For users and developers looking for a more powerful alternative to the Raspberry Pi, the NanoPC-T4—FriendlyELEC's newest single-board computer (SBC)—uses the same system-on-a-chip (SoC) as Samsung's Chromebook Plus, but at a fraction of the price.
The NanoPC-T4 is a 100x64mm SBC powered by a Rockchip RK3399, which pairs a dual-core 2.0 GHz Cortex-A72 with a quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 in a Big.LITTLE configuration, with a Mali-T864 GPU, and 4K VP9 and 10-Bit H.265/H.264 hardware video decoder, with 4 GB RAM and 16 GB storage onboard. It is bundled with a heatsink, radio antennas, a power adapter, and an acrylic case for $119. While this is a sizable increase from the Raspberry Pi's famed $35 price point, the Pi series is sold as a board only, with third party integrators providing case options and power supplies for an additional fee.
The NanoPC-T4—aside from having a more powerful processor—concentrates on addressing the performance bottlenecks of the Raspberry Pi, making it a compelling choice for professionals. While the Raspberry Pi is limited to only relatively slow microSD storage, the NanoPC-T4 has a 16 GB eMMC onboard, as well as an M.2 2280 connector, allowing for high speed PCIe SSDs to be used. The M.2 connector supports PCI Express 2.1, and is wired for x4, making it possible to get I/O speeds faster than comparable SATA-linked SSDs.
SEE: Internet of Things policy (Tech Pro Research)
Officially, the NanoPC-T4 supports Android 7.1 and Lubuntu 16.04 with GPU and VPU acceleration. Unofficially, because of how widespread devices with the Rockchip RK3399 are, the SoC has received a great deal of attention in support in the Linux kernel. Mainline support was added in 4.12, with additional fixes provided in subsequent versions, some of which are from open source consultancy Collabora.
While the explosive popularity of the Raspberry Pi has led to a the proliferation of inexpensive single-board computers with more processing power or unique features, the education-minded Raspberry Pi has remained more popular than competitors due to the mainline Linux kernel support, and the ecosystem that developed around the boards. With mainline support for the RK3399 SoC, the NanoPC-T4 may be a more compelling alternative than other boards powered by different SoCs.
Here are the full specs for the NanoPC-T4:
- SoC: Rockchip RK3399
- CPU: big.LITTLE, Dual-Core Cortex-A72 (up to 2.0GHz) + Quad-Core Cortex-A53 (up to 1.5GHz)
- GPU: Mali-T864 GPU, supports OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0/3.0/3.1, OpenVG 1.1, OpenCL, DX11, and AFBC
- VPU: 4K VP9 and 4K 10-Bit H265/H264 60 FPS decoding, Dual VOP, etc
- PMU: RK808-D PMIC, cooperated with independent DC/DC, enabling DVFS, software power-down, RTC wake-up, system sleep mode
- RAM: Dual-Channel 4GB LPDDR3-1866
- Flash: 16GB eMMC 5.1 Flash
- Ethernet: Native Gigabit Ethernet
- Wi-Fi/BT: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, dual antenna interface
- Video Input: two 4-Lane MIPI-CSI, dual ISP, up to 13MP/s, supports simultaneous input of dual camera data
- Video output
- HDMI: HDMI 2.0a, supports 4K @ 60Hz, HDCP 1.4/2.2
- DP (on USB-C): DisplayPort 1.2 Alt Mode
- LCD Interface: one eDP 1.3 (4-Lane, 10.8Gbps), one 4-Lane MIPI-DSI
- Audio Out: 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, HDMI
- Audio In: onboard microphone
- USB 2.0: 2 independent native USB 2.0 Host A interfaces
- USB 3.0: 1 native USB 3.0 Host A type interface
- USB Type-C: Supports USB 3.0 Type-C and DisplayPort 1.2 Alt Mode on USB Type-C
- PCIe: One M.2 M-Key PCIe x4 socket, compatible with PCIe 2.1, Dual operation mode; Onboard M3 PCB nut for mounting M.2 2280 module
- microSD Slot x 1
- 40Pin GPIO Extension ports:
- 1 X 3V/1.8V I2C, up to 2 x 3V UART, 1 X 3V SPI, 1 x SPDIF_TX, up to 8 x 3V GPIOs
- 1 x 1.8V I2S, 3 x 1.8V GPIOs
- ADC: 3 x 1.8V ADC inputs, 5 Pin 2.54mm header
- Debug: one Debug UART, 4 Pin 2.54mm header, 3V level, 1500000bps
- Keys: PowerKey, Reset, MASKROM(BOOT), Recovery
- LED: 1 x Power LED and 1 x GPIO-controlled LED
- IR reciver: Onboard IR reciver, Acceptes 38KHz carrier frequency
- RTC Battery: 2 Pin 1.27/1.25mm RTC battery input connector
- Cooling: two 2.5mm PCB nuts for mounting heat sink; 3 Pin 12V cooling fan interface with PWM
- Power supply: DC 12V/2A
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- The NanoPC-T4 is a more powerful alternative to the Raspberry Pi and could make a better option for developers and business professionals, as it addresses many bottleneck issues found in SBCs.
- The Rockchip RK3399 SoC, which powers the NanoPC-T4, has mainline Linux support, which makes it more versatile than other Raspberry Pi competitors.
- Special report: Harnessing IoT in the enterprise (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Raspberry Pi meets AI: The projects that put machine learning on the $35 board (ZDNet)
- Raspberry Pi: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- 12 of the most awesome Raspberry Pi accessories (ZDNet)
- Cheap Raspberry Pi alternatives: 20 computers that cost less than the Pi 3 (TechRepublic)
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.