The age when computers extended in whole rooms is gone forever, but maybe we should start thinking about our tower-age too…
The rise of small handheld devices, Linux based operating systems and open source hardware in the form of Arduino and other implementations has already came a long way not only proving they have a position in the market, but also emphatically showing the way to the tech future that is here to serve our needs instead of ripping us off like any company-product aims for first and foremost.
Mini-PCs that cost less than your motherboard now pullulate in the world market with a quick tempo, offering light and durable all-purpose solutions with surprising power capacities and feature richness in some cases. Watch HD movies, listen to online music, connect to socials and play cool 3D games, these mini-machines can handle any of your standard daily usage tasks without sweating.
Raspberry Pi – 35$
Starting from the weakest and cheapest, but also the one that made the hit and created the kind of single board computer market, Raspberry Pi just released its first upgrade to the Model B that adds more USB ports (4 now), a better microSD port (push-push) and better power ratings.
The CPU remains the single-core 700MHz Broadcom 2835 with integrated GPU that can deliver 1080p video, sharing some of the mere 512MB of the RAM. Although Raspberry won’t exactly bring the forest down with its performance, it can serve many purposes like home arcade projects, server clusters, or fulfill various educational community’s needs.
HummingBoard – 100 $
This is the product of SolidRun, a company that provides Linux based solutions with the dream of making the world’s most successful small computer. I’m not sure HummingBoard is the best, but it certainly is among the best on this price range.
The third model called i2eX boasts a dual core ARM Cortex A9 with Vivante GC2000 GPU that will allow you to play OpenGL 2.0 games with quad shading! The RAM is at 1024MB which is quite an upgrade from Raspberry, but not exactly enough for every daily-life usage case scenario.
Cubieboard – 75 $
The Cubieboard is another open source hardware implementation from China that took development boost from KickStarter. CubieTech that develops the board has already released three models with some functionality-extension boards and is soon to release an octa-core little monster!
Cubieboard 3 is powered by a dual core 1GHz ARM Cortex A7 CPU with the Mali 400 MP2 GPU that can output 720p to VGA and 1080p to HDMI. The 2GB of DDR3 RAM ensure the seamless functioning of the system even when things get heavy. Cubie can work with SATA II HDs, or SD Cards. Wifi and bluetooth, 8GB OnBoard NAND Flash, 4 USB ports and an Ethernet port complete the picture for this amazing little system.
Radxa Rock – 100$
Radxa Rock is an Australian made board that is powered by the killer quad-core ARM Cortex A9 1.6GHz with the Mali 400 MP4 GPU. The 2GB of DD3 RAM is clocked at 800MHz which is quite faster than Cubieboard’s 433MHz and it offers WiFi and Bluetooth, LAN, 8GB of NAND Flash and delivers 1080p video on 60hz.
The Radxa also offers the ability to add your own self defined IR remote, so it can easily be used for media center purposes. The 2 USB ports leave something to be desired in this otherwise magnificent mini PC.
Matrix – 150$
TBS Matrix is the most priced of all single-board computers in our list, but it’s also the most well-equipped and capable little machine. It boasts an iMX6 quad core CPU at 1GHz along with the also quad core Vivante GC2000 GPU and 2GB of DDR3 RAM.
The onboard memory is a 16GB eMMC (twice as Radxa and Cubie), it offers 4 USB ports, WiFi and Bluetooth, IR receiver, Mini SD and SD card slots, connection for SATA 3 drives, Ethernet and mini PCIe slots. Matrix is also the only one in this list to use a cooling fan for the APU, adding a little noise but eliminating any overheating issues.
All of these systems use either Linux distributions or Android operating systems but users can always install any ARM supporting OS, or choose to dual boot between different systems and fully explore the capabilities of these cute boards. Most products of the kind have thriving communities around them that help new users solve problems, give advice and share ideas for projects. Don’t neglect the vast information available on the net.
Open hardware may have started in different realms with Arduino, and then evolved as a hobby for developers for the past few years, but right now low cost mini-PCs are entering the market of simple users that want easy to use, flexible, cheap systems. They are much more reliable than they used to be, much more powerful and very versatile. One has to seriously consider his/her realistic needs, and then fulfill them in the smartest way available today. The mini-PC way!