Raspberry Pi Alternative Banana Pi Seeks Community Input For Next Board

Banana Pi BPI-R3 Mini Renders
(Image credit: Banana Pi)

Raspberry Pi alternative Banana Pi is crowdsourcing ideas from its Twitter followers for an update to its BPI-R3 Router board. In the tweet we can see a much smaller form factor, hence the tweet announces the board as the BPI-R3 Mini.

Banana Pi's BPI-R3 Mini is something we expect to see in 2023, and that means we can only guess at the price — but it will probably be lower than the $90 of its predecessor. It looks like the BPI-R3 Mini is currently in the early stages of development, as we've only seen a number of renders and Banana Pi is asking for community input. Take any specifications with a pinch of salt until we get an official wiki listing.

Banana Pi BPI-R3 Mini Renders

(Image credit: Banana Pi)

The BPI-R3 Mini's form factor is nothing like a Raspberry Pi. Shaped like a plus symbol, the board's top and bottom edges are dominated by ports. At the bottom are two 2.5G Ethernet ports and a single USB-C; at the top, a lone USB 2 port and nano SIM slot.

What is most interesting is on the reverse center of the board: two M.2 sockets, one of which is for an NVMe SSD (M.2 Key M), and the other, for 4G/5G modules (hence the nano SIM slot).

Again, we're not sure on the exact specs. However, the MT7986 SoC seems to heavily suggest this is truly a mini version of the Banana Pi BPI-R3. 

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Possible Banana Pi BPI-R3 Mini Specification
SoCMediaTek MT7986(Filogic 830)
Row 1 - Cell 0 Quad core ARM Cortex A53+MT7531
Storage8GB eMMC
Row 4 - Cell 0 M.2 NVMe
Network2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi
Row 6 - Cell 0 2 x 2.5GB Ethernet
Row 7 - Cell 0 M.2 4g / 5G Expansion
PortsUSB C (PD Only)
Row 9 - Cell 0 USB 2.0
Row 10 - Cell 0 Fan Header (unpopulated)

This is purely an appliance device. There's no provision for video output — you're expected to build your appliance and hide it away in a dark corner. It is best used as a router, wireless repeater, home automation, or as an NAS device. The onboard M.2 NVMe connector means that you can make a rather sweet tiny NAS that can be hidden anywhere. 

Raspberry Pi alternatives don't have the best track record when it comes to GPIO. The best that we've had personal experience with is the LattePanda 3 Delta, and this was due to an onboard Arduino Leonardo. The GPIO is also where the BPI-R3 Mini seems to be no match for the Raspberry Pi, it has no GPIO. The original BPI-R3 did have a 26 pin GPIO, so the Mini's omission seems to be deliberate.

There are many Raspberry Pi alternatives out there. From Banana Pi's own Raspberry Pi Pico W competitor, the cleverly named Banana Pi Pico W, to Khadas' range of VIM and Edge boards. Of which we extensively reviewed the Khadas VIM4 and the Edge 2 Pro. These alternatives promise much, but often fail to deliver on the basic user experience presented by the Raspberry Pi. Still, we're always excited to see what Raspberry Pi alternatives have to offer.

Les Pounder

Les Pounder is an associate editor at Tom's Hardware. He is a creative technologist and for seven years has created projects to educate and inspire minds both young and old. He has worked with the Raspberry Pi Foundation to write and deliver their teacher training program "Picademy".