SBC's beside the Pi - Any good ones, favorites etc?

Single board computers - the most popular has seemingly always been the Pi, but in recent years, it seems that more SBC’s have appeared. One such one is the Rock64 line, from Pine64. What are everyone’s favorite SBCs, ones you want to get, ones that are worth it and so forth?

I am personally looking forward to getting the “Rock Pi X”, which is a x86_64(!) SBC. It’s not very powerful, for instance, it has problems with PSP games, but for me, so long as it runs Linux and BSD, and I don’t have to worry about getting custom versions like ARM, to me that is awesome. It has the same form factor as a Raspberry Pi as well.

Many desktop motherboards with Celeron processors are not very powerful at all. For example, I have an ASUS N3050M-E board with dual core Celeron (released 2015), and 8GB of RAM. Windows 10 Pro keeps both cores pegged at 100%. I also have some circa 2009 Intel Atom motherboards with Hyperthreading dual core which has no problem with Windows 10.

For SBC, I do like the RockPro 64 because it is the only SBC I am aware of which has a PCIe slot. Makes a huge different in support for adding things on.

I strongly suggest the RPi, and the RPi only. Why is that? Personally, I need a nice new(ish) official Ubuntu 20.04 to run on it, so I can use Wireguard. For me, self-hosting (the way I like to set it up) really hinges on Wireguard working with no undue hassles. Further, I like to install software with either “apt” or “snap” on the command line. So Raspberry Pi OS (where 32-bit desktop is better) and Ubuntu (where 64bit server is better) are my friends on the RPi.

Most of those other ARM SBC boards have (sigh) beta- or alpha-quality OS’ to go with them (and the AMD64 SBCs are too pricy). Which is to say, those other ARM SBC boards are more suitably perceived as developer boards, IMHO.

The RPi is, in comparison, a much-more well-polished, finished product, where you can expect nice stable usage (please run the OS from something better than a MicroSD card if you can), albeit a bit slower than those other, higher-spec boards. I’ll take the stability, and even slightly higher cost if necessary, over similar, higher spec’ed, comparable ARM boards.

Having said all this, I give mad props to @strit, who is doing awesome work to get Manjaro working well on some other, non-RPi boards. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the praise @esbeeb.

Regarding good/favorite boards, it really depends on what your usecase is.

The most powerful consumer SBC I have seen, is the Odroid N2(+). It has raw CPU/GPU power that is currently unmatched in other consumer products.

The most popular non-RPi board is probably the Rock Pro 64, because it’s very well supported in Linux these days and have a full PCIe and USB-C slot, like @Trent mentioned.

If you want a board in the Raspberry Pi formfactor, the Rock Pi 4 (B and C models) will be your best bet. It uses the same SoC as the Rock Pro 64, but in a RPi formfactor. It doesn’t have the PCIe or USB-C slots, but it does support M.2.

The Raspberry Pi 4 is the only board that has a SoC that supports more than 4 GB of RAM though. The SoC actually supports up to 16, but the highest produced on board is 8.

Rockchip is set to announce new generation of their SoCs, where details are pretty sparse still. But it’s rumored to support more than 4 GB RAM and should sport one of the new Valhalla GPU’s (G71 I think the model number is). Those where set to release in Q2 2020, but was pushed back to Q4 2020 due to COVID19. And then it will probably be another 3-6 months before we start seeing any SBC with it.

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Thanks for making this point, @strit. The mainline linux kernel support of the specific hardware chipsets is absolutely crucial, if one cares about stability (and one should care about this dearly if one ever wants to use the board in production).

I watch Youtube vids by the likes of ETAPrime, and ExplainingComputers, but they virtually never use the terminology “mainline linux support” (which is a disappointment). I wish they would talk about this pretty much first and foremost, whenever they review some new ARM SBC!!

IMHO, stability, and long-term supportability (across multiple years, and upgrades) very much tends to hinge on the presence or absence of mainline kernel support. Yet they never talk about it (that I’ve ever heard)!

Mainline linux support is one of the points I focus on, being a developer for one of the most prominent mainline distros for ARM boards. :stuck_out_tongue:

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Well, I have yet to see any really satisfying videos which really break it down (with nice charts, diagrams, infographics, explanations, etc), as to which ARM SBC boards have what kind of mainline kernel support (including for use as a NAS, which means excellent stability of disk controller chipsets), making the choices crystal clear to the noobs of the world, as to where the obvious dotted lines are, differentiating the “worthiest” ARM SBCs as the most suitable for production, having matured beyond just being a developer board.

I also really appreciate how Manjaro ARM focuses on just a manageably-smaller list of the best ARM SBC’s, BTW. :slight_smile: Trying to cover virtually every board in a stable, reliable way (with longer term upgrade-ability staying stable, including security upgrades to the kernel) would be just about impossible (cough-cough, Armbian).

Creating such a list would be a huge task, as there are lots of different boards out there. And such a list would need to be updated regularly, since support in the kernel can change rather quickly.

While our supported device list is smaller than Armbians, we do expand it from time to time. Right now we support like 24 devices, where most can be installed with our Manjaro ARM Installer script.
Most of the devices run the same mainline kernel, while a few uses specific kernels for the best support.

PS: We are getting off-topic here. Sorry.

Excellent point. Owing to the complexity of the issue, and the rapid (or sometimes slow) rate of change, this sort of leads me back to my original preference to favor the RPis. (Back on topic again :wink: )

As a non-developer who just wants something stable for production use, then keeping an eagle eye on all these (highly-praiseworthy) developments becomes much less necessary, when one just sticks to the “good ol’” RPi product line, along with conservatively-chosen, officially-supported OS’.

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Overall the Raspberry Pi 4 is gonna get you the best experience overall. But my personal favorite is the RockPro64. And here’s my reasoning:
It does not require any nonfree blobs to run. All the software is open source, when using mainline stuff. U-boot, TF-A, Kernel and hardware firmware, is all open source. The only exeption would be the firmware for Display Out over USB-C, which requires a blob (but it’s included in linux-firmware repo/package), but Display Out over USB-C doesn’t work on mainline yet anyway.

The Raspberry Pi is great, if you don’t mind running proprietary blobs as the bootloader and GPU driver. :wink:


Rant mode enabled…

I don’t see a compelling reason to go Pi except the price which i’d admit is extremely compelling.

I really don’t like the Pi software culture because while it’s getting better, it’s very lax with security by design because it’s marketed to newer users. That’s not a recipe to be comfortable with even if the Pi can be hardened after it’s first run around the yard with it’s pants down.

They’ve removed the option to not have a wifi/bluetooth module on their newer models and there’s no guide I can find for physically disabling it because frankly the culture is comfortable just telling people to turn it off in software. Giving access to all the things is surprisingly still very trendy in 2020 despite growing cyber, it’s similar to the movement to make everything USB-C because when I buy a USB fan off Ebay of course I want it to have as much attack surface as physically possible short of just plugging it straight into my hard drive.

Oh did I mention Pi 4 is USB-C powered now? Why go barrel jack when your PSU can enjoy the same access as any other USB-C device.

SSH on by default with a generic password with su access, ability to update the firware with no physical intervention like a jumper, prepacked with a ton of software you’re unlikely to use, GRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Rant over… not saying other SBCs answer all these issues but the problem is they compound. If money was no factor i’d get something from Pine64 or a similar manu. with a good culture.

I do own 3 Pis, I just don’t expose them to my network.

Touché. :slight_smile:

I agree security shouldn’t suck (and should definitely be tightened, as best as one is willing, ASAP after a fresh install).

Having said this, I for one really appreciate that the RPi’s have some awesome conveniences which go way beyond that which is offered by the likes of Microsoft and Apple:

  • Very quickly imaging a new OS using a tool like “Raspberry Pi Imager”.
  • Multiple OS installation and selection is easy with BerryBoot.
  • The ability to have ssh on by default in Raspberry Pi OS (by creating the empty file called “ssh” in the boot partition), is very handy, to allow for headless installation (and that file does not exist by default, last time I checked). And headless setup can be done wirelessly as well, with the creation of an appropriate conf file with wifi params (before the first boot in the Pi), again, not existing by default.

I feel that if Linux is to ever get any significant market share to speak of, it’s by making the most of just such conveniences, which will make the difference. Witness that the Raspberry Pi Forum has over 300,000 registered users. And the Debian forum in comparison (for all supported architectures, not just ARM)? <50,000 users at present.

The size of the respective communities, and the market shares are not insignificant in this discussion.

PS: Ubuntu 20.04 for the Raspberry Pi does enable ssh by default (allowing headless setup over ethernet, a feature which I again really appreciate), but upon first login (with a default, easy, very insecure password), the user is forced to change the password, before getting to the bash shell for the first time.

That’s the problem… an empty ssh file. They couldn’t even have the user just put the password they want in that file.

The Pi used to be SSH on by default but they eventually changed it. Either way it’s an easy root for anything probing for a Pi till the password’s changed.

Similarly the Pi Imager could just prompt to set a password if they cared but they just don’t. It’s not about user friendliness when it can be made that easy, it’s just ambivalence and the more widespread they are the more I think it’s important to criticize them for it.

Definitely respect the outreach they’re doing and the pricing. Like I said I own 3 :stuck_out_tongue: I just wouldn’t recommend handing net traffic to a company that can’t even accomplish bare minimum security at near zero cost to experience.

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I’d add there’s also NOOBS OS for new users and Raspberry Pi OS (formerly Raspbian) for the more experienced. If a more experienced user can’t be expected to put a password in a text file or enter it into a prompt I don’t understand the distinction.

Man i’m being hard on the Pi… it’s a good platform. I just want the tech industry in general doing better.

notabug wontfix

— Raspberry Pi Foundation, probably.

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Does it run the same things? I like the Pi platform, but really just buy them because I can get them for cheap near me. Does all the same stuff work on there? For instance, could I make RetroPie happen on there too? Most tutorials are just geared toward Pi and I don’t know enough about software architecture to branch too far away from that. (I know x86 is not ARM, and that’s pretty much the extent of what I know!)

This depends entirely on the OS.

For instance. Raspberry Pi OS is only gonna work, you guessed it, on Raspberry Pi’s.
But some OS’s will have stuff like RetroPie and PiHole in the repositories and some it will even be able to run from Docker containers.

Generally, if something is compiled for x86 it will run on any x86 machine, and the same is generally true for ARM. I say generally because for some reason the Raspoberry PI folks are still compiling 32 bit software and OS images. 64 bit software is not going to run on that. However, most of the items running on those are open source, thus you can compile just anything available for Linux on any of the boards.