Asus Tinker Board

Asus Tinker Board Review: First Impressions

Review: Asus Tinker Board

The Asus Tinker Board is a new ARM-based single-board computer (SBC) which stands out from the crowd. It’s tiny, affordable, with strong performance, and targeted at the DIY/hobbyist market. Essentially a complete PC — motherboard, CPU, GPU, system memory and more — all in one package, it is priced at £54.99.

SBC’s are very much in vogue. With sales exceeding 10 million units, the Raspberry Pi is the most popular British computer ever produced. The Pi has retained its position despite other manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon producing similar computers. None of its competitors have, to date, come close rivaling its popularity partly because there’s more software and support available for the Pi. Things could change with the Tinker Board. And not just because the computer is developed by Asus, the 4th-largest PC vendor.

In the Box

Tinker Board SBC

Tinker Board BoxLet’s not dwell on the packaging. Suffice it to say, the Tinker Board cardboard box is fit for purpose. Sturdy with the Tinker Board logo smiling on top. The presentation should appeal to the younger DIY enthusiast.

Tinker Board heatsink

Opening the box reveals the single board computer protected in an anti-static bag on a cardboard tray. As the heat generation is higher than most SBC boards, a stick-on heatsink is supplied for the processor. This helps improve heat dissipation under heavy load or in hot environments. And there is also a brief quick start guide supplied.

Let’s scan the guide. This first edition is printed on thin paper, lists the package contents with safety information and a specifications summary. It also explains what equipment you’ll need. This consists of a Micro SD card (8GB+ recommended), power supply, monitor with HDMI cable, and a keyboard & mouse.

Hopefully, Asus will produce a starter kit for beginners with a Micro SD card (with adapter) pre-loaded with the TinkerOS (Debian) image, together with a power supply and case.

Connecting the Tinker Board

Anyone who has set up a Raspberry Pi computer or clone will be familiar with the process. Connect a suitable micro USB charger, attach the HDMI cable to the monitor, and plug in a USB keyboard and mouse. The operating system boots from a configured Micro SD card, as the unit doesn’t have a hard disk.

Quick Guide

I’ve reproduced the Getting Started page above. The guide could be clearer on configuring the Micro SD card. The process is actually simple. Download and write the operating system image to the card. The TinkerOS image is available to download from Asus’s website. But the guide omits the web address. I expect this will be corrected in a later edition of the guide. After a quick Google search, I locate the download site, www.asus.com/uk/Single-board-Computer/TINKER-BOARD/. The operating system image is TinkerOS_DEBIAN.zip, a 679 MB download.

While the guide explains the image writing from a Windows perspective, Linux is covered on Asus’s website. I prefer open source software and this extends to operating systems. So I configure the Micro SD card using the latest Ubuntu distribution running on an Asus ZenBook UX305 – a fantastic, silent laptop. My favourite open source, cross-platform, image writing software is Etcher, simply because it’s so easy to use. Here’s a screenshot of Etcher in action.

Etcher burning the TinkerOS image

With the TinkerOS image written to the card, I’m now ready to test the Tinker Board. Before doing so, let’s examine its specifications.

Specifications

Processor Rockchip RK3288 Cortex-A17 Quad-core 1.8GHz
GPU ARM Mali-T764 equipped with H.264/H.265 hardware decoder
Display Full-size HDMI 1.4 supports up to 4K
15-pin MIPI DSI supports up to HD
Memory Dual-channel LPDDR3 2GB
Storage Micro SD card slot
Connectivity RTL8211E-VB-CG GbE LAN
AW-NB177NF Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n & Bluetooth 4.0 with EDR
Audio RTL ALC4040 Codec with 1 x 3.5mm audio jack with 192K/24bit audio
USB 4 x USB 2.0 ports
Camera Interface 1 x 15-pin MIPI CSI slot for camera
Internal Headers 1 x 40-pin GPIO equipped header
Power Micro USB
OS TinkerOS (Debian)
Size 85.60mm x 56mm x 21mm

What makes the Tinker Board stand out are these impressive specs. It has considerably more beef than the Raspberry Pi 3. With double the RAM, and a significantly quicker quad-core processor, it’s better equipped for a wider range of projects. It’ll be a good base for media playback, computer vision, gesture recognition, even some basic gaming. Playing the latest games on a SBC is still a distant dream though.

The integrated ARM-based Mali T764 GPU is noteworthy with its fixed-function H.264 and H.265 hardware decoder for smooth 4K video playback. While the Raspberry Pi 3 offers hardware support for 1080p, the Tinker Board has the hardware to offer 4k decoding. Asus will be releasing the Rockchip Player in the TinkerOS with native hardware decoding for HD/UHD video content.

Audio has not been neglected. The Tinker Board provides an HD codec that supports up to 192kHz/24-bit audio. The audio jack has both audio output and a microphone in, without needing an extension module. Other refinements include Gigabit Ethernet, and support for SDIO 3.0. There is a Rockchip RK808 power management/clock chip.

As the name suggests, the board is targeted at the DIY market, and has standard maker and hobbyist connectivity options, including a 40-pin GPIO interface. The colour-coded GPIO header is a welcome touch making it easy to recognise the pin headers. The Tinker Board’s PCB dimensions and placement mirror standard SBC boards. A wide range of compatible accessories are therefore immediately available. A drop-in replacement; witnessed by a Raspberry Pi case snugly fitting the board.

The PCB also features silk-screening with connection header and location callouts, for improved connection clarity. Onboard MIPI headers have contrasting colored pull tabs.

Read on to see the board in action.

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15 Comments

  • M says:

    Nice review! Though for the life of me I cannot understand the availability of this thing, seems like there are no details on official release dates in any regions and no real date of when the hardware decoding media player will be out.

  • […] There’s a new release of TinkerOS available to download on Asus’s website. TinkerOS is a Linux distribution for the Asus Tinker Board based on Debian. Not heard of the Asus Tinker Board? Read our two page review. […]

  • I just received mine today, and it has me wondering… how difficult would it be to compile a build of Android for the Tinker Board? Is there already a build that would work as is? I read on another site (can’t recall which one) that a board called the “Miqi” was basically identical. It’s curious to me if anyone has tried any of these images? I suppose really, I would only need an android image made to be run from SD-card, and if it doesn’t work, just power off, wipe the SD, and reimage with something else.

    Only thing is, I’ve never tried that.

    I have 1 RPi3 and 2 RPi2 boards at home, and have worked with those extensively –currently 1 is a Retropie system, 1 is running OpenELEC 7.0.3, and the 3rd (RPi3) is running Raspbian in a custom build that I worked up in-house for my own use. I’ve done tons of Linux imaging, but the only android imaging I’ve done with SBCs or STBs is the build used for Minix X7 boxes, outside of firmware for smartphones and tablets.. and I’ve never really understood the storage arrangement with the latter… its always struck me as odd how the partitions are broken up and stored across the system. I suppose I need a mapping for that part, or at least a really good bit of documentation on it.

    But anyways, I’d really like to try either installing or building-then-installing an Android image for the Tinker Board. I think it’d be blazing fast. Does anyone have any advice that might help to get me started with this?

    (Many thanks in advance!)

  • […] There’s a new release of TinkerOS available to download on Asus’s website. TinkerOS is a Linux distribution for the Asus Tinker Board based on Debian. Not heard of the Asus Tinker Board? Read our two page review. […]

  • andy says:

    Thanks for putting this review together – very useful. Couple of questions: can we plug Raspberry Pi hats into the Tinker Board GPIO (ideally without destroying the board)? Also, the board looks identical in layout to the RPi, but does it fit into an RPi case?

    Thanks again.

    • Steve Emms says:

      Thanks! The Tinker Board fits fine into my RPI case, as the review explained, but I cannot possibly test with all cases. Asus’s website goes into detail about the GPIO pinout.

  • kyle C says:

    Aside from TinkerOS, are there any OTHER options for the OS at this time? From everything that Ive read, this is a bad investment from the KODI/HTPC point of view as RockChip doesn’t appear to work well with Kodi…again, FROM WHAT I’VE READ. I don’t have a ton of experience, but how limited are the OS distributions for this SOC?

  • Zoltán Rakottyai says:

    Really enjoyed your review! You mentioned that bluetooth audio streaming work impressive and I’m really curious about yout setup to manage it. If you could tell some details about it please ( like TinkersOs version, libraries etc.)

  • […] the time of this review of the Tinker Board, an Android image wasn’t available. Instead, the review was carried out using an initial […]

  • justniz says:

    I was very excited when I heard about this board but if the only option to get 4k H.264/H..265 video playback is to use their proprietary rockchip player then that right there is a purchase-stopper for me.
    I’d need to be able to use MythTV frontend or VLC.

    • Steve Emms says:

      Since the review was written (on pre-release hardware/software), Asus has been updating the TinkerOS distribution. The later versions come with Chromium with hardware acceleration and H.264 request for video playback as opposed to VP8 or VP9.

  • pavol says:

    I have installed tinker OS 1.8
    It does not look like other connected devices and PCs on the network.
    Submissions are not transferable

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