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Introduction to catalog of 125 Linux hacker boards

Jun 4, 2019 — by Eric Brown 12,930 views

Our 2019 spring edition catalog of hacker-friendly SBCs under $200 that run Linux or Android offers updated descriptions, specs, and pricing for 125 SBCs. Two big questions for 2019: Is it time for AI, and what about those tariffs?

Welcome to our latest catalog of 125 community-backed Linux and Android SBCs. We’re skipping the reader survey this year, although you’re welcome to cast your unofficial vote in the comments section at the end of this introduction. In any case, we have compiled the essential prices, features, and comparisons to help you vote with your wallet. We have updated the blurbs and the comparison spreadsheet with new pricing and in some cases, feature changes, and added descriptions of new boards.

Price leaders: Atomic Pi with breakout board (left) and Rock Pi 4
(click images to enlarge)

Major new products this year include Google’s i.MX8M driven Coral Dev Board and Nitrogen8M_Mini, as well as the dirt-cheap, Intel Cherry Trail based Atomic Pi. In the RK3399 world the Rock960 Model C and even cheaper Rock Pi 4 are forcing other RK3399 boards to cut prices. Also of note are the Amlogic S922X driven Odroid-N2 and the Allwinner H6-based Orange Pi 3 and Pine H64 Model B, among others.


June 2019 Hacker-Friendly SBC Catalog Links



Call us jaded, but we imagine that like last June’s survey results, a 2019 survey would once again knight the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ as the runaway winner. This would cause FOSS purists to cry foul since the Pi boards are not fully open source, which would lead to the usual debate over the relative importance of community and ecosystem vs. fully open schematics and licensing.

It’s hardly the only debate in the world of hacker boards. There’s always Arm vs. x86, Linux vs. Android, Yocto vs. packaged distros, specialized vs. modular, general purpose SBCs, RPi 40-pin connector vs. 96Boards vs. mini-PCIe vs. M.2, and so on.


One growing question is whether it’s time to take the dive into AI. We’ve seen several new boards arrive over the last year that promise to accelerate deep learning algorithms and frameworks, including Google’s Coral Dev Board, Bitmain’s Edge TPU Developer Board, and the UP Core Plus. Many more should ship later this year, in some cases with prices that go beyond our $200 cut-off. AI-ready boards due in late 2019 include the BeagleBone AI, AI-ML Board, Khadas Edge-1S, Toybrick RK3399Pro, Tinker Edge S, Tinker Edge T, and UP Xtreme, among others. Some may not end up meeting our open source requirements, such as the upcoming, maker-focused Jetson Nano Dev Kit.

The term “Artificial Intelligence” is a woefully exaggerated term to describe the profusion of different neural acceleration solutions out there, but the industry has yet to settle on an alternative. There are scores of new neural processing units (NPUs) vision processing units (VPUs), machine learning (ML) chips, and AI-savvy GPUs, DSPs, ISPs, and FPGAs. Intel even suggests that its 10th Gen “Ice Lake” Core CPUs can run deep learning frameworks via Intel DL (Deep Learning) Boost technology.

Coral Dev Board (left) and UP Core Plus with Netplus add-on
(click images to enlarge)

The AI trend is growing fast in the commercial embedded Linux computer market that we cover here on LinuxGizmos, but it has only begun to trickle down to the community-backed SBC realm. In part this is due to the extra expense of the neural chip, but there’s also the software learning curve and the question of necessity, especially on the hobbyist hacker side: Does your automated sprinkler system really need AI analytics on the edge? Perhaps an edge trimmer would be a better investment?

The embedded AI space spearheads the larger movement toward edge computing. The race is on to add smarts to IoT gateways and other high-end embedded devices so they can locally process data from the millions of new cameras and sensors being deployed.

The goal is to reduce the latency, cost, and potential service cutoffs and privacy/security threats that come from depending on connected cloud resources. Currently, most IoT gateways don’t need to run AI algorithms, but they do need more powerful processors, additional RAM, and speedy storage such as NVMe drives.

In the coming years, we’ll see increasing migration of cloud software such as containers, edge virtualization solutions, and AI frameworks to edge devices. Edge computers may be mostly self-sufficient, but still require seamless cloud connections. This is the Linux Foundation’s vision for the future of embedded IoT, as laid out in its LF Edge initiative.

Tariff terrors

A more immediate question for both SBC vendors and buyers is the potential impact of U.S. tariffs enacted against computer electronics made in Chinese and perhaps other countries such as Mexico. Long story short: the downward pricing trends we’ve been will reverse. As the old advertising come-on says: There’s never been a better time to buy!

Orange Pi 3

So far, judging from our recent price check, there has been little impact. Yet assuming the tariffs stick, once the boatloads of exempted, currently shipping parts run through the system, we’ll start to feel the pain.

It won’t only be the Chinese-made boards such as the NanoPi, Orange Pi, and Banana Pi models that will see price increases. Almost every SBC uses at least some, if not most, Chinese-made parts. Since computers are built and deployed over a global supply chain, the pricing and supply problems will be felt globally, especially as China and other countries retaliate against the U.S. with their own tariffs.

Other SBC trends in early 2019

The pace of new community backed SBC introductions has slowed a bit in early 2019 compared to 2018, which is not a bad thing. It’s always nice to have a wide range of feature and CPU mixes to choose from, but fewer boards with better support would be fine with us. Still, despite the fact we retired seven boards since our Jan. 3 roundup of 122 boards, including the Bubblegum-96, Firefly-RK3288 Reload, and Parallella, we ended up with three more entries — and nine more than in our June 2018 roundup of 116 boards. You can find the boards that have shipped since the beginning of the year by their “New” icons.

As noted, pricing has stayed about the same. Although many mid-range boards between $50 and $150 have dropped in price, including several Rockchip RK3399-based models, there are fewer rock-bottom budget hacker boards in the $5 to $20 range and more over models that exceed our $200 cut-off.

Udoo Bolt

The growing number of over $200 community backed boards sold in single units include x86 boards like the now shipping, AMD Ryzen V1000 based Udoo Bolt, as well as some of the latest 96Boards SBCs. Many of these are sandwich-style boards aimed at professional developers based on compute modules that plug into feature-rich carrier boards.

The trends we discussed in last June’s survey introduction have continued, including an increase in 40-pin Raspberry Pi style form factors and GPIO connectors. We’re also seeing more x86-style features like native GbE, multiple Ethernet ports, PoE options, and M.2 with NVMe support.

The selection criteria are the same as last year, with a limit of 15 boards per vendor. (We’ve combined some of the similar Orange Pi and NanoPi boards to fit under this limit.) There is also a similar, loosely defined requirement to check off most of our open source boxes ranging from community resources to strong open source software support to open schematics and open licensing.

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2 responses to “Introduction to catalog of 125 Linux hacker boards”

  1. Jim says:

    This catalog undoubtedly was lots of work and a great service to the Linux SBC community. It is easy to use and gives us the info we need to get started with our decision to select a board.
    Thank you.

  2. Shah Faisal (@shah_faisal_75) says:

    Thanks a lot, this is really helpful and I heavily rely on your site for information :)
    One suggestion and one question though. It would be a tad more helpful if you can edit your xls sheet to be “sort” friendly, so that one can sort info according to e.g. a processor or a manufacturer, etc.
    Also, I’ve been pondering to set up a small server to run something like open media vault with docker applications oriented towards media consumption. Need something that is powerful enough to do that and play 4K, H.265 media files. Other applications such as Sonarr, transmission, etc. will be running too and it will be on 24/7 hence energy efficiency is a concern too (may be less than 20W peak usage?). I may also be adding some basic home automation and sharing some 3.5 drives (for which I may need a NAS or DAS, I know).
    Currently leaning towards Amlogic S922x boards but can also go with Rockchip or x86 if those are better options.
    Though I ‘ve been a long time Ubuntu/Debian user, I am just a hobbyist with limited hardware knowledge and therefore any suggestions are much appreciated :)
    Thank you and keep up the good work.
    Cheers from Canberra, Australia

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