Asus’s new computer blows raspberries at its British rival
What is it?
A new single-board computer that’s being touted as a serious rival to the hugely popular (and British-made) Raspberry Pi. Made by Taiwanese company Asus, it runs a customised version of Linux – like the Pi – and is the same credit-card size.
Remind me, what’s a single-board computer?
It’s a bare-bones computer comprising just a motherboard, ports, memory and a processor. To use one you’ll need to buy a compatible keyboard, mouse and monitor. The Pi is the most popular – 10 million units have been sold since it launched in 2012. But the Tinker Board is more powerful in several ways.
It has a faster processor, and double the memory (2GB). But the key difference is that it supports 4K video and highquality 24-bit audio, and has speedy Wi-Fi. This makes the Tinker Board a wiser choice than the Pi if you want to build a media-centre PC. Films and TV will look and sound much better on it, leading some industry commentators to call it the ‘Raspberry Pi killer’.
Isn’t that a bit over the top?
Yes, but self-styled ‘experts’ are rarely short of dramatic, headline-grabbing statements. Asus thinks people may be bored with the Pi, saying that it’s “been in the market for so long, we’re here to expand users’ choices with more options”. But the Pi’s longevity is actually one of its strengths. Over the past five years it has attracted a vibrant community of enthusiasts keen to share and swap projects (start at www.raspberrypi.org/community). So while the Tinker Board offers more streaming options, nobody buying a Pi will be short of ideas, especially now that Google plans to make “smart tools” for the computer (read more at www.snipca.com/23241).
Isn’t the Pi cheaper too?
Yes, but not by so much that the Tinker Board feels expensive. The latest version of Pi 3, called Model B, is £32.99 (from www.snipca.com/23224). You’ll have to cough up £55 for the Tinker Board (from www.snipca.com/23219), but that feels like good value. In truth, both devices manage to pack a heck of a lot of computing potential into a small space for not much money at all. However, the Tinker Board has one drawback that is likely to put off some people.
It doesn’t support 4K video from Netflix, one of the world’s most popular TV-streaming services. Also, the kind of computing aficionados attracted to single-board computers might be put off by the size of Asus itself. It’s a huge company, employing over 6,000 people. In 2015 it made a profit of £430m.
By contrast, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is a Cambridge-based charity on a mission to “promote the study of computer science, especially at school level, and to put the fun back into learning computing”.
The Pi’s fans love its do-it-yourself ethos, seeing it as the ‘real ale’ version of computing. In fact, you can even use the Raspberry Pi to make your own beer.
You need the BrewPi (www.brewpi.com), which controls the fermentation temperature of beer and wine. The Pi runs the device’s web server, letting you monitor brewing data online. It’s unlikely that the Tinker Board will be put to such quirky use, though we wouldn’t say no if Asus offered us a home-brewed pint.