The Great Pi Zero Showdown
What is the best Pi Zero? Is it the Raspberry Pi? Radxa? BananaPi? OrangePi? Or is it their RISC-V cousin, the MangoPi? Building on the Raspberry Pi Zero vs Mango Pi MQ Pro comparison, that guy on Reddit now gets his wish of seeing how the MQ Pro compares to the Pi Zero 2 W.
To make it abundantly clear from the get-go, I’m not comparing these boards because I think they’re all comparable in performance because they’re simply not. There will be clear winners and losers in each category but if you’re interested in these boards and want to see how Raspberry Pi Zero form-factor alternatives compete then this is the data for you!
Without wanting to ramble too much (if you know me, you know that’s a hard task), I present to you the testing of 7 Single Board Computers that all call themselves a “Zero” or fit into the Pi Zero form factor. Though when it comes to the OrangePi, you’re just calling yourself a Zero whilst being a little bit beefier. It was deemed to be a bit nasty if I left them out though so I’ve included them for comparison if you’re more of a citrus person.
Instead of including a full table of specifications for each board, I’m going to try something a little different and include the relevant specifications for each test group. So when it comes to networking, for example, I’ll show you the hardware/specifications for WiFi/wired connections there so you can get a better idea of what’s being compared.
You’ll see that we have a range of different SoCs on show here, though there should be some clear winners
|Raspberry Pi Zero W||BCM2835 ARMv7 @ 1.00GHz (1 Core)|
|Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W||RP3A0-AU ARMv8 Cortex-A53 @ 1.00GHz (4 Cores)|
|Radxa Zero||S905Y2 ARMv8 Cortex-A53 @ 1.80GHz (4 Cores)|
|BananaPi M2 Zero||H3 ARMv7 Cortex-A7 @ 1.01GHz (4 Cores)|
|MangoPi MQ Pro||D1 RISCV64 @ 1.00GHz (1 Core)|
|Orange Pi Zero LTS||H2+ ARMv7 Cortex-A7 @ 1.20GHz (4 Cores)|
|Orange Pi Zero 2||H616 ARMv8 Cortex-A53 @ 1.5GHz (4 Cores)|
Geekbench 5.4.0 AArch64
As most of the boards in this lineup support 64bit operating systems, we’ve put those through the AArch64 version of Geekbench 5.4. It’s largely as you’d expect, with Broadcom’s A7 cores faring better than the Allwinner H3 in the BananaPi M2 Zero and the Radxa Zero leading the pack.
Geekbench 2.4.2 ARM
WavPack Audio Encoding
Memory (RAM) Performance
With 4/8x the amount of RAM of every other board, along with it being DDR4, it’s unsurprising to see the Radxa Zero come out on top again.
There isn’t a great spread amongst the other quad-core boards here, though, with twice as much, faster RAM, the MQ Pro manages to hold on.
|Raspberry Pi Zero W||512MB DDR2|
|Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W||512MB DDR2|
|Radxa Zero||4096MB DDR4|
|BananaPi M2 Zero||512M DDR3|
|MangoPi MQ Pro||1024MB DDR3|
|Orange Pi Zero LTS||512MB DDR3|
|Orange Pi Zero 2||1024MB DDR3|
Geekbench 2.4.2 ARM RAM Tests
I’m still trying to figure out exactly what’s going on in the Stdlib Copy results here for the Orange Pi Zero 2. I re-ran the test another 6 times, all with the same result and I’m not too sure what was causing that!
|Raspberry Pi Zero W||BCM43438 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)|
|Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W||SYN43436 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)|
|Radxa Zero||AP6256 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz)|
|BananaPi M2 Zero||K019-CW43-DW 802.11b/g/n (2.4GHz)|
|MangoPi MQ Pro||TL8723DS 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)|
|Orange Pi Zero LTS||XR819 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)|
|Ethernet: H3 A83T 10/100Mbit|
|Orange Pi Zero 2||AW859A 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz)|
|Ethernet: RTL8211F 10/100/1000Mbit|
For networking tests, we’ve left the boards exactly as they come in regards to WiFi, with no external antennas if none were provided. The MQ Pro and BPI-M2 ZERO both come without an antenna, though they do have u.FL connectors for them. This sadly leaves the Banana Pi M2 Zero at a disadvantage due to its extremely poor out-of-the-box WiFi performance. It does make up for it via USB Ethernet, however, in this form factor, is that something you’re willing to do?
Only the Orange Pi boards had on-board ethernet and with the Orange Pi Zero 2 having a Gigabit port, this skews things a little. USB performance is fairly uniform, with the speeds hovering around 300Mbit in either direction on the quad-core boards and 200-250 on the single cores. When it comes to WiFi though, the Banana Pi really does suffer (all of these tests were done at 1m with a direct line of sight to the AP too!) whereas the rest are more than capable for the workloads you’re going to throw at these boards.
It’s worth noting though that the Orange Pi Zero 2 does have a few issues, even with the external antenna. Speeds will fluctuate heavily between a few Mbit to the 70+ you see in the graph. Perhaps a software issue that’s fixed in a certain kernel/image?
MicroSD Card Reader
When it comes to SD card performance, all perform near enough identically so you’re going to want to take a look at the long-term reviews and reliability statistics to make your decision on what specific card to use. The MangoPi MQ Pro runs a little slower on the sequential reads and writes so if you need more than 11MB/s~ on that front, you may want to choose one of the alternatives.
To note, the Radxa Zero model I used in this test has 32GB of eMMC storage onboard and can be booted from without an SD card. It will be much faster than an SD card and prevent you from needing one so if you’re factoring that into your budget for a new board then paying a little more for the higher-end model with eMMC may be a worthwhile investment.
Average microSD Card Speed Comparison
For a piece focusing on the form factor, I’ve dropped the USB SSD data/testing in favour of only comparing the microSD card performance. The Radxa Zero model I have here does also come with eMMC as a bonus but none of the others do so I’ve not included that in the graph.
Thermals & Power
No surprise that the single-core boards sit at the bottom of the table here in regards to temperatures, though what shocked me was the Orange Pi Zero LTS’ performance under load and no fan. Yes, stress-ng is a heavy hitter but it reads a solid 20+ degrees more than any other board in the round-up.
Performance isn’t everything though when it comes to considering your next tiny Single Board Computer, you’ll also want to know how much damage they’ll do to your bank account! Each of the prices below was the current price from official stores/distributors as of August 22nd 2022 in USD excluding any sales taxes or shipping fees. The Orange Pi Zero 2 doesn’t seem to be sold in a 512MB configuration, so I’ve linked and provided the price to the 1GB (even better!) and the Orange Pi Zero LTS now ships with an H3 CPU, rather than the H2+ tested here.
|Raspberry Pi Zero W||$10 USD|
|Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W||$15 USD|
|Radxa Zero||$60 USD|
|BananaPi M2 Zero||$22.50 USD|
|MangoPi MQ Pro||$27.03 USD|
|Orange Pi Zero LTS||$20.99 USD|
|Orange Pi Zero 2||$24.91 USD|
The Support Situation
It feels right to also mention that whilst we’re comparing performance and prices here, there’s one important thing to factor in and that’s software support. There’s a big issue in the SBC world where whilst fun and interesting hardware can be pumped out at a near constant rate, the software side of things can be severely lacking as it’s often left up to the community to pick up the slack.
Armbian does a great job at gathering like-minded people who share an interest in getting these things working and you’ll find images for most of the boards here. There are also linked images provided by some manufacturers and these can be obtained from their homepages/wiki but there are going to be quirks and issues. Sometimes certain features won’t work, or there’ll be a bug with temperature reporting. It will take a lot of trial and error for some boards but if you persevere, it will feel incredibly rewarding (maybe..)
If you do run into issues, Armbian, BananaPi and MangoPi all have forums. Do remember though that Armbian is run by volunteers with limited resources and the others are smaller manufacturers with heavy community support focuses so do be patient, provide as much information as possible and consider donating where possible if they help!
Which Pi Zero should I buy?
Obviously out of this lineup the Radxa Zero comes out on top but that’s not entirely fair as that also costs much more than the others. The answer to this question will ultimately depend on what you’re looking to do. Interested in the RISC-V with its comparable performance to the Pi Zero W? Go for the MQ Pro! Want the most powerful Raspberry Pi option in the Zero form factor? Then the Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W is what you need. If however, you’re unable to find any of these in stock and you start browsing for alternatives then that’s where it gets interesting.
The BananaPi M2 Zero comes in the same package as the Raspberries so it can drop into any identical project but it has poor WiFi capabilities unless you add an external antenna to your order which isn’t going to work for everyone.
The Orange Pi boards both come with external antennas and perform well for the most part, albeit in a larger form factor. If you’re looking for heavy-duty SBC but you’re unable to provide active cooling, the Orange Pi Zero LTS may not be the best option for you. Its more powerful younger brother, the Orange Pi Zero 2 though, offers full-size USB and Gigabit ethernet, coupled with around 60% of the processing power of the Radxa Zero and 70% more than the Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W.
There will be so many variables in play, that it’s hard for me to cover everything here but I hope that the information above helps in some way to see what your options may be when it comes to Raspberry Pi Zero alternatives.
As always, if you have any comments, ideas or suggestions, please do let me know. For now, though, I’m off on a much needed holiday for a week! Make sure to follow me on Twitter for bad puns and a scenic photo or two.
UPDATE: 21/09/22 – OrangePi Zero2 Data
Shortly after posting this article, I was alerted to a potential issue with the data in my OrangePi Zero 2 testing (thanks, @salva_lieb / MicroLinux!) This was found to be an issue with the image I was using not allowing the CPU to go above 1GHz and as this is a 1.5GHz SoC, this severely hindered the results. I have now updated the figures for each of the tests where this made a difference. I re-tested power but on were all within a margin of error (0.05W-0.08W) so I’ve left these as is. The temperatures though did change as expected so this has been updated too. Apologies to anyone that may have used this data to make a purchasing decision!