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Tips for choosing my first cheap TV box?


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Hello, it's been months since I've said to myself "I've got to get a cheap TV box, since SBCs are now so expensive and my Raspberry Pi 3 is showing its I/O and memory limits", and I think I'm now finally forced to, because 2 weeks ago my Pi started to show some strange (load/power) issues, and even started to emit a funny burned smell (!!!), slowly with hours of continuous (even if light) uptime. It still works, but I fear that some component is dying, maybe having kept an USB HDD connected for months has fried something: the smell strangely is always coming even after changing PSU and disconnecting the HDD (apart from that, there are now no other connected peripherals except for the microSD), and it appears to come from the micro-USB port section of the board. Point is, I don't trust this thing to keep working 24/7 after this incident, I have to get a new small homeserver.


Indeed, I mostly used the Pi as a server these years, and after reading "Status of Armbian on TV Boxes" I think I can at least give a shot at trying to buy a TV box as a Pi substitute for this kind of task. Since today and tomorrow the Amazon Prime Day takes place, and I'm finding some more-decent-than-usual deals (yes, I did check with Keepa, some boxes are really on discount today), I thought I might as well buy now and stop postponing. So, my requirements are about the following, and they seem easy enough to get on today's TV boxes with Android, but I don't know what happens if I was to desire Armbian:

  • 4 GB RAM or more (unlike the Pi's 1 GB)
  • USB 3.0 ports (unlike the Pi's 2.0), to add big additional storage with minimal bottleneck (but maybe we don't rely on an USB-Y cable anymore if connected to a separate PSU...)
  • WiFi, preferably 5 GHz, because I don't have a good place to put the box near my router, and can't have Ethernet cables going from one corner of the room to the opposite...


Now, I probably don't really need bare-metal pure Linux, since the majority of the software I have to run can do so in a proot container in Android (in the past I did use an half-broken Android smartphone as a server actually), but I would have to sacrifice Docker (which sometimes is really useful) and also Pi-Hole (since to work it has to bind on a privileged port, and I wouldn't bet on being able to root these Android boxes), so I am at least making an attempt at buying something that can run Armbian.


From what I'm gathering from the forum, the best choices are usually Rockchip boxes (most supported), next come those with some Amlogic SoCs (driven by a small community), and lastly there are some Allwinners. However, it's a bit chaotic trying to infer what's the best choice from browsing semi-random threads, and that's why I'm asking any potential TV box expert (now that's hyperspecialization!) what could be the best choice among what I found for an acceptable price (some are on Prime Day discount, some aren't but still have a good price):

  • X88 Pro 10, X88 Pro 12: RK3318 chip, I understood that it's good support-wise (https://forum.armbian.com/topic/26978-csc-armbian-for-rk3318rk3328-tv-box-boards/#comment-122715), WiFi works too if I'm reading correctly, but hardware-wise it's kind of crap, wastes energy, and can fail. Oh well, I'll be honest: I know I should be worried, but I don't know how much worried!
  • X88 Pro 13: RK3528, is it a very new SoC? I can't find anything on the forum about it, and so I fear there is no support.
  • Magcubic thingy, Magcubic 8K Ultra HD, Tanix thingy (Allwinner H618); T95H, Q Plus (Allwinner H616): It appears these are not well supported, there are some experimental builds around but many things are broken. Would be happy to discover that I'm wrong on this and support is actually good for my standards, though.
  • TUREWELL T95 Max+: Amlogic S905X3, here I kinda don't understand at all if there's enough good community support or not, but there are many threads about issues and solutions.


To be clear: I can tinker if something doesn't work out-of-the-box with Armbian, I have a bit of experience with embedded devices like routers or Android smartphones so I think I could solve minor issues if they arise, but I'm really looking for a quick replacement for my Raspi and don't want to spend more than a few days after getting the box to make Armbian work. That's why I'm thinking so hard on getting a device with good compatibility.


Anyways, thank you to anyone who comes here to help, I would appreciate it. If no help comes, I think I will bet on a box with the RK3318 and hope for the best.

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Why not buy an Armbian supported SBC? Most TV-Boxes are crap. Overheating and low-quality. For better quality you also pay a lot more. So then why not buy a good SBC?

RK3399 ain't that expensive and has great IO. RK3588 is high end so cost more, but it's future proof.

OrangePi5+ should be best value. I don't have it, so can't say much about it. 

NanoPi R6S/R6C isn't that expensive. The C has NVMe and USB3, and very fast CPU.


If you want to use full sized HDD's then look at the Odroid HC4. It has the S905X3. As powerful as RPi4(when not OC) and 2 SATA for full sized HDDs. But no USB3 or other IO. It does have HDMI.


RK3568 is also a SoC that has great IO and not too expensive. Not sure if there are Armbian supported boards with it.
RK3566 less IO but still better than any RPi.

I only had one ok TV-Box from a bunch. The Mecool KM6 with S905X4, but that doesn't have Armbian support. S905X3 should have better support. But you are never certain all hardware will work.
TV-box manufactures ofter use different components for the same model TV box. So some people might have wifi working, but others don't.

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I run Armbian on TV box and Diet Pi on other SBCs. As appreciative as I am of the Armbian project, I don't think anyone should purposely buy a TV box to run Armbian when there are properly supported SBCs. TV boxes should only be used if you having one lying around.

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