Back in the chilly month of December 2015 Pine64 launched their Kickstarter campaign. Hoping to raise funding to help bring their new single board. The Pine A64, from prototype to manufacture for distribution. After a successful campaign raising over one million dollars, many times the original Kickstarter target of thirty two thousand dollars, the Pine A64 went into production.
Now a year has passed since the Pine A64 launch, what has the last 12 months from launch, been like for this original take on the single board computer market?
The Pine A64 Kickstarter, launched to quite a lot of fan fair, a 64 bit ARM A53 chip clocked at 1.2 Ghz, Mali 400 GPU, up to 2GB of DDR3 RAM, 4k HDMI out, 2 USB ports and finally a gigabit Ethernet port. The idea being that this singe board would be more powerful than the Raspberry Pi 2 B+, at nearly half the price. Below is the table from the Kickstarter campaign showing the specification break down for the Pine A64:-
A total of three different flavours of Pine A64 were available to potential backers of the Kickstarter campaign. The $15 Pine A64 with a total of 512MB of on-board RAM, a slightly more pricey (though still less than the Raspberry Pi B) $19 Pine A64 with 1GB of RAM and finally the Pine A64+ with a whopping 2GB of on board DDR3 RAM. Throughout the Kickstarter backers where constantly fed updates and information about the progress of the Pine64 project. All was looking well with this Kickstarter project, regular updates along with reasonable expectations of what could be achieved. Once the campaign had finished backers were given the option to include a wide range of add-ons to their original pledge amount. These included lithium ion batteries, power supplies, wifi modules and touch screen displays. One could spend a small fortune on these additional items, this is not to say they were overpriced, just that the range launch peripherals was extensive.
However it wasn’t until after the campaign ended is when the first problems started to set in, with backers complaining that their Kickstarter pledges, were not being completely fulfilled. On top of missing parts backers also experienced boards and modules which were dead on arrival. Personally, I had an issue with the board I received. Which showed no sign of life. Thankfully after a message to their customer service team, a fresh board was sent out to me.
Like the Raspberry Pi the board on its own would not be enough to start enjoying the power available to Pine A64 users. One would need an SD card. Unlike the Raspberry Pi the Pine A64 works best with 8GB size SD card or greater.
Raspberry Pi has its own operating system in Raspbian specially coded to make the most out of that single board machine, making it very easy for brand new users to get started. The Pine A64 on the other hand, had a range of operating systems you could choose from, included in this list (and why I was interested in the board) was a ported version of the Android operating system.
One of the best (in my opinion) OS options, in this extensive list. Which is suggested for use with the more powerful 1GB Pine A64 as well as the Pine A64+ 2B versions, is Remix OS. I lovely looking operating system with integrated google play store allowing users to install the wide range of available applications and games on their Pine 64.
One thing that separates a good single board computer from a great project platform, is an active community of makers and educators sharing their experiments with the world at large. Unfortunately Pine 64 suffered from the lack of this type of community, for the first couple of weeks after the Kickstarter bakers started to get their hands on the boards. Though over the past year, the community of makers behind the Pine 64 has grown at a rapid pace. Now a quick Google search reveals a huge collection of project inspiration. Personally I’m collecting the parts to make a Pine tablet.
So the Pine A64 supports a huge range of OS options, is a 64 bit chip and can come with up to 2GB of ram on board. So surely this means that the Raspberry Pi is now old hat! The new kid on the block has arrived to take the single board computer crown, right?
Well not exactly. Yes the Pine A64 was launched with a 64 bit core and the amount of RAM in the Pine 64+ is impressive, and if you are looking for an interesting alternative for the Raspberry Pi then you can’t do much better than this impressive SoB. There are several things keeping the Pine 64 off the throne of the Single Board kingdom. The first one, being that soon after the Pine 64 started reaching the Kickstarter backers Raspberry Pi announced that they would be bringing out a new Raspberry Pi, the Raspberry Pi 3. Supporting a 64 bit core, 1GB of RAM and unlike the Pine A64, built-in wifi and Bluetooth. The second reason, the size of the community which helps bring this board together. The Raspberry Pi has been around longer, and so it stands to reason that their community is more established. Providing a larger range of projects which users can either make themselves or use as inspiration. Although given time with the Pine A64 out in the market and more people being able to get their hands on the board this will become less of an issue.
The final issue, is the overall physical dimensions of the board itself. As can be seen in the image above. Coming in at 133mm L x 80mm W the Pine 64 is 48mm longer and 24 mm wider than the Raspberry Pi 3, meaning that if your project has very limiting size requirements, then you may struggle in getting the Pine A64 to fit.
Though if you don’t mind the size difference and want a powerful low cost single board machine for a project or two, then you can’t go wrong with the Pine A64. Personally I think that the sweet spot for this board is the 1GB model at $19 it is a whole ten dollars cheaper than the Raspberry Pi 3. Also a market which has more competition surely can’t be bad. I’m looking forward to watching the Pine A64 grow in popularity, along with an ever increasing community behind the board, the future looks great for this Raspberry Pi alternative.