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Contents (Jump to)
- BeagleBone Black
- Next Thing C.H.I.P.
- VoCore 2
- Intel Edison
- Side by side comparison
- Runners up
Now on its third generation, the handy and affordable single board computer has a 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARMv8 CPU, 802.11n Wireless LAN, Bluetooth 4.1, Bluetooth Low Energy, 1GB RAM, 4 USB ports, 40 GPIO pins, full HDMI port, Ethernet port, combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video, camera interface, display interface, microSD card slot, and VideoCore IV 3D graphics core.
In short, it is a very powerful new computer that can play full HD videos and perform other workloads. You can plug it into your TV or a monitor and then plug in a keyboard to use it as a standalone computer.
While it is primarily used to teach kids how to program and code, you can turn it into a new PC with just a few tweaks and modifications.
When it comes to single board computers such as the Raspberry Pi, there is no dearth of options. Here are now several alternatives that you can consider:
1. BeagleBone Black
BeagleBone Black is an affordable development platform for hobbyists and developers. It is a community-supported platform where you can ask other users for help using discussion groups and an IRC group chat. It works with Ubuntu, Android, Debian, and Cloud9 IDE among others.
It runs on an AM335x 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 and has a 512MB DDR3 RAM, 4GB 8-bit eMMC on-board flash storage, NEON floating-point accelerator, 3D graphics accelerator, and 2x PRU 32-bit microcontrollers.
Compared to Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone Black has a more powerful processor. It is perfect for those who are into robotics because the programmable real-time units (PRU), which can be used to program motor control, pin toggling, and other real-time computation for robotics processes.
What makes it awesome is that you can boot Linux in less than ten seconds and start developing not more than five minutes later. In addition, the hardware is open source so you can customize the design to suit your needs. It costs a little more than $60 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here) on Digikey.
2. Next Thing C.H.I.P.
Single board computers are known for their affordability, but Next Thing C.H.I.P. takes it to another level by offering one that costs less than $10.
Even with its very low price, C.H.I.P. has a 1 GHz ARMv7 processor and 512 MB RAM, as well as 4GB of storage. It also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth LE making it a world better than the Raspberry Pi, which does not have connectivity hardware built into it.
C.H.I.P. only needs monitor, mouse, and keyboard to act like a simple computer that you can use to surf the Web, do some programming or gaming. But it was really intended to power other hardware, making it very easy to integrate C.H.I.P. into motors and sensors.
It has 80 pins set on two rows of female headers and includes eight general purpose IOs and other pins that serve specific functions.
Compared to Raspberry Pi 3, Model B, C.H.I.P. is incredibly low priced, with a slightly slower processor. It has a bigger memory than the Pi3 and is much smaller in size making it ideal for embedding into projects.
However, it uses composite video rather than HDMI connection and does not have an Ethernet module.
3. VoCore 2
While most other Raspberry Pi alternatives are sized like a credit card, the VoCore 2 is rather small, measuring a little more than an inch on all sides. Plus, it costs less than $20 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here).
The VoCore 2 is less powerful than the Raspberry Pi but is perfect for private clouds, music streaming, the Internet of Things, and projects involving voice commands. You can also use it as a home security camera when you attach a Web cam to it.
The VoCore 2 has OpenWrt on it, giving it writable filesystems and making it easier to code and compile. Plus, both the hardware and software are open source.
VoCore 2 is significantly slower than Raspberry Pi 3 and it has a smaller memory as well, but it has five analog pins that the Pi 3 lacks. Because it is best for IoT projects, it really does not need all of these resources.
Parallella is about the same size as the Raspberry Pi but it gives better performance and is more efficient. It has an 18-core parallel processing delivered by both the dual-core 32-bit ARM Cortex-A9 with NEON at 1 GHz and the Epiphany 16-core CPU E16G301.
Parallel computing makes use of different computing resources simultaneously to help do its work. That means that all loads are broken down into smaller loads and all 18 cores are used to process it.
Parallella also uses Linux, giving users an easy time with programming. If you have complicated applications, the Parallella should be on top of your list. It could easily handle robotics and drones. You can use it as an embedded device, a part of a parallel server cluster, or as a standalone computer.
Parallella is sold by Adapteva and prices start at $99 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here).
5. Intel Edison
Intel Edison has a dual core 500-MHz Atom processor and a Quark MCU that enables it to do real-time processing. It also has connectivity modules such as Bluetooth Low Energy and Wi-Fi.
With Linux on board, it is more classified as a system on module. In other words, it is a small computer that needs a carrier board to have IO pins and to work. Users of the Intel Edison can choose between a big board with Arduino R3 header pins or a smaller one that makes use of Edison pins.
Prices for Intel Edison Compute Module start at $50 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here).
Side by side comparison
As you can see, there are several alternatives to the Raspberry Pi that you can buy now. There are several ways to choose the best alternative for you.
For some, they go for the lowest prices. The more affordable the single board computer is, the better. In this case, the best for you is C.H.I.P or VoCore 2. Both of these are incredibly low priced but still deliver the great performance for several types of workloads.
Some projects need connectivity modules. If you need Wi-Fi connectivity for your projects, then the BeagleBone Black and the Parallella are out of the running, while C.H.I.P. and Intel Edison are the only ones that offer Bluetooth connectivity.
None of these can beat Raspberry Pi’s clock speed of 1.2 GHz, but BeagleBone Black and C.H.I.P. comes close at 1 GHz. Further, for those that need video ports for their projects, they will have to eliminate VoCore and Intel Edison from their list of choices.
This side-by-side comparison should help you see what each single board computer brings to the table:
|Raspberry Pi 3, Model B||BeagleBone Black||C.H.I.P.||VoCore 2||Parallella||Intel Edison|
|Best for||IoT, sensors, Standalone computer||Robotics||Low price||IoT, Computing, Airplay, Home Security||Parallel computing||Arduino projects, IoT|
|Software||Linux||Debian Linux||Linux||Linux||Linux||Arduino, Poky Linux|
|Clock Speed||1.2 GHz||1 GHz||1 GHz||580 MHz||667 MHz||500 MHz|
|Processor||BCM2837, Quad-core 64-bit ARM Cortex A53||32-bit AM335X ARM Cortex A8||32-bit Allwinner ARM R8||16-bit MT7628AN, 580 MHz, MIPS 24K||Dual-core 32-bit ARM Cortex-A9||Dual 32-bit Intel Atom|
|Co-processor||x||x||x||x||Epiphany 16-core CPU E16G301||x|
|I/O Pins Digital||40||65 (8 PWM)||8 GPIO, others||30||48 GPIO||20 (4 PWM)|
|I/O Pins Analog||0||7||1||4AD, 1DA||48 GPIO||6|
|Video||HDMI||HDMI Micro||Composite||x||HDMI Micro||x|
|Ethernet||10 mbps||Yes||x||Y||1 gigabit||x|
|Operating voltage||3.3 V||5 V||3.7 V -5 V||3.6 V – 6 V||3.3 V||7 V – 15 V|
|Dimensions||3.4 x 2.2||3.4 x 2.1||1.5×2.3||1 x 1||3.5 x 2.1||1.4 x 1|
|Memory||1GB LPDDR2-900 SDRAM||4GB eMMC||4GB eMMC||128MB 166 MHz DDR2||1 GB DDR3||4 GB|
|Additional features||3.5mm analogue audio-video jack, 4Camera Serial Interface (CSI), Display Serial Interface (DSI)||2 200MHz PRU microcontrol-lers||1 GB RAM||Open architecture with a variety of docks and add-ons||USB 2.0, MicroSD card, open source design files, MicroSD storage, 1GB SDRAM||1GB RAM, 32-bit 100MHz Intel Quark microcontrol-ler|
While these five are the best, the cheapest, the fastest for a variety of workloads, there are other single board computers that you can consider if you want to find a great Raspberry Pi alternative. Some of these are:
- Banana Pi M3. This features an octa-core processor, 2 gigabytes of RAM, 1 Gigabit Ethernet, 2 USB ports, SATA, Wi-Fi module, Bluetooth and HDMI video connection. Operating systems that it can run on include Raspbian, Android, Lubuntu, Debian, and Ubuntu. This open platform device is perfect for building and making developer technology and DIYers. It also has a thriving community of developers. Banana Pi M3 sells for $74.95.
- Udoo Quad. One of the few single board computers that has a quad-core processor, Udoo Quad supports OpenGL ES2.0 3D, 2D, and OpenVG rendering. It also has the same CPU as the Arduino Due. Udoo Quad will give you 1GB DDR3 RAM and 76 GPIO pins, as well as HDMI, micro USB, and LVDS. Priced at $135.
- Arduino INDUSTRIAL 101. The Arduino INDUSTRIAL 101 is more geared towards being embedded into commercial products rather than a hobbyist project. It has Atheros AR9331 processor, 64MB of RAM, 16MB flash storage, and USB 2.0. Priced at $38.83 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here).
* * *
It is amazing how single board computers such as the Raspberry Pi and its alternatives are changing the landscape when it comes to computing resources.
Homebrew projects and DIY robotics and electronics are now powered by the same computing resources that you could find on the best flagship smartphones and some desktop computers.
Who would have thought that all you need is $7, a monitor, mouse, and keyboard and you could get a fully functioning computer?
These single board computers have their own strong points such as very low prices, parallel computing, and built-in connectivity modules. All you need is to select the right one for your projects.
Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn’t have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!