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Survey results: Top 10 hacker SBCs

May 22, 2014  |  Eric Brown

Our SBC survey has now concluded, and it’s time to reveal the Top 10 SBCs list. Yes, the Pi is still in the sky… but some other winners may surprise you!

The 10-day SurveyMonkey survey — a joint project between LinuxGizmos.com and the Linux Foundation’s Linux.com community website — asked readers of both sites to choose their top three Linux- or Android-based open-spec single-board computers from a list of 32. Some 777 respondents did just that, with most also picking their top buyer’s criteria and intended applications. Five respondents were randomly selected to receive a Linux Foundation shirt, hat, mug, or USB drive (see farther below for a list of the winners).



How would you rank these 32 hacker SBCs?
(click image to enlarge)

We did not require respondents to have had direct experience with a board, yet almost 73 percent of the 734 respondents who answered the question indicated they had hands-on experience with their first-choice boards. Hands-on users comprised 46 percent among the second-place choices, and 33 percent of the third-place choices. The remainder of the 777 respondents listed other boards in an “other” comment section, but none of the boards that met our requirements were listed more than a few times.

We applied the Borda count method, used in elections around the world, to weight the ranked choices. Each board’s score was calculated as follows:

    [(number of 1st-choice votes) X 3]
    + [(number of 2nd-choice votes) X 2]
    + [(number of 3rd-choice votes) X 1]
    = Total Score

The survey asked four questions:

  1. Which are your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd most favorite open source SBCs?
  2. How important were each of these factors to your favorite SBC choices?
  3. For what type of applications are you most likely to use your favorite SBCs?
  4. Which best describes the nature of your expected SBC projects?

 
Top-10 highlights: many as expected, but some surprises

The weighted scores for the top-10 SBCs in our survey are graphed below. Weighted scores for all 32 open SBCs appear in a table farther below.



Top-10 SBC scores
(click image to enlarge)

There were surprises on the top-10 list, but not with the highest ranked entries. Anyone could have guessed the top ranked SBCs would be the Raspberry Pi Model B (1,136 weighted points) and the BeagleBone Black (814). The OLinuXino, Cubieboard, and Odroid projects each fielded two SBCs on our list — and they all scored well — but even if we had combined the scores, none of the projects would have come close to the BeagleBone Black.


#1 RaspBerry Pi Model B and #2 BeagleBone Black

It was also unsurprising that third-place Odroid-U3 (194) and fourth place CubieTruck (193) made our top 10. Like the Pi and BeagleBone, these are both backed by strong hacker communities, and unlike the top two projects, they are just as suitable for Android as they are for Linux. The Odroid-U3 shines with its stellar price/performance ratio ($59 for a quad-core Exynos4412 system-on-chip), and the $89 CubieTruck provides an exceptional mix of interfaces to back up its dual-core Allwinner A20 SoC.


#3 Odroid-U3 and #4 CubieTruck

The surprise came with the number 5 vote given to a new Raspberry Pi clone called the Banana Pi (186 points). The score was based less on hands-on usage than many of the other boards, which makes sense considering its recent ship date. Yet, assuming the build quality and support are there, Lemaker.org appears to have a hit on its hands. The Banana Pi mimics the Pi’s port locations and supports Pi add-on modules. It also offers a faster, 1GHz Allwinner A10 processor capable of running Android 4.2.2, supplies twice the RAM found on the Pi, and adds gigabit Ethernet and SATA ports. Its relatively open ARM Mali-400 GPU is less of an advantage now that Broadcom has open sourced the Pi’s VideoCore IV GPU.


#5 Banana Pi and #6 Parallella

Parallella‘s position at number 6 (164) was also somewhat unexpected, considering its specialized nature. Adapteva’s $99 board, which mixes an ARM/FPGA Xilinx Zynq SoC with its own Epiphany coprocessor, can be used solo, but is designed primarily for server clustering and parallel programming applications.


#7 CubieBoard2 and #8 A10-OlinuXino-Lime

Less surprising was the 7th place, $59 Cubieboard2 (158), built around an Allwinner A20, or the 8th-ranked, $42 A10-OLinuXino-Lime (138), which features an Allwinner A10. Nor was it a shock that the Udoo Quad made the list at number 10, beating out the similarly Freescale i.MX6Quad based Wandboard Quad, which ranked 14th.


#9 Galileo and #10 Udoo Quad

More eye opening was the 9th place choice of the sole non-ARM based SBC in the top 10: Intel’s Quark-based Galileo. The popularity of the $60, Arduino compatible Galileo reflects an increasing interest in Internet of Things (IoT).

 See scores for all 32 SBCs
See spec summaries for all 32 SBCs

 
Other observations

There were only five major contenders among the rest of the pack. At number 11 we find an x86-based 86Duino board, followed by the ARM-based Odroid-XU, A10-OLinuXino-Micro, Wandboard Quad, and Radxa Rock — all of which scored over 100 points. The next ranked SBC, the Hackberry A10, scored a 65. The last place Cosmic+ earned 6 points (see list below).

For those of you who believe that second-place is for losers, and who surmise correctly that survey participants’ first-choice selections were more heavily based on hands-on experience, here’s a revised top-10 list. Based solely on first-choice unweighted scores, the top-10 would remain the same for the first four SBCs, but would change slightly after that. The unweighted ranking would be Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone Black, Odroid-U3, CubieTruck, and then Parallella, A10-OLinuXino-Lime, A10-OLinuXino-Micro, Radxa Rock, and Udoo Quad.

Although price was only the fourth leading criteria in users’ rankings (see farther below), five of the top 10 boards cost under $50 — or four if you include the $10 price increase for the latest BeagleBone Black. Of the rest, only the $135 Udoo Quad costs over $100.

Also notable is the popularity of projects based on Allwinner’s single-core, Cortex-A8 A10 and dual-core, Cortex-A7 A20 SoCs. Four of the top 10 and eight of the 32 boards showcase the SoCs. Other popular processor choices include the Freescale i.MX6, used on five of the 32 boards, and various Samsung Exynos flavors, which combined for four entries. Texas Instruments, Rockchip, and Xilinx also represented multiple entries.

Survey respondents advised us of several other boards that probably would have fit our requirements, and we’ll consider them for our next SBC survey. These include Acme System’s Foxboard and Terra SBC, FriendlyARM’s Mini2440 and Tiny4412, and the tiny, IoT-ready Carambola, among others. In addition, several respondents listed older boards like the PandaBoard ES and BeagleBoard-xM, which we left off the list along with other older boards that have clear successors. As noted in our survey invitation story, which offers descriptions of all 32 SBCs, a number of promising boards failed to make the cut because they have yet to ship. These include the MinnowBoard Max and Arduino Tre.

 
Open source tops criteria ranking

Somewhat cynically, we had imagined low cost might top our multiple-choice list of criteria for buying an open-spec SBC. However, price was ranked fifth out of 12 choices. Instead, support for open source software, community ecosystem features, and open hardware lead the way. Since all these boards provide Linux and/or Android images, made available under an open source license, we imagine the ranking is partially about the type of license, but mostly about the quality of the code and the range of components and development tools packaged with it.



Which factors matter most?
(click image to enlarge)

Similarly, although all the boards were provided with a minimum of community basics like a forum and open tech support, there’s a huge gap between what’s offered by say, a BeagleBoard.org and most other projects. There are a number of otherwise estimable SBCs with limited communities and overworked developers who struggle even to publish timely documentation.

Indeed, among the “other” criteria categories listed by readers, documentation and ease of use lead the way. This also applies to the degree of openness in the hardware designs. A schematic and a Creative Commons license are great, but respondents were also voting on how well the hardware was documented with manuals, annotated images, tutorials, videos, and the like.

A surprise here was the high ranking of networking/wireless I/O, which tied with open source hardware for third and fourth place. It seems users would rather have built-in WiFi, and perhaps Bluetooth, rather than use up their precious USB ports. Then again, cost was ranked next, there’s a bit of a tradeoff there.

After Other I/O in sixth place, there’s a considerable gap to the next entries: low power and onboard memory. The relatively low ranking of CPU/graphics performance, combined with the last place ranking for multimedia I/O, suggests that for the most part, our readers are not using their SBCs to build media players. One of the leading “other” categories was small size, which reflects the respondents’ number one intended application: home automation.

 
Home automation and education lead the way

Some 74.9 percent of respondents said they were “Maker/hobbyists” vs. 20.3 percent involved in commercial prototyping or production. The fact that a fifth of respondents are commercial developers reflects the impact the open board movement has had on the traditional embedded industry. Two years ago, we imagine the percentage would have been much lower. Almost 5 percent chose “other”, suggesting that some users fit both roles. Most of the other roles listed, however, were academics conducting research, as well as educators and parents using the boards as educational tools.



Which best describes the nature of your expected SBC projects?

In a separate question, asking respondents to choose between eight application categories, education was ranked at 51.5 percent, second only to home automation at 61.9 percent. Special function servers and robots took up the next two slots at 45.7 and 38.2 percent, followed by art and entertainment, other consumer electronics, and data acquisition and control, all in the 20’s. HMI/industrial was last, at 16.2 percent, a figure that we imagine would have been lower in years past.


For what type of applications are you most likely to use your favorite SBCs?
(click image to enlarge)

The 76 respondents that chose to list an application as “other,” reflect the incredible diversity of the open board movement. Although some of these fit into existing categories, many stand alone. Listed applications include Linux desktops, thin clients, XBMC media players, medical devices, weather stations, amateur and SDR radios, wearables, IoT gizmos, and automotive computers. Two particularly intriguing applications are “fish tank control” and “mining.”

 
Prize winners

Congratulations to the five winners of our drawing for cool Tux and Linux Foundation gear:

    Adrian Kummerlaender
    Andrews Moro
    Vikram Narayanan
    Charles Steinkuehler
    Robert Voinea

And thanks again to all who participated in the survey!

 
Weighted scores for all 32 SBCs

The table below contains scores for all 32 open SBCs in our survey. Each set of numbers indicates the SBC’s overall weighted score, along with its first, second, and third-place votes in parentheses.


Popularity rankings

  1. Raspberry Pi Model B — 1,136 (243, 148, 111)
  2. BeagleBone Black — 814 (154, 138, 76)
  3. Odroid-U3 — 194 (38, 31, 18)
  4. CubieTruck — 193 (36, 28, 29)
  5. Banana Pi — 186 (18, 41, 50)
  6. Parallella — 164 (32, 16, 36)
  7. Cubieboard2 — 158 (21, 27, 41)
  8. A10-OLinuXino-Lime — 138 (30, 20, 8)
  9. Galileo — 135 (11, 30, 42)
  10. Udoo Quad — 128 (19, 24, 23)
  11. 86Duino/86Duino One — 121 (16, 26, 21)
  12. Odroid-XU — 116 (16, 27, 14)
  13. A20-OLinuXino-Micro — 110 (20, 18, 14)
  14. Wandboard Quad — 109 (15, 24, 16)
  15. Radxa Rock — 105 (19, 19, 10)
  16. Hackberry A10 — 65 (7, 14, 16)
  17. MinnowBoard — 60 (6, 10, 22)
  18. Arndale Octa Board — 47 (9, 7, 6)
  19. SAMA5D3 Xplained — 47 (9, 7, 6)
  20. i.MX6 Rex — 43 (3, 9, 16)
  21. ZedBoard — 43 (3, 10, 14)
  22. Gizmo — 36 (6, 5, 8)
  23. APC Rock — 28 (0, 7, 14)
  24. BD-SL-i.MX6 (SABRE Lite) — 26 (5, 4, 3)
  25. RIoTboard — 17 (2, 5, 1)
  26. IGEPv5 Community Edition — 15 (1, 2, 8)
  27. MarsBoard RK3066 — 14 (1, 2, 7)
  28. PhoenixA20 — 11 (2, 0, 5)
  29. Sockit Development Kit — 11 (0, 2, 7)
  30. Improv — 10 (0, 3, 4)
  31. Arndale Board-K — 9 (2, 1, 1)
  32. Cosmic+ — 6 (0, 2, 2)

See spec summaries for all 32 SBCs

 
Further information

More information on the 32 boards in the contest, including links to project sites and previous LinuxGizmos coverage may be found in this section of our initial contest coverage. Additionally, Linux.com has published a Top-10 SBC Slide Show in their contest wrap-up story. Additionally, you can view the survey’s complete results here.
 

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PLEASE COMMENT BELOW

5 Responses to “Survey results: Top 10 hacker SBCs”

  1. werewolfc says:

    Long live the kPIng!
    I was expecting that the top 5 to be led by RPI.
    Hope Eben&co will continue their great work. RPI started a hw standard, just look at cubox-i humingboard, banana PI.
    It’s gonna be a shame if PI won’t get an update to a A9 BCM, 1 GB RAM ……

  2. jezra says:

    If the Minnowboard Max was excluded from the list because it has not yet shipped, should the Improv also be excluded?

  3. Wilfred Diamond says:

    One should never forget that VHS was more popular that Betamax, but Betamax was the technically superior format.

    Similarly the Raspberry Pi is always going to win on price and this is also reflected by the popularity of the other low cost boards in the survey, whereas the boards with better specifications and thus higher price are much further down the list.

  4. Drew Fustini says:

    interesting crop of boards and results, but *sigh* really wish a loosely defined term “open spec” wasn’t used as the qualifier. If open spec implies that information needed to reproduce the board is available, then the 1st place SBC in the results would be disqualified (no Board Layout, no Bill Of Materials).

  5. wycx says:

    …we imagine the ranking is partially about the type of license, but mostly about the quality of the code and the range of components and development tools packaged with it.

    I imagine it is about whether there is any hope of getting mainline kernel support for SoC functions, rather than, for instance being stuck on an abandoned 3.4 custom kernel. Both count as open source software support, but one is infinitely superior to the other. It is the quality of open source support that matters and the SoC manufacturers could do better.

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