The original Pine A64, hailed by many as a “Raspberry Pi killer” during its crowdfunding campaign, shipped to backers to somewhat poor reviews back in 2015. However after a lot of work by the manufacturer, software support for the board is now much improved. The recent release of the Pinebook by the same team, despite some initial teething problems, proved to be a solid product for the price. So the upcoming release of their new ROCK64 board could well prove rather interesting.
Unlike the team’s previous products, which were based around Allwinner processors, the ROCK64 uses the new Rockchip RK3328 chip—a 64-bit Quad-Core ARM Cortex A53. While support for the new chip is still very much in the ‘early days’ stages, the RK3328 is cheap, and available. Unlike some ARM chips used elsewhere, it should also continue to be so for some time to come. The move to the new processor makes sense.
The new board will support up to 4GB of RAM, and provides an onboard eMMC module socket, microSD card slot, Gigabit Ethernet, 2×USB 2.0 sockets, a USB 3.0 socket, and support for 4K60P. It also has an IR port.
However perhaps the most interesting thing about the board is not the features, but its shape. Like the Arduino before it the Raspberry Pi form factor is starting to become a defacto standard. In recent months we’ve seen the big commercial products like the Tinker board, as well as smaller hobby projects like the Z-Berry, duplicate the form factor.
Unlike the Pine A64, which actually came in for some criticism over its larger size, the new board looks like a Raspberry Pi. It should in fact fit in cases made for the Pi without any problems. It also comes with a Raspberry Pi compatible 40-pin header block, and a secondary header block compatible with the Raspberry Pi P5 header.
The new board should be available in July, but what isn’t clear just yet is the price. Computing that is “good enough” for most purposes is now available incredibly cheaply. So increasingly manufacturers are competing, not on features, but budget. With Intel discontinuing support for their boards I think it’s clearer than ever that the maker market is amazingly price sensitive.