The launch of Raspberry Pi 4 SBC has generated lots of interest, especially with the extra performance and low $35 price tag that has made most alternatives suddenly less interesting. However, Raspberry Pi 4 benchmarks show it’s not quite the fastest board around, and for example, Rockchip RK3399 platforms are still quite faster, sometimes as much as twice as fast.
They do cost much more though, often more than twice, and so far one of the cheapest RK3399 boards was NanoPi M4 going for $65. FriendlyELEC has now decided, certainly in response to Raspberry Pi 4 offering, to lower the price to $50 for the 2GB RAM version which compares to $45 with Raspberry Pi 4 2GB, as well as $75 for the 4GB RAM version (was $95).
- SoC – Rockchip RK3399 big.LITTLE hexa-core processor with 2x Arm Cortex-A72 @ up to 2.0GHz, 4x Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5GHz, a Mali-T864 GPU with support OpenGL ES1.1/2.0/3.0/3.1, OpenVG1.1, OpenCL, DX11, and AFBC, and a VPU with 4K VP9 and 4K 10-bit H265/H264 6decoding
- System Memory – Dual-channel 4GB LPDDR3-1866, or dual-channel 2GB DDR3-1866
- Storage – eMMC module socket, micro SD card slot
- Video Output
- HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDCP 1.4/2.2 support
- 4-Lane MIPI-DSI connector
- Audio – 3.5mm headphone jack, HDMI digital audio output, microphone header
- Camera – One or two 4-lane MIPI-CSI connector(s) (one multiplexed with MIPI-DSI), dual ISP up to 13MP
- Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1 with 2x u.FL antenna connectors
- USB – 4x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 2.0 type-C port with OTG mode and power input
- 40-pin GPIO header with 3x 3V/1.8V I2C, up to 1x 3V UART, 1x 3V SPI, 1x SPDIF_TX, up to 8x 3V GPIOs, 1x 1.8V 8-channel I2S
- 24-pin extension port with 2x USB 2.0 interface, PCIe x2, 1x PWM
- Debugging – 4-pin UART header (3V 1.5Mbps)
- Misc – Power key, power LED, user’s LED, 2-pin header for RTC battery
- Power Supply – 5V/3A via USB-C port; RK808-D PMIC
- Dimensions – 85 mm x 56 mm (8-layer PCB)
- Temperature Range – 0℃ to 80℃
The specifications are so similar to Raspberry Pi 4 that is almost feel the latter copied NanoPi M4 :).
Beside the faster processor, some of the advantages of NanoPi M4 are support for 4K H.264 and VP9 hardware video decoding, four USB 3.0 ports instead of just two, an eMMC module socket for improved I/O performance and reliability, an extra 24-pin I/O header with PCIe and USB interfaces, a wider temperature range, and proper passive cooling solutions as shown above. It does lack however support for dual HDMI display, nor HDR video playback and Bluetooth is limited to version 4.1.
Software support for RK3399 platforms is now quite mature, and you’ll find documentation and development resources such as Android 8.1 and Ubuntu 18.04 images in the Wiki. Note that Android does not work from microSD card, so you’d have to buy an eMMC flash module as well. This brings another advantage of NanoPi M4: Android support. The Raspberry Pi foundation does not provide an Android image, and community Android images for RPi are often far from being optimized.
NanoPi M4 also has some interesting accessories not available for Raspberry Pi 4 such as a 4x SATA HAT that allows you to create a compact NAS with up to 4 drives.