When it comes to single-board computers, Raspberry Pi is the undisputed champion. The $35 microcomputer has amassed enthusiasts worldwide, thanks to its ability to perform PC-based functions at a fraction of the price of commercial equipment. Sure, it’s not the most powerful or the cheapest microcomputer, but its explosive success has attracted many imitators. If you are looking for single-board computers that are not Raspberry Pi, here are some of the best Raspberry Pi alternatives to check out.
1. Intel NUC boards
If what you seek is sheer power, look no further than Intel’s Next Unit of Computing boards.
Intel’s x86/x64 architecture still has the upper hand compared to ARM processors as far as traditional desktop workloads go. Its NUC boards are built as full systems around Intel’s powerful CPUs, offering performance equivalent to desktop computers.
There are dozens of different NUC models available, with various configurations and form factors. Some come with mid-level integrated graphics subsystems. Others allow you to use a dedicated GPU, enabling their use even as micro gaming PCs.
Another boon of their classic x86 PC architecture is that you can use almost any PC software on a NUC board, including Microsoft’s Windows.
Unfortunately, all this power and compatibility comes at a price. Even the cheapest NUC board costs a ton more than what you would pay for a Pi, so they’re probably not the best options for tinkerers and DIY fans.
2. Udoo Bolt Gear
The first Udoo, Udoo Dual, and Udoo Quad were successfully kickstarted back in 2013. They offered more power end expandability than most alternatives available at that time. Those first models were equipped with ARM processors, too. The family soon expanded to include Intel’s CPUs. Compatibility with x86 code was good to have but nothing as impressive as what the latest models manage to pull off, thanks to AMD’s Ryzen CPUs.
The latest and greatest of the bunch, the Udoo Bolt Gear, comes with an AMD Ryzen Embedded V1000 4-core 3.6GHz CPU and AMD Radeon Vega Graphics. It can be expanded with up to 32 GB of dual-channel DDR4 RAM and run almost any x86 or x64 software you throw at it – even if we’re talking about video editing suites, triple-A games, or virtual reality experiences.
It’s justifiable, then, that despite its small size, it will set you back almost as much as a gaming console.
3. Banana Pi M5
The approach behind the Banana Pi series of single-board computers (SBCs) is simple: offer more than the Raspberry Pi at a similar price. That’s what the first Banana Pi did, and after more than a dozen model variants between them, it’s what the latest Banana Pi M5 does, again, by one-upping the Raspberry Pi 4.
The Banana Pi M5 comes with an S905X3 Quad Core Cortex-A55 2GHz CPU by Armlogic and a Mali-G31 MP2 GPU. It has 4 GB of RAM and comes with 16 GB of eMMC flash onboard storage, with options up to 64 GB. It also supports MicroSDs up to 256 GB.
The rest of its specs don’t differ much from the base Raspberry Pi 4 model, making a choice between them easier: more RAM or storage?
4. Odroid N2+
Many people loved the price-to-performance ratio of the ODroid XU4, which packed a serious punch thanks to its Samsung 8-core CPU. However, that was then. Now, the new ODroid N2+ ups the ante with +25% to double the performance of the XU4 (depending on the task).
The N2+ is an upgraded revision of the plain N2, boosting the clock of its quad-core Cortex-A73 CPU to 2.4 GHz and its dual-core Cortex-A53 CPU to 2 GHz. Paired with a Mali-G52 GPU, they may not make the most impressive specs, but they’re speedy enough to emulate Nintendo’s Wii.
However, it’s also pricier than the Raspberry Pi, and if you don’t want its performance to drop because of thermal throttling, you will also have to equip it with its optional active cooler (sold separately).
5. Rock Pi X Model B
Do you want to run Windows and other x86/x64 software on a micro-board that doesn’t cost (much) more than a Raspberry Pi? Say hello to the Rock Pi X Model B.
Its Intel Atom x5–Z8373 Cherry Trail is a serviceable 64-bit quad-core CPU at 1.44 GHz. Thanks to Gen8 HD Graphics running at 500 GHz, it’s also an adequate GPU. It won’t set the world on fire, but it’s more than enough for your DIY projects – at least the smaller ones.
A tiny problem is that its affordable price reflects a pretty limited configuration, with 1 GB of RAM and 8GB of eMMC storage. If you demand more, you can get variants with 2 GB or 4 GB of RAM, and 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB, or 128 GB of eMMC storage. However, the largest combo also comes with double the cost.
Of course, since it supports microSD cards, you can choose an option with low onboard eMMC storage. Or you can extend it by plugging an external drive into one of its four USB ports – preferably the faster USB 3.0 one.
Note that there is also a model A variant, without wireless 802.11 AC Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 support.
The Pine single-board computer is more popular, but you may prefer its ROCKPro64 big brother for its increased power and versatility.
At its core, we find a Rockchip A3399 SOC with a Mali T860 MP4 GPU. You can pick it up in configurations of up to 4 GBs of LPDDR4 RAM and add your own microSD, eMMC, or USB storage. Or you could add an extra GPU, storage controller, network adapter, or sound card in its PCIe 4x slot. With the ROCKPro64, expandability is the name of the game.
The ROCKPro64’s expandability means you can connect pretty much anything to it, though you probably have to create your own driver for “anything” to work properly.
Pico-Boards for Everyone
As we saw, there are many single-board computers with various hardware configurations. Some of the latest ones are also x86-compatible, which grants them access to a larger software library. There really is something for everyone, with projects ranging from baby monitors to micro gaming PCs. If you prefer to stick with the Raspberry Pi, check out our library of tutorials to see a ton of things you can do with it.