back to article Best and the Rest: ARM Mini PCs

The Best... RH Numbers Reg Hardware PC Week The Raspberry Pi – if you can get your hands on one – isn't the only small, inexpensive ARM computer around these days. There are quite a few options with varying speeds and price points. So here we take up ARMs with a full review of the ARMini – uniquely British offering that is …


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  1. Nights_are_Long
    Thumb Up

    So much possibility so far till payday :(

  2. David Hicks

    Been eyeing up the slice for a while

    But there were various graphics or video decoding related issues, IIRC. Despite the power, it can't yet do 1080p video due to the driver for the hardware decoder not being functional at present. Maybe this has been addressed recently.

    Also yes, not cheap.

    1. robsy

      Re: Been eyeing up the slice for a while

      Check it out with Android. Its KICK ass !

      And cheap is relative. its so much more than most of the other computers here

  3. DrXym Silver badge

    Overlooking a lot of devices

    There are a lot of cheap android tablets from £60 up running ARM processors many root enabled. What's to stop someone flashing one of them and using it as a device. Some of them have HDMI out and USB ports so I assume you could hook them up to a screen and keyboard. Even some phones have mini HDMI or USB master support so I assume you could even get something working there perhaps.

    There are lots of videos on YouTube who have already accomplished this to one degree or another demonstrating it's perfectly feasible.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Overlooking a lot of devices

      Forget tablets. Many Android phones would compete with this lot. Especially ebay'd second hand with damaged screens.

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: Overlooking a lot of devices

        Ubuntu have a nice demo of a Motorola Atrix running Ubuntu and Android concurrently with the Ubuntu desktop coming up when you dock the device. The Atrix and dock is pretty expensive though. I think a homebrewer who just wanted to root and flash the phone could probably do something on the cheap with a broken phone like you suggest or a cheaper model which perhaps forgoes USB or HDMI and runs through a remote desktop.


        I suggested a tablet since in theory you would have a desktop you could take around with you, assuming Linux ever supports touch in a usable fashion rather than as a pseudo mouse.

        1. Ru

          Re: "assuming Linux ever supports touch in a usable fashion"

          I hear that "Android" linux distro supports touch reasonably well these days.

          1. DrXym Silver badge

            Re: "assuming Linux ever supports touch in a usable fashion"

            I wasn't talking of Android. I was talking of a standard desktop Linux distribution and I'm not aware that any of them support touch in an acceptable manner. Most just simulate a mouse cursor with touch and do little else.

    2. Gordan

      Re: Overlooking a lot of devices

      I'm more surprised the line-up completely ommits the most popular of such devices, such as the SheevaPlug, DreamPlug and Toshiba AC100.

      1. David Hicks

        Re: Overlooking a lot of devices

        Re sheevaplug - I'm assuming they leave it out because it has no display capability, unless you add-on a USB graphics adaptor, which people have varying amounts of luck with. The sheevaplug is a great little machine, but it's made for headless operation really.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      IT Angle

      Re: Overlooking a lot of devices

      I need a dual ethernet version to work as a personal linux based firewall/router/proxy. Has anyone seen a solution?

  4. Puffin

    No bone?

    You mention BeagleBoard multiple times, but ignored the BeagleBone. Bizarre.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No bone?

      Yup. The BeagleBone is only about £60! And it comes with an integrated JTAG debugger for low-level work.

  5. Tim Walker

    My RasPi should arrive this week...

    Looking forward to it - at the very least, the Pi will make a decent cheap Linux machine to experiment with, and hopefully more. (I'm holding out for a "TV PC", though I realise this is basically a development board, often with alpha-level drivers to match, so I'm managing my expectations.)

    Just wanted to mention another distro for the Pi: Arch Linux/ARM, which I understand is pretty mature as ARM Linuxes go - it's been running on machines like the SheevaPlug for some time now. I'm planning to use Arch with the Pi, as I have some experience from running Arch/x86 on my Eee 701SD netbook.

    That said, I wouldn't mind giving the open RISC OS a spin :-)

    1. Spasch

      Re: My RasPi should arrive this week...

      'I'm holding out for a "TV PC"'

      This is the main reason I want one, along with RaspBMC, it should be a great little video streamer..

      1. Oolons
        Thumb Up

        Re: My RasPi should arrive this week...

        Get Openelec RPi XBMC - been trying it out on the RPi this week and its pretty good. 1080p and 720p H264 works fine. SD Xvids etc are fine but sometimes a bit choppy - overclocking the CPU to 1Ghz was dead easy and seems to have fixed some of the speed issues on XBMC. There are bugs however but it boots pretty fast on a class 10 SD card so the odd lockup can be fixed with a quick on and off... They are working hard to produce a finished version.

  6. Arrrggghh-otron

    Got Pi...

    My Pi turned up last week. I've got nothing more to add. Just rubbing it in :)

    Only kidding, I wanted to say that I am loving the R-pi. It constantly amazes at how capable it is for the price and size, but then goes and locks up for a while as the CPU is maxed out. Then again it is still early days for the software and there are better x drivers in the works.

    For ~ £30* I will be buying more for various different projects when the full production comes on stream.

    *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

    1. LinkOfHyrule
      Thumb Up

      *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

      I spend more than that a week on fags! And this little gizmo would probably fit in a fag packet!

      When I give up smoking I'm guna buy Raspberries instead!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

        "When I give up smoking I'm guna buy Raspberries instead!"

        IF you live that long !

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

          It seems impossible these days to mention smoking without some smug arse having to chip in about the healthiness of the activity. The health warnings are huge, it's not as if smokers don't know what they're doing.

          I wonder if you go down the pub on Friday evenings and point out to everybody there that drinking is bad for their health. Or maybe you don't because it'd make you look like a twat.

          1. Vic

            Re: *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

            > some smug arse having to chip in about the healthiness of the activity.

            I'd interpreted it as some smug arse poking fun at the availability of the Raspberry Pi...


            [Still waiting eagerly for a board...]

          2. steogede

            Re: *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

            "It seems impossible these days to mention smoking without some smug arse having to chip in about the healthiness of the activity."

            One day you will give up smoking and become that smug arse.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: steogede

              I gave up smoking 3 years ago. If other people want to smoke I don't see why I need to constantly remind them it's unhealthy, I'm not their mother. Those 'smug arses' are almost as bad as the vegans that bang on about the unhealthiness of my lifestyle if I give them even the slightest hint that I eat meat.

        2. LinkOfHyrule
          Paris Hilton

          Re: *I think I paid around £27 with vat and shipping.

          Matey, honestly, if anyone knows about the health problems smoking causes its us smokers trust me!

          There is no need to lecture us, you should see the stuff I cough up of a morning, I think they use similar things for the slime effects in horror movies!

          Anyway, I was trying to make a light hearted point about how you can buy a fully fledged capable computer for the price of weeks fags - back in the late 70s a comparatively similar computer would have cost half a Transit van's worth of duty-frees!

          Paris because I mentioned coughing up slime and it reminds me of the episode of South Park featuring her!

    2. Richard 22

      Re: Lockup when maxed out

      Have you got a decent power supply for it. I had exactly the same thing in XBMC until I tried with an iPad power supply and Nokia USB->micro USB charger cable (ie a nice, thick cable).

      The requirements for the device are 700mA - I'd make sure your power supply is up to the job. RS and Farnell both sell ones which should be suitable (not tried either though).

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RISC OS Licenses...

    .... are more like 3 quid from Castle if you promise to send back your source changes.

  8. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Development costs

    > "It’s not entirely clear to me why the Beagleboard is so expensive ... "

    We are told the Pi took 6 years to develop. I'm guessing that during the time the developers had proper jobs and regarded the Pi as a sort of altruistic hobby. It definitely wasn't going to be a source of income during those years.

    Consequently all the time and resources used for the development process are a sunk cost and don't have to be recouped from the unit-price of the eventual product. That's what makes the Pi different from commercial offerings. In these cases the years (or more likely: months, for time is money) of developer time has to be paid for - in salaries, equipment and facilities.

    We also know that given a large enough production run (say for a mobile phone) these costs don't add a great deal to each board when you're producing a million of them. Even less if all you have to do is add new features/power to an existing design. However for a low-sales, niche market that only produces one-hundreth the number of units, those same costs will contribute 100 times as much to the price of each board made.

    Maybe the longest lasting legacy of the Pi won't be introducing children to little motherboards, but will be the creation of a low-cost, open sourced basis for future embedded hardware.

    1. Andrew James

      Re: Development costs

      The Raspberry Pi is a not for profit venture. So of course its going to be cheaper than the others that are adding a fat margin on the top of the bill of materials.

      1. Asgard

        Re: Development costs

        @Andrew James: "The Raspberry Pi is a not for profit venture. So of course its going to be cheaper than the others that are adding a fat margin on the top of the bill of materials."

        Its not fat margins, its money needed to run a viable business.

        Buying components in smaller quantities costs more per component than mass market quantities. Making PCBs in smaller quantities costs more per board than mass market product.

        The Raspberry Pi is great news for programmers and a lot of electronics engineers as well. However the Raspberry Pi signals the end of the line for small electronic start up companies designing and selling their own ARM boards, as none of them will be able to compete on cost, as their start up development costs plus running costs means they cannot start a company. There is no way they can sell boards for as low as a Raspberry Pi. So this is the end of electronics engineers starting up their own ARM board based companies and I can see this also driving existing small companies like slowly out of business which would be a real shame.

        So sure people can argue survival in niches like the Gumstix boards are a bit smaller, but for the majority of their customers a Raspberry Pi would do just as well, so with the loss of many sales to Raspberry Pi, Gumstix will struggle to survive and I would say Gumstix are one of the very strongest contenders out there. Many other smaller companies than Gumstix are going to be wiped out of business by Raspberry Pi.

        So its not fat margins, its simply money needed to run a viable business.

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: money needed to run a viable business

          Sounds just like the way that the availability of a free OS has basically driven all the paid-for stuff out of the market.

          1. Asgard

            Re: money needed to run a viable business

            @Ken Hagan. The OS market is a very poor example. The OS market is established. Also its big enough to provide corporate support contracts. Also Microsoft have effectively "First mover advantage" as their OS grew to desktop dominance during the 1980s. None of which applies to or helps a new hardware start up company now. e.g.


            Also look at how so many people talk about the pricing of the Raspberry Pi. Its a key decider for many users and understandably so, as they can have a few Raspberry Pi boards for the price of one other ARM board. The Raspberry Pi will effect the financial viability of competitor companies and many won't survive.

      2. paulc


        "The Raspberry Pi is a not for profit venture. So of course its going to be cheaper than the others that are adding a fat margin on the top of the bill of materials."

        it's the economics of scale... component costs and productions costs are far lower when the quantities are higher...

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: Rubbish...

          Plus I bet there are othe Pi in the pipeline, maybe ones with beefier CPUs and more RAM. Imagine a suitably clocked Armv7 Pi with 1Ghz RAM. That would be a beast of a barebones HTPC.

  9. Gordan

    Devices and OSes

    I am somewhat disappointed that the most popular devices have not even been mentioned, specifically the Kirkwood based SheevaPlug and DreamPlug (omitting the now deprecated and noisy GuruPlug is understandable, I guess), not to mention the increasingly popular Toshiba AC100 (Tegra2 based) laptops (which I might add are one of the primary support targets and test machines for RedSleeve Linux, for those that prefer distro flavours that aren't Debiany). AC100 also has one of the most active support communities, with even a number of hardware upgrade modifications that have been very well documented (screen, storage, cooling/clocking - you'll find the relevant information if you google it).

  10. Quentin North


    Surprised you didnt mention the 1.2Ghz ARM based SheevaPlug and DreamPlug computers. I use these as servers running debian or ubuntu mostly, but they can make great little desktops too.

  11. David Given
    Thumb Up

    Allwinner A10

    I have a Mele A1000, an A10-based set-top-box what I ordered from China; it's being used by Rhombus Tech as an A10 sample device while they work on the EOMA68 device. I'm going to use mine as the house server, replacing my current elderly SheevaPlug.

    It's got some nice features: the big one for me is that it has real SATA, which a lot of these devices don't (the TrimSlice, for example, has its SATA connection hooked up via an internal USB bus which makes it slow and CPU heavy). Plus the A10 will autonomously boot off the SD card, which makes the device unbrickable, and is therefore ideal for hacking purposes. The internal flash is 4GB, which is big enough to get a real OS on, too.

    Best of all the whole thing was under $70. Plus, I got a free World's Worst Infrared Remote Control. I might be able to get some use out of it as a door wedge.

  12. cdilla

    Sheevaplug Dreamplug

    As others have already pointed out the great Sheeva and Dreamplug machines should not have been left out. They are cheaper than some of those cited here and the Dreamplug especially offers a lot of connectivity (2xLAN, wifi, bluetooth,2xusb,sdcard,jtag, sata, optical, audio, mic).

    My sheeva and dream plugs are used for a variaty of linux based server and monitoring duties.

    I have a R-Pi too, though am spending more time on making a case for it than actually using it :-)

  13. Giles Jones Gold badge

    >The ARMini is considerably quicker than the Raspberry Pi, which despite a powerful GPU has >only 256MB of Ram and a 700MHz ARMv6 core

    Which is only a problem if you run today's software where everything has to be portable, virtualised or abstracted.

    There's people doing amazing things with 20Mhz ATMega chips with 64kb flash.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RISC OS wasn't first

    "designed to run the ARM chip's original operating system, RISC OS"

    That would be Arthur. Or maybe it doesn't count because it was 'alf an operating system.

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: RISC OS wasn't first

      I'm not aware of a RISC OS 1, and the first version of RISC OS released was RISC OS 2 - not too long after the Archimedes was brought out with Arthur.

      I've always assumed, therefore, that (although it's never been said anywhere, AFAIK) Arthur was, in effect, RISC OS 1, but just wasn't called that at the time.

      And having said that, even if my assumption was correct, it still might not have been the first: Wasn't there a ARM processor for the BBC using the tube interface? If so, what ran on that? (Or was it just an internal thing, when they were developing the ARM?)

      1. nemo20000

        Re: RISC OS wasn't first

        @VinceH “Wasn't there a ARM processor for the BBC using the tube interface? If so, what ran on that? (Or was it just an internal thing, when they were developing the ARM?)”

        It was semi-commercial, in that I remember Acorn sending me a photocopied “brochure” for it in 1986 which bore the £4000 price tag. I don’t think they made many! Pictures here:

        Like the 6502 second processor it ran a tiny veneer that could hardly be called a kernel, never mind an OS. It just mapped a few SWIs to the host’s equivalents over the Tube. It didn’t support modules.

        The full list of SWIs it implemented was (OS_ prefix omitted): WriteC, WriteS, Write0, WriteI+, NewLine, ReadC, CLI, Byte, Word, File, Args, BGet, BPut, Open, ReadLine (all mapped to the Beeb’s OS routines), GetEnv, Exit, SetEnv, IntOn, IntOff, CallBack, EnterOS, Control, BreakPT, BreakCT, SetCallB, SetMEMC (all familiar from Arthur and RISC OS) and the mysterious UnUsed and Multiple.

        It came with Twin (a dual-buffer text editor I was still using in RO2 days), BASIC, ObjAsm and AAsm (still used in RO), Lisp, Prolog and Fortran77.

    2. ByeLaw101

      Re: RISC OS wasn't first

      Author 2.0 was renamed RISC OS, so maybe RISC OS was the first?

  15. James Hughes 1

    Of interest to overclockers, and those who don't mind void waranty

    Raspberry Pi can be overclocked very easily to 1GHz. Will reduce life of SoC slightly, but have had devices running for a few months at this speed no problem. Will void warranty (and doing it sets an OTP bit, so it will be known it's been overclocked)

    1. Oolons
      Thumb Up

      Re: Of interest to overclockers, and those who don't mind void waranty

      Its only 25 quid - I got mine going at 1Ghz straight off with over_voltage at 6 ... 1.35V I think? Need to try overclocking the GPU and memory next. Makes Openelec XBMC work better...

  16. Norm DePlume

    Acorn etc.

    Brazil was the ARM1 co-pro OS, I believe.

    For some projects, a STR9-comStick might do the trick. Not a full PC (and therefore not eligible for inclusion in the main article), but has many of the capabilities.

  17. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face

    Couple of thoughts...

    Like anything, it depends on what you're going to use it for. Some of these little boxes are great, but if you're going to need any storage, you just end up with more boxes, cables and usb hubs behind your TV. Unless you can maybe use NFS with a DD-WRT router sporting its own USB hard drive, but that sounds like a lot of work...

    I'm looking for something small to run as a home server and media / TV PC, and I'm drawn towards the Aleutia Tango. It's small, fanless, VESA mountable, and the disk is on the inside. It has a Dual-core Atom chip, rather than ARM, but it will take a 1TB laptop disk, unlike the Trim Slice H, which struggles with the fatter form factor of some larger laptop disks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Couple of thoughts...

      I want something else - a small cheap box I can do my internet banking and other security-concious activities off without cluttering up the house. Then no matter what mistakes I/we might make on the general purpose box (on which all kinds of s/w might get installed, and all kinds of websites visited) the important stuff happens somewhere else.

  18. Liam Proven

    Why not ShivaPlug etc

    The reason for omitting the likes of the ShivaPlug is that they're *servers* and this roundup was for desktop-type devices, capable of running a general-purpose OS with a GUI. Sure, there are various plug servers, and HardReg has covered some of them before...

    ... But none of them have any way to attach a display.

    And yes, there are other ultracheap devices out there, such as Arduino or MiniEMBWiFi, but they are so low-spec they can't run a graphical desktop. Great for hardware hobbyists, but not much use for WIMP merchants.

    1. Gordan

      Re: Why not ShivaPlug etc

      Actually, you are quite wrong. *Plug machines have been used with displays for a while, using MIMO USB screends. The performance is perfectly acceptable for normal desktop tasks (web browsing, email, etc.)

      It also doesn't explain why it didn't include the likes of Efika MX (smartbook or desktop) which is very cheap compared to the machines mentioned, or the Toshiba AC100 smartbook, which is incredibly good value for a Tegra2 laptop.

      1. Liam Proven

        @Gordan - Re: Why not ShivaPlug etc

        Yes, I am sure you can attach a USB display controller to a plug-server, but that is still not coming with a built-in display adapter. Secondarily, the MIMO USB screens you cite are quite a lot more expensive than the entire plug computer, which makes a mockery of the "inexpensive" part.

        You can use almost any kind of computer for almost any kind of role, but it's not a great idea to use a server as a desktop - it's expensive & performance is poor. Similarly, something like a RasPi or BeagleBoard is not a great server, as it has no native Ethernet (it's running over USB) or SATA.

        It is generally best to use the right device for the job.

        I'd be happy to do a roundup of inexpensive plug servers, but the cited devices are mostly a couple of years old now so it's no longer news. Part of the point of this article was to highlight that the RasPi was not the only device of its type, but equally to highlight how it is dramatically cheaper than the alternatives. A ShivaPlug is not an alternative to a RasPi and nor is a 2010 Tosh kinda-sorta-netbook.

        And thirdly, there are limits to the length of this sort of piece. There isn't room to include every even-vaguely-comparable device that is aimed at a different role but happens to use the same CPU. This was about *desktop computers*. Not notebooks, netbooks, servers, tablets or phones. Desktops. *Just* desktops. No battery, no built-in screen, no onboard keyboard and trackpad, but display & sound ports. Desktops.

        OK? :¬)


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