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2/15/2017 | By Maker.io Staff

ASUS secretly launches a Tinker Board called the “Tinker Board”

Just when you thought January was going a bit quiet in the Maker world, ASUS decided to secretly launch the Tinker Board, without any major press release or even product support. However, it's a breath of fresh air to see a new development board that is not based on a AllWinner System-on-Chip(SoC). The media has picked up on this and hailed it as another "Raspberry Pi Killer" or "Raspberry Pi on Steroids", well they are kind of right but not really. It’s easy for us to sit here a judge a book by its cover, comparing every man and his dev board to the Raspberry Pi when:

  1. Its priced much higher than the Raspberry Pi
  2. Has no supporting community
  3. Has a much higher spec hardware

A fair comparison? I think not, I would say that this board sits in between the Raspberry Pi and an x86 board, and that is a fair statement.

Why the Secrecy?

Well I would imagine for a number of reasons ASUS did not do a press release, mainly because there is no product support for this board yet. It could also be that the board is still in Beta testing and there are further hardware revisions to come this year. This is also a new market for ASUS primarily known for its gaming hardware and accessories in the traditional Desktop computing market, maybe they are just testing the waters to see what the community/media response is before investing further into the maker market. Whatever the reason, their secret is out!

The Hardware Spec

As mentioned before, this board is not based on any other SoC that we have seen before. It uses the ASUS quad-core ARM Cortex-A17 Rockchip RK3288 1.8GHz processor with ARM Mali-T764 graphics capable of 4K HDMI output. The SoC itself is now a couple of years old, however it was quite revolutionary when first introduced in 2014.

The board also features 2GB of DDR3 RAM and a microSD card slot for storage. It supports 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 from the Realtek RTL8723BS and Gigabit Ethernet which also uses a Realtek IC. ASUS has also stated that the Ethernet port is completely separate from the USB bus thus drastically increasing performance

There are also up to four USB 2.0 slots for connecting USB peripherals, HDMI output up to 4K screen resolution and a 40-pin GPIO header much like the Raspberry Pi. At the moment it is unknown whether the board will be able to support Raspberry Pi HAT boards.

Table 1: GPIO Pinout

 Pin Label
Pin Number
Pin Number Pin Label
 3.3V  1  2  5V/VCC
 I2C1 SDA  3  4  5V
 I2C1 SCL  5  6  GND
 CLKOUT  7  8  UART1 TX
 GND  9  10  UART1 RX
 SPI0 CLK  11  12  PCM CLK
 SPI0 TXD  13  14  GND
 SPI0 RXD  15  16  UART1 CTSN
 3.3V  17  18  UART1 RTSN
 SPI2 TXD  19  20  GND
 SPI2 RXD  21  22  Unknown
 SPI2 CLK  23  24  SPI2 CSN0
 GND  25  26  SPI2 CSN1
 I2C4 SDA  27  28  I2C4 SCL
 SPI0 CSN0  29  30  GND
 SPI0 CSN1  31  32  UART2 TX PWM3
 PWM2  33  34  GND
 PCM  35  36  UART3 RX
 UART3 TX  37  38  PCM SDI
 GND  39  40  PCM SDO

According to the Python API, not much actually works and is ready yet –

"Note that the current release does not support SPI, I2C, hardware PWM or serial functionality on the ASUS yet. This is planned for the near future - watch this space! One-wire functionality is also planned. Although hardware PWM is not available yet, software PWM is available to use on all channels."

Programming in real-time is also not on offer with the Python API –

"If you are after true real-time performance and predictability, buy yourself an Arduino http://www.arduino.cc !"

The Tinker Board is almost like-for-like the same as the Raspberry Pi, including the same form factor with CSi and DSi connectors. You can also power it using a micro USB power adaptor with a minimum of 2A (2.5A recommended).

Support

Support for the Tinker Board is somewhat limited, actually it almost doesn't exist. You have to rummage deep deep down in the depths of the ASUS support forums. There you can actually find partial schematics, GPIO API’s and both the Debian and Kodi images to burn to a microSD card. Even after reading some of the ReadMe files in their API, they send users over to the Raspberry Pi forums for support. What's interesting is reading the FAQ, ASUS has stated that the board is almost for sale at cost–

"Tinker board packs a whole load of exciting feature into a very small space, and at an incredibly competitive price that's barely more than its manufacturing cost. ASUS has identified a clear DIY/maker market trend and we intend to create a big impact with our little board, so we’ve crammed in loads of tech while keeping our profits to a minimum — it's our little contribution to the DIY world"

The board itself is priced at $69 (£55) and is currently only available through a few distributers.

Summary

I have said it before and I’ll say it again, whilst the hardware specs are impressive and the price is set fairly; you cannot have a successful dev board without concrete support and a solid community. However, I have since ordered one of these boards and I’m interested to know how it actually does compare to the likes of the Raspberry Pi and possibly a much higher end x86 board such as the UDOO or LattePanda.