A single-board computer (SBC) is an entire computer built onto a circuit board. SBCs come complete with memory, a microprocessor, inputs, and outputs. Although the Raspberry Pi ranks among the most popular, and versatile, single-board PCs, it’s far from the only option.
Most SBCs run Linux operating systems well. However, some single-board computers offer Android and Chrome OS compatibility. Check out the best single-board computers for installing Chrome OS and Android!
Why Buy a Single-Board Computer?
A single-board computer typically comes at a lower cost than purchasing a larger motherboard. Partially, this comes from the bundled components. It’s a computer that’s operational out-of-the-box, just add an operating system and storage media.
Moreover, by using fewer circuit boards, SBCs further keep costs low. Along with a low price, SBCs feature a small power draw when compared with full-fledged PCs. However, a single-board PC lacks the computing power of a traditional desktop or even many laptops. As such, many SBCs struggle with intensive tasks such as emulation of Nintendo 64 games.
Further, SBCs typically lack the expandability found on larger circuit boards. On a Raspberry Pi 3 for instance, you can’t upgrade the RAM, CPU, or GPU. Nevertheless, single-board PCs are ideal project PCs for everything from a retro gaming console to a low-power home theater PC (HTPC), and more.
How to Run Android or Chrome OS on a SBC
To run Chrome OS or Android on a SBC, you’ll need a few items. First, a compatible single-board computer. If you’re using Chrome, you’ll need Chromium OS. It’s an open-source operating which brings Chrome OS to SBCs. Unfortunately, it’s pretty system resource-heavy and runs slowly even on a Raspberry Pi 3. Despite its shortcomings, Chromium OS brings the awesomeness of Chrome OS to SBCs.
Android on an SBC is achievable through several means. On the Raspberry Pi and Odroid, you can use RTAndroid. Other boards such as Banana Pi utilize images available on the downloads page. Phoenix OS and Remix OS bring Android to x86 devices as well, allowing users to create a do-it-yourself Android PC.
These are the top single-board computers for running Android and Chrome OS.
It would be remiss to discuss the best SBCs without mentioning the Raspberry Pi. While competing boards abound, the Raspberry Pi is easily the most well-known and popular single-board PC. For running Android and Chromium, you’ll need a decent chunk of computing power. As such, the Raspberry Pi 3 is recommended instead of the Zero or Model A (what are the differences?).
Using Chromium OS, the Raspberry Pi 3 runs Chrome OS, and with RTAndroid, it’s compatible with Android. Plus, the Pi runs a bevy of operating systems including Raspbian, RetroPie, and Recalbox. Try these tips to maximize Raspberry Pi performance.
On the Odroid XU4, you can run tons of distros, from Ubuntu to Kali Linux, and even Android. It’s an ultra-powerful SBC that functions well as a PC and can deliver 4K video. Replete with an octa-core processor, you’ll experience phenomenal performance from the XU4.
With Android-x86, an Android open-source port is available for use on the Udoo x86. This board remains compatible with Linux, Windows, Yocto, and Chromium OS. As Softpedia reports, the Udoo x86 achieved a whopping 10x multi-thread CPU performance gain over the Raspberry Pi 3 in its Sysbench tests. Considering its beefy processing power, the Udoo x86 is a top choice as a single-board computer for running Chrome OS and Android.
Powered by a dual-core Sitara AM5728 ARM Cortex A15, and a quad-core Cortex-M4, the BeagleBoard-X15 is a beefy SBC. With its 4GB eMMC, an HDMI out, 157 GPIO I/O ports, an eSATA, and 2 1GB Ethernet ports, the X15 delivers a smorgasbord of connectivity options.
What’s more, software options range from Ubuntu, Fedora, and openSUSE to FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Android, and Windows Embedded. Because of its power and compatibility, the BeagleBoard-X15 is a top Raspberry Pi alternative for running Android and Chrome OS.
In CPU performance tests, the Banana Pi M3 running Debian showed impressive John the Ripper, C-Ray, Himeno, and Smallpt benchmarks. With a beastly Allwinner A83T ARM Cortex-A7 octa-core 1.8 GHz processor and PowerVR SGX544MP1 GPU, the Banana Pi M3 is capable of running tons of distros such as Debian, Ubuntu, and Raspberry Pi images. Moreover, the M3 retains the same form factor as the Banana Pi M1, packing in loads more performance without expanding its footprint.
Featuring an impressive 40 GPIO pins, the Rock64 runs Linux and Android phenomenal device. Its Mali-450 MP2 GPU handles 4K video at 60 frames per second. The 4GB variant is a robust board which rivals the Raspberry Pi 3, and its 64-bit processor makes the Rock64 Mini a true contender in the SBC space.
At its core, the ASUS TInker Board houses a Rockchip RK3288 system on a chip (SoC), and its GPIO pin layout is engineered for compatibility with the Raspberry Pi. The Tinker Board packs a performance punch with 4K video and 2GB of RAM alongside gigabit Ethernet.
Operating system compatibility includes many Linux options such as Debian-based TinkerOS, Armbian, Android, and Flint OS.
In the Orange Pi Prime, you’ll find a powerful and versatile SBC. It’s stacked with an Allwinner H5 processor, 2GB DDR3 SDRAM, and a microSD card slot. At a low price, the Orange Pi Prime is comprised of quality components which rival that of the Raspberry Pi 3, and its Mali-450 GPU can tackle 2K video.
Final Thoughts on the Best Single-Board Computers
While the Raspberry Pi 3 stands out as the most recognizable SBC on the market, SBCs for running Chrome OS and Android remain plentiful.
The Banana Pi M3 and Odroid-XU4 offer premium performance, while the Tinker Board and Udoo-x86 usher in stellar OS compatibility and maker functionality. But, the Raspberry Pi, with its enormous user base, still remains a top choice with loads of distributions, project ideas, and resources. Will the Nvidia Jetson Nano replace the Raspberry Pi? Only time will tell.