Does Asus Tinker Board hold any chance against Raspberry Pi?

It's a more powerful board, but it's not specs that turned Raspberry Pi into a revolution, it's something else

There is no dearth of single board computers that want a piece of the Raspberry Pi market. Asus has just launched its own wannabe Pi board called Tinker Board.

The board packs some real punches that will knock Raspberry Pi out of the ring, at least on the specs sheet. It comes with a slightly more powerful processor, a Rockchip 1.8Ghz quad-core Arm Cortex A17 as compared to 1.7 GHz BCM2837. The ARM Mali-T764 GPU of the Tinker Board is also more powerful than the Broadcom VideoCore IV GPU used in Raspberry Pi 3. It comes with twice the amount of RAM, and it has a Gigabit Ethernet vs 100Mb LAN on Pi and audio out for a richer sound with 192k/24 bit sample rate as compared to 48k/16 bit of Raspberry Pi. Last but not the least, Tinker Board has 4K output vs the standard HD output of Raspberry Pi 3.

Just like the Raspberry Pi, it comes with built-in WiFi, 4 USB ports, HDMI out, a MicroSD card slot and 40 GPIO pins. Looking at the form factor alone, it appears to be a drop-in replacement for Raspberry Pi 3.

But is it? Is it better than Raspberry Pi 3? Would Raspberry Pi users flock to it?

I own a couple of single board computers, and can you guess which board I use mostly? Yup, I use Raspberry Pi for all of my projects. There are three main reasons why I think Raspberry Pi has been so successful:

  1. Support: Full support by the Raspberry Pi Foundation breeds confidence in investing in a board. By investment, I don't mean $35 per board (and I have over a dozen Pi 3 boards). I mean investment in projects built using the Pi because I know the board is not going to disappear tomorrow.
  2. Community: A very innovative maker/user community around the board for support and new projects. There's always a new project, every single day.
  3. Ecosystem: It has a great software and hardware ecosystem. I use Raspberry Pi 3 in many different applications: It's running OctoPi to manage my open source 3D printer, file server running on Raspbian, security camera, RetroPie for retro Nintendo NES…the list is very long.

No matter how good Asus board looks on paper, it's success really depends on these three factors: official support by Asus, community, and ecosystem. Unlike Raspberry Pi Foundation that has a laser eye focus on Pi, Asus does so many things. I am not sure what kind of support to expect from them. My Google search didn't even return any official pages from Asus where I can find more info about the board operating system or additional hardware components.

When I asked on Google+ whether this board has any chance against Raspberry Pi, people had mixed feelings:

Eric Lee commented:

Perhaps, part of it will involve how much effort Asus is willing to put into creating a viable ecosystem for it. Granted, part of what works for the Pi3 is that it is compatible with anything the previous Pi boards can do, and therefore people wanting to upgrade old projects didn't have to make a lot of adjustments. With this, it's almost entirely from the ground up again.

Karsten Johansson said:

It's double the price. Different market. I am considering using a couple of these for desktop systems, though, since the Rpi3 leaves much to be desired in that category (for my usage... definitely rpi3 is perfectly capable for other people with differing usage needs). I have a lot of Pis doing things that I don't see Asus competing against because the price/performance is a great match. If you need twice the performance and are okay paying twice the price, then the Asus is just fine -- sounds pretty great in fact. This shouldn't sidetrack anyone from looking at other SoC solutions that are over and above the Rpi price and performance points. The community is a big thing, as you've mentioned.

These comments reflect my own thoughts on the board. It does pack relatively more power that can fulfill some niche that Pi can't. You really can't, for example, use Pi as a desktop PC. As you can see from the specs, Tinker Board seems to be geared towards multimedia applications, which means it can be used as very low powered PC. But that's not the use case I am interested in. While it's relatively more powerful than Raspberry Pi 3, it is still way too underpowered to be used as PC. If I want smaller form factor, I will go with Intel NUK.

I like these boards because I can use them in applications where even NUK won't fit, like inside the 3D printed box of a webcam.

Tinker Board's success as a DIY competitor of Raspberry Pi heavily depends on all other three factors that I mentioned earlier. My Pine 64 is more powerful than Pi, and running a Plex Media Server was a great application, but I simply went for Nvidia Shield TV which is more powerful, and Pine 64 sits in my drawer waiting for an application; I fear Tinker Board may meet the same fate.

I am looking forward to getting a board for myself to play with it and once I have it, I will report back with my thoughts. If you have something to add to this discussion, you can join the conversation here and let me know what you think of Tinker Board: does it stand a  chance against Raspberry Pi 3?

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