Datasheet Directories

Open-Spec SBCs

Written by Jeff Child

Focus on Low Cost

Whether used for DIY projects or as prototypes for professional designs, open-spec SBCs provide a quality, low-cost solution for embedded computing. Developed by community-backed groups like the Raspberry Pi Foundation and private manufacturers, these boards offer rich computing and connectivity features at affordable prices.

  • What’s happening in Open-Spec SBCs?

  • Firefly’s ROC-RK3308B-CC Plus

  • FriendlyElec’s NanoPi Neo3

  • FriendlyElec’s NanoPi R2S router

  • Hardkernel’s Odroid-C4

  • Orange Pi R1 Plus router board

  • Orange Pi Zero2 SBC

  • Pine64’s PineCube

  • Radxa’s Rock Pi E

  • Raspberry Pi 4

The number of available open-spec single board computers (SBCs) continues to multiply. For our purposes, we loosely define “open spec” as boards ranging from those with community resources to strong open-source software support to open schematics and open licensing. One important characteristic of these SBCs is they tend to be a lot lower in price than traditional commercial boards. That said, readers should be clear-eyed about why these open-spec SBCs are cheaper. Open-spec boards are great for maker projects and prototyping, but they are very different than an SBC supplied by a commercial vendor that can ensure long lifecycle support. Commercial SBC vendors will take on the burden of parts obsolescence for customers in ways that open spec SBC suppliers really aren’t set up to do.

Circuit Cellar’s sister website LinuxGizmos.com publishes a comprehensive catalog of open-spec SBCs each year. Its most recent version, posted in January 2021, included 150 open-spec Linux SBCs [1]. The catalog provides updated summaries of 150 community-backed and predominantly open-spec Linux/Android hacker boards under $200.

The intro piece for LinuxGizmos’ 2021 catalog examined the highlights and trends of the 33 newest boards from 2020 and provided price/performance and feature matrix charts. Because there obviously isn’t space in this Datasheet section to detail even the just the new boards from the catalog, here we’ve decided instead to round-up the lowest priced products among those 33 SBCs. We’ve also included the Raspberry Pi 4B for comparison’s sake even though it wasn’t a 2020 product. That’s because Raspberry Pi is the most popular by far of today’s crop of open-spec SBCs.

An example project using an open-spec Raspberry Pi SBC was written up by regular Circuit Cellar author Devlin Gualtieri is his article “Machine Vision Random Number Generator: Using the Raspberry Pi” [2]. In the article, Dev presents a random number generator project that uses machine vision to acquire true randomness from a physical source (Figure 1). His machine vision physical random number generator is built around the Raspberry Pi, a YoLuke HD Webcam, an LED light source and an LCD connected to the I2C-capable GPIO pins of the Raspberry Pi.

Figure 1
This machine vision physical random number generator is built around the Raspberry Pi, a YoLuke HD Webcam, an LED light source and an LCD connected to the I2C-capable GPIO pins of the Raspberry Pi.

PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • SEPTEMBER 2021 #374 – Get a PDF of the issue


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Editor-in-Chief at Circuit Cellar | Website | + posts

Jeff Child has more than 28 years of experience in the technology magazine business—including editing and writing technical content, and engaging in all aspects of magazine leadership and production. He joined the Circuit Cellar after serving as Editor-in-Chief of COTS Journal for over 10 years. Over his career Jeff held senior editorial positions at several of leading electronic engineering publications, including EE Times and Electronic Design and RTC Magazine. Before entering the world of technology journalism, Jeff worked as a design engineer in the data acquisition market.

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Open-Spec SBCs

by Jeff Child time to read: 2 min