In the past few years, there has been an uprising inflow of Single Board Computer (SBC) modules in the market for the DIY community. With the giants of the chipset industry focusing on IoT, the market for these has grown tremendously. Since 2012, the Pi computers have led to a revolution in the field of computer-based DIY stuff. You can do a lot of amazing projects with these SBCs.
The latest one, the Raspberry Pi Zero, is a $5 computer that can let your imaginations soar without burning a hole in your pocket. However, a lot of compromises have been made for that price tag. There’s no WiFi or Bluetooth module, a single USB port and one HDMI port handling the display duties. Clearly, this calls for an alternative search, especially for those who want more from these dirt-cheap computers. So, we have compiled a list of some of the commendable alternatives to Raspberry Pi Zero:
Having no acronym for its name, C.H.I.P. is an affordable SBC that proves itself to be a very strong competitor to the Pi Zero. It has everything that the Pi Zero lacks and then some more. You get wireless connections through WiFi and Bluetooth Low Energy modules. You also have options to connect your C.H.I.P computer to a display that supports VGA ports too. Also, the C.H.I.P. uses the newer ARMv7 architecture compared to the Pi Zero’s older ARMv6 architecture. It is powered by a Lithium Polymer battery along with built-in charging circuitry. Plus, you don’t have to buy a separate SD Card to start it up for the first time.
C.H.I.P. has onboard 4GB of NAND flash storage, and ships with Linux (Debian) preloaded. C.H.I.P. offers two massive rows of 40-pin female headers — 80 total I/O, compared to Pi Zero’s paltry 40.
The downsides? There’s no HDMI port for connecting your display and it costs $3 more than the Pi Zero. Check it out if you want an SBC that is laden with standard features and don’t mind the price tag.
Buy from getchip.com ($9.00)
2. Orange Pi Zero
As you have noticed, the Orange Pi Zero take a dig at Raspberry straight away with its name. But, apart from that, this is a completely different machine compared to the Raspberry Pi Zero. Unlike its single core processor, the Orange Pi Zero houses a Quad-core Cortex-A7 processor that powered many low to mid end Android smartphones a few years ago. With a Mali400MP2 GPU and RAM options up to 512 MB, this wants to take on the Raspberry Pi 2 category for a lesser price. There are 33 I/O pins along with 2 USB ports, a WiFi adapter and a microphone for audio input.
What draws it majorly is a 100 Mbps Ethernet port. With an inbuilt power button, you boot your Orange Pi Zero to a choice of Android 4.4, Lubuntu, Debian or Raspbian operating systems.
Buy from Amazon.com (Starts at $20.00)
3. Nano Pi Neo Air
Being 12% smaller in size than the Raspberry Pi Zero, you immediately sense that the Nano Pi Neo Air is a serious machine for the DIY community. It has a Quad-core Cortex-A7 1.2 GHz processor with 256 or 512 MB DDR3 RAM and 24 GPIO pins. For network connections, you have a 10/100M Ethernet port available. There’s a micro SD card slot for handling the storage department as well as a micro USB OTG port for connection to peripherals. You can boot operating systems like UbuntuCore and u-boot.
However, owing to it’s smaller 40 x 40 mm footprint, it ditches the display ports like HDMI or VGA. This makes it suitable for DIY projects where you need a computer to handle the back-end tasks only.
Buy from friendlyarm.com (Starts from $17.99)
4. LinkIt Smart 7688
The LinkIt Smart 7688 is Mediatek’s attempt in having a pie of the SBC market. Featuring a MediaTek MT7688 580 MHz MIPS CPU along with 32MB Flash and 128MB DDR2 RAM, it is an affordable offering to the DIY community where the Raspberry mini computers rule. It has a WiFi adapter for establishing connections to a network. It has a micro USB port to connect to hardware peripherals and a micro SD card slot for storage. It has 22 GPIO pins for PWM, I2C, SPI, UART, Ethernet, and I2S.
The SBC supports application development in Python, Node.js and native C programming languages. Plus, it has active support from the MediaTek labs for any hardware-based assistance you need. When it comes to drawbacks, you don’t get any display output port. However, since it’s developed from components made specifically for IoT development purposes, this can form a strong base for your DIY projects.
Buy from amazon.com (Starts from $14.00)
5. Onion Omega2
Onion is another SBC manufacturer that wants to challenge Raspberry’s popularity. For the same price as that of the Pi Zero, the Omega 2 provides 400 MHz single core processor and a 64 MB RAM clocked at 400 MHz. You also get 16 MB of flash storage along with support for USB 2.0 and Ethernet maxed at 100 Mbps. But it edges out the Pi Zero with its 802.11b/g/ WiFi module running at 150 Mbps for internet connectivity. The Omega2 also benefits with an HDMI out port, making it useful for desktop like utilities. And, you can get add-on modules for various projects from the manufacturer itself.
The biggest advantage according to us is that you can control the Omega2 through a web browser and regulate hardware-software interactions through APIs. This is made possible via Onion’s cloud-based feature called Onion Cloud. Other than that, it has 18 GPIO pins, which is less than Pi Zero’s 40 pins. But, being a crowdfunded project with an aim of $15,000, it reached around $672,801 in collections, which proves that this is something you should have as a DIY enthusiast.
Preorder from kickstarter.com (Starts from $5.00)
SEE ALSO: 15 Best Raspberry Pi Zero Projects
Check out these amazing Raspberry Pi Zero alternatives
So, if you don’t like the amazing Raspberry Pi Zero for some reason, these are some capable and efficient alternatives. The features vary slightly as per the price but all of these ensure that your DIY project is under capable computers, delivering results that you want.
If you have any suggestions to add to this list or have your own experience with any of the Raspberry Pi Zero alternatives, do let us know in the comments section below.
Very sadly, Next Thing Co. (NTC) that was the producer of C.H.I.P. board is now dead. That was a very good board indeed!
The C.H.I.P. ecosystem is dead. If got to the website the ordering page is down and has been since November (2017). They’ve also stopped replying to emails.
NanoPi and OrangePi are not real alternatives since the RasPi runs with less than 0.5 A whereas the formers need 1 to 2 A, mostly to generate heat. I’m still looking forward to a Chinese SBC with a modest power consumption. Why do I need four cores in a IoT device? One core is enough for most applications. So I currently vote for the CHIP and hope they overcome their backlog soon.