Raspberry Pi Alternatives


A Camera Project

I have been looking at putting together a remote self powered wifi connected camera project for a while using a R-Pi, a couple of low cost web-cams and a wifi adaptor with directional antenna.

The cameras and wifi adaptors have just arrived. The shop-display packaging looks like it cost more than the product inside.

I was looking at getting another couple of R-Pi modules and run into this crap from Element-14, and similar from RS.  Element-14 want non-trade-account customers to buy from TradeMe at $68 ea. which is not bad if you want maybe one a year for the occasional project.  Maybe the R-Pi people are a bit controlling; or E-14/RS don’t want to deal with all the one-off hobby customers.

Alternative Hardware

Update June 2017:  There are now plenty of alternatives to the Raspberry Pi that IMO are better because they are fully open source and are not cramming all the ethernet and USB into the CPU via one on-board USB connection.  At this time I am a big fan of the Orange-Pi range of boards – especially the Zero and Plus-2.

The hardware requirements and preferences for this project would be:

  • low power
  • runs Linux with R-Pi type capabilities
  • ethernet
  • wifi – with external antenna
  • at least 2 USB ports
  • SPI, I2C and possibly a serial port

I don’t really need the HDMI or any graphics capability. A single or dual core chip running at 1GHz should be plenty.

The biggest problem appears to be running Linux with the hardware supported and all the usual simple apt-get install type capabilities. I’m not interested in creating or modifying distros or too many hours of configuring.

These types of devices appear to have the right hardware. One down-side; they will have short product life cycles before being replaced. They eliminate the USB hub and wifi adaptor needed with the R-Pi. They would use more power but for my application may have a shorter boot-process-off cycle times.

quad core  iTaSee IT812A

iTaSee IT812A

There are many of these nice little box: multi-core Android modules available quite cheaply.  Nice hardware, but a huge PITA to make them do anything else – unless you really want a challenge.

 

Operating System

So, what are the OS options other than Android for this hardware to replace the Raspberry Pi?

After a bit more reading. It seems there are currently 2 main chip players, Allwinner (A10, A20) and Rockchip with the RK3188 quad core.

Browsing suggests that Rockchip is not so open source or Linux friendly. Ubuntu has only just been made bootable on the RK3188 and still lacks major features like wifi and graphics hardware support.

It seems that Allwinner have a head start and there are Linux distros that boot on the A10/A20 (MK808 devices)  and support the features.

The RK3188 may be a newer and more capable device, but if it won’t boot Linux with all hardware supported, it’s not much use.

Best Option for my application

If not using a Raspberry Pi, the best option may be a A10 or A20 based set-top box device with internal wifi and at least 2 standard USB 2.0 ports.

1
Cubieboard

Cubieboard

The Cubieboard from DX doesn’t have wifi but is better suited to embedded use. Cost: about US$74. It does support SPI and I2C but information and reference info may be limited.

The Cubieboard web site.

PCDuino

The PCDuino is another option. Not quite the feature list of the Cubie Board, but possibly better supported for Linux applications. Cos: about US$63.

The PCDuino Web Site.

Beaglebone Black

Beaglebone Black

I’m going to try the Beaglebone Black. It has no wifi and will require a USB hub. It does have good GP-IO and comes with Linux already installed. Cost: about NZ$89.

Search for the Beagleboard web site for more information.

The main distro is Ångström Linux. There is a Ubuntu image which at first glance seems to be more current, I don’t know yet.

I may make a board to sit on the expansion headers to control my camera project.

 

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