Tiny beast

ASUS Tin­ker Board

HWM (Malaysia) - - TEST - By Michael Low

CoN­CLu­sIoN A souped-up tiny com­puter that could do with more sup­port.

Sin­gle-board com­put­ers are a hob­by­ist’s de­light, es­pe­cially when there is amaz­ing sup­port in the form of open-source soft­ware, and an ac­tive com­mu­nity of like­minded users to share find­ings and help one an­other. In the case of the Rasp­berry Pi (and its sub­se­quent mod­els), that trans­lated to a di­verse range of third-party op­er­at­ing sys­tems and pro­gram­ming tools, ei­ther for spe­cific use cases or con­tin­ued ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. The lat­ter ac­tiv­ity typ­i­cally saw en­ter­pris­ing DIY en­thu­si­asts over­clock­ing the Pi’s CPU (and mi­croSD card reader) to eke out fur­ther per­for­mance gains. The ASUS Tin­ker Board, with its souped-up specs and iden­ti­cal form fac­tor, is seem­ingly de­signed to cater to the needs of these power users.

For one, the Rockchip RK3288 is a 28nm ARM-based SoC con­sist­ing of a 1.8GHz quad-core Cor­tex-A17 CPU and a 600MHz quad-core Mali-T760 GPU, which is meant to out­class the Pi 3 Model B’s 1.2GHz quad-core Cor­tex-A53 CPU and 400MHz dual-core VideoCore IV GPU. The 2GB dual-chan­nel LPDDR3 mem­ory on the Tin­ker Board is also twice that of the Pi 3 Model B, while the SD 3.0 in­ter­face al­lows for faster read and write speeds on a UHS-I mi­croSD card.

What re­mains the same are the GPIO pinout and port place­ments, which was likely a con­scious de­ci­sion on ASUS’ part to en­sure that the Tin­ker Board fits neatly into ex­ist­ing Pi cases and en­clo­sures, al­low­ing easy ac­cess to the four USB 2.0 ports, HDMI port, Gi­ga­bit LAN port, and 3.5mm au­dio jack. The in­clu­sion of wire­less-N, while con­ve­nient, is sim­ply not as blaz­ingly fast as the ded­i­cated Gi­ga­bit LAN con­nec­tion.

We rec­om­mend that the in­cluded heatsink be ap­plied on the SoC right out of the box, as the board can get pretty warm dur­ing heavy load. Of the two of­fi­cial OSes avail­able to Tin­ker Board own­ers, the De­bian-based TinkerOS is a great start­ing point, though be pre­pared to sudo and apt­get your way to pop­u­lar Linux apps and soft­ware. The rather sparse LXDE (Light­weight X11 Desk­top En­vi­ron­ment) comes pre-in­stalled with Chromium browser, which han­dled mul­ti­tab brows­ing and HD video stream­ing well enough. We tested em­u­la­tion pack­ages like DOSBox, Med­nafen, and Scum­mVM, all of which can be tweaked fur­ther to run games with smoother frame rates. The in­cluded me­dia player does 4K UHD video play­back, just as ASUS promised.

The An­droid 6.0 OS, on the other hand, was a lit­tle more lim­it­ing in that there are no Google Play ser­vices, but the fa­mil­iar in­ter­face should prove ad­e­quate for most. Apps are in­stalled via an APK in­staller, but you’ll find that most Play-de­pen­dent apps, such as YouTube and the Play Store it­self, will out­right refuse to run. Our at­tempts to in­stall the Google Play Ser­vices Frame­work were un­suc­cess­ful.

The GpIo pins are color coded, while the board it­self is lit­tered with easyto-un­der­stand icons.

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