The Asus Tinker Board S is an ARM-based, single-board computer (SBC) with a quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM and support for 4K video and HD audio. It’s billed as a marvellous computer for DIY enthusiasts and makers.
SBCs are in their ascendancy, in part because of the wide variety of devices available and the unrivaled success of the Raspberry Pi (RPi), offering kids, teachers and hobbyists access to an inexpensive way to embrace computing. In April last year, Asus launched a competitor to the RPi. Their Tinker Board received a promising reception with plaudits given for its hardware specification, and it was generally regarded as a competent platform for building and tinkering.
Asus is now set to follow up with the release of an upgraded SBC, the Tinker Board S. The new single board computer is expected to start shipping next month with a launch price of £79.99 ($79.99). That’s quite a bit more expensive than the current retail price of its predecessor (around £52), but the Tinker Board S offers some interesting hardware developments to compensate for the higher price point.
We’ve received a sample of the new single board computer, and have put it through its paces.
Let’s start with a brief inspection of the board’s specifications. The Tinker Board S shares many similarities with the Tinker Board. For example, both have the same system-on-chip (SOC): a quad-core Rockchip RK3288, as well as the same graphics processor, and dollop of RAM. Arguably, none of these areas needed an upgrade; there’s sufficient grunt for the computer to cater to the needs of its target audience: IoT enthusiasts, hobbyists, PC DIY enthusiasts. And the performance far exceeds the RPi.
There are some important improvements to the Tinker Board S. One of the areas that particularly interests me is the onboard eMMC storage. I seem to be cursed by failing micro SD cards in recent months – the onboard storage should offer better durability, although that’s not easy to test. But I’ll benchmark its speed and compare it with a good quality microSD card later. And there’s still the ability to boot from a microSD card.
Multimedia enthusiasts should welcome the fact that the Tinker Board S is HDMI-CEC ready, so you can control both the computer and TV with the same remote control. And there’s audio jack plug-in detection too, automatically switching the audio output to an audio jack when a speaker or headset is connected. The original Tinker Board offers a great multimedia experience; these additional features are the icing on the cake. Audiophiles may be slightly downbeat to learn that recording remains limited to 96kHz although playback supports 24-bit, 192kHz audio.
The device is also more user friendly with better safeguards in place for low-voltage input detection. Making power more stable therefore addresses one of my concerns with the original Tinker Board. And the onboard power-on pin for makers which should help inventors develop more innovative projects.
The Tinker Board S retains the same form factor as the Tinker Board which, in turn, means it has the same form factor as the Raspberry Pi. It has micro SD card, camera, and LCD connectors in the same places as those on the RPi, and replicates all the RPi’s external connections. This is highly desirable as it ensures compatibility with the wide variety of Raspberry Pi cases and extension boards.
|Asus Tinker Board S Specifications|
|Processor||Rockchip RK3288 Cortex-A17 Quad-Core SoC|
|RAM||2GB Dual Channel LPDDR3|
|Display||HDMI (supporting up to 4K)|
|Graphics Processor||ARM Mali-T760 MP4 - supports OpenGL ES1.1/2.0/3.0, OpenVG1.1, OpenCL, DirectX11|
|Storage||16GB eMMC & Micro SD(TF) card slot|
|LAN||Realtek RTL8211E-VB-CG Gigabit Ethernet|
|Wireless||802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth V4.0 + EDR|
|Audio||RTL ALC4040 CODEC supporting up to 24-bit/192kHz audio
Hardware ready for audio jack plug detection
|USB Ports||4 x USB 2.0|
|Internal I/O Ports||1 x 40-pin header, 1 x 2-pin contact pin, 1 x 15-pin MIPI DSI, 1 x 15-pin MIPI CSI|
|Size||3.37" x 2.125" ( 8.55cm x 5.4cm )|
Setting Up the Tinker Board S
Our review sample didn’t have an operating system pre-installed on the internal eMMC. Having checked with Asus, the official release will pre-install a boot loader on the onboard eMMC, but you’ll still need to install TinkerOS (or another operating system) either on the internal eMMC, or external microSD card.
I’ll briefly describe the installation process to the internal eMMC. It’s really simple to install TinkerOS, a Debian 9 distribution which comes with the LXDE desktop environment. The environment is optimized specifically for SBCs.
The steps to follow are simple:
- Download the TinkerOS image to a PC (at the time of writing the latest version is Version 2.0.4), available at https://tinker-board.asus.com/
- Connect a micro USB cable to the PC and the Tinker Board S;
- Flash the TinkerOS image to the eMMC using software such as Etcher.
Etcher is one of my favourite cross-platform, open source tools for writing images. It makes the process safe and easy. The image below shows the flashing process in action.
After writing the TinkerOS image, Etcher proceeds to validate the image:
Once the image is validated, and after connecting up a monitor, keyboard, and mouse the computer is ready to boot.
If the eMMC has no operating system installed, the board checks the microSD card and boots from that if there’s an operating system. Alternatively, if you’re installed an operating system to the eMMC, but want to boot from the external SD card, you just need to plug the jumper at eMMC Recovery. Or use a bootloader.