Review: Rock64 Single-board Computer



Although the Raspberry Pi may have started the SBC (Single-Board Computer) revolution, it is certainly not alone in this space vying for the would-be tinkerer & small project hobbyist’s hard earned dollars. For all its wonders, the Raspberry Pi really lacks one thing: Speed. Enter another competitor into the ring – the Rock64 from Pine64.org. Released July’17, the Rock64, as we will see, is indeed a solid competitor at an attractive price point that would surely turn some heads! Is it a “Raspberry Pi killer”? Read on to find out…

Overview

How does it Stack Up?

Let the specs speak for themseleves…

First and foremost, let’s talk about the Rock64’s CPU & RAM. The Rockchip RK3328 is faster than the Broadcom processor found on the most current Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, and for $35 USD, gets you double the RAM as well. Here are the RAM configurations for the Rock64: 1Gb ($25), 2Gb ($35) and 4Gb ($45).

Continuing with some the differences, we see that the Rock64 has one less USB but makes that up in a stellar way by the inclusion of a USB 3.0 port and Gigabit Ethernet. These two features alone, would do away with the two main bottlenecks that continue to plague the Raspberry Pi family of SBC’s. In fact, many tinkerers have initially considered the Raspberry Pi as a possible SBC for building a low-power storage server (using Openmediavault) but only to be shot down with the realization that the Raspberry Pi still only has USB 2.0 and 100Mbit Ethernet. The Rock64 changes that…

Another important inclusion is that of a bootable eMMC socket, which benefits are two fold; first, it finally does away with the pesky SD-Card corruption issue that we’ve seen so often on the Raspberry Pi, and second, access times are improved and quicker than even the most expensive micro SD card on a Raspberry Pi.

As for heat sink & power, unless you’re doing 4K video, you can probably get by without one as the chip runs relatively cool and the Rock64 takes in a 5 Volts 3 Amps power input in the form of a 3.5mm barrel style connector.

In terms of the GPIO header, the Rock64 supports the typical 40 GPIO pins (quasi-Raspberry Pi compatible) and a secondary header block compatible with the Raspberry Pi P5 header.

Rock64: GPIO Header

Rock64: GPIO Header

Downsides though (as there always are) are the lack of WiFi + Bluetooth and a Pi-compatible camera port. Too bad, as that would have been the icing on the cake in terms of hardware. And of course, a vibrant community and solid application support will be key to what drives the Rock64 going forward (as well as future Pine64 offerings). It’s no secret that it’s the community that drives hardware and is what makes the RPi such a popular device, unfortunately few SBC manufacturers can boast that sort of community footprint.

Verdict

Ok so let’s recap some of the Rock64’s pros/cons.

Pluses

– The Rockchip is faster than the Broadcom processor found on the current Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+
– 4K 60fps output, making this a great board if you’ve invested in a 4K-capable monitor or want to hook it up to a 4K TV
– Inclusion of a bootable eMMC socket alongside the more typical MicroSD
– One less USB 2.0 port (2x) but does have USB 3.0 (1x)
– Gigabit LAN
– Raspberry Pi form factor
– Power and reset buttons and IR receiver port

Minuses

– No wireless/bluetooth
– No camera port
– Lack of the Raspberry Pi’s bustling online community

Software

As of this review, software support isn’t too shabby and improving day-by-day. The Rock64 runs Android 7.x (check out ayufan-rock64), various versions of Linux (Debian, Xenial Mate, Yockto Linux, Slackware, Volumio, OpenMediaVault, Recalbox, etc), and even LibreELEC! (alpha)

There’s a wiki where you can download software images here. I also urge you take a look at the Rock64 forums for more information and/or community support.

As for installing images, the Pink64 folks have adapted the popular Etcher tool to save users the extra steps of finding links on the web, downloading the image then finding the file on the local system. The tool can be downloaded here.

Conclusion

If you just want a fast, affordable single board computer running Linux, then the Rock64 is certainly worth considering. And for $10 more than the Raspberry Pi you get double the memory as well as a faster processor, 4K output, Gigabit LAN and USB 3.0, tempting indeed!

The Rock64 is, in my opinion, a solid contender as far as SBC platforms go at an attractive price point and if you can get past the lack of WiFi + Bluetooth, it’s a stellar performer. Alas, we can definitely expect to see more great things from Pine64 and I for one, will be on the look out!

You can buy the Rock64 Media Board Computer from the Pine64 site via this link.

Thank you to Pine64 for sending in this product for review. The content above represents my own opinion and not that of the Pine64 company.

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