canopic jug writes:
It's FOSS has an overview of 13 Raspberry Pi-like single board computers.
The Raspberry Pi Zero and the Raspberry Pi Zero W were added to the line up of Raspberry Pi's in the last few years. These ultra-small form-factor SBC's have been a big hit and continue to be a part of Raspberry Pi projects from the maker and DIY communities.Due to the smaller form factor and the prices these boards are targeting, they have had to cut down on many features like a dedicated Ethernet port, slower processor (compared to their full-fledged cousins).In an earlier article, we listed the best alternatives to Raspberry Pi. In this one, I'll list some alternatives to Raspberry Pi Zero and Zero W.
The Raspberry Pi Zero and the Raspberry Pi Zero W were added to the line up of Raspberry Pi's in the last few years. These ultra-small form-factor SBC's have been a big hit and continue to be a part of Raspberry Pi projects from the maker and DIY communities.
Due to the smaller form factor and the prices these boards are targeting, they have had to cut down on many features like a dedicated Ethernet port, slower processor (compared to their full-fledged cousins).
In an earlier article, we listed the best alternatives to Raspberry Pi. In this one, I'll list some alternatives to Raspberry Pi Zero and Zero W.
Great survey of tiny, cheap, but very functional system boards. I want to order one of each.
Here's something from my experience when I was looking for a small, cheap embedded platform to use in teaching, generally such "disposable boards". Before buying and making some use of these boards, do the following to save hassle:
- See how well is the support. If this is a manufacturer's mailing list or a subreddit made by some anon, do not buy. In a year, it will be rubbish.
- See are repositories hosted by distro maintsiners or by manufacturer. If it is only by manufacturer and there is no way to put original distro's packages, do not buy, in a few months they will get out of date or be shut down.
- Review schematics! Look at them thoroughly, there are traps! See how 5 amps flow through micro USB connector. How the fast "SATA" connector is equipped only with power and all other are NC or GPIO. Carefully look at CPU voltages - if they are regulated poorly the board will not be stable. The converter efficiencies from datasheets are 20-30% better than real values.
- Check are connectors in standards if they're not typical 2.54 headers. Really, this can be really annoying, not "seeing the photo", check its designation! When looking at pictures, you can see a nice, standard SMD "transfer" connector, but when you get it you find that it's some kind of non-standard thing with almost invisible notches to make it not fit in your plugs and different pin count on the other side than you were thinking about. I got cranked this way by a REALLY big US company.
- If you see long traces from RAM wandering around the board going to CPU, make sure that you need a very slow board nevertheless how fast the RAM chip itself is. Most of these CPUs are ARMs - they need a few voltages and a nice, interference-clean way to RAM (in most of these boards, ARMs initialize memory controller running a ROM code only on registers). If it's not, the timings installed into memory controller must be worse. If manufacturer advertises the fast RAM chip, it may go on much worse timings, it is for show.
- If there is no schematic, do not buy.
The most important. Can you run a vanilla kernel on the board?
If yes, then it doesn't matter what happens to the manufacturer.
If no, is there upstream support for the SoC, and what is the history of the company on getting things upstreamed? If the SoC has reasonable support, and the board manufacturer has a good history of upstreaming support, and they say they are working on it for the current board, then maybe ok to bite.
I respectfully disagree. If you are choosing a SBC for integration in a product then being able to get that board to go to production is more important than the flavor of the kernel.
Welcome to the botnet of things (BoT), where 'integrators' rush to market with a shady kernel fork and out of tree patches. Manufacturer goes broke and device gets pawned.
Manufacturer goes broke and device gets pawned.
Don't buy from a manufacturer with such poor business practices.
Manufacturer takes profit and flees to new location with new name under cover of darkness.
Manufacturer with new name sells the customer list from former name, along with instructions on how to PWN.
I doubt most of these low-end sbcs are ever used as a basis for a commercial product but, I'll add a qualifier.
As a hobbyist who doesn't want to waste money on something that will become an unsupported brick with known security vulnerabilities in a year or two, mainline kernel support is a must.
If you were making a commercial product, and you cared about the security of your users, it would be best to use a device with mainline support as well, as it will get security updates (if past experience is a predictor, for decades), and not be locked to whatever version the barely functioning binary blob drivers kinda sorta worked with when it was shipped-- see just about every Android phone and IOT device ever shipped for examples of the disaster when this is not done.
This is a nice summary, but there are a number of potential items that may affect your choice.
- What is the shipping time and cost? Often a significant fraction of the bare SBC cost.
- What enclosures and/or cooling are needed? This may depend on the application, but likely to increase cost.
- What other peripherals and connectors? Power supply, ethernet/wifi, USB, GPIO, etc. may add cost, depending on you use.
Only one of the listed items has a price that is under $20 (Onion Omega2+). Please update the title ( "Tiny Yet Useful: 13 Raspberry Pi Zero Alternatives that Cost Less Than $20" ) to be accurate.
Wasn't ARM pushing a new licensing model to encourage chip designers to migrate to Cortex A34 (64 bit) and A32 (32 bit)?
(I appreciate they're cheap and fabs cost money).
I have an Orange Pi Zero, and it could have been a perfect little device as an authentication and security server for my home network except that it kinda suffers from rather bad thermal issues. The CPU temperature of the AllWinner H2+ regularly hits 50°C even with RPi heat sinks even when the CPU is idling, although if I turn on the air conditioning it lowers down to something like 30°C. I've attached a hardware random number generator circuit that I built myself out of a pair of Zener diodes hooked to a differential amplifier that feeds in random noise into the GPIO pins. I have a hacked version of rng-tools that is capable of feeding the Linux kernel entropy pool with random data read from the GPIO pins. For now I use it as a strong password generator but I later plan on trying to make it do other things like distribute authentication credentials to the various machines in my network. Only problem is that it's a bit unstable given how it runs so hot even on idle.
Those little heat sinks that you find in RasPi kits don't do much by themselves. You usually need a heatsink case (oh look, there's a FLIRC for Pi Zero [flirc.tv] now), or a fan to make a real difference. You could also point a desk fan at it. You can get one with a clip on it to position both the SBC and fan as needed, and maybe even power the fan using USB (inb4 it all melts).
That being said, 50°C should not be a big deal. What does it get up to when it's not idling?
The editors missed an obvious amusing title "A thinner slice of pi"
Personally I'm intrigued by the idea of a slightly fatter slice of pi. Flash root drives burn out in a couple months, maybe years, on a raspi and it would be interesting to see a pi with dual flash set up as RAID-1
Maybe a fat slice of pi would have RS-485 for serial modbus. Of course 99% of the idiots would plug rs-232 stuff into the rs-485 port and complain it doesn't work, but for those who know what they're doing...
Maybe a fat slice of pi would have power distribution that doesn't suck such that you need to feed it with 5.25 volts or it rando reboots. How bout a nice on board switcher that can eat anything from 5 to 50 volts or at least 9-18 volts.
Maybe a fat slice of pi would have lots and lots and lots of USB ports, so I could finally have that openwebrx monitoring station with 8 RTL-SDR devices. Yeah, just buy a hub, naah gimmie a fatter slice of pi
Imagine a fat slice of pi with an on board RTL-SDR device, would only add $10 or so.
How bout a fat slice of pi with a boat load of sensors? Magnetometer, temp, humidity, all that stuff. Some of the ST products aimed at cellphones are well under a dollar a piece.
A fat slice of pi with a boat load of memory is interesting. Not sure what I'd do with more memory but it always seems to get used, LOL.
You probably want something more like ODROID-H2+ [hardkernel.com] or the ODYSSEY [seeedstudio.com], but you still aren't going to get the number of USB ports you want. The H2+ has two SO-DIMM slots for up to 32 GiB of RAM.
The way I see it, you want two different form factors. Something smaller like the Raspberry Pi 4B or the LarkBox [notebookcheck.net] should be what gets a "boat load of sensors". Fits in palm = portable. Either one has some room for a tiny SSD (RPi doesn't yet but they are considering adding some connector in a future version).
Then you want a few sizes up. Larger than H2+ or ODYSSEY, but smaller than most desktops. Maybe Mini-ITX? It will be overpriced, and you still might not find 8 USB ports on it.
USB hubs should definitely be used to connect to 8 RTL-SDRs. Connected to USB 3.1 Gen 2 or faster ports if necessary.