YouTube Talk: Evaluating 9 of the Best Single Board Computers for Ham Radio SDR Systems

Over on YouTube the Ham Radio 2.0 channel has recently uploaded a talk that Scotty Cowling (WA2DFI) did at the 2018 TAPR digital communications conference. His talk centers around single board computers and his findings on the nine best single board computers (SBC) for ham radio SDR setups.

Scotty's talk begins by discussing why you'd want to use SBCs in your ham radio SDR setup, and explains why you might want to place them with the SDR close to the antenna, and then distribute the data over ethernet cable. He then reviews 9 boards listed below: 

  • Hardkernel Odroid C1
  • Raspberry Pi 3B
  • Hardkernel Odroid XU4
  • ASUS Tinker S
  • FriendlyElec NanoPC-T4
  • Pine64 RockPro64
  • 96 Boards Mediatek X20
  • 96 Boards HiKey 960
  • UDOO X86 Ultra

The boards are compared against CPU clock speeds, architecture, cache, debut year, RAM, boot ROM, bus speeds, OS support, and more. Scotty also discusses the need for low latency operation, but is yet to compare this on the boards. The best value for money boards that Scotty recommends end up being the Odroid XU4, Tinkerboard, NanoPC-T4 and the RockPro64.

Ham Radio 2.0: Episode 151 - Evaluating 9 of the Best Single Board Computers for Modern SDR Systems

8 comments

    • Val

      Odroid XU4, according to the article, and then ASUS Tinkerboard S

      I own Odroid HC1 (which is equally powerful, but cheaper and “headless” version of XU4), and ASUS Tinkerboard (not S). Love them both, they are powerful and as easy to setup as Raspberry Pi (many of which I own too).

  1. Val

    There is one more interesting option: Odroid HC1
    It’s almost the same thing as XU4, so it’s a powerful beast, but it has no HDMI socket, and it’s built on a huge heat sink that works as a housing for the board and HDD or SDD that you can connect right to the board.
    It means that you can connect HDD or SDD and log a ton of data coming from RF.
    It has a very fast Gigabit Ethernet so it would also not be a problem to download the data from it.
    Armbian works great on it.

    There is however an important parameter in single board computers: required power supply. If you want the computer to be portable I highly recommend getting one with Mini/Micro USB socket for power, then you can power it from a good power bank no problem. I don’t think it’s possible with Odroids.

    • Timmy

      Internally there are two USB 3.0 ports on the processor used.

      On the XU4 one port is already used for the gigabit NIC and the second one is free (in fact it has a two port USB 3.0 HUB chip on it)
      https://www.hardkernel.com/main/products/prdt_info.php?g_code=G143452239825&tab_idx=2

      On the HC1 one is already used for the gigabit and the second one has a JMS578 USB 3.1 Gen1 to SATA 6Gb/s Bridge Controller soldered onto the board so that board is only useful if you are using a USB 2.0 device.
      https://www.hardkernel.com/main/products/prdt_info.php?g_code=G150229074080&tab_idx=2

    • Paul

      The advise of using an sbc with micro USB for power is about the worst advise you can give people. Micro USB is not meant to transport high (> 1.5A) currents and on top of that most cables have such small wires in them that they have significant voltage drop…. The best way to power is using either the 5.5/2.1mm barrel connector, or where possible, the gpio header… Both beat the micro USB connection.
      The folks at the raspberry foundation made the decision to use the micro USB connection for power to decrease the initial cost to run their first board. After all most people had a micro USB power brick available. For some reason they still stick with it, and create all sorts of workarounds to deal with the issues introduced by this powering method. Unfortunately a lot of people consider the rpi foundation as the leader in sbc development, and the choices they make are untouchable, people think . So my hope is that the rpi foundation gets their act together and start using a decent power connector…

      • Val

        MicroUSB is a world standard for mobile phones, and they use very similar hardware, so it it must be not the worst choice for sure. Possibility to use a regular power bank to make your SBC portable is awesome. And I’ve never ran into power-related kind of problems with any SBC I have, even ASUS Tinker Board.
        SBCs that use barrel power connector are in different class, they are more powerful but hardly portable.

        • Paul

          If you check mobile phones, how many charge at 5v , 2a? And.. the charging hardware needs to charge a 3.7v cell, max. 4.2 v.. so more to play with compared to an sbc which needs the 5v to be stable to perform well…
          So it is not really a comparison.

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