Pi in the sky: Seven tips for finding the single board computer of your dreams

2022-07-03: Updated for AtomicPi

Raspberry Pi boards have been intermittently available this year. They’re still very useful, but your odds of going into a retailer and picking up a few at list price are about as good as Ethereum hitting $5k this month. In other words, don’t hold your breath.

That being said, this type of single board computer is not completely unobtainable, even in today’s supply-chain-constrained market. Here are seven tips for finding the SBC of your dreams. 

1. Check local retailers

This is a long shot, but for some people in some regions, it may still work. My local shop, Central Computers in Silicon Valley, has had them intermittently for a couple of months at reasonable prices. 

2. Check official distributors 

You can find sellers of the Pi boards on the official Raspberry Pi website. Stock may vary from day to day, and preorders may be possible, so check early and often if you’re pursuing this option. 

3. Check Amazon

Right now, I see a number of shippable Pi 4 boards in 4GB and 8Gb on Amazon. They’re pricey, with the 4GB board around $144 and the 8GB board around $195. But if you have to have it for work, or if you’ve found a way to profit majorly from using one of these boards, it may be the way to go. 

4. Consider kits

You may be thinking “I don’t need a power supply, a microSD card, a case, and all the other stuff,” but even when backorders weren’t considered, I saw starter kits with the Pi 4 board available in quantity at the above options. Right now, my local shop has the Okdo starter kit with the 8GB board for $160, limit one per customer. The bare board is $90 but out of stock, as are all of the standalone boards. So if you need access to a board soon (hopefully with someone else footing the bill), this is a very viable option. 

5. Can I interest you in a Pi400?

The Raspberry Pi 400 computer is a Pi 4b equivalent in a different form factor. The board should have the same performance as a 4GB Pi4b, and even when boards and kits were unavailable, the Pi 400 was readily available in a standalone unit at about $80 or a kit with power adapter for $110. Prices on Amazon are a bit higher (like $120 for the standalone or $180 for the kit), but still lower than the 4GB standalone board mentioned at Amazon above.  

You won’t be able to use your Pi cases or enclosures with the Pi 400, since it’s wider, but you can consider building your own stand or looking on Thingiverse and the like for 3d-printable enclosures for these boards. 

See Jeff Geerling’s “Raspberry Pi 400 Teardown” blog post and video to see what’s inside and how you might be able to repurpose the board for your needs. 

6. Check your local marketplaces for new or used boards

You may find some boards locally on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Nextdoor, or the like. eBay is also an option, but it may or may not be local. As I write this post, I see boards in my extended area from $200-325 on Craigslist, and surprisingly $120 and up on Facebook. Someone is selling a complete 8-node cluster, including 6 8GB and 2 2GB boards (and power supply, network switch, tower case, etc) for $1000, which is pretty reasonable for the current market.

With these local marketplace options, be sure to buy locally, and if possible, try the board out before paying (if it’s not sealed). With eBay, read the ad carefully and be aware of buyer protections available to you.

7. Look into other small computer options

Raspberry Pi is the most famous card-sized board, probably with the longest run and best name recognition, But you can also look at things from the RockPi boards to ODROID, to LattePanda x86.

Intel NUC (NUC5PPYB/NUC5PPYH) on a 3d-printed stand with memory and HDMI dummy plug.

You may also be able to find bare board Intel NUC systems (like the remnants of the legendary Rabbit doors from a few years ago) that, while not exactly as tiny and requiring a bit more than 3-5 watts, may well do what you need. 

See the Rabbit Overview (October 2020)
and the Rabbit Launch system build (December 2021)

For example, there are some i3 and even i7 boards here on eBay for as low as $95 shipped (searching under the “motherboard” category). When I searched under “Desktops & All-in-Ones” I found some of the old Rabbit boards (quad core Pentium with Gigabit Ethernet) for around $50 each. You’ll have to add a DDR3 SODIMM, a power supply, and probably storage of some sort, but even then you can get a 4GB system for around $100 or so. 

NVI

If you don’t need an ultra-modern OS, you can also look into systems like the Jetson Nano (which I believe easily runs Ubuntu 18), or even Jetson TK1 (Ubuntu 14/16) from NVIDIA. These outdated boards are still quite interesting, and have many uses if you can “outsource” the security to a system with a newer platform.

And yet another option I found after posting this – Digital Loggers, a Silicon Valley company better known for their Ethernet-connected power controllers (mentioned in a previous post and used in my shop) are apparently the folks behind the AtomicPi Intel Atom-based single board computer. It takes a little bit more work to power, but for $50 you get a board based on the Atom x5-Z8350 1.44GHz CPU with 2GB RAM and 16GB EMMC on board, a breakout board, and an AI camera module. 

Unlike the other boards mentioned, I have not tried this one, but it’s worth a look if you can handle the limitations and get your 5V 3A power into it yourself. 

Where do we go from here?

I’m realizing I have a few boards that may be worth dusting off and using, or even selling. There’s a Pi 3b+ cluster in need of an expansion, and some other projects in the works for the upcoming holiday weekend. 

What are you doing with single board computers, and have you found any tips and tricks I missed? Share in the comments!

Three ways to build low profile Chia (and forks) nodes

This is another piece on a part of the Chia and cryptocurrency landscapes. See previous posts at https://rsts11.com/crypto

Need to set up a lightweight VPN to get into your low profile node remotely? Check out Stephen Foskett’s writeup on Zerotier. I’m using it on my Pi nodes to reduce NAT layers.

Many if not most Chia farmers run a full node on their farming / plotting machine. Some larger farms will use the remote harvester model, with a single full node and several machines farming plots on local storage. 

If you’re using Flexfarmer from Flexpool, or just want a supplemental node (maybe to speed up your own resyncing, or to supplement decentralization on the Chia network), you might want a dedicated node that doesn’t farm or plot. And for that use case, you don’t really need dual EPYC or AMD Threadripper machines. 

In fact, a well-planned Raspberry Pi 4B 4GB or 8GB system, with an external USB drive, will do quite well for this use. If you want to do a few forks as well, or another blockchain full node, a moderately-recent Intel NUC would do quite well for not much more. 

So here we’ll look at three builds to get you going. Note that any of these can run a full node plus Flexfarmer if you want, or just a full node. 

If you don’t already have Chia software and a full node installed, go ahead and install and sync the node on a full scale PC. it may save you five days of waiting. My original build for this use case was to test the blockchain syncing time from scratch.

Syncing from a semi-optimal Pi 4B from scratch took about 8 days, for what it’s worth. One member of the Chia public Keybase forum reported about 28 hours to sync on an Intel Core i5 12600k. 

Caveat: Raspberry Pi boards are a bit more challenging to find and even harder to find anywhere near the frequently-touted $35 price point, or even under $150. And for Chia nodes, you want a minimum of the 4GB Pi 4B (8GB wouldn’t hurt). So while it’s possible to run on older hardware, it’s not recommended.

 

You might also be able to run on a Pi400 (the Raspberry Pi 4B in a keyboard case, which is much easier to find for $100 or so, complete). I plan to test this soon.

 

Raspberry Pi with external USB SSD. 

This was my initial build, and today it’s running at the Andromedary Instinct providing an accessible full node for about 10-15 watts maximum. 

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Titanic, Hindenburg, and My Management Mindset

As some of my readers know, I’ve taken the last year off from the corporate world. I’ve done some things on my own, sold some things on eBay, and worked as a contractor for a mining pool. Now that I’m back into interviews, one thing I get asked more than ever before is about my management style.

I prefer to think of it as a management mindset, as the style would adjust to each minion’s needs and “work language” for lack of a better term. And despite relatively little formal management training, I’ve come to a coherent and occasionally appreciated position.

You can only be as good a manager as your manager is to you.

A large part of team management is proxying in both directions between the people who report to you, and the person or people you report to. Your reach and control is probably limited — you can’t usually spend more than the budget allows on salary, or eliminate 7am calls for your west coast team because a manager three levels up wants 10am meetings from his east coast office.

But on a more granular level, if your own manager isn’t supportive of what you need for your employees, there’s only so much you can do to make that happen. This is often because your manager’s manager is limited, and on up many levels.

This can be an uncomfortable maxim to present to a prospective or current manager, as some will take it as a personal affront. But good managers (leaders) will understand that it’s reality, and they can’t do more for you than their manager permits (generally speaking). They probably know it even if they haven’t specifically thought about it.

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It’s the most cable-tastic time of the year: Review some accounts you may be able to improve on

Today’s post comes with apologies to my international readers, especially my esteemed non-US Tech Field Day colleagues, who may or may not benefit from today’s quick take that ended up not being so quick again.

As my American readers will know, there are monthly expenditures that are painful and rarely decrease over time.

Some, like apartment rent and self storage, are downright predatory by design–try getting the advertised new tenant rate when you’ve lived in an apartment for a year or more. If you’re lucky, they’ll let you move into a different apartment, pay overlapping rent during the move, put a new deposit down and wait a month or two for the old one to be returned, and then get something close to the advertised rates. And in a recent self-storage experience, I was given two choices on upgrading a storage space: Pay full price (and expect a rent hike within 2-3 months of course), or get the advertised price for the new space as long as I paid full price for the old (soon-to-be-empty) space for three full months.

It’s not all bad though

But you can find unexpected opportunities to save, especially (in my experience) with cable companies, who have a suboptimal reputation when it comes to customer service. Some cellular providers can also work this way, although it can be a bit rougher.

It helps to do some homework first, so here’s what I’d suggest you do.

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Splash Mountain Syndrome – It’s not what you think

A couple months ago my friend Christopher asked his friends about getting comfortable with public speaking. I’ve told this story to small crowds from time to time, but never put it all out there… so here is how I contracted Splash Mountain Syndrome, and what it meant to my public speaking career.

Most of my readers are familiar with Impostor Syndrome, where you doubt you’re good enough to do your job or tell your story, or that there must be someone better out there. Most if not all of us in tech have dealt with this at one time or another, feeling like the turtle on the fencepost.

Image via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Splash_Mountain_at_Disneyland.JPG (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

We’re going to Disneyland

Well, to explain what I experienced in my speaking career at Cisco, we have to go back to spring 2003. I was between jobs, and had gone down to Southern California to spend a weekend with a lady I was interested in. We went to the grand opening of Amoeba Records Hollywood, and also made my first trip to Disneyland.

She stood in line for nearly an hour with me for the Winnie the Pooh ride, so when she wanted to go on Splash Mountain, I figured I shouldn’t start letting her down quite so early in the relationship. So we went to Splash Mountain. The line was faster there for some reason.

As we went up on the ride to the top, I wondered if it was too late to back out. Maybe hop out at the basketball court and walk down, and probably get kicked out of the park. As we got closer to the mouth of the mountain, it became clear that I had no option but to hold on for dear life and deal with it. And as we emerged into the light, my legs clamped on the log car, I closed my eyes, and dropped.

As we walked away, I asked my companion if she’d heard a noise like a small rodent being strangled. “Yes,” she said. “That was you.”

How this applies to public speaking

I can say that it was more distance than drop ride disappointment that kept that from being a long term relationship, but similar feelings happened almost every time I got ready to travel for a speaking engagement.

I’d be eager to sign up for an event, whether a partner conference or partner sales event, Strata+Hadoop World, or Cisco Live. But the closer it got, even if I already had my presentation pretty much committed to memory, I’d start to think I made a terrible mistake, that I would dread the whole trip, that I’d get my first heckler, or that I should just let someone in marketing handle it.

The dread would intensify as I was packing, probably because even after six years of work travel, I still sucked at packing efficiently (I’m still not that great, despite lots of YouTube videos). But I’d still finish up the packing, with a laptop bag heavier than my clothing and coffee bag, and head off to Seattle or Atlanta or Manhattan or Las Vegas or Denver or wherever.

Of course, I’d do fine, entertain people with the fairly unique mix of facts, experience, humor, cultural references, and sarcasm that I became known for, and get good feedback afterward. We’d find a good restaurant for dinner, and then move on to the next adventure.

But the next time a trip came up, I’d go through the same cycle. At least I didn’t make the noise again.

As Martha Stewart would say, it’s a good thing

I think it was a good thing. I’ve seen speakers who are way too comfortable and lose their edge, their connection with the audience, or even their talk track. We’ve all been in sessions where the speaker is there because of title and clout rather than their scintillating message and delivery; I wonder how many of those people have lost Splash Mountain.

Splash Mountain Syndrome helped keep me on my toes, and definitely made sure that I didn’t get so comfortable with my content that I went into autopilot and lost audiences and credibility. It still led to an uncomfortable hour or more leading up to my trips, but I came out of it stronger and more confident.

Have you experienced anything like Splash Mountain Syndrome? Have any tips for people preparing for pulbic speaking? Share in the comments if you’d be so kind.