The Raspberry Pi, a tiny, low-powered, inexpensive system-on-a-chip computer, has become famous as the preferred tool of DIY gadget builders and tinkerers. But thanks to its explosive success, it’s no longer the only choice on the market for cheap all-in-one gadgetry and development. If you can’t get your hands on a Pi, or you want to try something else, give these alternatives a look.
There are obviously even more options than are listed here for system-on-a-chip PCs, but we’re focusing on those that are in the same ballpark as the Raspberry Pi in terms of size and price. So we’re looking for something smaller than a Mini-ITX motherboard and under $100 USD.
The NanoPi Neo Plus 2 uses a Allwinner A53 quad-core processor, a single gigabyte of RAM, built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet, and support for MicroSD cards to augment its meager 8GB of onboard storage. Power comes from MicroUSB, and there are a pair of USB 2.0 ports onboard. While this competitor lacks the HDMI and audio ports of the Raspberry Pi 3 B, it’s also about half the size, making it an affordable alternative that comes with UbuntuCore out of the box.
The latest revision of the ODroid, built from the ground up with open-source builds of Android in mind, packs a serious punch thanks to a fan-cooled Samsung 8-core CPU. Though the price is almost double that of the Pi 3B, it includes double the RAM both audio and Micro-HDMI ports. Storage comes from the onboard MicroSD card slot. The larger size and extra clearance for the fan make it less ideal for small builds, but for an Android PC that can run out of the box with only a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, you’d be hard-pressed to do better.
The C.H.I.P. Pro itself is more of a competitor to the Pi Zero, with a tiny footprint meant for integration. It sports a single-core 1GHz ARM processor and up to 512MB RAM, plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. But add the development kit in a $50 bundle, and you’ll get access to USB power and data and a standard headphone jack. You’ll also get a second C.H.I.P. Pro for when you’re ready to build. It’s an ideal choice if you want a smaller project.
FriendlyElec’s Nano series is one of the most popular alternatives to Raspberry Pi thanks to a dense pack of features. The T3 model includes a Samsung octa-core processor with an included heatsink, the standard 1GB RAM, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, an SD card slot, and 8GB of storage. The video out and audio out come in the form of full-sized HDMI (1080p) and headphone jacks, and there’s even a tiny onboard microphone and a full power switch. Four USB ports can be expanded with a 2.54mm header. The only downer is a 5-volt power input that doesn’t support USB. It’s also a bit larger than the Raspberry Pi, but the vendor offers a great collection of add-ons that are guaranteed to work with the T3.
ASUS is one of the largest computer manufacturers on the planet, so it’s surprising to see them tackle a conventionally hobbyist space. But they’re welcome to it, with hardware as small and powerful as the Tinker Board. The latest revision includes a 1.8GHz quad-core RockChip CPU with 2GB of RAM, giving it more oomph than most of the entries on this list. It has the standard Ethernet/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combo, plus an included MicroSD card slot and four USB 2 ports. the $60 package comes with the Debian-based TinkerOS pre-installed.
The Banana Pi series is an alternative to certain other fruity-named products. The M3 model is super-powered with an octa-core ARM A7 CPU, 2GB of RAM, and the usual Ethernet and wireless features. In addition to the MicroSD card slot, there’s a full-sized SATA port for adding easy connections to standard PC hard drives and other accessories. HDMI and headphone ports make video and audio easy, but unfortunately there are only two onboard USB 2.0 ports—a bit low for something that costs over $80.
Orange Pi is another series of single-board machines that more or less tries to replicate Raspberry’s success. The Plus 2E model boasts a relatively huge 16GB of flash storage paired with 2GB of RAM and a quad-core 1.3GHz processor. The package comes with two USB 2.0 ports, an onboard infrared port, and even an external Wi-Fi antenna, but oddly, no power supply. That’s a bummer of an exclusion on a $50 board.
The Pine A64 is meant for embedded projects in large-scale industrial applications, but it works fine as a hobbyist board, too. Models are offered with RAM from just 512MB all the way up to 2GB, paired with a 1.2GHz quad-core processor. Each one comes with a variety of expansion bus options, Ethernet, MicroSD card expansion, and onboard HDMI, but for the cheapest model you’ll need to add an external Wi-Fi and Bluetooth module. Even so, its flexible pricing is great if you’d like to build multiple gadgets.