ASUS Moves Its Tinker Board into Raspberry Pi’s SBC Domain

April 07, 2017 by Donald Krambeck

ASUS, the Taiwanese hardware and electronics company known for their desktops, laptops, monitors, graphics cards, and more has decided they're going to delve into the micro-PC market.

ASUS, the Taiwanese hardware and electronics company known for their desktops, laptops, monitors, graphics cards, and more has decided they're going to delve into the micro-PC market.

Raspberry Pi has been the most publically prominent player in the SBC (single-board computer) market. But as the Raspberry Pi Foundation sets its sights on new goals, is it giving up some space to new competitors?

Raspberry Pi's Shift towards Software

Raspberry Pi changed the world back in 2012 when they released their first generation of credit-card-sized SBCs. The company knew they hit something huge when they sold over 100,000 units within the first 24 hours of being released.

The focus of the board was to promote the basics of computer science in schools to get children interested in computing. Five years later, Raspberry Pi has sold more than 10 million units of their five different microcomputers. Just recently, the Raspberry Pi Foundation released the Raspberry Pi Zero W (which includes onboard wireless capabilities). In an interview with Wired, Raspberry Pi Foundation founder Eben Upton has made it clear that he plans on focusing on the development of the software that the Pi devices can be run on. Essentially, Upton is gearing towards software as it's what he assumes a majority of users want.

In late September of 2016, Raspberry Pi introduced a brand new desktop for their devices named PIXEL (which stands for 'Pi Improved Xwindow Environment, Lightweight'). This is a huge software update to the Pi's desktop environment. PIXEL includes a refined interface, as well as quite a few new programs and features. Oh, did I forget to mention that there are experimental versions of PIXEL for x86 platforms?


Image courtesy of the Raspberry Pi Foundation


But as the Raspberry Pi Foundation perfects its other products and moves in new directions, ASUS is looking to edge into the Raspberry Pi 3's territory. 


Room for ASUS to Rise?

ASUS has now stepped in the SBC realm. ASUS's competitor to the Raspberry Pi is called the Tinker Board. For starters, it has a quad-core Rockchip System on Chip (SoC) that's 50% faster than the Broadcom SoC in the Raspberry Pi. It measures at the same 3.4" x 2.1" size as the Pi 3, but it also supports 4K via the HDMI 2.0 port. 

Notably, however, these advantages come at a higher price: $60 compared to the $40 Raspberry Pi 3. 


The Tinker Board by ASUS. Image courtesy of ASUS


This isn't ASUS's first step in small personal computers. The VivoPC is a mini PC that measures slightly larger than a DVD jewel case. Powered by Intel with 4K/2K visuals, integrated speakers, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, it has all the functionalities of a traditional desktop but is much more versatile. The VivoPC shows that ASUS is experimenting on multiple fronts when it comes to computing hardware.


The VivoPC by ASUS. Image courtesy of ASUS


ASUS isn't going to release its hold on the markets it's known for, but it also seems to be expanding its purview towards who they clearly think of as "tinkerers".


Expanding Markets

With the Tinker Board, ASUS might be trying to get a piece of the Maker Movement, which is comprised of inventors, designers, and tinkerers that are all working on the latest hardware to advance technology. This movement, according to USA Todayis a $29 billion community as of 2014.

At maker faires (events focused on usually DIY robotics, crafts, gadgets, contraptions, and even legos) this year, ASUS provided their Labs DIY, where they shared their knowledge and expertise for people of all ages to create a PC. With exposing their name and providing great experiences for consumers, ASUS is slowly making a name for themselves in the vast Makers Market. 

So how will this new interest in the maker community affect professional engineers? We've seen that hardware designed for tinkerers can actually be very useful to practicing designers, especially in prototyping. Perhaps this shift is one of the best industry moves EEs could ask for.

  • RayB April 08, 2017

    Maybe it is all about software on the UK side of the Atlantic, but I tend to believe that in the US that it is more about the hardware: specifically with the Zero and Zero-W and primarily due to the price point of $5 and $10 retail respectively.

    I have extensive Arduino experience and ESP8266-Arduino experience and have spent the last month playing with the Zero and Zero-W.  Both of these devices have a 1G CPU that auto-throttles to 700MHz if the SoC gets too hot.  Both of the boards have 512MB of RAM.  Both of the boards have USB OTG. Both of the boards have the HDMI GPU which can - for a price - be converted to DV or RGB.  From a hardware point-of-view, this is a remarkable quantity of powerful hardware for a $5 entry price or just $5 more( $10 total) for the Bluetooth and WiFi additional capabilities integrated onto the same footprint.

    I have been successful with SSH and using the Zero/W headless.  VNC works as expected. The CLI is familiar to lots of electronic hobbyists who have Linux experience and the Zero can be configured to utilize a 115200 BAUD default serial console in the event that SSH is not desired.  Selectively disabling HDMI, Bluetooth, WiFi can bring the power requirements < 100mA which really shines for battery powered projects that need a lot of RAM and computing power.

    The relative scarcity in the U.S.A. of the Zero since introduction has created a void where experimenters have been unable to play because the hardware was not available.  With the introduction of the Zero-W, the Zero now seems to be in less demand and is actually in-stock in a couple of Atlanta retail stores - for the $5 price!  Surely this availability will lead to more hands-on with the device and many more published projects.

    I have been successful with compiling C and C++ programs to manipulate the I/O pins and have performed the obligatory Blinking LED experiment.  I have converted a number of standard C/C++ programs to run on the RPi Zero with few changes being required other than loading the extended C libraries expected: the Raspbian distribution is lean on C/C++ library support.  In many ways, the Zero can be made to look very much like an Arduino - sans any analog ports.

    For learning Linux and C/C++, the prospective student would be much better served to use an older notebook with Linux.  512MB and 1GB old notebooks can often be found for under $60 in fair working condition.  Blow away Windows and load Linux and play.  Having an integral keyboard and trackpad and display on the notebook makes it a superior learning environment for the C student.  The notebook USB port can also be utilized with an RPi Zero using “USB gadget” mode:  just Google for it.  Using an old notebook for learning to program is also a great way to recycle e-Waste, SSH into a headless Zero, or even run the GUI over VNC.

    When viewed as a RAM-fat Arduino with a 1GHz processor, the Zero and Zero-W are seen as a remarkable hardware platform for embedded projects and open the door to far more powerful web-servers than the ESP-8266 and ESP32 that has captivated hobbyists for the past few years.  In my opinion, the Zero is hot.

    catch me on hackster dot io as Ray Burne(tte)

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  • Paul Mansfield April 09, 2017

    I think the khadas vim is a better bet because it has an AmLogic chip, and they provide full documentation.

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