The 5 best Intel & AMD single board computers for makers

Best Intel AMD single board computers for makers

A few weeks ago, we wrote a list of what we consider to be the top 5 most powerful Arm SBC’s and development kits, and this time around we’ll cover x86 SBC’s powered by Intel or AMD processors.

But this time around, instead of focusing on the most powerful x86 single board computers which would lead to unaffordable, industrial Xeon SBC’s, we’ll be looking into the 5 best boards designed for makers. That means affordable pricing, I/O headers, and community support. The list is in no particular order.

Rock Pi X – x86 on the cheap

Rock pi xIf you ever wanted the cheapest possible x86 board, Atomic Pi SBC $35 price tag was hard to beat, but it was only cheap because it was sourced from a failed robotics project, and not very convenient to use. But now in 2021, the cheapest x86 SBC that can run Windows is clearly Rock Pi X starting at $39…

That price tag is for the version with 1 GB RAM and 8GB eMMC flash, and AFAIK it is impossible to source, with the most common model being Rock Pi X with 2GB of RAM and 32 GB of flash sold for $63 plus shipping.

While Rock Pi X SBC can run Windows 10 and Ubuntu 20.04, our review of Rock Pi X with both operating systems showed it could be challenging to have everything work well with some driver issues (as of January 2021), and thermal cooling not implemented by default (so remember to purchase the optional heatsink). Of course, you should not expect greater performance from a Cherry Trail processor. Rock Pi X is mostly interesting for its compact form factor, low price, and x86 compatibility.

Technically speaking, there’s another x86 SBC that’s even cheaper, but not using Intel nor AMD, and instead 86duino Zero relies on a DM&P Vortex86EX 32-bit single-core processor @ 300 MHz with 128MB of RAM…

ODYSSEY-X86J4125 – Intel meets Arduino & Raspberry Pi

ReComputer Alpha SBC
Click to Enlarge

GPIO headers are important to makers to connect sensors, control servos and motors, and so on. Seeed Studio ODYSSEY-X86J4105 single board computer, now supplanted by ODYSSEY-X86J4125, combines the power of an Intel Gemini Lake (Refresh) processor with the real-time ability of a Microchip SAMD21 Cortex-M0+, Arduino compatible microcontroller, and on top of that, a Raspberry Pi header is also available for even more expansion options.

We tested the board with Windows 10 Enterprise and Ubuntu 20.04, and everything worked as expected, but the fan can be a little noisy, and the Raspberry Pi header was only supported in Ubuntu. Documentation can be found in the Wiki.

While it should be hard to source the ODYSSEY-X86J4105 SBC as the processor is phased out, the new ODYSSEY-X86J4125 SBC, with a faster processor and the same features, is sold for $218 without storage, or $269 with a 128 GB eMMC flash and Re_Computer case.

UP Single Board Computer Family – Cherry Trail to Tiger Lake

UP Xtreme i11 Tiger Lake-SBC with AI accelerator
UP Xtreme i11

I’m going to start to cheat a little here, as it is supposed to be a list of 5 single board computers, I’ll just a family of boards from AAEON here, namely the “UP the bridge family” that ranges from the Raspberry Pi-sized UP board initially introduced in 2015 with a Cherry Trail processor, to the mid-range UP Squared series for AI & IoT applications with more expansion capabilities, and the higher-end UP Xtreme if even more powerful, yet low power processor, culminating with the UP Xtreme i11 Tiger Lake SBC.

IMHO that is what makes AAEON UP boards interesting is that you can use the same set of tools and software and a wide family range, and then opt to upgrade or downgrade the board to match your requirements. The company also offers the Pro series of the aforementioned families for industrial automation and AI solutions, and well as complete reference designs.

You’ll find documentation and support forums on the official website, and UP boards can be purchased from UP Shop with prices starting at $109 and up to $999.

ODROID-H2+ – Affordable 2.5GbE networking

ODROID H2+

If you want a relatively low-cost Intel SBC with fast 2.5GbE networking, the obvious choice is Hardkernel ODROID-H2+ single board computer equipped with two 2.5 Gbps Ethernet ports, or even a total of 6 2.5GbE ports with an expansion board. Based on an Intel Celeron J4115 processor coupled with 2 or 4GB RAM, the board is an updated version of ODROID-H2 which we reviewed with Ubuntu 19.04, and powered by an Intel Celeron J4105.

Hardkernel is known for its great community, and good support for all their boards, as well as affordable pricing. When there is stock, ODROID-H2+ can be purchased for $119 on Hardkernel, but due to the shipping costs, it may be cheaper on distributors such as Ameridroid, where you could use the coupon code CNXSUPP6 to get a $6 discount.

UDOO Bolt – AMD SBC’s for makers

UDOO Bolt V8So far, we’ve only listed single board computers with Intel processors, but UDOO offers an interesting AMD Ryzen Embedded SBC with UDOO Bolt. The board is offered in two variants with UDOO Bolt V3 equipped with V1202B dual-core/quad-thread processor, and UDOO Bolt V8 with a more powerful V1605B quad-core/octa-thread processor.

UDOO Bolt comes with two SO-DIMM slots for up to 64GB RAM, 32 GB eMMC flash, M.2 & SATA connectors for storage, support for up to four 4K displays via HDMI 2.0 and USB-C ports, Gigabit Ethernet, and more. There’s also a Microchip ATmega32u4 AVR microcontroller, as found in Arduino Leonardo, to control various I/Os with Arduino code.

The company provides pretty good documentation and support through a forum.  UDOO Bolt V3 & V8 can be purchased directly on UDOO shop for $365 and $459 respectively. If you’d rather get a case with your SBC, the company sells UDOO Bolt Gear mini PC based on UDOO Bolt V8.

That’s it for the list. Do you have another x86 SBC designed for makers that could/should have made the list? If so, let us know in the comments.

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12 Comments
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tonny
tonny
5 months ago

The most sane one is odroid H2+

Piotr
5 months ago

Or just any mini ITX or thin mini ITX as those custom boards have really bad pricing.

tonny
tonny
5 months ago

yep. Or used/refurbished intel nuc. At my place, i3-5010u 4/500GB can be had for ~$160. Celeron J3455 4/500GB for ~$125

dgp
dgp
5 months ago

I haven’t seen many consumer ITX boards with things like GPIO broken out.

Piotr
5 months ago

You can use any Arduino/Microcontroller board you want. And depending on motherboard it may have COM/Serial GPIO or on the back I/O. And if you go on Aliexpress looking for pico/nano ITX boards then you can ones with lots of serial ports and alike.

Anything that isn’t Raspberry, Arduino or MicroPython will have tragic support for third party libraries so even if a custom SBC has GPIO – if it’s not using pre-existing software stack it will be hard to use with more complex stuff if at all.

itgerald
itgerald
5 months ago

Mini PCs or better a Motherboard with embedded CPU bundle make more sense price wise than these SBC options

weakness
weakness
5 months ago

weak CPU

Anonymous
Anonymous
5 months ago

A weak CPU is fine if the price is right.

Odroid-H2+ looks like the sweet spot to me. If they keep about the same price point but update it with new Atom CPUs in the future (Tremont / Jasper Lake, then Gracemont, etc.), it will get very good.

ChasX
ChasX
5 months ago

I think the alix/apu boards from pcengines.ch should also be in this list.

Willy
Willy
5 months ago

That’s a pretty good point, they do provide rich connectivity and good characteristics at quite an affordable price! And they do have an enclosure and a console port, both of which are often the last missing points to put an SBC in a small production.

David
David
5 months ago

All of the PC Engines x86 compatible 500 MHz AMD Geode LX800 based ALIX boards are currently marked End Of Life (EOL). I suspect the old LX800 part is the reason. The faster x86 compatible AMD GX-412TC quad core Jaguar Architecture based APU2/3/4 boards are still current. Typically all these boards from PC Engines run something lightweight like TinyCore Linux or Alpine Linux. The current generation APU2 boards cost $106 (2 GB DRAM) – $129 (4 GB DRAM); add $9 – $10 for an enclosure.

Garry
Garry
2 months ago

Each SBC has its advantages and disadvantages, the key is what you need.

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