Raspberry Pi vs. Raspberry Pi 2 vs. CuBox: performance comparison

Ever since Raspberry Pi was introduced to the world, the consumer market for inexpensive, pocket-size mini computers has been growing rapidly. The huge popularity of these tiny computers in the mainstream stems from a variety of DIY projects powered by these affordable hardware, as well as many readily available open-source software packages.

While the first generation of mini computers led by Raspberry Pi (model A/B) have been filling the need for many DIY projects in early days, there are increasingly more use cases where their limited hardware capabilities do not fill the bill. For example, Raspberry Pi and the likes may not be an ideal choice for routing traffic on a high-speed broadband link, hosting a Minecraft server for your friends, live transcoding, or even running a few browser windows. To fill the rising demand for more horsepower on these tiny boxes, the second generation of mini computers started to hit the market. For one, Raspberry Pi 2 recently arrived as an upgrade to its predecessor, Raspberry Pi Model B, with 900MHz quad-core ARMv7 processor and 1GB RAM.

Another less known, but strong contender in the game is CuBox series from SolidRun. The name "CuBox" is inspired by its uniquely designed cubic shape. This tiny, cool-looking 2-inch-square size hardware comes with ARMv7-compliant dual-/quad-core processor and 1GB and more RAM. Both Linux and Android are supported on this hardware platform, benefiting from software ecosystems of both worlds. For those less techie, CuBox comes pre-loaded with either Android 4.4 KitKat or OpenELEC/Kodi, either of which can turn CuBox into a remote-controllable media center out of box.

To see how these latest hardware lineups are measured up in terms of performance, I did a few benchmark tests using Phoronix-Test-Suite. In this evaluation, (1) Raspberry Pi Model B, (2) Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, and (3) CuBox-i4Pro are considered. I installed Debian 7.1 on Raspberry Pi, and Debian 7.8 on Raspberry Pi 2 and CuBox-i4Pro. All (micro)SD cards used in the evaluation have class 10 ratings, so there is no bias from I/O performance.

Raspberry Pi vs. Raspberry Pi 2 vs. CuBox-i4Pro: Specifications

First of all, here is a rundown of three hardware's detailed specifications.

Raspberry Pi Model B Raspberry Pi 2 Model B CuBox-i4Pro
Chipset Broadcom BCM2835 Broadcom BCM2836 Freescale i.MX6
CPU 700MHz ARM11 900MHz ARM Cortex-A7 1GHz ARM Cortex-A9
CPU count 1 4 4
Memory 512MB 1GB 2GB
GPU Broadcom VideoCore IV Broadcom VideoCore IV Vivante GC2000
Ethernet 10/100 Mbps 10/100 Mbps 10/100/1000 Mbps (Gigabit)
HDMI port Yes Yes Yes
Camera interface (CSI) Yes Yes No
USB 2.0 2x 4x 2x
Storage SD MicroSD MicroSD
Video Out HDMI HDMI HDMI
WiFi N/A N/A WiFi 802.11N
Bluetooth N/A N/A Yes
IR for remote control N/A N/A 38KHz Receiver &Transmitter
Price $25 $35 $139.99

Raspberry Pi vs. Raspberry Pi 2 vs. CuBox-i4Pro: Performance

The above specification comparison suggests that CuBox i4Pro might have an edge in terms of horsepower, but to what extent? To answer this question, I will present some raw performance numbers in the rest of the article.

In the plots, I will use the following short-hand notations for three hardware: RPI, RPI2 and CBox.

CPU: Single-Core

The tests in this category examine the speed of a single core by running single-threaded programs. The number of cores does not affect the result.

  • Gzip compression: 2GB file compression with gzip.
  • MP3 encoding: WAV to MP3 conversion with LAME MP3 encoder.
  • Pybench: Average times for different Python functions.

CPU: Multi-Core

Next, I examine the performance of multi-threaded applications which can leverage multi-core processors. Performance of these applications depend not only on CPU clock speed, but also the number of cores. Quad-core on Raspberry Pi 2 and CuBox i4Pro will be a significant performance booster for these tests.

  • OpenSSL: RSA 4096-bit performance of OpenSSL.
  • Apache HTTP server:Maximum number of requests to sustain per second (via local loopback interface).

Graphics

Graphics performance is important for good gaming experience, smooth X11 rendering, and other image processing needs. Tests in this category evaluate graphics card, graphics driver, and GPU performance.

  • GtkPerf: Average time to render GtkComboBox GTK widgets.
  • Cairo-perf-trace: Average time to taken to replay Poppler trace using Cairo 2D graphics library.

Summary

The test results in this post, while not comprehensive, can give you a rough idea on what kind of performance you can expect from these hardware. As you can see, CuBox i4Pro is a clear winner among the three, with a factor of 2 to 8 performance improvements compared to the Raspberry Pi baseline. Pretty impressive! While such improvement comes with a higher price tag ($139.99), personally I don't mind shelling out a bit more to go for a more powerful CuBox option. Another plus is that CuBox comes well-packaged inside a cubic case, and ready for use as a standalone computer.

If you are looking for the best bang for the buck in terms of raw performance, Raspberry Pi series might be hard to beat. But there is definitely a market demand for higher-horsepower standalone mini computer, which CuBox is addressing. My plan with CuBox is to set up a Minecraft server on it, and throw a Minecraft LAN party. Hopefully it won't melt down. :) When I have time, I will report back my experience.

Final note: for those who need more RAM than 1 or 2GB, there is the top of the line model named CuBox-i 4x4, which comes with 4GB RAM. As of this writing, CuBox-i 4x4 is on pre-order for $169.99. Just so you know.

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Dan Nanni is the founder and also a regular contributor of Xmodulo.com. He is a Linux/FOSS enthusiast who loves to get his hands dirty with his Linux box. He likes to procrastinate when he is supposed to be busy and productive. When he is otherwise free, he likes to watch movies and shop for the coolest gadgets.

18 thoughts on “Raspberry Pi vs. Raspberry Pi 2 vs. CuBox: performance comparison

  1. Well, the price is also 4 times that of RPi. And if you want to shell out, there are better computers that are 4-8 step performance and even less step with performance.

    The thing is the price of RPi. If price isn't what you look for as important, then just look for another computer.

    • Can you share some examples which are good tradeoff between performance and price?

      > The thing is the price of RPi. If price isn't what you look for as important, then just look for another computer.

      Exactly. If you are looking for the best bang for the buck in terms of raw performance, RPi might be hard to beat. But there is definitely a market demand for higher-horsepower standalone mini computer, which CuBox is addressing.

    • It's another apples and oranges comparison. Does the Raspberry come with a case? Can I attach my high performance external Sata Drive to a Raspberry? You are comparing the Raspberry to something that is close to a complete computer system. Then you find the Raspberry to be lower performance. And your analysis is that the price/performance of the incomplete system is better.

  2. Hi Dan. 2 corrections on your hardware spec chart. Model B does have a CSI connector, and the Rpi B also has 2 USB ports, and not 1. Nice write up!

  3. Interesting comparison.
    A few things.

    Raspberry Pi B is now out of date. The Raspberry Pi B+ had 4 USB ports and not 1 (It's the A/A+ that only have 1 USB port)
    GZIP/MP3 - could this be a function of I/O more than processor speed. Pi2 with 1GB will have less RAM to do encoding. Valid test, but may show up I/O short comings of Pi.

    Pybench - not familiar with this so not commenting.

    CPU multi-core test may be more down to the 1GB Ethernet than the cores as using OpenSSL and Apache.
    Pi Ethernet is from USB, so not fast.
    It would be useful to see a test CPU multi-core based on in memory use of the cores.

    Graphics test is excellent. Would love to see how the Cubox handles playing video. GPU portion of Raspberry Pi SoC is great at video playback.

    With all this if you want the extra performance the Cubox offers and the price works for you then it's a great solution.

    • > GZIP/MP3 - could this be a function of I/O more than processor speed. Pi2 with 1GB will have less RAM to do encoding. Valid test, but may show up I/O short comings of Pi.

      Good point. All the (micro)SD cards used are class 10 ratings. So I suppose the I/O conditions are the same for all three hardware.

      > CPU multi-core test may be more down to the 1GB Ethernet than the cores as using OpenSSL and Apache. Pi Ethernet is from USB, so not fast.

      Not true. Apache testing is done via local loopback interface. So Ethernet speed is not a factor. Also, openSSL is a cryptographic operation, which is purely CPU dominant.

  4. Awesome write-up! Two things I would love to find out more about with these devices:

    1) Throughput. Like "dd if=/dev/zero bs=1k count=10k | pipebench -q >/dev/null" and using a block size of 1k, 4k and 8k.

    2) RPi has a GPU that the OpenMAX libraries can leverage for video encoding. Search for omxtx to see more about it. Can the CuBox do something similar?

    • I deliberately exclude I/O benchmark here, since I/O performance is mostly an artifact of SD cards, not the hardware itself. If you use an SD card with higher class ratings, of course you will get better I/O performance. In this test, I used class 10 SD cards for all three hardware, so there should be no difference in I/O throughput.

      Unfortunately the GPU test in the post is limited. If omxtx can leverage GPU, that should be a GPU good benchmark. Will try it later. Thanks.

  5. @Dan, Give us a review of our CuBox _after_ your Minecraft LAN Party! I've been eyeing up a RPi2, but every so often find a reason not to grab one up. [ I really with at least some version of the RPi-family had 2 x Wired LAN/RJ-45. If that were the case, think of the uses! ;-) ] On the release announcements, I totally missed the fact that the RPi2 has 4 x USB2.0 ports. One would expect that increase in two more ports would make most RPi cases incompatible with the RPi2. Any thoughts or findings on case compatibility?

    • Sure when I have time. :) As for cases, RPi B+ (one with microSD and 4 USB) and RPi2 B have layout compatibility, so there are many cases that will fit both RPi B+ and RPi2 B. But I don't think RPi B (one with full SD and 2 USB) and RPi2 B cases are compatible.

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