Mohammad Naghavi

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A word about ARM based boards

I have got a bunch of individual emails and comments asking me some questions about my experience with ARM based boards, mini PCs or similar ones. I believe the majority of attention has been drawn here because of the other post I had about MK809III. So here I wanted to do a kind of sum up about what I have experienced may this answer some questions about each which board. Following comes the three major platforms I have gathered some experience with and my comments on them:

MK809III based Android TV sticks

This was the second setup that I tried to make use of it after RPi. The fact is that I moved away from it as soon as I got to. There are some major problems with this hardware. There is no single producer and even for one product name, you can find a vast number of products which not only from outside but even their PCBs looks the same. The SoC of almost all of them is the Rockchip’s RK31 series chipset, their difference is in details and as germans say “Der Teufel steckt im Detail”.

Each product uses a different set of hardware parts under the exact same name, There is nobody responsible for providing any kind of driver and actually there is not a single official producer who can guarantee that you may be able to adjust the product a little bit to your needs.The installed image and OS provided on the product is the only thing that may boot up correctly on that HW and not even that will be running without problem in long term.

My summary here is to avoid wasting money on any of these, they are typical Chinese’ black market products which I assume are even partially made out of used parts coming from black market of recycling electronics in China.

Radxa Rock

As I was exhausted with my RPi because of its slow CPU and very limited RAM, and after having very bad experience with those TV sticks, this hardware was one of the most promising ones I found. The price was almost 4 times a RPi at that time (and 3 times now) but for good a nearly 4 times better configuration it seemed to be worse it.

Radxa is also based on the same SoC as those sticks (RK3188 to be exact) but at least it seemed that there is a unified configuration for the peripheral hardware used to build up the system and it seemed there was somebody responsible for providing the needed drivers for both Android and Ubuntu (linux).

Radxa will provide you with excellent Android experience and you can use it for any Android based solution you are either designing as a commercial product or for private use. It may even fit to your needs if you want to used it with Ubuntu as pure processing power. However as soon as it comes to some more customisations, there will be some problems. As for graphic chipset, there is no proper driver for ubuntu (even now after a good one and a half year) and the WiFi chipset used is not really the one you can count on its performance. To be honest it will be easily beaten with a 9€ USB WiFi stick. And yes this happens even under Android where the best support is provided.

Again my summary on this is, if you want it for use only with Android and if your application is not communication critical then grab it, otherwise read on!

Raspberry Pi

RPi was where the journey began and where it ended. I owned a RPi Model B and it was a pretty straight forward piece of HW to use. All of the needed drivers could be easily found. The only reason I tried to move away from it was its low performance configuration which partially resulted either in frustration or in restarts after restarts.

However as I got my hands on a RPi 2 Model B, all of that was fixed. I don’t speak for every usage with higher needs where probably this horsepower packed into this model will also be insufficient, but for what Radxa was capable of, RPi 2 is a better solution. My tests showed that the IO of RPi is much more efficient than Radxa even though that Radxa has theoretically 2 times processing power and memory.

The only pitfall about RPi 2 Model B is the fact that like first version, there is no Android provided. Is it because of Broadcom not providing drivers or what ever reason, but if your solution/application needs definitely Android, then 3 times more expensive Radxa is your best way to go. Or maybe you need to consider Windows 10 on RPi 2 ;)

Last word

I hope this rather long post will help you not to waste your time and money on where it is not necessary like what I did. This a summary of nearly 2 years experimenting with those hardware I put in words.

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