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This almost-great Raspberry Pi alternative is missing one key feature

With Raspberry Pi boards in constant short supply, hobbyists and professionals alike are looking for alternatives to the tiny computer.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor
Reviewed by Kelsey Adams
Okdo Rock 5 Model B

The Radxa Rock 5 Model B.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

Raspberry Pi single-board computers (SBCs) are in continuous short supply thanks to the effects of COVID-19, supply chain issues, and all the other upsets going on in the world driving prices of the boards you can find through the roof. While the makers of the ever-popular Raspberry Pi have promised to work on supply issues, in the meantime hobbyists and professionals alike are looking for alternatives.

Also: Raspberry Pi: Where to find the latest model and its alternatives

A name that's been coming up a lot lately is the Radxa Rock 5 Model B. Could this be a replacement for the Raspberry Pi?


Rock 5 Model B tech specs

  • SoC: Rockchip RK3588
  • Processor: Arm DynamIQ (Quad Cortex – A76 @ 2.2/2.4GHz, Quad Cortex – A55 @ 1.8GHz)
  • GPU: Arm Mali G610MC4 GPU
  • Memory: 8GB 64bit LPDDR4 RAM
  • Power requirements:
    USB Type‑C PD Version 2.0 with 9V/2A, 12V/2A, 15V/2A, and 20V/2A
    5V Power applied to the GPIO PIN 2 & 4.
  • HDMI:
    Dual HDMI ports supporting displays up to 8Kp60 resolution and 4Kp60
    Micro-HDMI input port supporting up to 4Kp60 resolution
  • USB:
    2x USB2 HOST ports
    1x USB3 HOST port
    1x USB3 OTG/HOST port
  • Expansion:
    1x 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port (supports PoE with add‑on PoE HAT)
    1x M.2 M Key with PCIe 3.0 four‑lane support
    1x M.2 E Key with PCIe 2.1 one‑lane, SATA, SDIO, UART support
    1x eMMC module connector for eMMC 5.1 support
    1x Camera port (4‑lane MIPI CSI)
    1x Display port (4‑lane MIPI DSI)
  • Storage:  Micro SD/eMMC
  • UARTS: 2x UART
  • On/Off Power Button: Yes
  • Software:
    Full implementation of the Arm architecture v8 instructions set
    Debian/Ubuntu Linux support
    Android 12 support
  • Temperature:
    Operation temperature: 0~50 ℃  (32 F to 122 F)
    Storage temperature: -20~80 ℃  (-4 F to 176 F)

A quick scan through the tech specs will show you that this board packs quite a punch. 

Octa-core processor, dual HDMI with one port supporting up to 8K, a 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port, two M.2 slots, an eMMC module connector, and broad software support.

The Rock 5 Model B.

The Rock 5 Model B is packed with features.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

That's a lot of power, justifying the roughly $170 price tag (which, if you think is high, I've seen Raspberry Pis selling for more than that).

Also: The best Raspberry Pi alternatives

Ypu can also fit an NVMe SSD to the M.2 slot on the back. Here I'm fitting a 512GB Lexar NM620 NVMe SSD, a drive that's perfect for this sort of application thanks to the fact it offers great performance at a fantastic price of under $50.

But the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted an omission. Something that we kinda take for granted these days.

Spotted it yet?

No built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth support.

For that, you need a Radxa M.2 E Key wireless module that adds Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2 support. The module costs about $12 and fits into one of the M.2 slots, which is pretty straightforward. 

Radxa M.2 E Key wireless module

The Radxa M.2 E Key wireless module.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET
The Radxa M.2 E Key wireless module with antennas next to the Rock 5 Model B

The Radxa M.2 E Key wireless module with antennas next to the Rock 5 Model B.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

What might not be so straightforward for some people is hooking up the tiny connectors for the antennas.

Using a screwdriver to attach the Radxa M.2 E Key wireless module to the Rock 5 Model B

Fitting the Radxa M.2 E Key wireless module onto the Rock 5 Model B.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNET

I've carried out some preliminary performance testing on this board, and the results show that this has a lot more power under the hood than the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, but I've yet to establish if this translates into something that's noticeable in the real world. 

My assumption at this point is that this board is better suited to heavier, more processor-intensive workloads, and that for low-intensity workloads the eight-core processor and 8GB of RAM are wasted.

There's no doubt that the Rock 5 Model B is a great board, but I'm not sure that it's a replacement for the Raspberry Pi 4. Some aspects of it -- the octa-core processor, 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet, and M.2 slot -- feel like features that should be in the Raspberry Pi 5, but the lack of onboard Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is puzzling. 

Also: What Raspberry Pi's new $12 tool can do

All the cons aside, this is a solid board that offers a ton of cool, high-end features coming in at under $200. The Rock 5 Model B is definitely worth keeping an eye on. Think of it less as a replacement for the Raspberry Pi 4, and more a Raspberry Pi 5 you can own today.

Editorial standards