A single-board computer (SBC) is an entire computer built onto a circuit board. SBCs come complete with memory, a microprocessor, inputs, and outputs. Although the Raspberry Pi ranks among the most popular and versatile single-board PCs, it’s far from the only option.
Most SBCs run Linux operating systems well. However, some single-board computers offer Android and Chrome OS compatibility. Lets take a look at the best single-board computers for installing Android and Chrome OS.
Why Buy a Single-Board Computer?
A single-board computer typically comes at a lower cost than purchasing a larger motherboard. This comes, partially, from the bundled components. It’s a computer that’s operational out-of-the-box. Just add an operating system and storage media, and you’re good to go.
Also, because SBCs use fewer circuit boards, the cost remains low. Along with the low price, SBCs have a low power draw in comparison with full-fledged PCs. However, a single-board PC lacks the computing power of a traditional desktop or laptop. As such, many SBCs struggle with computationally heavy tasks such as emulating PlayStation 1 or Nintendo 64 games.
Finally, SBCs typically lack the upgradeability found on larger circuit boards. For example, on a Raspberry Pi 4, you cannot upgrade the RAM, CPU, or GPU. Nevertheless, single-board PCs are an ideal project PC for everything from a retro gaming console to a smart home hub, to a low-power home theater PC (HTPC), a personal server cluster, and much more.
How to Run Android or Chrome OS on an SBC
To run Chrome OS or Android on an SBC, you need a few things. First, a compatible single-board computer. If you’re using Chrome, you’ll need Chromium OS. Chromium OS is an open-source operating system that brings Chrome OS to single-board computers.
Unfortunately, Chrome OS is relatively resource-heavy. It runs slowly, even on the Raspberry Pi 4’s upgraded 1.5GHz processor and 4GB RAM. Still, Chromium OS brings the lightweight, browser-based operating system to SBCs.
Several options allow you to run Android on an SBC. On the Raspberry Pi and Odroid, you can use RTAndroid. Other boards, such as the Banana Pi, utilize images available on the Android and SBC downloads page. Phoenix OS and Remix OS bring Android to x86 devices, allowing users to build a do-it-yourself Android PC.
Want to get started? Here are the top single-board computers for running Android and Chrome OS.
You cannot have a best SBCs list without including the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi 4 is the latest iteration of the extremely popular SBC, and it is easily the most well-known and easily recognized option. You’ll need a decent chunk of computing power to run Android and Chromium.
The Raspberry Pi 4 has an upgraded 1.5GHz CPU, comes with 4GB RAM, and has additional Micro HDMI ports and USB 3.0 ports. There are also rumors of an 8GB Raspberry Pi 4 model, which would add a massive amount of additional storage. However, they are just rumors at the time of writing.
The Raspberry Pi 4 runs Chrome OS, and with RTAndroid, it can run Android. Plus, the device can also run a bevy of other operating systems, including Raspbian, RetroPie, and Recalbox.
2. Odroid N2
The Odroid N2 is one of Odroid’s most powerful SBCs to date. The Odroid N2 uses ARM big.LITTLE architecture to pack four 1.8GHz Cortex-A73 cores and two 1.9GHz Cortex-A53 cores into the Amlogic S922X SoC.
You’ll also find up to 4GB RAM running at 1320MHz, a Mali-G52 GPU (as part of the SoC), a microSD expansion slot, and 4 USB 3.0 ports. One downside to this SBC is the lack of integrated Wi-Fi. If you want to connect the Odroid N2 to your Wi-Fi network, you’ll need an adapter.
You can run a huge range of distros on the Odroid N2, from Ubuntu to Kali Linux, and even Android. Although the Odroid N2 has two fewer processor cores than the popular Odroid XU4 (which uses an octa-core Exynos 5422 processor), the overall performance gains more than make up the difference.
3. UDOO X86 II
The UDOO X86 is another powerful Raspberry Pi alternative that you can use to run Android-x86. As the UDOO X86 SBCs use Intel CPUs, you can run Windows 10 and other x86-based operating systems. That means Linux, Android, Yocto, and Chrome OS are all good to go on the UDOO X86.
The UDOO X86 comes in two different flavors. First, the UDOO X86 II Ultra comes with an Intel Pentium N3710, a quad-core 2.56GHz processor, and Intel’s Quark SE core SoC. The processor is backed with 8GB DDR3 RAM and an Intel HD Graphics 405 chip.
Alternatively, the UDOO X86 II Advanced Plus comes with an Intel Celeron N3160, a quad-core 2.24GHz processor, also with Intel’s Quark SE core SoC. The Advanced Plus GPU is an Intel HD Graphics 400, which is slightly less powerful than the Ultra. Furthermore, the Advanced Plus has 4GB DDR3 RAM.
4. Banana Pi M3
The Banana Pi M3 (BPI-M3) is a great single board computer that performs well in CPU tests. In these performance tests, a BPI-M3 running the Linux distribution, Debian, performed well in benchmarks against a range of SBC competitors. The benchmarks include password cracking tool John the Ripper, raytracing benchmark, C-Ray, as well as the Himeno and Smallpt benchmarks.
With a powerful Allwinner A83T ARM Cortex-A7 octa-core 1.8 GHz processor and PowerVR SGX544MP1 GPU, the Banana Pi M3 can run tons of distros such as Debian, Ubuntu, and Raspberry Pi images. Moreover, the M3 retains the same form factor as the Banana Pi M1, packing in loads more performance without expanding its physical footprint.
Powered by a dual-core Sitara AM5728 ARM Cortex A15, and a quad-core Cortex-M4, the BeagleBoard-X15 is a high-performance SBC. With its 4GB eMMC, an HDMI out, 157 GPIO I/O ports, an eSATA, and two 1GB Ethernet ports, the X15 delivers a smorgasbord of connectivity options.
What’s more, software options range from Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSUSE to FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Android, and Windows Embedded. Because of its power and compatibility, the BeagleBoard-X15 is a top Raspberry Pi alternative for running Android and Chrome OS.
The ROCK64 features an impressive 1.5GHz quad-core Cortex-A53 CPU, backed up with a decent Mali-450 MP2 GPU and the option of up to 4GB DDR3 RAM. The Mail-450 MP2 is powerful enough to handle 4K video output at 60 frames per second, while the 40 GPIO pins make the Rock64 a powerful SBC.
Although the Raspberry Pi 4 specs now surpass the ROCK64, the 4GB variant is a handy alternative to the Raspberry Pi 3, especially given it has a 64-bit CPU. The ROCK64 can run several Linux distros, as well as Android.
At its core, the ASUS Tinker Board houses a Rockchip RK3288 system on a chip (SoC), and its GPIO pin layout is engineered for compatibility with the Raspberry Pi. The Tinker Board packs a performance punch with 4K video and 2GB of RAM alongside Gigabit Ethernet.
Operating system compatibility includes many Linux options such as Debian-based TinkerOS, Armbian, Android, and Flint OS.
8. Orange Pi 4B
The Orange Pi 4B is an open-source SBC that can run Android, as well as Ubuntu and Debian-based Linux distributions. It represents a serious upgrade from previous Orange Pi models. The Orange Pi 4B uses a Rockchip RK3399 SoC, which contains a hex-core ARM CPU cluster in a Big.Little configuration.
The device also include a powerful Mali-T860MP4 GPU and 4GB LPDDR4 RAM with an extra 16GB on-board flash memory. The Mali-T860MP4 supports 4K video at 60 frames per second, making it a great option for a media center or even a retro gaming console. The Orange Pi 4B isn’t all about power. It also features 40-pin GPIO, as well as ports for USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and USB Type-C.
What Is the Best Single-Board Computer to Run Android or Chrome OS?
The Raspberry Pi 4 stakes a very strong claim as the best SBC on the market for running Chrome OS or Android. There are, however, several Raspberry Pi alternatives that do an excellent job. In many cases, the additional functionality and power on offer mean Raspberry Pi alternatives can perform better in a wider range of situations.
Still, the Raspberry Pi, with its enormous user base, remains the top choice for tinkerers, developers, and SBC hobbyists. The sheer volume of distributions, project ideas, and free resources will keep the Raspberry Pi at the top for the time to come. However, will the Nvidia Jetson Nano replace the Raspberry Pi? Only time will tell.