Innovation

Powerful $39 Raspberry Pi clone: Rock Pi 4 promises smooth 4K video, NVMe SSD storage support, USB 3.0

Starting at $39, the Rock Pi 4 will be the cheapest single-board computer based on the powerful Rockchip RK3399 system-on-a-chip.

The cost of high-powered Raspberry Pi clones continues to fall, with the new Rock Pi 4 promising the best balance yet between price and power.

Starting at $39, the Rock Pi 4 will be the cheapest single-board computer based on the powerful Rockchip RK3399 system-on-a-chip, and sports a relatively beefy processor, 4K video playback and support for fast storage.

As a clone of the $35 Raspberry Pi, the board has the same dimensions and very similar layout to the best-selling single-board computer — increasing the likelihood that hardware add-ons for the Pi will be compatible. Like the Pi, the board is primarily aimed at tech enthusiasts who want to learn how to build software and hardware.

As mentioned, the processor is relatively capable for the price, with a dual-core 2.0GHz Arm Cortex-A72 paired with a quad-core 1.5GHz Arm Cortex-A53 in a Big.LITTLE configuration, which swaps tasks between cores for power efficiency.

Smooth 4K video playback should be possible courtesy of the HDMI 2.0 port and Mali-T864 GPU.

Fast SSD storage is also an option, via an M.2 interface supporting up to a 2TB NVMe SSD, and if the onboard SD card storage is too slow, there's an option to add up to 128GB eMMC storage to the board.

Though the memory is relatively fast — 64-bit, dual-channel 3,200Mb/s LPDDR4 — only 1GB is available on the base $39 model, ranging up to 4GB for $65.

SEE: Internet of Things policy (Tech Pro Research)

There's a decent selection of ports, with four USB Type-A ports, one USB 3.0 host, one USB 3.0 OTG, and two USB 2.0 hosts. For those interested in building their own homemade electronics, there's also a 40-pin expansion header for connecting to boards, sensors and other hardware. Though this header's pin layout is similar to that of the Pi, the Rock Pi's maker said it wasn't possible to make it "100% GPIO compatible".

In contrast, the $35 Raspberry Pi 3 B+ uses USB 2.0 ports, has 1GB of slower DDR2 memory, a slower quad-core processor, typically outputs to 1,920x1,080 displays, and has no M.2 interface for fast storage.

The main area where the base Rock Pi 4 Model A board lags behind the Pi is in wireless connectivity. While the Pi 3 B+ and the $49 Model B Rock Pi 4 offer 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the Rock Pi 4 Model A is missing both. Both the Rock Pi 4 Model A and Model B also sport gigabit Ethernet.

The board's maker, Radxa, says the Rock Pi 4 supports both Debian and Android operating systems, although they mention "needing better tuning for the image quality under Linux". As with all single-board computers, it's also worth pointing out that few boards are as accessible to new users or offer the same breadth of stable software as the Pi.

The Rock Pi Model A is expected to cost $39 with 1GB, $49 with 2GB, and $65 with 4GB. The Model B, which adds wireless 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0, will sell for $49 for 1GB, $59 for 2GB, and $75 for 4GB.

It's worth noting that the Rock Pi 4 isn't on sale yet, although Radxa says the final version of the board is ready and that it hopes to ship them "soon".

Specs

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The Rock Pi 4B.

Image: Radxa

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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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