A BLOG ON SMALL BOARD COMPUTERS.

The Raspberry Pi started the small board computer revolution a few years back and now you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a new small board computer. They are literally all over trying to capitalize on the success of RPi. When you’re the king a lot of princes are trying to kill you off.

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I have several small board computers. First of all I own 5 Raspberry Pi computers. That’s right 5. And I sure enough use them all. Actually I usually have 4 pulling duty and the 5th Pi is my experimental platform.

I also have a Cubox -i4 Pro

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And a Raxda Rock

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I personally consider these three the best of the best of the small boards but that’s purely subjective. There are no less than 17 small board computers that I know about and probably many more I don’t.

Which one is best? The $64,000 question. The answer lies within another question though. What do you need to do with the computer?

I’m stunned and amazed at the User Forums in all these locations. Buyers get the small computers based on the specs and then when they get it they realize that it doesn’t quite do what their fantasy of a small computer does. For example the Raspberry Pi is probably the most versatile of the bunch. Programmable with GPIO pins that can click solenoids, run motors, flash LED’s, attach cameras, etc but with it’s 700 Mhz processor (even over clocked) you’re not gonna run it as a desktop computer. Oh, you can but it’s painful and slow.

Now bear in mind the Cubox -i and Radxa Rock are pretty new to the game. Really new. It takes some time for the community that develops around them to take off and bring you all the fancy Linux Distributions, etc.

Another example ....... Cubox has an image of Ubuntu Linux but it’s old. Pretty old actually. So until someone builds the latest and greatest distribution the casual user with minimum skills is stuck.

The time to read the User Forums is BEFORE YOU BUY THE HARDWARE. Not complain about it after the fact.

Ok here are some of my pro’s and cons of these three boards.

Raspberry Pi

Pros

- Cheap. Dirt Cheap. $35
- Huge Community Support. You wanna send your Pi underwater, into space with almost any Operating system. Somebody has done it. Hundreds upon hundreds of documented projects. Some very cool.
- Small and unobtrusive. Tons of different cases to suit your personality.
- Programmable like you would not believe. You can run motors, LED’s, make an automatic dog feeder, you name it.
- Intended to teach small children programming skills.
- Great OS support. Several solid distributions available.
- Makes an excellent music server (Logitech Media Server) on Debian Linux
- Low price + music server can’t be beat.

Cons

- Slow. No matter what you do you’re not going to boot into a graphical interface and do it with speed and ease. No matter how lean or mean your distribution this is not a desktop computer. You program it to do a task and let it do that task and it excels at that task. Desktop computing ain’t that task.
- Clunky. A little clunky. Any added device sticks out. And I’ve had some issues where some SD cards just will not work.

Cubox -i

Pros

- Fast. This can play desktop computer. Not as well as your desktop computer but it’s quick enough.
- Takes up very little space
- Fantastic Specs
- Runs Arch Linux (this may or may not matter to you. It matters to me)
- Runs my favorite Logitechmediaserver.
- Has an eSATA port for an external hard drive. Great for running network attached storage (NAS).

Cons

- Hard to get. Try to order one. Took me almost three months to get mine.
- All the connectors are crammed in one small area. Can’t remove ethernet without removing HDMI
- Limited OS support (but getting better). The casual user will be upset with the older version of Ubuntu.
- New kernel support breaks wifi. If you want wifi you have to run an old kernel. Guys who want bleeding edge stuff won’t like this.
- Logitech Media Server must be compiled on Arch Linux. Takes an hour and requires some skills.
- Community still relatively small but contains a few real helpful geniuses.

Radxa Rock

Pros

- Fast. Even runs Ubuntu fast.
- Looks cool. This is what a small board computer should look like.
- OS gets loaded to NAND memory and not an SD card (but you can still put your OS on a card if you want)
- Comes preinstalled with Android. Ready to use. Pretty cool.
- Can dual boot Android and Linux.

Cons

- Installing a distribution to NAND memory is new to me. Big learning curve.
- No Arch Linux support yet. But it is on the way.
- No eSata hard drive connector.
- Attaching a USB DAC will not cleanly stream music at 24 bit. Pops and clicks. I don’t think this is an OS or software issue. I think this is USB hardware related. But I could be wrong.
- Ubuntu or Android. Take your pic. That’s about it for now.
- Can’t figure out how to compile my favorite Logitech Media Server to Radxa Rock.