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!

Turnkey Chia farming with Evergreen Miner, and making your own compact farmer

Disclosures at the end, as usual

A few years ago, a turnkey desktop container/VM platform from Antsle came along, and I thought “this is cool, but I bet I could make one myself.” You can read about that here on rsts11.

Earlier this month I saw a low power Pi-based project similar to the Antsle Nano (which I did build on my own) come out for Chia farming. The project, Evergreen Miner (evergreenminer.com), is the brainchild of a young geek named Dylan Rose who’s worked with Amazon and other companies and has begun an interesting forward-looking Chia project to really bring Chia farming to the masses.

I’ve written about building your own Chia system, and lots of people (tens of thousands at least) have done so. But some people aren’t up for the space, expense, time, tuning, software building, and so forth to make a node and farm.

However, a lot of people could benefit from the technology and platform and even more into the future as the ecosystem matures. So the idea of a turnkey platform that’s relatively easy to build and maintain and expand, even without plotting on your own, sounds pretty good.

Think all of the functionality and potential of Chia, with the ease of setup and management of a typical mobile app, and of course the power draw of an LED light bulb or two. No hardware or Linux or filesystem or SAS knowledge required.

Continue reading

Money Pit: 3D Printing Part 3 – OctoPrint and OctoPi

This is one topic in a series of what I’m calling “money pit” projects. To be fair, it’ll be money and time pit topics, and nothing that you’d really have to get a second mortgage on your house to do… but things always get a bit out of hand.

This project is the 3D Printing project. Expect it to be an ongoing series, and I’m hoping to have some friends join the effort and offer their feedback as well. Links and prices are accurate as of November 2020, and may get updated in the future… but don’t count on it.

See the previous parts for the lead-in to this project. From here we’ll get into the enhancements and early printing.

Octopi / OctoPrint

The first day or two, I was running out to the garage to check on prints, and shuttling the included 8GB MicroSD card back and forth to load print files onto it. Since the only storage the printer has is this MicroSD card, I couldn’t add files during a print run, and it got somewhat tiring.

Enter OctoPrint and OctoPi.

OctoPrint is an open-source management program and web front-end for many/most 3D printers. It communicates with the printer over a USB cable. It can be installed on a Linux, Windows, or MacOS computer. However, you might not want to dedicate a full-sized computer to this task.

OctoPi is a Raspbian (Raspberry Pi Debian image) based distribution with Octoprint and the video streamer software included. you just need a Pi 3B or later board (and case and power supply) and an SD card with OctoPi installed. Older boards will work, but with the camera option or other intense plugins (like gcode viewers) you won’t like it according to the folks behind OctoPrint and OctoPi. Continue reading

Money Pit: 3D Printing Part 2 – First Round of Enhancements

This is one topic in a series of what I’m calling “money pit” projects. To be fair, it’ll be money and time pit topics, and nothing that you’d really have to get a second mortgage on your house to do… but things always get a bit out of hand.

This project is the 3D Printing project. Expect it to be an ongoing series, and I’m hoping to have some friends join the effort and offer their feedback as well.

See the previous part (The Back Story, The Rationale, and The Assembly) for the lead-in to this project. From here we’ll get into the enhancements and early printing.

Our first round of enhancements include:

  • Power protection
  • Metal extruder and printed filament guide
  • PEI print bed
  • Upgraded Bowden tubing

I mentioned OctoPi / OctoPrint in the first installment, so I’ll leave the details out this time other than to say you really should set one of these up. Let me know in the comments if you’d like more details in a future post. 

Continue reading

Money Pit: 3D Printing Part 1 – The Back Story, The Rationale, and The Assembly

This is one topic in a series of what I’m calling “money pit” projects. To be fair, it’ll be money and time pit topics, and nothing that you’d really have to get a second mortgage on your house to do… but things always get a bit out of hand.

This project is the 3D Printing project. The second part is available at First Round of Enhancements and part 3 should be out within a week. 

The Back Story

It all goes back to five or so years ago, when I bought a couple of Banana Pro single board computers from LeMaker in France.The Banana Pro was a Raspberry Pi-inspired board, but with gigabit Ethernet and external SATA on board. Great idea, but they didn’t sell as much as the RPi, so the accessory market was a lot lighter. I think there were 4 cases I found in the past 5 years, many of which were not readily available in the US.

I did order a few cases from China that had a section for the SATA drive, and stocked up on cables for the SATA drives. But I wasn’t too happy with what was out there.I found some of the 3D printer sites where people had built some cases, and thought “someday I’ll get a printer and make some cases.” I said that about every year for 4 years.

Then earlier this year, some more usable cluster kits came onto the used market from the now-defunct rabb.it startup. By “some,” I mean about a thousand of them. (Click on the photo below if you want to buy one of the kits yourself. It is an eBay partner network link but I have no association with the seller other than as a buyer of one cluster kit so far.)Single Board Computer Array with Intel NUC5PPYH and NVIDIA Jetson TK1They each contain ten NUC5PPYB quad-core pentium NUC machines and five NVIDIA Jetson TK1 dev boards. I pondered it for several months (not as long as the printer), finally bought one, and it showed up a week later. (I’ll write more about that project separately, and you can read my friend Stephen Foskett’s Pack Rat series about the rabb.it clusters here.)

About the same time, I broke down and bought a Creality Ender 3 Pro printer from my local geek shop, Central Computers. Central also stocks the Creality-branded filament for $20 per 1kg roll, and they’re about four miles from home. You can also buy directly from Creality, or choose some sellers on Amazon like SainsmartContinue reading