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!
- 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)
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:
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:
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:
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).
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:
And the finished result (with the WiFi module as well):
The available selections are:
- 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.
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!
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
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
- 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
- Much more expensive than the RK3588S variants
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!