Raspberry Pi Alternatives: 10 Single-Board Computers Worthy of Hacking Projects Big & Small

10 Single-Board Computers Worthy of Hacking Projects Big & Small

The $35 Raspberry Pi is an amazingly useful single-board computer (SBC) with a good balance of price, performance, and connectivity options. But for some projects, it just isn't enough. Whether you need more computing power, a smaller size, or better machine-learning capabilities, there are other options available.

For those unfamiliar, an SBC means that all of the components of the computer are on a single printed circuit board (PCB), including the CPU, GPU, and memory. In a regular computer, as you know it, those parts are generally interchangeable and replaceable to some degree, but the benefits of having them all integrated on a single PCB is that you get a much smaller form factor.

Standard Raspberry Pi models are computers shrunk down to the size of the height and width of a credit card, and if you add the depth in there, about the size of an all-in-one external card reader. The Pi Zero models are even smaller.

While SBCs have been around since the '70s, it wasn't until the 2012 launch of the Raspberry Pi 1 Model B that they became so popular. With that popularity came a boatload of imitators. Some are near copycats but that attempt to provide added value in various ways such as having a more powerful processor, more memory, or being cheaper than the already low-priced Pis. Depending on the type of project you're looking to run, a non-Pi board may be more beneficial to you.

Raspberry Pi Competitors: Considerations

When you're selecting a Raspberry Pi alternative, you should carefully consider what your needs are. For example, are you looking for a general purpose SBC to use on various projects, or do you want something for a specific project where it needs to do its job for extended periods? You should also consider your budget. Can you afford to throw money at the problem, or would it be better to have two or three cheaper alternatives compared to one extremely powerful one?

Also, size can be a critical consideration if you're doing a project involving tight spaces or hiding from notice. For example, in our spy camera project, you'd want the tiniest SBC that you can get away with. Connectivity is also commonly forgotten about until you start working on your project and realize the Ethernet is super slow or that you don't have Wi-Fi.

Lastly, ask yourself just how much hand-holding you need on your projects. Do you follow guides or blaze your own trail, because some Pi alternatives don't have the community support or even documentation to be considered noob-friendly.

We'll go over some alternative SBCs that will work in all of the above scenarios, but before we do so, let's refresh our memory on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, the most popular Raspberry Pi model. There is a new Raspberry Pi 4 Model B out, which we have listed as a newer alternative to the 3 B+ below, but it's had some issues with USB-C power, so it's not yet the must-have Pi to compare other boards to.

Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+

While the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is not the latest iteration of the full-size Raspberry Pi, it's more dependable until the Raspberry Pi 4 sorts its issues out.

The 3 B+ takes a classic Pi and gives it some long-needed upgrades such as 5 GHz Wi-Fi and an Ethernet chip capable of speeds faster than 100 megabits per second with PoE (power over Ethernet) capabilities. While it has the same CPU as the previous model, it also adds a heat spreader to the CPU for better heat management which allowed overclocking the processor to 1.4 GHz, gaming roughly a 17% improvement over the previous Pi — all of this while maintaining the gold standard $35 price tag.

Image via Raspberry Pi

For specs and more detail information on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, as well as how to build a hacking kit with it, check out our article and video on the subject.

  • Processor: Broadcom BCM2837B0, Cortex-A53 64-bit SoC @ 1.4 GHz
  • GPU: Broadcom VideoCore IV
  • Memory: 1 GB LPDDR2 SDRAM
  • Storage: microSD card
  • Wi-Fi: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz IEEE 802.11.b/g/n/ac
  • Ethernet: gigabit Ethernet over USB 2.0 (maximum throughput 300 Mbps)
  • Bluetooth: 4.2, BLE
  • Ports: full-size HDMI; four USB 2.0; four-pole stereo jack; composite video
  • GPIO: extended 40-pin header
  • Connections: CSI camera; DSI display
  • Power: 5 V/ 2.5 A DC power input via Micro-USB port; PoE support
  • Dimensions: 3.37 in (H) x 2.22 in (W) x 0.67 in (D)
  • Price: $35 (Adafruit | Amazon)

Option 1: ASUS Tinker Board S

The Tinker Board S comes from a name brand that many computers enthusiasts will recognize, Asus. And as you would expect from that name brand, its features are top notch.

The easiest way to think of the Tinker Board S is as an expensive Pi on steroids. The form factor of the Tinker Board S is a pure clone of the standard Pi right down to the port layout and 40-pin connector. Asus even managed to improve the connector by color coding and labeling it, which is extremely helpful if you're using GPIO pins a lot.

Additionally, it has a much beefier processor and GPU, which should help with those compute-intensive tasks or anything that requires rendering complex scenes. If your project is going to be using networking, the Tinker Board S also features full gigabit Ethernet, making it ideal for access point projects like the Pumpkin Pi.

Image via Asus

The real highlight, however, is the 16 GB of eMMC, which is flash storage and should equate to faster processing when compared to the microSD typical to the Pi.

With all these beefy features comes a hefty price tag of about $92. If the price isn't a concern for you, or if you need the extra processing power, then the Tinker Board S should be a top choice. But if you're on a budget, you could get two Raspberry Pi 3 B+ boards for the same price.

Image via Asus
  • Processor: Rockchip Quad-Core RK3288
  • GPU: ARM Mali-T764
  • Memory: 2 GB dual channel DDR3
  • Storage: microSD card; built-in 16 GB eMMC
  • Wi-Fi: 2.4 GHz IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
  • Ethernet: gigabit Ethernet
  • Bluetooth: 4.0 EDR
  • Ports: full-size HDMI; four USB 2.0; stereo jack; mic input
  • GPIO: 40-pin header
  • Connections: CSI camera; DSI display
  • Power: 5 V / 2–3 A DC power input via Micro-USB port
  • Dimensions: 3.37 in (H) x 2.125 in (W)
  • Price: $91.99 (Amazon | B&H)

Option 2: Banana Pi M64

The Banana Pi M64 is an improved 64-bit version of the Banana Pi capable of using Android, Ubuntu, Debian, OpenBSD, and Windows 10 IoT core among other OSes. It has double the RAM of the Pi 3 B+, built-in eMMC memory for snappier processing, and full gigabit Ethernet. Do you see a pattern yet? The Raspberry Pi Foundation is lagging on their Ethernet game!

However, the Banana Pi M64 only offers two USB ports opposed to the four on a standard Pi. And it's not quite the standard Pi form factor but does manage to maintain the 40-pin GPIO connector that we're all familiar with.

Image via Banana Pi

An interesting quirk of the Banana Pi M64 is that it has an infrared receiver, which means it could be beneficial for specific IR-controlled IoT projects. All in all, the M64 is a pretty good deal if you don't need complete documentation and community support. If you're willing to deal with everything that goes along with buying Chinese products from AliExpress, then this is a bargain.

Image via Banana Pi
  • Processor: Allwinner A64 (4x Cortex-A53 @ 1.2 GHz)
  • GPU: Mali-400 MP2
  • Memory: 2 GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • Storage: 8 GB to 64 GB eMMC; microSD card (up to 64 GB)
  • Wi-Fi: 2.4GHz IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
  • Ethernet: gigabit Ethernet
  • Bluetooth: 4.0
  • Ports: full-size HDMI; two USB 2.0; Micro-USB OTG; stereo jack
  • GPIO: 40-pin header
  • Connections: CSI camera; DSI display
  • Power: 5 V / 2 A DC power input via 4.0 mm barrel jack
  • Dimensions: 3.62 in (H) x 2.36 in (W)
  • Price: $52–$80 (Ali Express | Amazon)

Option 3: Atomic Pi

The Atomic Pi is a brand new player on the scene. It's an x86-based SBC only costing $35. With its specs, it would have been considered a great tablet four years ago, and it's more in line with a low-end NUC-style computer.

However, to use the full features of the Atomic Pi, it requires a $15 breakout board to supply power, so this definitely shouldn't be a top choice if your project requires a small size. That said, it has the computer power, so if you're planning a project that's going to sit on the desk or in a network closet, and you're comfortable with booting a bare Linux system, it's worth considering.

Image via Digital Loggers Direct
  • Processor: Intel Atom x5-Z8350 (up to 1.92 GHz)
  • GPU: Intel HD Graphics (Cherry Trail)
  • Memory: 2 GB of DDR3L-16000
  • Storage: 16 GB eMMC; microSD card (up to 256 GB)
  • Wi-Fi: 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz IEEE b/g/n/ac
  • Ethernet: gigabit hard-wired RJ45 Ethernet RTL8111G
  • Bluetooth: 4.0
  • Ports: full-size HDMI; USB 3.0; four USB 2.0
  • GPIO: 26-pin header
  • Connections: n/a
  • Power: 5 V / 2.5–4 A DC power input
  • Dimensions: 5.12 in (H) x 3.94 in (W) x 1.97 in (D)
  • Price: $44–$49 (Amazon | Digital Loggers Direct)

Option 4: Rock64

The Rock 64 is a reliable Pi alternative. It's Rockchip CPU slightly edges out the Broadcom processor on the Pi 3 B+, and it offers one more gigabyte of RAM for the same price. Other versions can increase that to 4 GB RAM total for about $45. Additionally, it provides an eMMC socket if you chose to use it over a microSD card. Typically, they are more expensive than a microSD card of the same capacity.

Image via Pine64

One of the key differences between the Rock64 and Pi 3 B+ is that the Rock64 only has three USB ports, but that third port is USB 3.0 which offers faster speeds and could be expanded with a USB hub easily. The Rock64 is also capable of handling 4K video at 60 fps which could make it great for retro Pi projects or anything else involving high-resolution video.

Image via Pine64
  • Processor: Quad-core Cortex-A53 (up to 1.5 GHz)
  • GPU: ARM Mali-450MP2 Dual-core
  • Memory: LPDDR3 RAM memory variants: 1 GB, 2 GB, 4 GB
  • Storage: eMMC card; microSD card
  • Wi-Fi: with module
  • Ethernet: gigabit Ethernet
  • Bluetooth: with module
  • Ports: full-size HDMI; USB 3.0; two USB 2.0; composite video
  • GPIO: 40-pin header
  • Connections: n/a
  • Power: 5 V / 3 A DC power input via 3.5 mm barrel jack; PoE support
  • Dimensions: 3.35 in (H) x 2.2 in (W)
  • Price: $24.95–$44.95 (Amazon (1 GB) | Amazon (2 GB) | Amazon (4 GB) | Pine64)

Option 5: NVIDIA Jetson Nano Developer Kit

Machine learning? Computer vision? Deep learning? AI? If any of those are involved in your project, then what you need is the Nvidia Jetson Nano, end of story.

Image via NVIDIA

The Jetson Nano is specifically designed to enable artificial intelligence at the edge. The module itself is the size of a standard laptop RAM card (SODIMM), which is intended to make it easy to implement into full-scale production runs. The developer kit breaks out that SODIMM module so we can tinker around with it.

It has more than enough power to handle any AI ask you could throw at it, such as self-navigating robots and smart speakers. Do note, though, if you want wireless connectivity, you will have to use an M.2 key cellular or Wi-Fi card, which are commonly available and used in laptops.

  • Processor: Quad-core ARM A57 @ 1.43 GHz
  • GPU: 128-core Maxwell
  • Memory: 4 GB 64-bit LPDDR4
  • Storage: microSD
  • Wi-Fi: M.2 Key E
  • Ethernet: gigabit Ethernet
  • Bluetooth: with module
  • Ports: full-size HDMI; four USB 3.0; Micro-USB
  • GPIO: yes
  • Connections: CSI camera; DisplayPort
  • Power: 5 V / 4 A DC power input via barrel jack; 5 V / 2 A DC power input via Micro-USB port; PoE support
  • Dimensions: 3.94 in (H) x 3.15 in (W) x 1.14 in (D)
  • Price: $99 (Amazon | Nvidia | Sparkfun)

Option 6: Onion Omega2+

If you're looking for an alternative to something like the Raspberry Pi Zero W, then the Omega2+ is undoubtedly an option. It's positively microscopic, not much larger than a quarter, which makes it great for embedded applications and IOT projects in general. It runs Linux Embedded Development Environment, which is based on OpenWRT and intended for just such IOT projects.

Additionally, the Omega2+ features a U.FL connector which gives it the capability of using external Wi-Fi antennas which can dramatically increase connection range. That alone makes it better than the Zero W, which can suffer from weak signal strength in some applications.

Image via Onion Corporation
  • Processor: 580 MHz MIPS CPU
  • GPU: n/a
  • Memory: 128 MB DDR2 RAM
  • Storage: microSD card; 32 MB flash storage
  • Wi-Fi: 2.4 GHz IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
  • Ethernet: with module
  • Bluetooth: with module
  • Ports: has support for USB 2.0
  • GPIO: 18-pin header
  • Connections: n/a
  • Power: 3.3 V DC operating voltage
  • Dimensions: 1.69 in (H) x 1.04 in (W)
  • Price: $13–$15 (Amazon | Onion)

Option 7: NodeMCU

The Raspberry Pi can be overkill for a lot of simple projects where not a lot of processing power is called for, such as running a sensor and sending data back to a hub. That's where microcontrollers like the NodeMCU come in handy, which works great for a Wi-Fi deauth alarm, beacon spammer, and device detector.

Image via NodeMCU

The NodeMCU is based on the famous ESP8266 Wi-Fi microchip, which was never intended to be used as anything but a Wi-Fi module. But people started to realize that you could use the downtime between Wi-Fi transmissions to do useful things — and the NodeMCU was born.

If you don't mind having RAM and storage best measured in kilobytes, then the NodeMCU is excellent and, most importantly, dirt cheap. It's virtually disposable when compared to more expensive alternatives such as the Asus Tinker Board S. And there are many different manufacturers of the NodeMCU, so quality may vary from board to board. We recommend the one with the CP2102 instead of the CH340.

Unfortunately, a limitation of working with a NodeMCU is that you have to program or find programs in C++/Arduino since you're not running a full or even cut-down version of Linux like the rest of the Pi alternatives in our list. Check out our guide to programming microcontrollers for a more detailed comparison to a Raspberry Pi.

  • Processor: L106 32-bit RISC 80 MHz CPU
  • GPU: n/a
  • Memory: 128 kB
  • Storage: built-in 4 MB flash
  • Wi-Fi: 2.4 GHz IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
  • Ethernet: n/a
  • Bluetooth: with module
  • Ports: Micro-USB
  • GPIO: 15-pin header
  • Connections: n/a
  • Power: 5 V DC power input via Micro-USB port
  • Dimensions: 1.93 in (H) x 0.96 in (W) x 0.51 in (D)
  • Price: $5–$20 (Ali Express | Amazon)

Option 8: ODroid XU4

The ODroid XU4 is a very powerful SBC that outclasses the Pi 3 B+ and even the Asus Tinker Board S. However, what it gains it compute power it throws out in conforming to standards. It doesn't use the 40-pin header that has become ubiquitous with the Pi, nor does it use the standard form factor or port layout. One neat feature that isn't common is a real-time clock (RTC), which will allow it to keep time across resets.

Image via ODroid

All of this combined makes it an excellent board for compute-based projects, but I wouldn't recommend it as much for projects where you're fooling around with accessories and add-on boards unless you really know what you're doing. Also, consider that for the price of one XU4 you could buy two Pi 3 B+ boards and two Pi Zero W boards.

Image via ODroid
  • Processor: Samsung Exynos5422 Cortex-A15 2 GHz and Cortex-A7 Octa-core CPUs
  • GPU: Mali-T628 MP6
  • Memory: 2 GB LPDDR3 RAM PoP stacked
  • Storage: eMMC; microSD card
  • Wi-Fi: with USB adapter
  • Ethernet: gigabit Ethernet
  • Bluetooth: with USB adapter
  • Ports: full-sizde HDMI; two USB 3.0; USB 2.0
  • GPIO: 30-pin header
  • Connections: serial
  • Power: 5 V / 4 A DC power input
  • Dimensions: 3.27 in (H) x 2.28 in (W) x 0.87 in (D)
  • Price: $50–$80 (Amazon | ameriDroid | Hardkernel)

Option 9: NanoPi NEO4

The NanoPi NEO4 is essentially a shrunken Pi 3 B+ at about half the size. It's processing capabilities are very similar to the Pi 3 B+ but just a little better with its six-core processor.

Image via Friendlyarm

The real selling point here is the smaller form factor for when you still need something smaller with the processing power of a standard size Pi. It also offers excellent connectivity with a USB 3.0 port and USB-C port.

Image by NanoPi/Antratek
  • Processor: Dual-Core Cortex-A72 (up to 2.0 GHz) + Quad-Core Cortex-A53 (up to 1.5 GHz)
  • GPU: Mali-T864 GPU
  • Memory: 1 GB DDR3-1866
  • Storage: eMMC socket; microSD card up to 128 GB
  • Wi-Fi: 2.4 GHz IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
  • Ethernet: gigabit Ethernet
  • Bluetooth: 4.0
  • Ports: full-size HDMI; USB 3.0; USB 2.0; USB Type-C
  • GPIO: 40-pin header
  • Connections: CSI camera
  • Power: 5 V / 3 A DC power input via USB Type-C port
  • Dimensions: 2.36 in (H) x 1.77 in (W)
  • Price: $50 (Amazon | Friendlyarm)

Option 10: Raspberry Pi 4 Model B

Last but certainly not least, we have a very recent addition to the Raspberry Pi family, the Pi 4 Model B. The Pi 4 is an upgrade in every way over the 3 B+. It has gigabit internet with PoE capability, dual-band Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 ports, and a flexible amount of RAM. On top of that, it maintains the same form factor as the 3 B+ meaning that all your Pi hats will work on the new model 4.

Image via Raspberry Pi

The USB-C power connector is a very welcome upgrade. However, do keep it in mind when buying that it makes all your old Micro-USB power supplies useless. Additionally, the USB-C and mini HDMI connectors mean that many older Pi cases will not work with the newer version. It does currently have some issues with USB-C power, where the port uses on resistor when it should use two. So some cables won't charge the board, meaning you'll need a cable that's not "e-marked."

If it's such an upgrade over the older 3 B+, then why am I listing the Pi 4 only as an alternative? Well, there is one primary reason: supply. As it is often the problem when a successful product launches, it can be challenging to get your hands on one. For these first few months, you will likely see restrictions of one per customer or one per address when purchasing, if you can find them in stock at all. This limits its usefulness for the time being if you're trying to do a project now. Plus, it's better off waiting until it fixes the USB-C issue in a future board revision.

Image via Raspberry Pi
  • Processor: Quad-core Cortex-A72 (ARM v8) 64-bit SoC @ 1.5 GHz
  • GPU: OpenGL ES 3.0 graphics
  • Memory: 1 GB, 2 GB, or 4 GB LPDDR4-2400 SDRAM
  • Storage: microSD card
  • Wi-Fi: 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz IEEE 802.11ac
  • Ethernet: gigabit Ethernet
  • Bluetooth: 5.0 BLE
  • Ports: two Micro-HDMI; USB Type-C; two USB 2.0; two USB 3.0; four-pole stereo jack; composite video
  • GPIO: 40-pin header
  • Connections: CSI camera; DSI display
  • Power: 5 V / 3 A DC power input via GPIO header; 5 V/ 3 A DC via USB Type-C port; PoE support
  • Dimensions: 3.37 in (H) x 2.22 in (W) x 0.67 in (D)
  • Price: $35, $45, or $55 (Adafruit | Amazon | CanaKit)

Wrapping Up

All in all, there are a lot of options for Pi alternatives, depending on what niche your project fits into. If you're relatively new to SBCs and want to stick to well-worn paths but want something with a little more oomph than the standard Pi 3 B+, then try to get your hands on the newer Raspberry Pi 4. But if it's sold out and you need a lot of them, then I would look into the Asus Tinker Board S.

If you're into flying drones, making robots, or anything that involves computer vision or speech recognition, then the Nvidia Jetson Nano is the way to go. If you want something tiny that could be easily hidden, look into the Onion Omega2+. To do something simple like reading a sensor or triggering a relay, give the NodeMCU a shot. Otherwise, if you have the money and you enjoy single-board computers, all of the ones listed above are worth a purchase to see which one is most useful to you.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, you can ask below or on Twitter @The_Hoid.

Cover image by Gareth Halfacree/Flickr

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2 Comments

There is NO problems with powering your Raspberry Pi 4B, it is all jackass bullshit. The offical charger works perfect and costs like nothing. 2# For powerbanks I can reveal that powerbanks of the brand " AUKEY is the shit you want.

I got 2 AUKEY powerbanks and they both kick ass powering the Raspberry Pi 4B 4GB.

One is model: P8-T11 - 30.000 mAh!
The other: PB-Y22 - 10.000 mAh
Brand: AUKEY
Can be bought on Amazon, Aliexpress, normal internet stores.
They come from China but super professional and 2 years guarantee.
They kick ass!
And the cables that comes with them are the onces that work with Raspberry Pi 4B!
Fast charge in and out and all!
5V/3A!
So they can power any PI Project.

And I have been running the kali Linux 32bit version ( same as Raspberry Pi 3B+ ) and it worked perfectly even from day 1!

Dont buy in to all the fake news now a days. The 4B just kicks ass! No matter what the fake news says! ( Fake-Fucking-World) haha!

But you will never a powerfull cooler! It will easily hit 80++ Celcius if you open Pycharm idleing, or run 2x wifite with 2 different adapters at once + teamviewer haha.

The fucking plastic cover melted on the inside! But the Pi Never stopped working it's butt off!

Buy the "Flirc Raspberry Pi 4 Heatsink Case" when it comes out OR mount a Cooling Fan is my advice based on cooling reviews!

You can buy Raspberry Pi 4B everywhere now. They are not sold out. Remember they started production like 1 year ago lol.

Buying the Raspberry Pi 4B is clearly the way to go unless you need something smaller. Want to waste countless hours, or need something that uses less power because it needs to run on a powerbank and a big one won't work like my 30.000 mAh/600 grams beast haha.

Better overkill on performance and being all-purpose than going short. The Pi Zeroes are a fucking nightmare to work with. I would rather buy an Orange Pi Zero. That bad boy got all a pentester needs build in! And more powerful than the Zero W!

But overall nice guide, not to flame the author!

But being me, The details is all that matter! Especially in this field where one missed detail and you wasted money fking again on some shit that wont get the job done.

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