Why x86 instead of ARM?
My encounter with single board computers like many of you, started from the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi is great for tasks like running backups, a simple Network Attached Storage or as a media server. And because of the GPIO availability, there was a lot to tinker. Recently, I start on project that requires working on x86 instead of ARM, so I started my search for a x86 single board computer. There are actually no lack of industrial single boards with GPIO but they are usually mini ITX size and the price isn’t cheap. My criteria is that it should be as small as the Raspbery Pi, has GPIO onboard and preferably as cheap. A quick search on Youtube and Google gave me a few options, RockPi X being one of them plus LattePanda and another few. Those other options are inching towards 200 US per piece. Only the RockPi X is less than USD 100.
The RockPi X
The RockPi X comes in different configurations and the onboard e-MMC. It has WiFi and Bluetooth onboard. Note that the Bluetooth chipset is Bluetooth 4.2 and not Bluetooth 5.0. I haven’t studied the difference, but it’s not going to be a big issue since I can get a USB Bluetooth adaptor anytime. The main thing I’m looking for is the GPIO.
For my development, I got myself the following.
|1||RockPi X with 4G memory and 32G eMMC.||75 USD|
|2||ecoPI PRO X LP Aluminum housing for ROCK PI X||23.92 USD|
|3||PD 45W power supply with USB-C connector||7.99 USD|
|4||2.4GHz / 5.8 GHz Antenna + Pigtail bundle||3.99 USD|
I made a blunder here. First, I didn’t buy a USB C cable. I assumed the power adapter comes with the cable. Secondly, the housing comes with antenna, so now I have an extra set of antenna. Luckily they are relatively low value items, so it’s still fine. The whole bundle cost me $123.95 USD including the $13.04 USD for shipping. Considering that it has an board 32G eMMC, the price is comparable to a fully fitted Raspberry Pi 4. I would say it’s a good Raspberry Pi alternative. The whole lot was purchased directly from Allnet.China. Side note, they also carry other interesting products like SATA adapter for the Raspberry Pi and NAS enclosures. Definitely ideas for the next project.
Because this is a x86 platform, I get to see the BIOS that I haven’t seen for ages. The clock speed for the CPU is at 1440Mhz. If I related this simply to the 386 and 486 days, it’s really unimaginable. My first 486 at 66Mhz was over SGD 4,000. Today we have a sub USD 100 computer which fits in our pocket.
To install the OS, I just had to pop in a USB drive flashed with Ubuntu and that’s it. I get a Ubuntu desktop in an hour or so. There’s a detailed video on YouTube on this board if you are interested to find out more.
I will be writing more about my project soon. Follow me on Twitter (@yibi) to get new updates. Cheers!