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Top ten sub-$100 hacker SBCs for your holiday pleasure

Dec 18, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 7,000 views

[Updated: Dec. 21] — This year, we’ve seen some incredible price/performance breakthroughs in sub-$100 single board computers that can run Linux or Android and do cool stuff.

The world of community-backed SBCs continued to expand in 2015, marked by lower prices and more modular, kit-like Internet of Things boards. Here we take a look at the top 10 most important — and probably the best — under $100 Linux- or Android-based, open-spec hacker SBCs that began shipping in 2015.

Since our Hacker SBC reader survey in May, we have seen some remarkable price/performance breakthroughs on the low end. A few from my top 10 list include open-spec boards like Shenzhen Xunlong’s $15, quad-core Cortex-A7 Orange Pi PC, Next Thing Co.’s $9 to $24, Cortex-A8-based Chip, and the $5-and-up Raspberry Pi Zero.

Left to right: Orange Pi PC, Chip, Raspberry Pi Zero, Linkit Smart 7688
(click images to enlarge)

The under $30 price range was previously inhabited only by barebones, low-powered MIPS (typically Atheros AR9331) SBCs running OpenWrt that were often more like computer-on-modules than workable hacker boards. Yet even these WiFi-equipped MIPS boards have grown more sophisticated, and offer more for the money. For example, one of our winners — MediaTek’s $16, Seeed Studio built LinkIt Smart 7688 Duo, which runs OpenWrt on MediaTek’s 580MHz MT7688AN SoC, offers kit expansion with low-cost options like a $6 Grove sensor breakout and $13 Arduino breakout.

Modular to the Max

The LinkIt is just one of many community-backed single board computers this year that are actually more like multi-board computers. We’re increasingly seeing sandwich-style, COM-with-carrier combo kits — a design borrowed from the traditional commercial embedded board industry – as well as modular boards that ship with multiple add-on options. Many of the IoT focused kits not only support Arduino and/or Raspberry Pi expansion, but also sensor-oriented modules like Seeed’s Grove family, MikroElektronika’s wide range of Click add-on daughterboards, or homegrown module collections.

All this modularity is welcome, but makes it more difficult for direct comparisons. Your Intel Edison or Raspberry Pi Zero kit may look considerably different than mine, depending on what options you choose. It also muddies the waters when it comes to price comparisons. Products such as the Chip and the Zero may start at an unbelievably low price, but those versions are intended primarily for volume buys for small production runs. To turn these into workable hacker boards, you’ll probably end up with something in the $20 to $50 range.

Raspberry Pi 2 Model B
(click to enlarge)

The Chip and the Zero are still great deals, but the quad-core, Cortex-A7 Raspberry Pi 2 Model B is probably a better buy for most hobbyists and prototypers. The $35 Pi 2 was not only the favorite of our readers in last May’s survey, but it leads my list as the most important new SBC of the year. The Zero may offers some interesting new possibilities, but its ARM11 architecture was out of date even when the first Raspberry Pi 1 Model B arrived in April 2012. Meanwhile, the Pi 2’s more up to date, ARMv7 processor supports robust Linux distributions such as Ubuntu MATE.

Here comes 64-bit

The other big trend of 2015 was the arrival of the first 64-bit, ARMv8 hacker SBC, with the HiKey. For this list, I chose the second 96Boards SBC, Qualcomm’s $75 quad-core, Cortex-A53 DragonBoard 410c. This is the most powerful board on my top 10 list, although Hardkernel’s 32-bit, yet octa-core, Exynos5422 based Odroid-XU4 runs a close second for a dollar less.

64-bit hacker SBCs: DragonBoard 410c (left) and Pine A64
(click images to enlarge)

In 2016, we can expect more 64-bit boards and at lower prices. Earlier this month, a Kickstarter project launched for a 64-bit Pine A64 SBC that starts at just $15. When it ships in Q2 2016, the quad-core Allwinner A64 based Pine A64 will likely be the new price/performance leader, not only among 64-bit boards but hacker SBCs in general.

Then again, a lot can change in six months. By the time the Chip shipped to backers last month, it seemed less amazing than it did earlier this year in the light of the Orange Pi PC, the Zero, and other low-cost boards.

All our Top 10 boards are ARM-based except for the MIPS-based LinkIt SBC. There are plenty of good low-cost MIPS boards, as well as Imagination’s pricier Creator series, and on the x86 side, Intel has spun the admirable MinnowBoard Max and Edison-with-expansion board products. However, LinkIt was the only major new non ARM product in 2015. Next year, I predict we’ll see at least one intriguing low-cost SBC based on the capable and fairly affordable, 14nm Intel Atom x5 (Cherry Trail).

In addition to the boards mentioned above, my top 10 list includes capable upgrades to the popular Odroid-C1 and BeagleBone, as well as the i.MX SoloX based Udoo Neo hacker board for IoT. All 10 of the boards support Linux, and the DragonBoard 410c, BeagleBone Green, Orange Pi PC, Udoo Neo, and the two Odroid boards also run Android.

I can’t claim these are necessarily the very best SBC deals on the market, but they’re close. There are also plenty of excellent boards available that launched in 2014, especially since many have cut their prices. To find out what other and LinuxGizmos readers think are best tune into our next joint hacker SBC survey slated for Q2 2016.

And here’s the top 10 sub-$100 hacker SBC list for 2015

Here are the top 10 Linux/Android hacker SBCs of 2015, in order of importance, with links to product pages and relevant news items.

#1: Raspberry Pi 2 Model B
product page
news item
#2: Raspberry Pi Zero
product page
news item
#3: DragonBoard 410c
product page
news item
#4: Chip
product page
news item
#5: Orange Pi PC
product page
news item
#6: BeagleBone Green
product page
news item
#7: Odroid-C1+
product page
news item
#8: Odroid-XU4
product page
news item
#9: Udoo Neo
product page
news item
#10: LinkIt Smart 7688 Duo
product page
news item

This article is copyright © 2015 and was originally published here. It has been reproduced by with the permission of its owner. Please visit for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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19 responses to “Top ten sub-$100 hacker SBCs for your holiday pleasure”

  1. jezra says:

    How many of the devices on this list are actually on the market?

  2. Tsiox says:

    Saying that the ARMv8 1.2 Ghz Dragonboard 410c is faster than the ARMv7 2.0 Ghz ODroid XU4, that could be debated. But the Dragonboard isn’t a better compute platform because it has half the memory of the ODroid (1 Gbyte vs 2 Gbyte). The difference is obvious when they run Android. The ODroid XU4 is fast and smooth and very usable. The Dragonboard just doesn’t have enough memory to run Android. If we’re talking about a embedded platform, there are better embedded SBC’s than either the 410c or the XU4. If we’re talking about a compute platform, the XU4 runs circles around the 410c.

  3. Mike Stankavich says:

    I just got a notice that my CHIP shipped today. But that’s from a kickstarter pre-order placed a few months back.

  4. Jean Tabel says:

    I don’t understand why the Odroid-XU4 is listed along with 64-bits ARM SBCs: According to the supplier’s web site, the Odroid-XU4 is using a Samsung Exynos5422 Cortex-A15 2Ghz and Cortex-A7 Octa core CPUs. Am I missing something ? is your article referencing a new 64 bits version of the Odroid-XU4 ? Thanks.

    • LinuxGizmos says:

      Actually, Eric’s post already makes your point clear: “For this list, I chose the second 96Boards SBC, Qualcomm’s $75 quad-core, Cortex-A53 DragonBoard 410c. This is the most powerful board on my top 10 list, although Hardkernel’s 32-bit, yet octa-core, Exynos5422 based Odroid-XU4 runs a close second for a dollar less.” But we erroneously included the Odroid-XU4’s photo in the 64-bit group since it was mentioned there. That’s now fixed. Thanks!

  5. Jon says:

    How come the banana pie didn’t make the list?

  6. Robert Pogson says:

    These are extremely useful toys. They are getting close to being really useful but not yet. Any desktop system with less than 4gB is definitely a bottleneck no matter the CPU or peripherals. Some of these even have gigabit/s NICs that can only deliver 0.5gb/s because the bus is so slow. This year I want to buy an ARMed system to replace my 150W AMD system but 4gB is the absolute minimum RAM I need just for browsing the web. Also, if I must access hard drives through USB it should be USB3. These things have such powerful CPUs it’s a pity they don’t have more RAM and SATA. I expect in 2016 someone will do it right and we can say goodbye forever to Wintel, both That Other OS and the fire-breathing CPUs. ARM has designed CPUs that are good enough for most desktop usage but they are throttled on these boards by I/O and RAM bottlenecks. These boards are similar to smartphones but they aren’t running on tiny batteries. They can be plugged into huge UPS or utilities. There’s no need to skimp on watts by keeping I/O throttled.

    • jtilghman says:

      The problem here is that you aren’t the target market. These boards are meant for developers and prototyping on.

      Not to be a desktop replacement, and since these are meant for all manner of things watts used is important.

      The Jetson I linked can be a desktop system. It has most of what you listed. But it’s target still really isn’t you. But for $100 it is very fast and runs a full desktop very well.

  7. jtilghman says:

    It is a shame you didn’t put this one on the list:

    A very nice board, Quad-Core and Fast. And with the CUDA cores, smoking.


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