Raspberry Pi Alternatives?

I have seen many mentions of the Raspberry Pi on the forums. I have 2 of them personally, and they’re both dead. The only common denominator between the two of them is that they were early first-gen RPis. Needless to say, even Pi left a bad taste in my mouth.

I want a general utility computer that isn’t a full-blown, power-hungry desktop, or a hosted virtual server that costs $X/mo to keep online. I’ve been looking over Wikipedia’s List of single-board computers and there are so many options. I’d love to try them all, but I’d also love to own my own island in the Caribbean. Does anyone have a smallish “utility” computer similar to the Raspberry Pi that they use? I’d really like something that is multi-core and reasonably fast (1 GHz+). Any reviews or recommendations out there?

I’d encourage you to take another look at Raspberry Pi. We went down this road and initially built some tools for our team using the Beaglebone Black, but we were disappointed with its instability and the generally half-baked status of its software. Raspberry Pi benefits from a large community, and it seems very robust and stable at this point, probably much moreso than when you got your early RPis.

We ported our tools to RPi and have been grateful for the improvements that we’ve seen over the BBB.

I’ve two Pi’s and they’re awesome. One is a home server running node.js which gives a unified interface for my current, and any future iOT devices, by way of custom interfacing code.

The other runs raspbmc as a media centre, its fast and does 1080p 3D without a hitch. These two devices replaced a big, hot noisy quad core computer that was consuming 210W 24/7. The Pi’s consume about 10 watts between them.

@zach is definitely correct about the community, whilst there maybe more powerful micro computers out there, a large community means most of the things you want to do have already been tried and tested by a big group of friendly, helpful people. :smiley:

Stability and RPi are not two words that I would use together in the same sentence (well, except for that one). It may just be that I got part of a batch of lemons. I may get another one just in case.

That being said, however, I’m still very interested in alternatives. The RPi has definitely earned it’s share of respect for how it really kick-started (no pun intended) the single board computing revolution. I know it’s not the first single board computing platform, but it is definitely the most popular. You really can’t beat $35, but it has challenged other platforms to be bigger, better, faster for really low price points. A 4x core 1.7 GHz ARM9 board with bells and whistles for $70 is pretty awesome. Or, even the Parallella with it’s 16x core Epiphany platform for $120 is amazing (I want one so bad).

Has anyone played around with any of these other platforms? It sounds like the BBB gets a down vote from the :spark: team. Any other experiences or reviews?

As someone who’s currently writing a book on the Raspberry Pi for McGraw-Hill, I’ve got to share the sentiment of @dermotos and @zach. There are other embedded systems out there, but none of them are as tried, tested and inexpensive as the Raspberry Pi.

The performance and optimization that’s been squeezed out of the Pi is pretty extraordinary, really. I’ve got my main unit in a CNC’d aluminum two part case; the top has metal blocks machined on the inside that press against the processor, ethernet and power regulator ICs, transferring heat to the entire case effectively making it a giant heatsink! I can run my system (with Samsung RAM) at 1GHz with zero stability issues. I’ve got it hooked to a Motorola LapDock which provides power, a 10" HDMI display, keyboard, multitouch mouse and a two-port powered USB hub. It’s a pretty awesome little portable development system.

You can may be try A20/A10 olimex board. Really nice board stable and well designed.

I have to agree that the raspberry pi is an awesome and very well support device. That being said, if you really want to try something else, I would recommend the Udoo Quad. It’s basically a quad core RPI with a full arduino board built onto it. It can Ubuntu and even work with Arduino shields. I’d still rather use the :spark: and an RPI, but that’s just me.

I’ve had a RPi running an ftp server since they first came out (I got one of the first batch). When I mean it’s been on since I got it, I really mean that - I have it connected to a UPS and has been up pretty much since I got it (unless I intentionally reset it - which in most cases is because I was messing and broke something).

I’ve got a pi running raspbmc (xbmc based distro) that’s overclocked and solid as a rock (it also drives an home made 130 LED “ambilight” setup).
At work I implemented a Pi as a clocking in machine (scanner, network connection to central HR system). It has an uptime now of well over a year.

Alright. You guys have convinced me to buy another RPi and give it another fair shake. However, I still have some birthday money left over burning a hole in my virtual pocket.

I really want multiple cores and to spend less than $150. Here’s my line-up so far:

The Odroid looks good, but almost too good to be true. Does anyone have any experience with any of these or something similar (in a similar price range)? I trust opinions on this forum more than on other random forums. :wink:

@wgbartley Do me a favor, on your current two Pi’s, take a look at the big chip in the middle of the board, does it read Samsung or Hynix?

That’s actually the main Broadcom processor, it uses a special “stacked chip” which essentially means they bond the RAM directly to the top of the processor. Last Spring they had to start second sourcing the RAM from Hynix because Samsung couldn’t keep up with demand. They had some big issues with these Hynix chips at first, but so far as I know it was fixed in later releases of Raspbian. When was the last time you downloaded a fresh distro and gave it a try?

Another potential problem could be your SD Card or power supply. What brand and speed card are you using? What type of power adapter?

Those will be the biggest two issues with Pi stability!

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@wgbartley I would try flashing a new SD card. Not a new flash on the old SD card, but a new SD card. SanDisk tends to be one of the better ones, quality-wise. SD cards have a limited lifetime, particularly on the write, then they tend to get corrupted. Your hardware may fine, it might just be the card. Once you get your issues solved, do a regular backup of your cards, because you will eventually have a problem, and that goes for any device that uses the SD card for storage.

@zach Any specifics? On Friday I had a lengthy discussion and drinks with people who have worked with embedded systems full time for a decade and they love the Beaglebone Black.

I’m about to pull the trigger on a BBB myself.

@topfunky - the BBB does look pretty sweet. I just picked up an Arduino Yun and I have to say it is a pretty nice experience out of the box.

The product family I have in the planning stages has some units that simply need to do more than a Arduino (even one as cool as the Spark Core) can handle - the hybrids are promising.

Ken

@dave could provide a more comprehensive view, but my take on it is that the platform has stability issues, Angstrom linux doesn’t have the community that other popular distributions have, and their community is mean and not particularly supportive (at least that was what we encountered). Any one of these things I could forgive, but together it’s a bad mix.

Basically I think that neither Beaglebone Black nor Raspberry Pi (nor any of these other boards) are designed for a production environment, and we tried to use BBB in a production environment, and we regretted it. Then we switched to RPi and despite the fact that it’s not designed for a production environment, it held up incredibly well. The only thing it was missing (at least for us) was the GPIO, but I would advise an RPi + Arduino rather than a BBB.

I don’t really want to criticize the BBB guys, since the board really does offer a lot of GPIOs and other functionality, but I can talk about my personal experience.

We went through maybe 25-30 BBBs on this project that should have only needed 10, and in the end we had to throw them all away. They would boot up one day, and not the next day, or get online one day and not the next, etc. We also literally had a stack of SD cards at the ready so we could swap in a fresh image when things went sour, and one by one the boards went bad - they stopped truthfully reading out the states of the GPIOs, which was when we had to stop using them. One of the worst moments was when I had deployed a pin muxing change, which caused all their networking interfaces to fail when they pulled code updates a few hours later. That interaction wasn’t intended or documented, and … I’ll just say having a dozen or so rigs drop off the face of the earth on the other side of the planet was stressful. :slight_smile:

That being said, lots of people are doing cool things with the BBBs, and I was a total and complete newb, and we were asking a lot from the board, so it might have been some other variable, though we did try to control variables as much as possible.

@dave - I totally appreciate your insights. I think a lot of us are looking at the same solutions to the same problems. It seems like there is a ladder of solutions…

  • Micro-controller+Wifi - Essentially only the Spark Core (of course) as it is far and away the best answer I have seen to getting an Arduino class micro-controller into the cloud. However, while awesome for many applications, sometimes you need more oomph.

  • Micro-controller+Wifi+Co-processors - this is essentially a Core + another Arduino or the Core plus a dedicated chip for some other purpose (codec, capture etc).

  • One board computer (OTC)+WiFi - the BBB / Pi and others. When you need more oomph and are willing to take on the complexity of a Linux distribution to get it.

  • OTC+WiFi+Co-processors/Simulation - and this is where it gets really interesting. The Intel Galileo and Arduino Yun are int his class - with the pcDuino also trying to get in here. This lets you have your Linux oomph and still have the real time of the Arduino - also, two processors lets them watchdog each other - which has possibilities.

The way i see it, the Galileo has the benefit of Intel behind it - which means it will be in a good position for mass production uses and actual product embedding. The Yun is the “official” Arduino / WiFi solution in a way - and that will drive a lot of community support its way - though it is an expensive beastie.

Ken

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I’m definitely looking for the oomph+Linux without the extra baggage of a power supply, spinning (or not) hard drive, big case, etc. GPIO is a bonus, but not a requirement. Ethernet and/or wifi are needed, but not necessarily both. And more than 1 CPU core. The RPi really only lets me down in the CPU core category. I may be asking a lot from a CPU, but I abandoned single-core computers 14 years ago (dual P3 1GHz). I really don’t even care for much of a GPU, but it seems most single board computer manufacturers insist on it.

[UPDATE]
Apparently, I started writing this post and then got distracted. Now I’m back!

I went ahead and took a chance with the Odroid U3 for just under $100 after adding 5V/2A USB charger and mini HDMI-to-HDMI adapter. I’ll post a review when I receive it (probably 2-3 weeks). This is my birthday present to myself, so I hope it’s as awesome as it looks on paper … err … e-paper? … err … retina display?

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The Minnowboard V2 looks exciting: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/04/intel-upgrades-minnowboard-developer-computer-cuts-price-to-99/