All Hail the Rock 5B: SBC King of 2023

Radxa Rock 5B Review
Radxa Rock 5B Review

With the Raspberry Pi 5 delayed until 2024 and older models unable to be kept in stock the single board computer market is wide open for competitors to really shine this generation. I’ve reviewed dozens of board and spent literally thousands of dollars trying to find boards worthy of your money and that are good enough to step into a lot of the roles people were using Raspberry Pis for.

Today I’m going to be reviewing the Radxa Rock 5B and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve been waiting for years for a single board computer to come along that is powerful enough to squarely beat the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4. The Rock 5B not only beats it but leaves one wondering how Raspberry Pi is going to catch up.

Let’s get started!

Hardware Used

Radxa Rock 5B
Radxa Rock 5B

The Radxa Rock 5B has 8 CPU cores, a PCIe 3.0 interface and a powerful GPU. It’s one of the top performing single board computers available on Pi Benchmarks.

Links: AliExpress*, Amazon.com*

Radxa eMMC Module
Radxa eMMC Module

The eMMC module compatible with the Rock 5B. Available from 16GB up to 128GB.

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Specifications

  • ARM Quad Cortex A-17 + Quad Cortex A-55 CPU
  • ARM Mali G610 MP4 GPU
  • 5 TOPS NPU
  • Two HDMI and one USB-C up to 8k
  • 2500MB Ethernet with PoE support
  • Supports HDMI 4K Input
  • Supports PCIe 3.0 4x NVMe SSD
  • Supports WiFi 6 and BT 5.2 (with official module)

Build Quality

Let’s start with the packaging. Just like the StarFive VisionFive 2 that I reviewed recently the Rock 5B is shipped in a clear hard shell. It looks like this:

Radxa Rock 5B - Packaging
Radxa Rock 5B – Packaging

I like this trend away from boxes that easily get smashed like I remember nearly all of them coming in a few years ago. You can rest easy knowing it will make it to you in one piece without getting smashed. It comes completely sealed in anti-static packaging as well.

The board is incredibly high quality. Here’s a look at the top view:

Radxa Rock 5B - Top View
Radxa Rock 5B – Top View

On the top of the board you can see one of our two M.2 slots. The one on top of the board is meant for E-keyed WiFi adapters.

To see where the storage goes let’s take a look at the bottom of the board:

Radxa Rock 5B - Bottom View
Radxa Rock 5B – Bottom View

There it is! As you can see this is a full size 2280 NVMe slot. If you look at the right edge of the board you’ll see the gold mount.

You can also see the eMMC connectors right in the middle of the bottom of the board here. There’s a small black outline where the eMMC sites (J8-1 and J8-2).

Official Accessories

I did try a couple of the official accessories with the Rock 5B such as the official wireless module and the official cooler.

Here’s what installing the cooler looks like:

Radxa Rock 5B - Cooler Install
Radxa Rock 5B – Cooler Install

And the finished result (with the WiFi module as well):

Radxa Rock 5B - Accessories Installed
Radxa Rock 5B – Accessories Installed

Available Images

The official page to get the Radxa Rock 5B images is here.

The available selections are:

  • Android
  • Debian 11 (Bullseye)
  • Ubuntu Server 20.04

The Debian build is the only one that will have a desktop at time of writing.

There is also a Rock 5B Armbian build available. It says “maintainer needed” but there are builds available.

There isn’t any third party image support listed but you can expect all of the third party images that typically support Radxa boards (there’s a lot of them) to slowly add support for the Rock 5B over time.

Fixing Debian Apt Repositories

When I booted into Debian it would not let me update securely from the apt repository. This can be fixed with the following one-liner:

wget -O - apt.radxa.com/bullseye-stable/public.key | sudo apt-key add -

After this run sudo apt update again and you should not encounter any errors.

Updating Firmware

Important: At time of writing NVMe booting won’t work without updating your firmware first.

You can update the firmware on the Rock 5B by downloading and building rkdeveloptool.

Here is the process:

sudo apt-get install libudev-dev libusb-1.0-0-dev dh-autoreconf git build-essential
git clone https://github.com/radxa/rkdeveloptool.git
cd rkdeveloptool
autoreconf -i
./configure
make
sudo cp rkdeveloptool /usr/local/bin/

cd ..
wget https://dl.radxa.com/rock5/sw/images/loader/rock-5b/release/rock-5b-spi-image-g49da44e116d.img
wget https://dl.radxa.com/rock5/sw/images/others/zero.img.gz

sudo dd if=zero.img of=/dev/mtdblock0
sudo dd if=rock-5b-spi-image-g49da44e116d.img of=/dev/mtdblock0

This uses the rkdeveloptool to flash the “release” version of the firmware. This process also outlined here in the official Radxa documentation.

Once you’ve got the latest SPI boot loader firmware installed you should be able to image the NVMe drive normally and boot from it!

Performance Benchmark

You can verify the performance of your SSD on Pi Benchmarks using the following command:

sudo curl https://raw.githubusercontent.com/TheRemote/PiBenchmarks/master/Storage.sh | sudo bash

Here are the results:

     Category                  Test                      Result     
HDParm                    Disk Read                 1691.96 MB/s             
HDParm                    Cached Disk Read          1040.28 MB/s             
DD                        Disk Write                315 MB/s                 
FIO                       4k random read            117028 IOPS (468114 KB/s)
FIO                       4k random write           48075 IOPS (192300 KB/s) 
IOZone                    4k read                   97214 KB/s               
IOZone                    4k write                  130601 KB/s              
IOZone                    4k random read            36854 KB/s               
IOZone                    4k random write           91090 KB/s               

                          Score: 25,575                                           

The full Radxa Rock 5B benchmark can be viewed here on Pi Benchmarks.

This is the highest score I’ve ever achieved on Pi Benchmarks. I’ve finally shattered my Compute Module 4 record. I used the exact same drive as I used for my previous high benchmark as well (Samsung 960 EVO 1TB).

This is PCIe 3.0 performance and that’s why it’s so outstanding.

Pros / Cons

Pros

  • Uses the proper RK3588 giving you a PCIe 3.0 interface
  • Incredibly powerful CPU and GPU
  • Supports SSD / NVMe booting out of the box by simply writing the image to your drive

Cons

  • Much more expensive than the RK3588S variants

Conclusion

I don’t think we will see an answer to the Rock 5B and the other RK3588 boards from competitors for a while. All hail the new king of SBC performance! The Radxa Rock 5B doesn’t make any sacrifices using the full RK3588. It has PCIe 3.0 which is quite rare on single board computers. The CPU and GPU are incredibly powerful.

The biggest drawback for many people will be the price. If the price seems too high starting around $140 I would highly recommend checking out the Orange Pi 5. The Orange Pi 5 uses the RK3588S which lacks the PCIe 3.0 interface but is much less expensive. You can get an Orange Pi 5 for <$100 so if budget is a concern definitely check out my Orange Pi 5 review.

This board is suitable for beginners. It’s suitable for people from the Pi ecosystem who may be trying other boards for the first time. This board is a breath of fresh air because so many of the boards I test work great but are incredibly difficult to get started with. That’s not the case with the Rock 5B and some of the other RK3588/RK3588S models coming out and that’s very exciting.

The only caveat I would add to that is that you will probably need to update the firmware when you get the device if you get one this early. It’s not nearly as hard as some of the other devices I’ve recently covered though.

2023 is looking to be a year of domination for the RK3588 and the cheaper RK3588S boards such as the Orange Pi 5. Radxa does have a Rock 5A coming out that uses the RK3588S and is going to be a lot cheaper than the Rock 5B. I have one of these pre-ordered and will review it when it arrives.

The Rock 5B earns a strong recommend from me for anyone interested in high performance single board computers!

Other Resources

I’ve also reviewed the Radxa Rock Pi 4C+ here

You can see all of my hardware reviews here!

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Razor Burn
Razor Burn
1 day ago

Wowzers James!

I’m happy to read that the package arrived safely, and it looks like the patience was well worth it as from first glance it looks as though Radxa have delivered on the hype that is the RK3588 SOC with a well-priced offering packed with matching accessories and performance that makes the Raspberry Pi 4B seem outdated and in need of an urgent upgrade!

Congratulations to the many developers, testers and team at Radxa as they copped some backlash for delaying the release yet in hindsight, we see the gamble paid off as the vast majority of reviews have been positive and its hard to look past the Rock 5B as it delivers the full I/O options we expect to see with ARM SBCs at a fraction of the cost of its competition (Khadas, Firefly, Forlinx, Mekotronics, etc) and I’m super excited to see how they do with the Rock 5A as its going up against stiff competition in the Orange Pi 5 which is well priced and an equally capable board despite the RK3588S limitations… Excellent review!