As great as the Raspberry Pi is — and let’s be honest, all of the devices in that family are excellent, especially for the money — it’s not the only such device available to buy, and some of the rival systems are arguably better as they come with Wi-Fi built-in, and other tricks, such as the ability to double as a wireless router, run Android, or display on-board scrolling messages.
While there are plenty of pricier (and therefore more powerful) options available, I’ve focused on the more affordable choices here — ones that match, or better, the Raspberry Pi for value and will do everything you’d expect from them, and more.
My final choice is, admittedly, more expensive at $70, but occasionally you might require something with a little more oomph, so I’ve included it here anyway.
Like the Raspberry Pi systems, you will probably need to spend a little extra on the required cables etc., if you don’t have them to hand, so do bear that in mind when buying. You can also pick up cases for some of the devices too.
If you own any of the products I’ve covered below, please let me know what you think of them in the comments. I’d be particularly interested to know whether you’d recommend them or not.
I wrote about this coin-sized Linux computer/fully functional wireless router last week. It’s a cube-shaped device that comes packed with ports, including Ethernet, USB 2.0, microSD slot, and audio jack. You can read more about it here.
The full VoCore2 costs just $11.99, but there’s a Lite version priced at just $3.99.
You can get one by pledging on Indiegogo now. Shipping is due to begin next month.
This is a $5 Raspberry Pi rival from the Onion Corporation that comes with integrated Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n) and on-board flash storage. It runs a custom Linux distro based on OpenWrt and can also run FreeBSD. There is a selection of apps available to download for it from the Onion App Store.
It’s modular, so you can easily expand its capabilities — add Bluetooth, or GPS for example.
Orange Pi PC2
Orange Pi is a powerful 64-bit Raspberry Pi rival — well, clone would be a more accurate description — with Ethernet, three USB ports, USB OTG, 1GB of RAM and a quad-core 64-bit Cortex-A53 processor, and a standalone graphics chip.
It can run Android 4.4, Ubuntu, Debian, Raspbian, and Banana Pi.
It’s priced at $19.98 and available to buy now.
The same company makes a variety of other Orange Pis, including an Orange Pi Zero (pictured below) for $7 which has built-in Wi-Fi and Ethernet.
Find out more, and buy an Orange Pi here.
NanoPi 2 Fire
The NanoPi 2 Fire costs $22.99 and for that you get a device powered by an A9 quad-core SoC, with 1GB of DDR3 RAM, Ethernet (no Wi-Fi or Bluetooth though), and USB 2.0. A power management unit supports software power-off, sleep, and wake up functions.
It can run both Debian Linux and Android 5.1.
Find out more, or buy one from here.
The BBC’s tiny programmable computer is — like the Raspberry Pi — primarily aimed at schools, and indeed up to a million were given away free to school children in the UK. It has since started rolling out globally and is now handled by the non-profit Micro Bit Educational Foundation.
The device is powered by a 32-bit ARM Cortex processor and comes with a built-in 5×5 LED matrix that gives you 25 individually programmable red LEDs to use as a display, some push buttons, so you can interact with games and programs, and an Accelerometer, Magnetometer and Bluetooth antenna.
It costs £12.99 in the UK (which equates to $16). For two quid extra ($2.50) you can get a BBC micro:bit Go starter kit which includes the device, Micro USB cable, battery pack and four project ideas to get you started.
Find out more about the micro:bit here.
At $40, the ODROID-C2 is fractionally more expensive than the Raspberry Pi 3, but it’s a 64-bit quad core single board computer powered by a Coretex-A53 (ARMv8) processor with 2GB of DDR3 RAM, and Gigabit Ethernet.
There’s four USB 2.0 ports, one USB OTG, microSD card slot, and it can run Android 5.1 and Ubuntu 16.04.
Find out more, and buy it here.
This board comes with built in Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0, a 1GHz R8 processor, 512MB RAM and 4GB of storage, all for just $9.
It runs the C.H.I.P. operating system, which is based on Linux Debian.
You can pre-order it here, and shipping is estimated at some time later this month.
Banana Pi M3
If you don’t fancy a Raspberry Pi, or an Orange Pi, and price isn’t your primary consideration, there’s always a Banana Pi. This board comes with an octa-core processor and 2GB of RAM, it includes Gigabit Ethernet, two USB 2.0 ports, one USB OTG, SATA, Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), and Bluetooth 4.0, and can run Android, Lubuntu, Ubuntu, Debian, and Raspbian. It’s more expensive at $70, but you do get what you pay for. You can find out more, and discover stockists here.
There are other boards available, including the Banana Pi BPI-M64.