Raspberry Pi, Allwinner, and CuBox in the Linux hardware race to tiniest and cheapest

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Last month, we put the Raspberry Pi, a tiny $25 Linux computer, in our open source gift guide. It led overwhelmingly as your favorite on the list. But other similar options have been popping up, like the Allwinner A10 ($15) and the CuBox (quite a bit more).

The Raspberry Pi is a tiny computer that uses your TV as a monitor. The UK team developing it hopes kids will be able to take advantage of the low price and use it to learn programming. Although it was expected in December, this week the Raspberry Pi finally began manufacturing.

The Allwinner A10 is being developed in China by Rhombus Tech to give the free software community--hobbyists and entrepreneurs--ineepensive, open-source hardware.

In the category of tiny-but-not-as-cheap, there’s the much more polished CuBox. Unlike the others, the CuBox is already in a case. The intended applications are anything from digital signage (as it’s small enough to hide almost anywhere) to a media box or Android TV to a developer’s machine. In fact, for the latter, the CuBox is “unbrickable,” in that it comes with recovery features that work even if the bootloader was completely erased.

A few things separate the CuBox from the Raspberry Pi and Allwinner machines. The first is that it’s more than $100 more expensive. But also unlike the other two, the CuBox comes in a box with a power supply and a 2GB microSD card (preloaded with Ubuntu), and perhaps above all, they’re already shipping.

The first two are roughly 85mm x 55mm (3.5" x 2.2"), or about the size of a credit card. The CuBox is a 2" x 2" x 2" cube. Here's how the rest of their specs compare:


Raspberry Pi Model A

Allwinner A10/ARM Cortex A8



$25 ($35 for Model B)

$15 (*see correction below) 



700 MHz ARM core (ARM 11)

1.5 GHz Cortex A8 ARM core

800Mhz Marvell Armada 510 processor (ARM7)


1080p hardware-accelerated video playback; HDMI or composite RCA

2160p hardware-accelerated video playback; 2 24-pin RGB/TTL interfaces, HDMI out

1080p video playback; HDMI


Broadcom VideoCore IV, OpenGL ES 2.0, 1080p30 h.264/MPEG-4 AVC high-profile decode



OpenGL Embedded Standard 2.0 Graphics Engine


128 MB RAM (256 MB on Model B)

up to 1gb RAM

1 GB

NAND Flash controller?



MicroSD slot supports up to 64GB microSDXC NAND flash memory





No—microSD (for OS flash card; comes with 2 GB card)

USB ports

1 (2 on Model B)

1 USB port and 1 USB-OTG

2 and 1 microUSB





10/100 Ethernet

Model B only




2×13 header pins for GPIO, SPI, I²C, UART, +3.3 V, +5 V

GPIO, I2C, PWM, Keyboard Matrix (8x8), built-in resistive touchscreen controller

Infrared receiver, microUSB for debug console, “unbrickable”

* From Rhombus Tech's Luke Leighton, March 7:  "The price is NOT $15. the *COST* - the Bill of Materials - is*APPROACHING* $15 when you order 100,000 units. *NO* decision has beenmade on the *SALE* price because we are still evaluating the cost of the parts, and are still seeking reliable long-term suppliers of the connectors." He also adds that when the CPU cards are available, they would like to invite people to pay the profit that they would like to pay, with the profits going towards goal-orientated, free software-related bounties, bonus payments, future products, and sponsorship developer kits for free software developers." 

How do they compare on openness?

  • Raspberry Pi “[hasn’t] made a decision on open hardware yet. We have SPI, I2C, UART and a fair bit of GPIO at 3.3V if you want to do interfacing.”

  • Allwinner is GPL-compliant open hardware. Read the details.

  • CuBox is intended for open source software but does not appear to be or have a statement on open hardware.

While the Raspberry Pi has gotten a lot of the attention (and does have the best name), the Allwinner really is all winner on price, openness, and many of its features. The CuBox is the winner primarily on polish and the fact that you can order one right now, although the others are soon to catch up.


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Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and parenting.


Will these boards run Windows or are they only for Linux?

They certainly could run the embedded Windows product (you'd have to buy the development kit), but not the usual desktop Windows since it and 3rd party applications are pretty much soldered to the Intel ISA.

Yeah it is kinda funny in a way. With Linux you can in theory do pretty much anything you want, even on 15 dollar hardware. Now I go to wax political in silence.

awesome, i will buy raspberry & allwinner.

Very nice article. But, from http://rhombus-tech.net/allwinner_a10/orders/


Regarding pricing: the hardware NREs from the factory are $USD 2,000. Therefore, based on the number of committments so far (23 as of 2011Dec12), pricing looks set to be around $100. By the time the number of preorders reaches 30, that will be around $75 (30 reached as of 2011Dec17).

The mass-volume (100k units) price will be somewhere around $15: the more committments received, the closer the price will get to that. One expression of interest has been received for 1,000 (stable) units: a pricing evaluation request is outstanding with the factory and will be reported as soon as it is received.

Please note: this price excludes a case, power supply, packaging, shipping, tax, customs and import duty.

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