In this digital age, there’s very little that a computer can’t do. Whether it’s facilitating work and study, or making art and music, or playing games and watching movies, and everything in between, today’s computers are capable of so many things. For those who want to learn how computers work, and explore those capabilities, you have everything you need in a Raspberry Pi.
Raspberry Pi is hands-down the most popular single board computer, or SBC, that you can buy. With over 30 million units sold worldwide for a variety of uses and applications, Raspberry Pi stands at the top when it comes to versatile, low-cost single board computers, and it’s now even more accessible to just about anyone thanks to the availability of online partners and dealers.
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Raspberry Pi is basically a personal computer that’s about the size of a credit card. It has and is capable of everything you need in a desktop computer, and connects to a standard keyboard, mouse, and monitor, so it can do pretty much anything. From word processing to playing games, to watching high-definition video, Raspberry Pi computers are powerful and versatile, and because of their low cost and high performance, they’re one of the top choices for exploring computing capabilities and learning how to program.
So, if you’re asking what a Raspberry Pi is, the most likely answer is: anything you want it to be. And that might be a little vague, but it’s definitely accurate. A Raspberry Pi can be programmed to be a portable personal computer, a media center or home theatre PC, a gaming console, a web server, a security system, a weather station, a 3D printer – literally anything you and come up with as long as you can back it up with some programming skills, which should be easy enough to learn thanks to the extensive documentation available.
- What Is Raspberry Pi?
- Best Raspberry Pi Alternatives
- How Do I Choose An SBC For My Project?
While Raspberry Pi is the undisputed king of the Single Board Computer industry, it’s not the only contender. Other brands and manufacturers also offer a wide variety of options for those with more specific needs. Whether you’re particular about your choice of hardware, or need something to better suit your budget, there are lots of Raspberry Pi alternatives that you can choose from.
Here are some of the best in 2020:
A more powerful alternative to the Raspberry Pi, the Nvidia Jetson Nano houses an Nvidia Maxwell GPU, making it ideal for graphics intensive processing for all kinds of applications.
The Nvidia Jetson Nano is the best SBC to come from Nvidia, and while it’s graphics processing capabilities are a tad more powerful than the Raspberry Pi 4, it’s not as well rounded, and therefore not as versatile. That said, the Nvidia Jetson Nano is still a very, very capable machine with a 64-bit quad-core ARM-based processor – the Cortex A57 – and 2GB/4GB of LPDDR4 RAM. With a total of 4 USB 3.0 ports and 1 USB 2.0 Micro-B port, it does have more USB interfaces than the Raspberry Pi 4, but instead of getting 2 Micro-HDMI ports capable of [email protected], you’re only getting an HDMI 2.0 and an eDP 1.4.
Although it doesn’t seem like much of a difference, the Nvidia Jetson Nano sticks to its strengths and overwhelms just about everything else with sheer graphics processing power. The Nvidia Maxwell GPU that comes with the Jetson Nano has 128 CUDA cores, and is capable of significantly better graphics processing and performance, making it ideal for working with all kinds of image inputs and outputs.
CPU: Quad-Core ARM Cortex-A57 64-bit @ 1.42 Ghz
GPU: Nvidia Maxwell (128 CUDA cores) @ 921Mhz
Memory: 2GB/4GB LPDDR4
Networking: Gigabit Ethernet/M.2 Key E
Interface: 4 x USB 3.0, USB 2.0 Micro-B, HDMI 2.0, eDP 1.4
The greatest thing about the Raspberry Pi 4 is its versatility. As a single board computer, being able to do anything and everything is what makes Raspberry Pi so popular, especially for education. However, if you’re looking to buy a single board computer for a more specific purpose, or a more defined intent, then there are alternatives that offer something just a little bit better. One of those alternatives is the Khadas VIM3, the best option for building your very own Home Theater PC.
Built from the ground up to cater to the needs of home theater enthusiasts, the Khadas VIM3 is a powerful computer that comes with everything you need for a smart home theater system. It comes with Android 9.0 Pie built-in, so you’ll have everything you need right off the bat to turn your computer into an Android-based theater system. Its Amlogic S905D3 processor is a tiny thing, but is capable of running 4K at 60fps. With 2GB of LPDDR4 RAM, it should have enough for all but the most demanding tasks, as well as 16GBs of high-speed eMMC flash storage. It supports Bluetooth 5.0 and Gigabit LAN, and comes with interfaces for USB Type-C, USB 2.0, and HDMI.
CPU: Amlogic 2905D3 Quad-Core
GPU: ARM Mali-G52 MP4
Memory: 2GB/4GB LPDDR4
Networking: Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 5.0
Interface: 4 x USB 3.0, USB 2.0 Micro-B, HDMI 2.0, eDP 1.4
Storage: 16GB/32GB eMMC Flash; MicroSD
You can’t have a list of Raspberry Pi alternatives without the BBC Micro:Bit. The successor the BBC Micro – a small single board computer from all the way back in the 1980s, which gave the UK youth their introduction to computing and programming – the Micro:Bit is one of the most prevalent SBCs used in education. If you’re looking for a cheap, effective SBC to help you learn, experiment, and build your own basic projects as you go, the Micro:Bit is an excellent alternative to Raspberry Pi.
The Micro:Bit isn’t as robust as the Raspberry Pi, so you won’t be able to do as much, but if you’re trying to learn the foundations of programming and computing, the Micro:Bit performs just fine. It comes with the Nordic nRF51822-QFAA-R processor, which is a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 processor used effectively in most microcontrollers, and can connect to devices wirelessly via Bluetooth 4.1.
CPU: Nordic nRF51822-QFAA-R 32-bit
Memory: 16KB RAM
Networking: Bluetooth 4.1
Interface: USB Micro, General Purpose I/O
Storage: 256KB Flash ROM
Arduino, one of Raspberry Pi’s closest competitors, also offers modern single board computers for a variety of applications, particularly in education. Indeed, most schools teach programming with either Raspberry Pi or Arduino hardware, so if you’re looking for an alternative, the Arduino Mega 2560 won’t disappoint.
However, despite their similarities and their shared roots, the Arduino Mega 2560 and the Raspberry Pi are very different pieces of hardware that are used to solve different problems. While the Raspberry Pi focuses on providing everything you would need out of a desktop computer, the Arduino Mega 2560 is a system of microcontrollers, making it a very versatile device that can be used for a wide variety of very specific functions.
If you need a powerful, robust system to handle computing tasks for your project, the Raspberry Pi might be better for the job. However, if you need something specific for your project or prototype – something that a microcontroller would excel at, like controlling a certain function or other moving parts – then the Arduino 2560 Mega will get the job done, and then some. It’s powered by the ATmega2560 microchip running at 16Mhz, and is equipped with a variety of ports and input/output pins, including analog inputs, UARTs, and USB. There’s also a power jack and a reset button to keep things nice and user-friendly.
CPU: ATmega2560 16MHz
Interface: 54 x Digital I/O Pins, 16 x Analog Inputs, 4 x UART Hardware Serial Ports, USB
Storage: 256KB Flash ROM, MicroSD
If you want a Raspberry Pi alternative that you can take with you just about anywhere, then the PocketBeagle from Beagle Bone is the one to get. It’s one of the smallest SBCs you can get your hands on today – it’s only 56mm long and 35mm wide – and while it doesn’t pack as much of a punch as the Raspberry Pi and its variants, it’s still one of the top-performing SBCs on the market.
Powered by the Octavo Systems OSD3358 CPU at 1GHz, which is based on the ARM Cortex A8, this tiny single-board computer is capable of all kinds of tasks and projects. Paired with 512GB of DDR3 RAM, it’s a pretty capable device that features excellent plug-and-play usage that adds both convenience and ease-of-use. It also comes with a MicroSD slot for storage, and a MicroUSB port for compatible interfacing.
CPU: Octavo Systems OSD335x SiP
GPU: PowerVR SGX530
Memory: 512MB RAM
There are a lot of factors to consider when you need a single board computer for any project. Without getting too technical, the most important thing to consider is the hardware specifications. If you have a project in mind, you’ll have to figure out exactly what kind of hardware you need to accomplish it, and that’ll take more in-depth research. However, if you’re looking for single board computers to be used for a wide variety of applications with no clear project in mind, then go for the most versatile items in the list above.