Innovation

Cheap but powerful Raspberry Pi rival: $45 NanoPi Neo4 is six-core Android board with USB 3.0 and 4K support

​The NanoPi Neo4 is the cheapest six-core, single-board computer to be released, but there's a catch.

The NanoPi Neo4 is 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.

This limited amount of DDR3 RAM will likely bottleneck the board's RK3399 system on a chip (SoC), which packs the Arm-based dual-core A72 and quad-core A53 processors.

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.

SEE: Hardware spotlight: The Raspberry Pi (Tech Pro Research)

The Neo4 outputs to 4K displays via HDMI 2.0 and supports 4K 60FPS playback of VP9- and H265/H264-encoded video, although smooth playback may be undercut by the 1GB memory.

These specs outstrip the Pi 3 B+ in most respects, and while Pi 3 B+ has the same amount of memory as the Neo4, the NanoPi board uses faster DDR3 memory than the DDR2 found on the Pi. However, the Pi 3 B+ does have more populated Type-A USB ports, with four on the Pi compared to two on the Neo4. The Pi 3 B+ also supports faster Wi-Fi, 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) compared to 802.11n (Wi-Fi 4) on the Neo4.

The Neo4 supports a range of Linux-based operating systems, including a custom version of Ubuntu 18.04, Lubuntu 16.04 and Android 8.1 (if you buy an additional 16GB eMMC module for $12).

The board's makers say the NanoPi Neo4 is suited to developing a wide range of software and hardware. The NanoPi Neo4 shares the same 40-pin header layout as the Raspberry Pi, but is smaller than the Pi 3 B+, measuring just 60mm x 45mm.

An early review of the board says it could be a "perfect pocket server" but mentions the difficulty in housing the Neo4's massive optional heatsink in a case, as well the need for the additional heatsink and fan for cooling if you are planning sustained heavy use. It also mentions that it's difficult to hook hardware to the Neo4's PCIe x2 interface at present, due to the lack of compatible add-on boards.

As with most single-board computers, it's worth noting that few boards are as accessible or offer the same breadth of stable software as the Pi. Some users of recent NanoPi boards have also encountered driver problems and system setup issues, so this board may be one for the more technically proficient.

Specs

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Image: Friendly Elec

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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.

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