3 Potential Raspberry Pi Successors

It’s a fantastic little device, a low-spec computer available for under $30 – but how long will the Raspberry Pi dominate the small PC hobbyist market? Are there any competitors ready to take its place?

Available with 512 MB of RAM (258 MB on older models) and a 700 MHz GPU, the Raspberry Pi is one of the most astonishingly versatile pieces of kit on the market today. Offering the flexibility to build a media centre, retro gaming system, NAS box or even a desktop computer – along with the stated aim of providing a platform for children and students to learn software development – the Raspberry Pi is under attack from a number of competing alternatives that offer more processing power and connectivity options.

So what are these competitor devices, and do they have a chance of dislodging the Raspberry Pi from its much-loved position as king of the mini computers?

What Makes a Raspberry Pi Successor?

The specifications of the Raspberry Pi are modest, but effective. The little PC is 85.60 mm × 53.98 mm (3.370 in × 2.125 in), with a depth of just 15 mm. Before it is housed in a case, the unmodified Raspberry Pi weighs 45 grams (1.6 oz).

muo alternatives raspberrypi detail   3 Potential Raspberry Pi Successors

Although the more popular Model B was originally released with 256 MB of RAM, it now ships with 512 MB; other developments in the system specification should be expected as costs are reduced. Perhaps the real strength of the Raspberry Pi is in its connectivity options, allowing HDMI out, RCA out, audio out and the connection of various USB devices, an SD card and an Ethernet cable. There are also GPIO pins for expansions and bespoke cable connections.

Clearly, this is modest, and any computer of a similar form factor will need to look at topping these specifications. Similarly, the competing device will need to feature additional connectivity and storage options, as well as a good choice of operating systems and perhaps even an accessible BIOS or embedded OS for low-level tasks. Competitors determined to unseat the Raspberry Pi should also be looking to price their hardware in the same sub-$50 zone.

One last word before we look at the alternatives, you’ll notice a regularly-cited Raspberry Pi competitor missing. We’ve skipped on mention of the Arduino, however, largely because it isn’t really a competitor at all. Its feature set is quite different and indeed the Pi and Arduino can be connected to work in tandem for some projects.

Utilite

Israeli company CompuLab is releasing the miniature ARM-based computer Utilite later in 2013, powered by a Freescale i.MX6 system-on-chip with a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU and support for up to 4 GB of RAM. In addition, four USB 2.0 ports and a single USB OTG port, two Ethernet ports, onboard 802.11 WiFi and Bluetooth are also included, along with I/O connection options and HDMI and DVI-D out are included.

muo alternatives utilite   3 Potential Raspberry Pi Successors

1080p H.264, VC1, RV10 and DivX decoding are all available, possibly positioning this device as a multimedia solution, and OpenGL ES 1.1 and 2.0, OpenVG 1.1 and OpenCL EP are all supported by the GPU.

Available operating systems include Android and Linux, with CompuLab claiming that the device will be “offered with fully featured, desktop-grade Ubuntu Linux or Android operating systems delivering rich multimedia and PC-like user experience.”

Sounding more like one of the many PC-on-a-stick solutions that are currently around, the Utilite does seem like a computer that could take prove popular. However its $99 price point (and that’s for the basic model) puts it outside of the Raspberry Pi’s target market.

Chances of creaming the Pi – 6/10

BeagleBoard

Closer in style to the Raspberry Pi is the BeagleBoard. Of the four available models, the most basic version is the BeagleBone Black, priced at $45.

muo alternatives beaglebone black   3 Potential Raspberry Pi Successors

Hardware wise, BeagleBone Black uses the same Package on Package (POP) CPU/Memory chip concept as the Pi, saving space on the 86 x 53 mm mainboard. Capable of running Android and various Linux distributions, BeagleBone Black has a 1 GHz ARM Cortex-A8 core CPU, Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX 2D/3D GPU (with support for dual displays) and 512 MB DDR3 memory.

Connectivity for this device is provided by microHDMI for audio and video out, with 2 GB 8-bit eMMC on-board flash storage, a single USB port with host capability (therefore capable of connecting HDDs, mouse, keyboard, etc., via a USB hub). Boot time is under 10 seconds, which is pretty impressive.

Produced by Texas Instruments, the original BeagleBoard actually predates the Raspberry Pi, with the first device launched in 2008. However the current BeagleBone Black model seems to have been designed to attract the same enthusiast market as the Raspberry Pi.

Can the BeagleBone Black compete with the Raspberry Pi? Well, it shares some of the ethos of the Pi, and is intended as a development platform for developers and hobbyists. It has a good chance.

Chances of creaming the Pi – 8/10

Gooseberry

Available for just $63 (£40 in the UK), the Gooseberry is just above the Pi’s price range, and is marketed heavily as “An alternative to the Raspberry Pi.” How true is this?

muo alternatives gooseberry   3 Potential Raspberry Pi Successors

With a single A10 1 GHz CPU (overclockable to 1.5 GHz), a 400 MHz Mali GPU and 4 GB of onboard storage (upgradable to 32 GB with microSD), the Gooseberry has built-in 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, a single 3.5 mm audio jack, one mini USB port, HDMI out and a microSD slot. The operating system of choice is Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and although Ubuntu can run, it requires some work beforehand.

Capable of being flashed directly over USB from a standard desktop computer, the Gooseberry is a curious piece of kit. On first glance it is like a much flatter Raspberry Pi, although it is a little larger (sadly there appears to be no record of the device’s dimensions on the official website or elsewhere, so I’m basing this entirely on the size of the peripheral connectors). However it does seem – like the Utilite – to be a device less geared for development and more towards entertainment. The fact that it is derived from a Chinese PCBA often found inside tablet computers is a good indicator of this.

The Gooseberry is a sound computer, but not quite in the same league as the Raspberry Pi when it comes to flexibility, development and hobbyist pursuits.

Chances of creaming the Pi – 6/10

What Does The Raspberry Pi’s Creator Think?

Any of the candidates above could prove a dangerous opponent to the Raspberry Pi, providing the support, PR and a strong ethos are present. But will any of them succeed?

muo raspifeature eben   3 Potential Raspberry Pi Successors

When I met with Eben Upton early in 2013, he was confident that it would be a while before anything came along to challenge the Pi. After pointing out that there was nothing else in the sub $50 space, he observed that “The issue of threats is an interesting one, I don’t really acknowledge anything as being threatening but our aim is for there to be lots of small programmable computers. If someone builds a lot of small programmable computers that’s good.”

Conclusion: Who Will Succeed The Raspberry Pi?

The companies listed above all have clear aims in how their computers will offer more power and options than the Raspberry Pi. But whether they will manage to steal the market share away from the non-profit project is difficult to say.

Despite the strength of the BeagleBone Black, I’m inclined to think that the Raspberry Pi is here to stay, perhaps updated with extra RAM and CPU cycles every year or so and even perhaps an extra USB port.

But what do you think? Is the Raspberry Pi in an unassailable position? Does its non-profit status mean that any company attempting to replicate its success is wasting its time?

Let us know in the comments.

Image credit: Cowjuice, Jadonk

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20 Comments -

1 votes

Michael Horne

Interesting you should mention the Gooseberry. As far as their website is concerned, it’s been out of stock for almost a year and there’s no news regarding new stock, so I guess it’s dead in the water. A pity as it looked like a pretty sweet little board. The BeagleBone Black offers a lot more to hobbyists in terms of IO, but it’s going to have to work hard in terms of community to reach the same kind of market penetration as the Pi currently enjoys. The challenge for the Pi is to stay relevant (in terms of the technical functionality it provides) and to succeed in it’s educational aims which I believe hobbyists want to support.

0 votes

Hamish Cunningham

Interesting! Here’s another review: http://pi.gate.ac.uk/pages/hardware.html (includes the Beagle Bone, and 5 or 6 others).
Cheers,
Hamish Cunningham

0 votes
0 votes

Mike

The alternative I think is most interesting is the upcoming CuBox i From SolidRun, covered on several blogs near the end of last week (they must have a good PR machine!). For $45 you get a device that appears roughly equivalent to the Pi, but has some extras such as optical audio output, which is one thing that people miss when they try to use the Raspberry Pi for playing media. Or you can pay more and get a more capable unit. Plus you don’t have to buy a case to protect the inner workings, though it appears you will still need a power supply.

I think that when those units reach the market they will put a serious dent in the Raspberry Pi’s sales, unless of course something even better beats them to the punch. The only downside is that there are no exposed GPIO pins for those that like to build hardware interfaces, and for that reason they will never completely replace the Raspberry Pi.

1 votes

dragonmouth

What about the CuBox?

0 votes

Chris M

that looks like a different type of product. Not really for developing anything on the board. Just for entertainment.

0 votes

Shane McG

I have, and am happy with a Cubie Board. I’m using it mainly for media streaming right now, but I bought it for its development potential. Check it out for $45.

1 votes

Achraf A

Why should anyone look for an alternative when the Raspberry Pi exists ? The Raspberry Pi is a really innovative product and the only challenge that faces the foundation is to stay up to date in terms of computational power by releasing newer editions each year with more CPU and GPU power and more RAM and added functionality such as integrated memory storage, Wifi and Bluetooth and a MicroSD slot … while still keeping the $35 initial price.

0 votes

iana

Because someone needs a 4-core CPU, and 2 GB RAM, and Gigabit Ethernet?

0 votes

Achraf A

Iana : The Raspberry Pi is used for learning purposes only, I wonder how you would need that 4-core CPU, and 2 GB RAM,and Gigabit Ethernet and still consider that learning ? if you need a powerful computer, go for a Core i7 with 8 GB of RAM and a fast SSD and some of the latest nVidia or ATI graphics card, or, if you’re a bit rich, go for a multi-processor super computer, instead.

0 votes

Lye F

BBB is a good challenger, but the number of forum/support/etc for Pi is still the best.
For those that requires more power like 2x or 4x the Pi power, UDOO seems to be the next good challenger, but it is in the $100 – $120 range.

0 votes

Ami

CuBox and the following product CuBox-i are real product you can order now. They have much more features than just “media streaming” (or Media Center). Actually, if you want to use it in educational applications, you are better off with a CuBox, a much faster processor, more memory and better I/O. All these make advanced projects more viable. Which simply helps in thinking a bit forward if you are going to study programming or any other computer architecture fields. Best of luck…

0 votes

Pi user

Dude, haven’t you heard of the Cubieboard.org systems (and version 3 cubietruck) ? .. as well as the MK808 Mini PC, and the CS868 Mini Android PC ?? .. these are all < $100 and are much faster and expandable than the Raspberry Pi (though I do love how much educational work is done and available for the Pi !). If the Pi comes out with an upgrade using the quad cpu's.. they will push everyone else out of the way.. but seems they are going to wait a year or so (unfortunate).. and likely be overtaken by others in that lapse of judgement in time.

0 votes

Christian C

Well, “Dude”, I think the point is that the Pi is primarily a teaching device, so while it might be nice to see a multi-core processor on board at some point, they’re still shipping in huge quantities which would make any decision to wait more than sensible.

0 votes

Hichem CHTARA

I was so impressed by the Raspberry Pi that I baught 5 pieces
but I was deceived by the difficulties I had with youtube among other difficuluties such the HDMI screens (not the cheepest) and the alimentation. It is fragile also (I broke the SD card support for one piece) …

It seems that there is a new competitor : Cubiebord and CubieTruck

what do you think of that !!!

0 votes

cassus

I just really love how Raspberry Pi is a non profit. I so wish more companies would do this so that those who want to get off the competition treadmill can do so.

I would rather work at a non profit where the people are passionate about changing the world rather than somewhere people are competitive and just want to crush the competition.. I will always purchase my stuff through non profits if it’s available.

These guys have my unending respect.

0 votes

Ringo Phonebone

So when are you moving to Russia?

0 votes

cassus

Right winger logic at work. If someone is critical of fascism, they’re communists. Also.. Probably good idea to actually know a few things about the world.. A: The soviet union was dissolved more than 20 years ago.. B: Everyone who isn’t suckling at the dry teat of corporate america isn’t a communist. They’re mostly just critical of power. Much like you guys BELIEVE you are, only you guys have swallowed the “taxation is theft” thing without ever thinking about it. Swallowed the “competition is the only path to awesome” lie, and basically just follow the leader. Follow the alpha male. It is freaking saaaaad. Your life with a 2007 model SUV is the exact same as your life with a 2012 model SUV. You’ve just been told that progress = shinier stuff. That’s not progress, it’s just shinier stuff..

Just keep on working, dude. Look to the future, never be satisfied with what you have. Never live, just anticipate how awesome your life will be once you get to the next step, never seeing that the next step is just another step on an infinite ladder to a life wasted.

How awesome were the first few steps? Or are you still at the first step, blaming government for why your life is mediocre? Cause that’s 95% of the right wingers right there. You’re more likely to win the lottery than make it big in business. For every trump there are MILLIONS of Vernon Feltsmacher. Who is Vernon Feltsmacher? Exactly.

0 votes

Andy ah

Hahaha. Creaming the pi. Are you making a porno.

0 votes

waltjwin

Another cheer for Cubieboard