I've been searching for information but because of the popularity of the Pi there are a lot of results that are how-tos or talking about alternatives. I have tried to do my research. This question was so hard to phrase; really sorry guys. (addendum I'm not cutting off my nose despite my face, just looking for something less "kiddy" the Pi feels very 'classroomy' - made to look good on exam board's websites, this isn't helped by having an OCR thing on the desktop and having a boot to that "scratch" thing...)

THIS IS NOT: a question asked by someone who has a Raspberry Pi because it is cool and uses top to feel more "h4xor"-like. I am not looking for a more powerful alternative (from similar questions), I want to find something that can fill the gap between z80+breadboard+uart and a useful computer - which the Pi does, but I am wondering if there are others.

Are there any alternatives to the Raspberry Pi (cheap, small, ....) that are more open? I completely get why there's an ARM chip sitting there, but they're not the most open bunch (eg: Java extension, anything FOSS out there able to use it, I have found nothing so far). Are there any devices which are entirely free, that require no binary blobs?

Anything based off: http://www.latticesemi.com/products/intellectualproperty/ipcores/mico32/index.cfm or the openSPARC or openRISC projects?

Regarding the ports used for the camera or face or shield (whatever they are called) is that bus well documented? what is it's name? (I could probably find this one out by myself, pointers welcome!)

I've also noticed that the GPIO pins are... not as robust as I would want from an educational device, given the cost of resistors I find it odd that a few pence was saved rather than shield the fragile SoC from the clumsy/impatient/stupid students, perhaps this is less of a problem than I think, I'd love some views of the experienced.

I've re-written this like 7 times because I don't want such an open ended question, sorry about that, edits welcome.

Lastly, there's no question that the Raspberry Pi is a useful device, but I doubt it is the first of its kind and I doubt there are just a handful of devices of that kind (Beagleboard and co, I don't count the Aurdino(spelling?) in this category btw) but I can't find them!

BTW kits would be good, something more hands on than "put the ram in the slot" :P

  • Just wondering, did you look at this question yet?
    – syb0rg
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 21:38
  • Some twit altered the title to "open" - open and free are two VERY different things. Look at MySQL for example. Open but not free.
    – Alec Teal
    Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 11:53
  • Right, sorry that your language carries that ambiguity of "free". Still no reason to roll back the correction of typos.
    – Ghanima
    Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 12:48
  • @Ghanima if by my language you mean English? To this community "free" means "freedom" not "costs nothing". You should read up on free vs open source, it's not a new topic.
    – Alec Teal
    Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 12:58
  • 1
    @Ghanima sure, cya later.
    – Alec Teal
    Commented Oct 17, 2015 at 13:28

4 Answers 4


There is in fact cheap and powerfull alternatives that is open-source hardware (schematics atleast) and open-source software. It is called OLinuXino from Olimex. Boards are with higher temperature range than R-Pi, as they are promoted a industrial grade. Five or six different processors with about 20 board models in total to choose from, ranging from little bit slower to faster than PI. Price is simmilar to PI with same capabilities roughly from 20 to 60 euros. For exact price and specs you should check their website www.olimex.com. From what I've been told, the quality of the boards is actually pretty good too.

They offer different interesting Arduino compatible boards as the smallest one in size close to SD card.

I'm not sure that that I understand your "level" of needs for open-source, but if those chips suits your needs, this is as open-source as you can get from what I know.

I am very recent Raspberry Pi owner (few days), and intend to purchase some variant of OLinuXino in the comming weeks.

Disclaimer: I do not have affiliation with Olimex or their products in any way, except that, it is Bulgarian company and I am Bulgarian too. Most of the information is taken from their official website. I believe strongly that open-source everything should be encouraged and preffered.

  • Welcome to SE and thanks for the answer, I wont tick it yet in case anyone else answers with more, but don't take that as not getting a tick! Do let me know how that goes, I shall also look into it. Having said that they also use arm chips...hmm
    – Alec Teal
    Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 17:42
  • I don't know how you can call the Olimex boards open hardware. Sure the supporting electronics schematics may be available, but for instance the OlinuXino board is based on the Allwinner CPU's which are not open hardware at all. Commented Jan 1, 2014 at 19:05
  • @ Willem It is open hardware board, because the board come with full specifications and you are allowed to use and modified it as you see fit under libre license. Using non-open parts, do indeed taint the product, but it is the same as open software with closed firmware, like wifi drivers. It is still open source program. If you use open source cpu it is still not enough for open hw label by your definition, you will need open transistors, ADC's and other IC's libre. AFAIK at present all those are non-existant. Thats why I said free as can get. Olimex product is the board not the cpu.
    – zzz
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 7:47
  • @ Willem - part 2 due to character limit :). Using this board, provided that someone make compatible open-hardware IC's and cpu, you are free to use them, to modify your board and even to use is as base for creating fully open-hardware computer on your own with non-compatible cpu. All this is legaly possible because of the open-hardware nature and license of the board. Something that i will be very, very happy to see in Raspberry Pi and hopefully other products. Sadly as you state, open-hw parts are too few, more expensive and scarcely available compared to proprietary licensed parts.
    – zzz
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 8:00

There is no cheap open alternative. The only companies that are prepared to put up the large up front investment for cheap SoC fabrication have opted to license a closed technology. All open hardware cpu designs (such as OpenCores) are small series production and therefore relatively expensive.

  • That's not exactly true. Many SoC makers disclose much more details about their chips than Broadcom. For example, the H6 datasheet has 965 pages, while Pi SoC datasheets range from 20 pages for Pi 1 to 162 pages for Pi 4. Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 9:03

You can look into the android sticks. They started as a pluggable mini-PC for your TV, which is why they are called TV sticks (like chromecast). They use CPU's designed for smartphones (some can have quad-core).

They are not free. They can cost from 50 to 100 USD. But I find them better-suited for day-to-day usage than Raspberry. If you find pi too geeky you should try it. They are usually better specced, and have all peripheral options you can find on a usual PC (HDMI, SD card, USB).

If you want a true mini-PC, this is it. See other android sticks if you want options. It has a good-numbered community, not as big as pi but need to setup something just google it you will find plenty of results for android sticks.


A friend of mine prefer Cubieboard over Pi. And there is Banana Pi which uses the same SoC as Cubie but have a Pi-compatible form and pinout.

Also if you really dare to do so, you can check out the Allwinner A13 which is a full-blown Cortex-A8 MPU in hand-solderable eLQFP178 package (instead of BGA package) and roll your own board with it.

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