One of the problems with the Raspberry Pi has always been that it uses an ARM-based processor, which means that some software and many operating systems don’t run (or don’t run as well) as they would on a device with an Intel or AMD processor. There have been boards that use non-ATM based processors in the past, but they have all been quite expensive compared to the $35 Raspberry Pi, which has more or less become the device against which all other small single board computers are measured these days. While the Raspberry Pi still has its place, especially where size is a major consideration, the new “Atomic Pi” in many ways appears to offer superior performance at about the same price point. This video gives more details:
Here are links to the manufacturer’s page on the Atomic Pi and the Frequently Asked Questions page. The manufacturer’s specifications for the device at the time of this post are as follows:
- Genuine Intel Atom x5-Z8350 quad core with 2M Cache. Runs up to 1.92GHz with a 480MHz GPU. Eats RPi for dessert. Beats some desktops.
- Loaded with memory: 2GB DDR3L-1600, 16GB eMMC, SD slot for adding more – up to 256GB
- Full HDMI port with Intel HD Graphics & primary audio out
- USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports
- Fast dual band WiFI b/g/n/ac 2.4 & 5GHz WiFi RT5572 IPX connectors on board
- Bluetooth 4.0 CR8510
- Gigabit hardwired RJ45 Ethernet RTL8111G
- 9-axis inertial navigation sensor with compass BNO055
- Secondary XMOS audio output with class-D power amp.
- TTL serial debug and expansion serial ports up to 3.6Mbps
- Real time clock & battery
- JST style connectors on top and a 26-pin header for power & GPIO below.
- Runs on 5V. Typically 4-15 watts.
- Legitimate licensed BIOS boots from SD, USB, or Ethernet. Linux comes preloaded… Yes, it’ll run Win10 32 or 64.
- Large full breakout shield available with screw terminals for easy wiring, or order just the CPU and provide your own wiring.
- Well documented – more specs here.
An Amazon purchaser “Heron” posted a great review of the Atomic Pi. Just in case it becomes inaccessible for some reason, here is what he said (spelling errors have been corrected, but no other changes made):
5.0 out of 5 stars
Great little board, incredible price
May 4, 2019
What I love:
* The price: other x86 SBCs with the same CPU cost $100. Other mini PCs from China cost at least $80. This board is a bargain.
* USB3.0, real gigabit Ethernet (it really reaches than 900mbps) and low power consumption make this board the best $35 NAS solution.
* x86_64 architecture, 2GB RAM and full Windows and Android x86 compatibility make this board the cheapest way to get a half decent PC fully capable of handling office tasks.
* The ability to choose your own WiFi antennas, exposed GPIOs, Linux and Android compatibility, the presence of a eMMC, onboard Bluetooth and WiFi, make this board quite versatile.
* The big heatsink didn’t allow the CPU to reach more than 55°C in my tests.
Now that it’s out of stock I’m regretting buying only one.
What I don’t like:
* The absence of a DC barrel jack. But this board can still be powered easily with breadboard jumpers.
* A 16GB eMMC is too small for Windows 10 (but it’s more than enough for Linux)
* I would have expected to find at least some cheap PCB WiFi antennas included in the box. Without them WiFi is basically useless and now I have to wait to get some from Aliexpress.
* There is no audio jack. You can either use audio over HDMI, or use a cheap USB sound card. Or use the big external expansion board (not yet available from Amazon).
Raspberry Pi comparison:
* The Atomic Pi is a little bigger than two Raspberry Pi.
* The Atomic Pi is much much faster than a Raspberry Pi.
* The Atomic Pi can display 1080p videos from VLC and even from YouTube (with Firefox). With the Raspberry Pi you have to use its own player and just forget about streaming a HD video from a browser without stuttering.
* The Atomic Pi requires a slightly more powerful power supply than the Raspberry Pi.
* The Atomic Pi doesn’t require a SD to work.
* The Atomic Pi, as a server, is just better in any way than the Raspberry Pi (storage speed, network speed, software compatibility).
* The Raspberry Pi, as a TV media center, can be controlled with your TV remote with HDMI-CEC. The Atomic Pi cannot.
* The Raspberry Pi has a more flexible and better community supported GPIO interface.
* Unlike the Raspberry, the Atomic Pi is already properly cooled out of the box. I didn’t found a way to overclock it, but I could easily change the frequency governor.
How I use it:
I soldered a power connector, from a barrel plug and a common breadboard pin strip. Then I disabled the PXE boot, I booted a Linux live pen drive and flashed the provided Debian Buster minimal image to the eMMC (instructions provided).
Then I installed a desktop environment (with the command taskel), so now I have a little Linux desktop. I also installed a Samba server, so it doubles as a quite fast NAS.
Finally I 3D printed a plastic case from Thingiverse and it’s now complete.
As of mid-May, 2019 the Atomic Pi is once again available to order on Amazon, or it can be purchased from ameriDroid (be sure to check the estimated shipping dates). If you live in the USA you may be able to buy one direct from the manufacturer’s site if they have any currently in stock.
The one glaring omission on this device is that there is no standard power input jack – what were they thinking when they left this off of the main board?! That missing power jack is the thing that has prevented them from having a 5-star rating on Amazon. This document explains how to get power to the unit (one of the options is to purchase a “baby breakout” board that has a power jack for an additional $3). Note that a power supply that produces 5V and at least 2.4A is required, and you will need a bit more power (higher Amperage) if you plan to power anything from one of the USB connections. There’s a discussion on Reddit titled MEGATHREAD: Powering your Atomic Pi: Ask all your power questions here! and also a Powering Your Atomic Pi Megathread in the Atomic Pi Reddit forum. These threads might be helpful if you are trying to figure out how to power an Atomic Pi.
Also the manufacturer doesn’t appear to offer an enclosure of any kind. If you have access to a 3D printer you can print one yourself (for example, see here (this appears to be the enclosure shown in Heron’s review), here, or here), otherwise I’m sure that sooner or later someone will offer enclosures for the Atomic Pi.
Here are some additional articles covering the Atomic Pi:
Linux-powered Atomic Pi Is A Bite-sized PC With Intel CPU (Fossbytes)
Atomic Pi Brings Intel to Single-Board Computers (Tom’s Hardware)
Atom-powered $34 Atomic Pi: A music-friendly SBC for creators that runs Windows 10 (TechRepublic)
$35 Atomic Pi dev board with Intel Cherry Trail now available from Amazon (Liliputing)
$35 Atomic Pi Cherry Trail Linux SBC is now available worldwide (CNXSoft – Embedded Systems News)
Atomic Pi SBC is back with pre-orders on Amazon and Ameridroid (CNXSoft – Embedded Systems News)