Credit-card sized single-board computers (SBCs) are powerful and can fit in the palm of your hand. They have enabled the DIY fraternity to reach unprecedented levels of creativity. And there is a new player in the community of tinkerers. Aptly named as the Tinker Board, this SBC marks the Taiwanese company, Asus’s, entry into this domain.
What is it?
It is a mini-computer that you can use to build anything from home media centers to drones to IoT-enabled devices. If you are working on a project that requires computing of input data from anywhere (sensors, internet etc.) to provide any kind of output and at low power, this is your device.
Akin to a lot of other boards in its domain, like the Raspberry Pi, the Tinker Board comes with an onboard processor, Graphical Processing Unit (GPU), RAM, USB ports, HDMI port, General purpose Input/Output pins to interface external components (sensors, motors etc), built-in WiFi, and Bluetooth.
It comes with its own OS based upon the same Debian Linux distribution as the Raspberry Pi. Asus has reportedly announced that support for Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, and Android will be made available shortly.
Tinker Board vs Raspberry Pi. Why?
The Tinker Board is being heavily pitted against the last installment of the Raspberry Pi, the Pi3. This is an unavoidable comparison because currently, the Raspberry Pi, at its price point, is the most widely used SBC with a lot of third-party hardware and software support and a vibrant, content-rich community. And the Tinker Board is built to target that exact group.
Consequently, the Tinker Board is physically similar to the Raspberry Pi, the positioning of the GPIO pins and the mounting holes are convenient enough in case users wish to install the Tinker Board in an RPi encasing. It has an OS built on the same Debian distro as the Raspberry Pi, ensuring that the code and assemblies migration would be easy.
What’s new about the Asus Tinker Board?
What sets the Tinker Board apart from the popular boards available in the market today is its ability to decode and stream 4K video with H.264 or H.265 encoding, SDIO 3.0 support, and Gigabit Ethernet. Let’s compare it with the Pi 3.
Features and Comparison with the Raspberry Pi
When compared on the basis of hardware, the Tinker Board edges the Raspberry Pi in many key areas.
- The 2GB RAM along with the more powerful CPU removes many bottlenecks that Raspberry Pi users have complained about.
- The four USB 2.0 ports are managed by the GL852G from Genesys Logic and the Rockchip RK3288 processor has dual host capable USB interfaces. This will ensure proper data passing bandwidth when all the ports are engaged.
- Dedicated RTL8211E for Gigabit Ethernet will deliver high speeds.
- H.265 4k video decoding capability with a better GPU and support for OpenGL ES1.1/2.0/3.0, OpenVG1.1, OpenCL, DirectX11 will be great for enhanced 3D performance and will open up possibilities for Android developers seeking something better than the Pi 3.
Will it beat the Raspberry Pi?
In terms of sheer power, there are a lot of other options apart from the Tinker Board. Boards like the Pine A64 (2GB), which also supports 4K decoding, and ridiculously powerful Odroid XU4 have been previously named as Raspberry Pi killers, but haven’t really stood up to that hype.
However, the Tinker Board’s enhanced processing power, better USB and GPU performance, and most importantly its code and hardware compatibility with the Raspberry Pi, gives it the potential to create a new niche of users. These adapters could be people who are ready to shell out twice the money for the extra features.
People buy Raspberry Pi not because of its exceptional hardware, but because of its extremely rich ecosystem. The dynamic nature of its users’ proactiveness combined with easily accessible and installable HW/SW has propelled the Raspberry Pi to popularity.
Similarly, the Tinker Board’s success is largely predicated on the level of SW and HW support expected from Asus. They need to create a community around it and engage proactively with the first wave of users. Their responsiveness to market demands will decide if the board lives up to its potential. There will, most likely, be a Pi 4 coming out and the next version of the Tinker Board has to evolve to maintain its superiority and price to performance ratio.