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.
If 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…
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.
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.
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.
So 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.
Jean-Luc started CNX Software in 2010 as a part-time endeavor, before quitting his job as a software engineering manager, and starting to write daily news, and reviews full time later in 2011.