The $59.99 Khadas VIM3L is the latest board to challenge the Pi 4 in the low-cost, single-board computer market. Here are its pros and cons.
The launch of the Raspberry Pi 4 earlier this year pretty much eclipsed every other low-cost single-board computer in terms of bang for your buck.
But the crowded developer board market doesn't stand still, and Khadas have started selling an interesting new board that sells for only slightly more money.
Designed to serve as a Home Theater PC (HTPC), the $59.99 Khadas VIM3L's headline features are up to 4K video playback at 60FPS, support for Android 'Pie' 9 and a Neural Processing Unit (NPU) for accelerating machine learning.
Alongside this the board offers many features found in the Pi 4, such as USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet and modern DDR4 RAM.
When matched against the most expensive Pi 4, the $55 Raspberry Pi 4 Model B with 4GB RAM, there are pluses and minuses.
How is the Khadas VIM3L better than the Pi 4?
The most obvious advantage the VIM3L offers is support for Android Pie 9 out of the box, which contrasts with there being no official support for Android on the Pi. However, software support is often lacking on low-cost developer boards, so it may be best to wait for reviews before jumping in.
SEE: More Raspberry Pi coverage (TechRepublic Flipboard magazine)
As well as Android, the board will support the Kodi-based CoreELEC and Ubuntu XFCE 18.04. Bolstering its use as a HTPC, the VIM3L's makers say it can play H.265-encoded video at up to 4K resolution at 75FPS. To further its HTPC appeal, Khadas is selling the board with a HTPC kit, which includes a remote control, case and other accessories for $79.99.
The VIM3L also one-ups the Pi 4 with the inclusion of an NPU, which accelerates the rate at which the board can run trained machine-learning models used for the likes of computer vision or speech recognition. The onboard accelerator supports all major deep learning frameworks including TensorFlow and Caffe, but will likely still fall some way short of a modern GPU when it comes to running ML models however, with a maximum of 1.2 TOPS (Tera Operations Per Second).
Storage on the board also trumps the Pi 4, with the inclusion of 16GB eMMC flash alongside the VIM3L's microSD card reader.
How is the Khadas VIM3L worse than the Pi 4?
However, the Pi 4 has various advantages, not only is the top-end model cheaper at $55, it also offers twice the DDR4 memory of the VIM3L, with 2GB on the new board compared to 4GB on the Pi.
Compared to the Pi 4, the VIM3L also has fewer USB ports, one USB 3.0 and one USB 2.0,
The VIM3L's CPU is clocked slightly faster than that found on the Pi 4, 1.9GHz vs 1.5GHz, and like the Pi's CPU has four cores. However, that doesn't necessarily mean the VIM3L will outperform the Pi. The VIM3L's Amlogic S905D3-N0N CPU is based on a newer Arm Cortex A55 architecture than the Arm Cortex A72 architecture used by the Pi 4's CPU. Yet A55-based chips are designed to be lower-power, less powerful CPUs, whereas Arm A72-based chips are designed to be more power hungry, more powerful CPUs.
Likewise, the VIM3L's 800MHz GPU is clocked faster than the 500MHz GPU of the Pi 4, although what this means in practice is difficult to say due to the boards relying on different chipsets.
Much of the rest of the specs of the VIM3L, such as the Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, are the same as the Pi 4, as you can see below. Like the Pi 4, the VIM3L also includes a 40-pin expansion header for hooking up other hardware, although no mention if it's compatible with that found on the Pi 4.
Another point worth noting is that VIM3L's makers recommend using a cooling fan if running anything other than Android on the board.
Units are expected to ship "before 30th October", with the board and the HTPC kit available for a lower early-bird price.