optional (via daughter board)|
|SD / MMC||UHS SD Card Support|
|Commercial Temp (0 to 70C)||Yes|
|Industrial Temp (-40C to +85C)||Contact Us|
|Linux||Yocto, Ubuntu, Buildroot, Debian|
|FreeRTOS||Yes (M4 core)|
|Dimensions (L x W)||114.3mm x 88.9mm|
Read more about single-board computers
- Rock Pi 4 review: Is this the Raspberry Pi challenger you've been looking for?
- Rock Pi 4: A closer look at the new Raspberry Pi challenger
- Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+ review: A $25 computer with a lot of promise
- Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ review: Hands-on with the new board
- Inside the Raspberry Pi: The story of the $35 computer that changed the world
- How the Raspberry Pi was created: A visual history of the $35 board
- Cheap but powerful Raspberry Pi rival: $45 NanoPi Neo4 is six-core Android board with USB 3.0 and 4K support
- A Raspberry Pi-style computer you can build yourself: Blueberry Pi (ZDNet)
- What are the best Raspberry Pi alternatives? Everything you need to know about Pi rivals(ZDNet)
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.