Alternatives to the Raspberry Pi for Home Automation

Posted on Posted in Beginner, Guides, Reviews

The Raspberry Pi is probably the most well-known platform for home automation projects and other small projects for the DIY person. While the Raspberry Pi has an enormous community that can’t be underestimated, it’s not always the best option. Port options are limited; there are certain hardware limitations (such as the sound quality); and, of course, software needs to built specifically for the Pi’s ARM architecture which can limit your software options in some cases. As a result, we’ve put together this list of alternatives to the Raspberry Pi that can replace your Raspberry Pi in the right use cases, as noted below.

BeagleBone Black

If you want to stick close to the spirit of the Raspberry Pi but upgrade to something with more connectivity options, the BeagleBone Black might be a worthwhile option. While the device is only slightly more expensive than the Raspberry Pi 3, it comes with a more powerful processor (AM335x 1GHz ARM® Cortex-A8 to the Pi’s 700 MHz ARM1176JZFS) and on-board storage. The 4GB of on-board storage means that your operating system won’t require an SD card (although they are obviously supported), which can add some stability to the system since the SD cards are generally the most likely point of failure – especially when they’re used in systems where a lot of read-write operations are likely to occur. Since all devices come with the on-board storage, you will even receive a version of Debian pre-installed on the device, which should reduce the time it takes to make the device operational.

Where this device really shines, however, is the additional input/output pins. While the Raspberry Pi 3 offers a 40-pin header that offers 28 GPIO pins, the BeagleBone board offers two separate 46-pin headers that more than double the number of GPIO pins that are available. If you intend to be adding multiple add-on boards or wiring devices directly to the board, the BeagleBone has a clear advantage.

ASUS SBC Tinker Board RK3288

If you feel limited by the Raspberry Pi’s performance, the ASUS Tinker Board will give you a substantial upgrade while still staying with the ARM architecture of the Raspberry Pi. The Tinker Board is slightly more expensive than the Raspberry Pi, but it uses a much more powerful 1.8 GHz quad-core ARM processor and a Mali-T760 dedicated graphics chip, making this a Raspberry Pi alternative with some serious muscle. The Tinker Board also comes with 2 GB of memory, double the amount available on the Raspberry Pi, and gigabit ethernet. The Tinker Board also supplies HD audio and video output, so if you’re looking for something to act as a replacement to the Raspberry Pi to power your home audio system, the Tinker Board is actually cheaper than using a Raspberry Pi with a DAC.

To mix things up a little, the Tinker Board also officially supports a build of the Android (Marshmallow) operating system that can be installed on the device instead of the standard Linux builds that folks are probably used to. The build does not come with the Google Play store by default, but there are guides for getting the store onto the device. Installing Android could open up some interesting options (Android TV, perhaps?), and the device has the power to run many of the most popular android apps.

Intel NUC MiniPCs

For a Completely different take, the Intel NUC MiniPCs offer a traditional PC architecture with a ton of hardware choices. Depending on your requirements, the device can be purchased with anything from a low-end Celeron processor with 2GB of memory up to the latest i7 processors and 32GB of memory. Even the lowest-end Celeron processors still place the device head-and-shoulders above the other devices on this list. No matter which hardware is selected, all of the devices will support 4k video output, 7.1 audio, and USB 3.0. If purchasing one of these devices, it’s worth noting that the system can be purchased with or without the hard drive already installed, which could lead to an unfortunate surprise to a purchaser.

Since this is really just a small PC with mostly standard hardware, the user can install a wide selection of operating systems. If you want to emulate the Raspberry experience, you can easily install a Debian-based version of Linux on the machine and run most — if not all — of the same software that you may have been using on the Raspberry Pi. After all, most of the packages available on the Raspberry Pi are just rebuilt standard Debian packages.

Android is also a supported option, and Intel specifically offers Android Images for the NUC. However, once you have installed the official build of Android for the NUC, you will notice that many packages will not be compatible with the x86 architecture of the NUC.

Of course, you can also just install the latest version of Windows 10 on the device, and you will be able to use all of the standard x86 windows software that you would expect.

The price for the device ranges greatly depending on what hardware options are selected, but the lowest-end options (which are really the only ones that belong in this list, anyways) are still very reasonably priced.