ROCK Pi 4 Review – A Raspberry Pi Alternative Starting at $39

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ROCK Pi 4 Review

Radxa Releases a new cheap single board computer (SBC) called the ROCK Pi 4, which is another new Raspberry Pi alternative based on the latest Rockchip RK3999 Soc that is currently very popular among Chinese board manufactures. Expected to be officially launched this month in two editions. Rock PI 4 Model A will feature basic hardware specs which include a snappy Rockchip RK3399 64bit Hexacore processor composes of a pair of clusters, operating at clock frequencies of 1.8GHz and 1.4Ghz, M.2 SSD Socket, 40-pin expansion header, onboard WiFi antenna socket, Micro-SD Card socket, On-board eMMC Expansion interface, HDMI 2.0 port, Two USB V3.0 Hosts, MIPI Interface,  RTC, USB Type-C port, and a 3.5 mm jack with MIC.

Both models are expected to come in two-three RAM configurations with few improvements between the basic and the high-end model. The Rock Pi Model A is expected to sell at price tag of $39 (1GB RAM), $49 (2GB RAM) and $65 (4GB RAM). The Model B, which adds PoE (Power over Ethernet) and a WiFi-ac/Bluetooth 5.0 wireless module will sell for $49 (1GB RAM), $59 (2GB RAM) or $75 (4GB RAM). Having said that, for more information you are welcome to check the company official website Here

 

Get it on ALLNET China (Official Store)

ROCK Pi 4

ROCK Pi 4

ROCK Pi 4 Review  (TOC)

  1. Product Introduction, Main highlights, Specs
  2. Package
  3. Unboxing
  4. Unboxing & Quick Overview
  5. All Accessories
  6. Design
  7. Hardware
  8. Cooling
  9. Temperature
  10. Storage
  11. Connectivity
  12. Software Support
  13. Final verdict
  14. Pros & Cons

ROCK Pi 4 (Model B) Specs:

  • Processor — Rockchip RK3399 (2x Cortex-A72 at up to 2.0GHz, 4x Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5GHz); Mali-T860 MP4 GPU
  • Memory/storage:
    • 1GB, 2GB, or 4GB LPDDR4 RAM (dual-channel)
    • eMMC socket for 8GB to 128GB (bootable)
    • MicroSD slot for up to 128GB (bootable)
    • M.2 socket with support for up to 2TB NVMe SSD
  • Wireless — 802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz/5GHz) with Bluetooth 5.0 with antenna (Model B only)
  • Networking — Gigabit Ethernet port; PoE support on Model B only (requires RPi PoE HAT)
  • Media I/O:
    • HDMI 2.0a port (with audio) for up to 4K at 60Hz
    • MIPI-DSI (2-lane) via FPC; dual display mirror or extend with HDMI
    • MIPI-CSI (2-lane) via FPC for up to an 8MP camera
    • 3.5mm audio I/O jack (24-bit/96KHz)
    • Mic interface
  • Other I/O:
    • 2x USB 3.0 host ports
    • 2x USB 2.0 host ports
    • USB 3.0 Type-C OTG with power support and HW switch for host/device
  • Expansion — 40-pin GPIO header (see pin-out diagram); M.2 slot for SSD (see mem/storage)
  • Other features — RTC with an optional battery connector
  • Power:
    • 5.5-20V input
    • USB Type-C PD 2.0, 9V/2A, 12V/2A, 15V/2A, 20V/2A
    • Qualcomm Quick Charge support for QC 3.0/2.0 adapter, 9V/2A, 12V/1.5A
    • 8mA to 20mA consumption
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 80°C
  • Dimensions — 85 x 54 mm
  • Operating system — Android 9.0; “some” Linux distros

 

Package ( Rock 4 + Extra Accessories)

Unboxing 

Design

Based on the KR3399 Soc solution, the Rock Pi 4 board comes with the same form factor as the raspberry pi series with similar interfaces and external dimensions, measuring 85x56mm. In terms of compatibility, it should fit some pi cases, but because there are some changes its something that needs further checking. The main differences in this board layout compared to the Pi board series is the RK3399 Chip location which is located on the rear side of the PCB, and also the change from Micro USB port from the familiar micro USB to a USB Type C port which is slightly bigger in size.

 

Hardware

CPU information: ( 0-5 Cores, total 6 cores).

CPU Stress Test:

        System Status Core Usage in % Measured

Temperature

Measured Watts

(W)

 Time
Low Load ~2%+ x 2 active cores 31-33C 4.1W 2 min
Max Load (Maximum) 100% x 6 active cores (All) 55-57C 9.4W

Test Screenshots:

  • Htop information | Before Stressing CPU
  • Running stress command in CLI mode.
  • Executing stress command on all 6 CPU Cores.
  • Htop information | After Stressing CPU

Storage

Extra storage space (Optional)

If you need to extra storage space, the rock pi 4 has an M.2 PCI Express socket that is capable of supporting NVME SSD up to 2TB. In order to use this feature, you will first need to buy an expansion board and use a flat cable to bridge both boards together, an arrangement that increases the device dimensions if your planning on designing a case.

Another reason you must use this expansion board. is because of the Rock Pi 4 dimensions limitation and the longer length of a standard NVME SSD. For example, on the FriendlyElec T4 board design, you can attach the SSD card and mount it with a screw on the PCB itself, without a need to bridge it externally with an expansion card solution.

 

16GB eMMC Module

ROCK Pi 4 + eMMC Module

 

Rock Pi 4 Expansion / Add-on Card

Rock Pi 4 Model B (2GB)

Cooling

The heatsink provided by heat dissipator Radxa is very standard, measuring ~20x20x9 mm. If you want to use a better and effective one for cooling with the open type acrylic case, you can use a heatsink with longer fins, just keep in mind that you will need to add extra hight as the CPU is located on the bottom of the board and the case has no legs. To achieve that, you can simply add spacers for the case legs by adding four brass hex type nuts.

 

Adding a fan

Based on the previous solution of adding 4 hex nuts as spacers on the lower plats of the case and using the default provided heatsink. Radxa company could have added 4 holes in the lower case plate instead of just one so it makes things slightly difficult adding a small 30mm or a 40mm fan. If you buy a 30x30x10 mm fan you will need to use an existing hole or glue it to the case plate using silicon / super glue. As final step connect the power source of through the GPIO header pins number 5 and 6.

Heatsink

Board + Heatsink

Rock Pi 4 with Fan

  • dav

Temperature 

The Rock Pi 4 as with most RK3399 Soc based SBCs it tends to heat much. According to my tests measuring the CPU temperature with the semi-open acrylic case using ‘Htop’ package that comes pre-installed with Armbian image, the temperatures measured in idle mode with almost no load on system resources the temperature ranged between 48-51C which is considered to be pretty high. After placing a small 30mm Fan on top of the heatsink for about ~2min I was able to decrease temperature from 47C to ~33-34C. As mentioned and recommended before, buying a small 40mm fan is the best solution for improving cooling.

Acrylic Case 

Board + Acrylic Case 

CPU information

Temperature & CPU information:

  1. Case Type: Acrylic Case.
  2. OS: Armbian 5.67 (Debian Based Disto).
  3. Cooling: 30mm Fan + Heatsink.
  4. Idle Mode.

Universal Power Plug 

Power Adapter (Full view)

Connectivity

Although the Rock Pi 4 lakes on-board IPX connector sockets for external Wifi antenna option, general reception and connectivity were good. In a 1-2 meter range from the main router unit, I was able to get a transfer rate of 28-30Mb/s. If you are planning on designing a metal case for the Rock Pi 4 board, the lake of the sockets could be a problem and interfere with reception.

 

Software Support

The Rock Pi 4 as a relatively fresh product that comes with relatively good software.  It currently supports Android TV, Debian Desktop, Ubuntu Server, Armbain, Recalbox, and LibreELEC which is an OS, Linux distribution for running the award-winning Kodi software on popular media center hardware. Based on my personal experience testing images such as Debian, Armbian and android tv everything worked well and smooth.

 

Final verdict

After playing with the board for about a week, general experience was good. The only cons of using this board are the lack of basic power and reset buttons and the external Wifi antenna support that for me as a user are more needed. On the brighter side, everything worked pretty well as expected. Few other highlights of the board are the LibreELEC Kodi image support and the PCI-e M.2 socket. If you choose to buy the 4GB RAM edition its price is very cheap compared to other SBC manufacturers, sold at a retail price tag of $75 (excluding shipping cost).

80%
Awesome Buy!

ROCK Pi 4 Review Summary

  • Design
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