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81 Linux hacker SBCs: vote for your favorites, maybe win one

Jun 2, 2016 — by Eric Brown — 4,102 views

[Updated: June 22] — Rate your favorites in this catalog of 81 open-spec hacker SBCs and you might win a BeagleBone Black, Creator Ci40, DragonBoard 410C, or MinnowBoard Turbot.

In a world of sleek, carefully packaged consumer electronics, it’s encouraging to see the growing interest in gnarly-looking circuit boards that require hard work to shape them into the gizmo of one’s dreams. Not only are more and more hobbyists trying their hand at open-spec, community backed development boards, but an increasing number of professional embedded developers are using these flexible, single board computers for prototyping and small run products. Educators and academic researchers continue to use hacker boards for teaching computing and exploring new ideas.

This survey has concluded
Click here for the survey’s detailed results, including charts and analysis:
2016 Hacker SBC Survey Results
Click here for a page with brief descriptions of all 81 SBCs in our survey:
Catalog of 81 open-spec, hacker friendly SBCs
Click here for a PDF table comparing the specs of all 81 hacker SBCs:
2016 Hacker SBCs Comparison Table

Here, in collaboration with, we provide snapshots of 81 open hacker boards that run Linux-based distributions including Android. To make the list, the boards must be available for sale now for under $200, with shipments expected by the end of June 2016. They must also meet our fairly loose definition for open source compliance (see farther below). For the first time, we have also provided a comprehensive table comparing the major features of all 81 boards.

Fill out our very brief SurveyMonkey hosted SBC survey, selecting up to three favorite boards, and earn a chance to be among 12 winners who will receive free boards donated by vendors. To register for the SBC giveaway, we need your contact information — but it will only be used if you are randomly selected as one of the winners. (Note: You must be 18 years or older to register for the giveaway. Void where prohibited.)

Participate in our survey for a chance to win one of these four boards: BeagleBone Black, Creator Ci40, DragonBoard 410c, MinnowBoard Turbot
(click images to read about each board)

As an added bonus, Qualcomm is including a Linker Mezzanine Card Starter Kit with each DragonBoard 410c SBCs that it’s providing of our survey giveaways. The kit consists of a Linker Mezzanine Card along with a set of eight sensor and button add-on modules.

96Boards Linker Mezzanine Card
(click image to enlarge)

Once the 14-day survey period ends, we’ll compile our official list of the “Top 10 Hacker SBCs.” Winners should receive their SBC prizes by mid-July.

We would prefer that judgments be based on hands-on experience, but it’s not a prerequisite. Even if you’ve only learned about some of the boards from the media, by word of mouth, or from a demo at a friend’s house, store, or tech show, we’d like to hear from you. If your favorite board isn’t on the list, you can write it in at SurveyMonkey or in the comments area at the end of this article.

Ground rules for inclusion in the survey

Our definition of an open-spec, community backed hacker SBC is fairly loose. The boards must ship with extensive specs, as well as schematics for at least the carrier portion of sandwich-style boards. Additionally, they need to offer open source Linux or Android distributions for download. In the case of recently introduced SBCs, we allow a bit of a grace period to post the above resources in a timely manner, although we recognize there’s a growing problem of projects that are tardy in posting schematics, or more importantly for most users, optimized firmware.

The boards must also offer at least some community and technical support for individual developers. If we were voting ourselves, we’d give extra credit to projects with forums, tutorials, and other resources for sharing tips and designs based on the SBCs. Ideally, there would be explicit open source licensing for creating derivative hardware, although this is not required.

We could easily have boosted the current survey’s 81 board total to 100 or more, if we had included every SKU of every model offered by vendors. Instead, to make the list more coherent we have grouped some very similar models together, mentioning differences in configuration in text, and we have omitted some older boards when newer, very similar, boards clearly supersede them.

All told, we have added 16 boards since our year-end 2015 open SBC roundup (without survey) that included 64 hacker boards. This expanded from 53 boards in our May 2015 SBC survey, for which winners were announced in June 2015. In our first reader survey in May 2014, readers selected from a list of 32.

The listed prices are the lowest we saw at publication, but the pricing on many of these boards is fairly fluid. Typically, the prices do not include free shipping, or if so, only to certain regions. Sometimes the shipping prices can be considerable, turning a $35 board, for example, into a $50 board. Since HackerBoards has an international audience, we did not factor in shipping.


This survey has concluded
Click here for the survey’s detailed results, including charts and analysis:
2016 Hacker SBC Survey Results
Click here for a page with brief descriptions of all 81 SBCs in our survey:
Catalog of 81 open-spec, hacker friendly SBCs
Click here for a PDF table comparing the specs of all 81 hacker SBCs:
2016 Hacker SBCs Comparison Table

Single board computer trends for 2016

In early 2016, we saw arrival of the first low-cost, community-backed boards with 64-bit Cortex-A53 processors. SBCs like the $35 Raspberry Pi 3, $40 Odroid-C2, and $15 Pine A64 have challenged the pricing structure of not only community-backed boards, but the entire commercial embedded board business. The firmware is not yet available to exploit these processors to the max, but the performance improvements appear to be significant now even on those models limited to 1GB RAM.

Also impressive was the arrival of under $15 ARMv7 32-bit boards, starting with last fall’s $5 (more like $14) Raspberry Pi Zero, $9 and up Chip, and MIPS-based IoT boards like the $13 and up LinkIt Smart 7688. While these all have slower, single-core processors, newer models from Chinese vendors hit similar price points with the 1.2GHz version of the quad-core Allwinner H3. These include FriendlyARM’s $11 NanoPi M1, with $10 shipping to the U.S., and Shenzhen Xunlong’s $10 Orange Pi One, $12 Orange Pi Lite, and $15 Orange Pi PC, each with under $4 shipping.

Unless you plan to cluster numerous boards or use them for small manufacturing run products, the difference between a $10 board and a $35 board is not that significant, especially when you consider the cost of typically purchased add-ons. For a general hobbyist hacking or prototyping board, you’re probably more concerned with the quality and timeliness of the hardware and firmware, as well as the usefulness of the ecosystem and community site, among other concerns.

Allwinner may have done a service by greatly reducing the cost of ARM processing power, but it has also been roundly criticized for poor open source support, not to mention security hazards. Yet maybe, just maybe, the Chinese firm is seeing the open source light. This Charbox video shows an interview this week from Computex in Taipei with Allwinner reps announcing an upcoming, Linux-based, open source “Tina” release for all its R-series processors, including the Allwinner H3.

Other recent hacker board firmware news includes a report that the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) will soon add the Raspberry Pi 3 as a supported device. Google recently created a code repository for the Raspberry Pi 3 within a directory that also includes Google’s Nexus devices and generic source code. Google’s Chromium (Chrome OS) build for the Raspberry Pi is also taking shape.

Despite the pricing pressures, most of the boards listed here are over over $50, with many of the higher end boards targeted at more professional developers. In this category, we’re starting to see more octa-core boards, most of which have 64-bit processors. FriendlyARM’s recently broke the octa-core price barrier with its $35 NanoPi M3.

We continue to see a trend toward sandwich-style COM-and-carrier boards, especially in over $50 products. With this design, you can stay with the same development board design while potentially changing to a compute module with faster or slower processors.

Another continuing trend is the adoption of standard expansion connectors rather than custom headers. The leading contenders here — the Arduino shield connector and the Raspberry Pi 40-pin connector — continue to gain new adherents. You no longer need to buy a Raspberry Pi to gain access to the huge Raspberry Pi ecosystem, although you may prefer to go original gangster to avoid possible compatibility issues. Meanwhile, the dual 50-pin connectors on the BeagleBone are duplicated by many of the new BeagleBone clones and near clones.

A growing number of boards are also tapping SeeedStudio’s Grove connector for attaching its many IoT and sensor modules. Other popular options include the MikroBus connector for hooking up MikroElektronika’s Click add-on daughter-boards. On the higher end, we have begun to see mezzanine boards that fit into the 40- and 60-pin expansion slots of 96Board-compatible SBCs.

Finally, in 2016 we saw a new crop of x86-based boards from third parties rather than Intel and AMD, which offer older boards included here such as the MinnowBoard Max Turbot and AMD Gizmo-2. The Atom x5-E8000-based Udoo X86, which ships in November, appears to be fully open source and will likely appear in our next SBC roundup. The $65 JaguarBoard, which uses an older 22nm Atom, and Aaeon’s Up, which offers a quad-core, 1.84GHz, Intel Atom x5 are both shipping. Neither are included here, however, due to insufficient open source support.

The $100 Up board is at least actively appealing to a hacker audience with various resources, and is worth consideration if you don’t need full schematics. There’s also a community-backed, Atom x5-Z8300 based LattePanda SBC from DFRobot, which lacks full open source support and ships only with Windows 10.

Click here for the survey’s detailed results, including charts and analysis:
2016 Hacker SBC Survey Results
Click here for a page with brief descriptions of all 81 SBCs in our survey:
Catalog of 81 open-spec, hacker friendly SBCs
Click here for a PDF table comparing the specs of all 81 hacker SBCs:
2016 Hacker SBCs Comparison Table


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7 responses to “81 Linux hacker SBCs: vote for your favorites, maybe win one”

  1. Eric Perie says:

    The nanopi-m1 can be ordered with 512MB or 1GB DRAM.

  2. Dave Taht says:

    About my only objection to this table is that showing the linux kernel version would be helpful in terms of evaluating the overall seriousness of the support for the board.

  3. Uli Middelberg (@umiddelberg) says:

    You might consider to add some information about
    – the latest supported Linux kernel version (e.g. >3.10, >3.14, >4.0, >4.4)
    – the number of SATA and/or USB3 connectors

  4. slamb says:

    I’d love to see a more detailed table, too. For example, for my NVR project I’m most interested in boards with OpenCL (or ones with OpenGL ES 3.1 if there are any) and good IO bandwidth (to network, SATA, and SD/eMMC). The Odroid-XU4 is great on all counts, but I’d be interested in cheaper boards.

  5. peter says:

    Up-board is missing, right?

    • HackerBoards says:

      The UP board seems to be a great product, but we could not include it, due to the lack of publicly available schematics for the board, in accordance with the definition of “open spec” single-board computers that we use for this annual survey.

  6. Josef says:

    Odroid C2 will be winner, because of upcoming mainline kernel!

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