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.
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only by manufacturer and there is no way to put original distro's packages, do not buy, in a few months they will get out of date or be shut down.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.