/ Homeserver

My alternative to the Raspberry Pi for a home server

The Raspberry Pi is a cool gadget. An affordable and very low-power computer, usable for everything from tinkering with peripherals to running an HD media center (with XBMC).

Raspberry with Screen

Wanting to host all my data myself ("Redecentralize the net!") and in the only place I can trust, I came to think about the right hardware for a homeserver. As I wanted to run my own mailserver, websites, file storage etc. all on the same machine, it soon became clear that the Raspberry Pi was not the right choice for that. It's got little memory (512 MB) and, at least in my experience using it as a media center, is running too unreliable, crashing every now and then.

The contestants

So I asked myself whether there was an alternative which is better suited as a stable running server with more memory? Turns out that in the meantime several (ARM-based) alternatives with different strengths became available. Each one of them is more powerful (and also more expensive) than the Pi.

I did a feature comparison using information available from the net. Some of it was not readily available and needed a bit of digging and guessing.

Here are the facts. Beware: details have been left out in order to make this more clear.

Raspberry Pi Model B ODROID U3 CuBox-i4-Pro Cubietruck Improv
SoC Broadcom BCM2835 Exynos4412 Prime i.MX6 Quad Allwinner A20 Allwinner A20
CPU ARMv6 700 MHz Cortex-A9 Quad-Core 1.7GHz Cortex-A9 Quad-Core 1GHz Cortex-A7 Dual-Core 1GHz Cortex-A7 Dual-Core 1GHz
GPU Broadcom VideoCore IV Mali-400 MP4 @440 MHz GC2000 (Quad-Core) Mali-400 MP2 Mali-400 MP2
RAM 512 MB SDRAM 2GB LPDDR2 880 2GB DDR3@1066Mbps 2GB DDR3@480MHz 1GB DDR2
USB 2x USB 2.0 3x USB 2.0 Host, 1x OTG (micro) 2x USB 2.0 2x USB 2.0 Host, 1x OTG 1x USB 2.0 Host, 1x OTG (micro)
Video out HDMI, FBAS Micro-HDMI HDMI HDMI, VGA Micro-HDMI, RGB/TTL
Audio out 3,5mm analog, HDMI 3,5mm analog, HDMI Optical S/PDIF, ? S/PDIF, 3,5mm analog, HDMI - (?)
NVRAM SD/MMC/SDIO Micro-SD, eMMC Micro-SD NAND, Micro-SD 4GB NAND, Micro-SD
SATA - - 1x eSATA II 1x SATA II 1x SATA II
Network 10/100 MBit 10/100 MBit 10/100(/1000) MBit 10/100/1000 MBit 10/100/1000 MBit
Wireless - - WiFi 11n, Bluetooth, IR Transmitter/Receiver WiFi, Bluetooth -
Power consumption 3,5 W 5 W max. 7,5W + USB ~10 W 3,1-4,4 W
Price 39 EUR ~46 EUR 71-91 EUR 120 EUR ~58 EUR

My choice

In conclusion, I decided on the ODROID U-3. Reasons were the large amount of RAM, the quad-core CPU and the possibility to use an eMMC as a system drive. Although quite expensive (compared to an SD card), eMMCs are running comparatively fast as normal hard disks while needing a fraction of the energy (and no cooling). Not to say they are so tiny as to be put directly in a board-mounted slot.

So I bought a U-3 with eMMC, case, power supply, HDMI adapter cable and UART interface for about 150 € altogether Admittedly, that's excluding VAT, but including the 30 USD shipping from South Korea (direct distribution only!).

Running Arch Linux and using Docker for deploying and segregating the different services, this thing runs great so far. More on that at a later stage!

ODROID U-3 on the table