With new products released every day, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the choice, so I’ll provide purchase links to products that I’ve either tested, or are recommended by the community for TV boxes, mini PCs, 3D printers, Linux development boards, MCU / IoT boards, and home automation products. To keep it simple, I’ll select up to 3 products in each category.
I’ve already details some of the best TV boxes, and a list of criteria that are important when selecting a TV box in my post entitled What’s the Best Android TV Box (2017/2018 Edition)?, so I’ll provide purchase links to some of the best options.
NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV for best Android TV and gaming experience around $200 on Amazon.
MINIX NEO U9-H for a solid Android experience for 4K videos and audio-passthrough (not Android TV), around $150 on Amazon, GeekBuying, or GearBest.(MINIX NEO A3 air mouse recommended).
Xiaomi Mi Box US for an affordable pure Android TV experience, around $70 at Walmart, but if you don’t live in the US, GeekBuying and GearBest are alternative places to buy, and they often have discount for under $60..
All low power Mini PCs have very much the same features and user experience since they all run the same Windows 10 operating systems. So they usually differentiate themselves in terms of thermal design, WiFi and storage performance, price/performance ratio, and for non-fanless design: noise.
MINIX NEO N42-C is the Intel Apollo Lake model you’ll want to purchase for a mini PC that works consistently under load, even under high ambient temperature. It has a fan, but it’s incredibly quiet, and ships with Windows 10 Pro (activated). Price is around $270 on Amazon.
If you don’t need Windows 10 Pro (i.e. Windows 10 Home is fine), and accept slightly lower performance, I’ve found MeLE PCG35 Apo mini PC to have acceptable performance, and it offers both HDMI and VGA outputs. Price is now around $180 on Aliexpress (Week-end price).
In case you just want to cheapest Windows mini PC you can find for a specific task, and don’t care much about performance, search for x5-Z8350 on Aliexpress, and you’ll find Cherry Trail mini PCs for under $100 shipped.
3D printers have really come down in price, and if you are looking for a model to get started without breaking the bank, I’ve read many recommendations for Anet A8 3D printer. The printer is often sold for under $150 as part of promotions, and the best prices can be found on Chinese websites such as Banggood, GearBest, or GeekBuying.
If you have a budget closer to $400, and requirement for larger builds and better quality, Creality CR-10 is a popular 3D printer. Purchase options include Amazon, eBay, GeekBuying, Banggood, and others.
Note there are variant of CR-10 with CR-10 mini and CR-10S, so make sure which exact model you have selected before completing the purchase
As mentioned in the introduction, I’ll keep the list short here, but if you want more details, I’d recommend you to check my top 10 x86 & Arm Linux development boards.
There’s no way around the Raspberry Pi foundation those days, and if you’re looking to get started, Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ is now (year 2018) the recommended model. Official price (before taxes and shipping) is $35, and you’ll find it easily both in brick & mortar shops and online in places like Element14, RS Components, Amazon, DealExtreme, etc…
If you want something a bit / much more powerful without sacrificing software and community support too much, you should have a look at Hardkernel’s ODROID-C2 (Amlogic S905) or ODROID-XU4(Q) (Exynos 5422) boards going for respectively $40 and $59 + shipping on Hardkernel website, but you’ll also find the boards on Amazon and local distributors, where you may be able to get a better price once shipping and custom duties are taken into account.
I won’t be able to respect my 3 items limit in this section, as in case you want inexpensive boards with decent support, I can recommend both Orange Pi boards sold on Aliexpress, and FriendlyELEC NanoPi boards with prices starting at just around $8. Just make sure you select the ones powered by Allwinner H2+/H3/H5 for best support, and go with Armbian firmware images. Those boards are however not recommended to pure beginners.
If you’re looking for the most popular MCU board, then the obvious choice is to go with one of the Arduino boards such as Arduino UNO sold for $22.00 on the official website. I’d recommend you buy at least some of the board there to keep the project going, but if you are on a tight budget, there are plenty of clones going for as low as $3 shipped.
If you want to play with a board with some Wireless connectivity, I’d recommend Wemos D1 mini board based on ESP8266 WiFi SoC, selling for just under $6 including worldwide shipping, and supporting various mini add-on boards.
One of my favorite product family for home automation is ITEAD Studio Sonoff offering various WiFi and 433MHz RF wireless switches, smart sockets, or light bulbs. You can either use them with the stock firmware and Android/iOS mobile apps, and flash them with open source firmware such as ESPurna or Sonoff-Tasmota. You’ll find the products on ITEAD Studio store with prices starting at $3.50. I’m personally using Sonoff TH16 and Sonoff POW – with power consumption monitoring – models.
If you want to control RGB LED strip over WiFi, then H801 WiFi LED controller appears to be a good choice as it sells for around $10 on Aliexpress or eBay, and beside the stock firmware, it is also supported by about the same open source firmware as Sonoff devices.