Asus Unveils Chunky Tinker Board 3 Single-Board Computer and Its First RISC-V Board, the Tinker V

New boards signal a refocusing of the Tinker Board range away from makers and hackers and towards the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Asus has announced its latest-generation Tinker Board single-board computers, and they're a dramatic departure from its predecessors — not least because there's now a model based around a RISC-V processor from Andes and Renesas, in place of earlier models' Arm chips.

Asus made surprise entry into the maker market six years ago with the launch of the original Tinker Board, designed to offer competition for the at-the-time latest Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. Built around a Rockchip RK3288 Arm Cortex-A17 processor, the board mimicked the Raspberry Pi form factor but with a claimed doubling in performance. In the years that followed Asus launched a series of follow-up Tinker Board designs with ever-increasing specs, but all using Arm processing cores — until now.

The Asus Tinker V, the latest in the range, is the company's first product to feature a processor built around the free and open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture. At the heart of the board is the Renesas RZ/Five system-on-chip, which includes a single Andes AX45MP 64-bit RISC-V core running at 1GHz and connected to 1GB of DDR4 memory — meaning the performance of the new board will be noticeably lower than previous models, and a lot closer to something like the Sipeed Nezha D1 than a Raspberry Pi 4.

Elsewhere on the board is a connector for an optional 16GB eMMC module and a microSD slot for expansion, but its other expansion capabilities are unusual — and clearly focused more on the embedded side of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) than the maker segment. There's a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports, but only a single micro-USB port with On-The-Go (OTG) support for peripherals. A second micro-USB port provides power, or there's an optional barrel jack for 10-24V DC supplies, and there's no video output at all.

The color-coded 40-pin Raspberry Pi-format general-purpose input/output (GPIO) header of previous Tinker Boards is gone, replaced by a plain black 20-pin header with up to two UART, two I2C, and one SPI buses, four general-purpose digital pins, and two analog input pins. There's also a pair of CAN buses brought out to a six-pin terminal block, and two RS232 serial ports on a five-pin block.

At the same time, Asus also unveiled the Tinker Board 3 — a chunkier single-board computer with considerably more connectivity. Based on the Rockchip RK3568 and offering a quad-core Arm Cortex-A55 processor with Arm Mali-G52 graphics and a choice of 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB of LPDDR4 RAM, the board includes HDMI, dual-link LVDS, and embedded DisplayPort (eDP) display connectivity, 16MB of SPI flash for configuration, and up to a 64GB eMMC module. There's two USB 2.0 3.2 Gen. 1 Type-A ports, a single Type-C OTG port with the same specifications, and a header for two USB 2.0 ports, M.2 E-key and B-key slots for optional Wi-Fi and cellular modem boards.

The Tinker Board 3, though, has also made the move from a maker-centric Raspberry Pi-alike to something more suited to the industrial and embedded market. As well as its larger form factor, the color-coded 40-pin GPIO header is again replaced by a new 12-bit alternative which includes two UART, one I2C,and one SPI bus, four general-purpose pins with pulse-width modulation (PWM), two analog input pins, and S/PDIF digital audio. There are two gigabit Ethernet ports and headers for CAN bus 2.0B, two RS232 ports, and a configurable RS232/422/485 port.

The change of focus may be an admission from Asus that the Tinker Board range never really captured the maker markets' attention like the Raspberry Pi, nor offered quite the same value as various low-cost alternatives already on the market. Whether the company will have any more luck cracking the IIoT market — while, oddly, retaining the "Tinker" branding — remains to be seen.

More information on the new boards is available on the Asus website, but while the company has announced both it has yet to confirm pricing and availability.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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