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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

13 Raspberry Pi Zero Alternatives That Cost Less Than $20

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The Raspberry Pi Zero and the Raspberry Pi Zero W were added to the line up of Raspberry Pi’s in the last few years. These ultra-small form-factor SBC’s have been a big hit and continue to be a part of Raspberry Pi projects from the maker and DIY communities.

Due to the smaller form factor and the prices these boards are targeting, they have had to cut down on many features like a dedicated Ethernet port, slower processor (compared to their full-fledged cousins).

In an earlier article, we listed the best alternatives to Raspberry Pi. In this one, I’ll list some alternatives to Raspberry Pi Zero and Zero W.

Alternative to Raspberry Pi Zero: Tiny single board computers for IoT and Embedded Projects

We have great alternatives with variety of feature sets for different projects, thanks to open source designs and open source software stacks. All the boards in this round up run embedded Linux in various flavors.

Even though the Raspberry Pi Zero was released at $5 and the Zero W at $10, it’s often very hard to find them at those prices even in US. Outside US they usually cost around $12 – $20 .

Keeping that in mind let’s take a look at some of the alternatives for the Raspberry Pi Zero boards for under $20.

1. Banana Pi BPI M2 Zero

Banana Pi Zero 1

The Banana Pi M2 Zero at $18 is has the same layout as a Raspberry Pi Zero W. It looks like a clone of the Pi Zero W but other than the form factor it is anything but a clone. It has a faster Allwinner H2+ SOC at its heart and Ethernet can be added externally . It can also run a variety of Linux based operating systems.

Key Specifications

  • Allwinner H2+ Quad-core Cortex-A7 H265/HEVC 1080P with Mali400MP2 for the GPU
  • 512M DDR3(shared with GPU)
  • 40 Pins Header,compatible with Raspberry Pi 3
  • WiFi (AP6212) & Bluetooth onboard. Extra antenna connector
  • A CSI input connector Camera
  • Power and Reset Button
  • Mini HDMI Output

You can get more information from the Banana Pi Wiki and pick one up from here.

2. Banana Pi BPI-M2 Magic (BPi-M2M)

Banana Pi M2m board

There are two variants of this board the one without the eMMC flash onboard costs $20. It is another tiny SBC with quite a lot of processing power for its size. Off the top of my head this board is a good fit for a touch control panel and dashboard for IoT and home automation. The on-board battery management system is quite attractive.

Key Specifications

  • Allwinner A33/R16 Quad Core ARM Cortex-A7, MALI 400 MP2 GPU
  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz (AP6212) & BT v4.0 with BLE
  • 512MB DDR3 (shared with GPU)
  • MIPI Display Serial Interface (DSI) interface(4 data lanes)
  • A CSI input connector Camera, video capture up-to 1080p at 30fps
  • Onboard microphone and battery management
  • No HDMI output

You can get more information from the Banana Pi Wiki and pick one up from here.

3. Banana Pi BPI-P2 Maker

Banana Pi P2 Zero

This board at $13 ($19 with POE module) is one of the smallest SBC’s with on board Ethernet and support for POE(power over ethernet). With the same Allwinner H2+ SOC as the M2 zero, this is quite an interesting board.It has an onboard eMMC storage of 8Gb and a camera interface, with POE you can convert this into a DIY security camera and also use the powerful processor for basic ML.

Key Specifications

  • CPU: Allwinner H2+, Quad-core Cortex-A7
  • 512MB DDR 3 SDRAM.
  • WiFi (AP6212) & Bluetooth onboard.
  • 8G eMMC flash onboard
  • 100M LAN
  • Mini HDMI
  • CSI Camera Interface
  • IEEE 802.3af PoE standard PoE module support

You can get more information from the Banana Pi Wiki and pick one up from here.

4. Orange Pi Zero LTS

Orange Pi Zero Lts

At $11.49 ($9.49 for the 256 MB version) this is the cheapest and the smallest board with onboard Ethernet and POE functionality. It has the ever common Alwinner H2+ at its heart and a solid expansion options via the GPIO and the 13 pin functional header.

Key Specifications

  • Allwinner H2+ Quad-core Cortex-A7 H.265/HEVC 1080P
  • Mali400MP2 GPU @600MHz
  • 256MB/512MB DDR3 SDRAM(Share with GPU)(256MB version is Standard version)
  • 10/100M Ethernet RJ45 POE is default off
  • WiFi with XR819, IEEE 802.11 b/g/n
  • 26 Pin GPIO Header
  • 13 Pins Header, with 2x USB, IR pin, AUDIO(MIC, AV)

You can get more information from their official page and pick one up from Amazon.

5. Orange Pi i96

Orange Pi I96

At $8.8 this board is smallest one yet at 6cm x 3cm. It uses the RDA8810PL SOC meant for a fairly advanced feature phone. The board is suited for camera applications(according to the manufacturer) can capture upto 1080p at 30fps. It has a fairy good IO for the price.

Key Specifications

  • RDA8810PL ARM Cortex-A5 32bit single core processor
  • Vivante’s GC860 GPU
  • Integrated 256MB LPDDR2 SDRAM
  • WiFi + BT using the RDA5991
  • CSI Camera Input
  • 40 pin GPIO header

You can get more information from their official page and pick one up from here.

6. Orange Pi PC

Orange Pi PC

This board packs in a lot of goodies for $15. It’s one of the very few boards which offer 1GB of RAM at such a price point. It uses the Allwinner H3 SOC and can decode 4K HEVC/H.265 video. It has an HDMI port with support for HDCP , CEC as well. This SBC can make a good media box with the right software. It even has onboard IR Receiver and a Microphone.

Key Specifications

  • Allwinner H3 Quad-core Cortex-A7 , 1.6GHz
  • 1GB DDR3 (shared with GPU)
  • HDMI with support for 4K video
  • CSI Camera interface and onboard microphone
  • SD Card slot
  • IR Receiver
  • 3.5mm Audio Jack
  • Ethernet
  • No WiFi/Bluetooth onboard

There is also a cut down version of the Orange Pi PC powered by the same SOC but with less RAM.

You can get more information from their official page and pick one up from here.

7. Orange Pi One & Orange Pi Lite

These two boards are also powered by the Alwinner H3 SoC used in the Orange Pi PC. But these come with 512MB of RAM instead of the 1GB offered by the Orange Pi PC.

Key Specifications

  • Allwinner H3 Quad Core
  • HDMI with 4K support
  • SD Card slot
  • 512 MB of DDR3 RAM
  • CSI Camera Interface

The Orange Pi Lite comes in at $12, it does not feature an on-board Ethernet and offers WiFi instead. It also has onboard microphone and IR receiver. You can get more info from their official page and buy one from here.

The Orange Pi One on comes in at $11 and features on-board Ethernet for wired networking and does not offer any WiFi support. You can get more info from their official page and buy one from here.

Before we finish up with the Orange Pi boards, I do want to quickly mention a couple more boards they offer for custom applications.

  • Orange Pi R1 – This is a tiny board with dual Ethernet ports, you can use it to build a network device.
  • Orange Pi 2G IOT & Orange Pi 3G IOT- These boards feature 2G & 3G cellular connectivity for IoT Applications.

These boards also cost less than $20 and you can check them out on their official website.

8. NanoPi Neo LTS

Nano Pi Neo LTS

Starting at $9.99, this board is very simple and tiny(4cm x 4cm), a similar form factor as the Orange Pi Zero. Unlike the Orange Pi Zero it is powered by the more powerful Allwinner H3 SoC and upto 512MB of RAM. It does not feature any onboard WiFi/BT chipset but you can add one via the USB port. This is a really good board to run headless Linux servers, DNS filters like Pi-Hole and it’ll make a really good edge device for any IoT Applications. Using the GPIO you can expand the functionality to match your needs.

Key Specifications

  • Allwinner H3 Quad Core Cortex A7 upto 1.2GHz
  • Upto 512 MB of RAM
  • Micro SD slot (upto 128GB)
  • 10/100 Ethernet
  • Additional interfaces via the abundant GPIO

You can get more information and also purchase them from their official page .

NanoPi NEO Core LTS

There is a bare bones version of the NanoPi NEO called the NanoPi NEO Core LTS which adds eMMC for industrial applications and lets go of the onboard USB and Ethernet ports. All features are available via the GPIO expansion. You can check it out here .

NanoPi NEO Air

There is also a WiFi/BT version of the NanoPi NEO called the NanoPi NEO Air which also adds eMMC and camera input and lets go of the onboard USB and Ethernet ports. You can check it out here.

9. Zero Pi

Zero Pi

This is one of my favorite boards from this round up, it costs $9.99 and has a fast 1Gbps Ethernet onboard. With the Allwinner H3 at its heart, this can be a very powerful and tiny machine on your network. It supports OpenWRT which is great considering the 1Gbps Ethernet. You can easily run multiple instances of Pi-Hole along with a DNS Server.

Key Specifications

  • Allwinner H3 Quad Core Cortex A7 at upto 1.2GHz
  • 512MB of RAM
  • USB 2.0 Port
  • Support for OpenWRT

You can get more information and also purchase them from their official page .

10. NanoPi NEO 2

NanoPi NEO 2

At $19.99 , the NanoPi NEO 2 costs twice the NEO. It retains the same form factor and brings in the Allwinner H5 SoC and 1Gbps Ethernet. This makes the board a tiny power house.

Key Specifications

  • Allwinner H5, Quad-core 64-bit high-performance Cortex A53
  • Hexacore Mali450 GPU
  • 512MB RAM
  • 1Gbps onboard Ethernet
  • 24 pin GPIO
  • Functional headers for Audio and other interfaces like IR

You can get more information and also purchase them from their official page .

That’s about all the boards in the NanoPi series, they also have a few more interesting boards with dual 1Gbps ports and a couple focused around camera.

11. La Frite

La Frite

From the makers of the Le Potato , this board at $20 is mainly geared towards applications involving media consumption or media streaming. It supports 1080p video playback with HDR metadata via the HDMI 2.0 port. It supports the latest Android 9/TV, upstream Linux, u-boot, Kodi, and more.

Key Specifications

  • Amlogic S805X SoC, Quad Core Cortex-A53 @ 1.2GHz
  • Upto 1GB DDR4 SDRAM
  • Amlogic Video Engine 10, support for H.264,H.265 and VP9 decoding upto 1080p 60fps
  • 100Mbps Ethernet
  • IR Receiver
  • 40 pin GPIO

You can get more information from their official page .

12. Onion Omega2+

Onion Omega 2+

If you’re looking for an IoT application the Onion Omega 2+ can be a good alternative to the Raspberry Pi Zero. It is an IoT centric development platfrom and runs on LEDE (Linux Embedded Development Environment) Linux OS – a distribution based on OpenWRT.

Key Specifications

  • MT7688 SoC
  • 2.4 GHz IEEE 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
  • 128 MB DDR2 RAM
  • 32 MB on-board flash storage
  • MicroSD slot
  • USB 2.0
  • 12 GPIO pins

You can pick one up as bare bones module for $13 or various kits from their website.

13. VoCore2

Vocore2

The VoCore2 is definitely the smallest of the bunch, the bare-bones module is only 1″x1″ in size and costs $17.99. The tiny size makes it easy to embed in different applications and allows selective expansion of features based on the need. It is powered by the MediaTek MT7628 which was specially designed for low to mid-range routers. The manufacturer claims that they’ll keep up the production till 2025 which is really good.

Key Specifications

  • MediaTek MT7628, 580 MHz, MIPS 24K
  • 128MB RAM, DDR2 166MHz
  • Ethernet – 1 port/5 ports, up to 100Mbps
  • Wireless – 802.11n, 2T2R, speed up to 300Mbps
  • Storage – 16M NOR on board, support SDXC up to 2TB
  • One on board U.FL slot (Antenna Connector)

You can get more information about the board from here and pick one up from their official website.

Wrapping up

It’s undeniable that there are all kinds of SBC’s available in various form factors and feature sets for a wide variety of use cases. On top of that most of these are open source designs and run on open source software. An absolute wonderland for a hardcore tinkerer.

With COVID-19 hanging around it might be a little tough to get your hands on these boards. Let’s hope things get better soon!

If you guys know of any other interesting alternatives for the Raspberry Pi Zero and Zero W put them in the comments below and we’ll check them out.

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