Project Cottonwood SBC Promises Double Raspberry Pi 4’s Performance

A new, high-speed competitor to Raspberry Pi could soon be hitting store shelves. Libre Computer just announced on Twitter that its next-generation line of single-board computers, which it calls Project Cottonwood, will be available in Q3 with the flagship “Big Cottonwood” offering speeds that are double those of a Raspberry Pi 4, the fastest Pi on the market today.

Long known as a maker of Raspberry Pi-sized boards, the Shenzhen China-based company posted just a single image of Project Cottonwood, along with a handful of details. These will be at least two SKUs: a “Little Cottonwood” that costs $10 more than the brand’s current “Le Potato” board, which goes for $35 on Amazon, and a “Big Cottonwood” that costs twice as much as Le Potato but is double the speed of the Pi 4.  Doing the math, that sounds like $45 and $70 for the two boards respectively.

The company was very coy about specs, covering the SoC with a heatsink in the sample photo and responding to user questions on Twitter by just saying that it is some kind of ARMv6 processor. However, we can glean some information just from the picture.

The board looks very similar to the company’s existing Le Potato, which is the same shape and size as a Raspberry Pi 3B, but with a white PCB. Like the Pi 3B (and unlike the Pi 4), it has a single, full-size HDMI output rather than dual micro HDMI ports. Like all Pi B models, the product in the picture has a 40-pin GPIO, a CSI camera connector and a DSI display connector. 

In an improvement over Le Potato, which tops out at USB 2.0, it appears that there are at least two USB 3.0 ports on the back. We say this simply because of the blue color that shows through the metal in the image. It also looks like the board is using a USB-C power connector instead of the microUSB one on the earlier board. However, the connector is blurry so we can’t tell for sure.

While we don’t know who makes the Project Cottonwood’s SoC, we know that Libre uses processors from AllWinner, RockChip and Amlogic on its current line of SBCs. Amlogic’s S905X powers Le Potato, which looks the most Cottonwood and Raspberry Pi 3. 

Le Potato can run a variety of operating systems, including Ubuntu, Android, Debian and Raspberry Pi’s own Raspbian “Buster” platform. So it seems likely that the same set of OSes would run on Project Cottonwood. However, according to a review I read,  Le Potato isn’t fully compatible with Raspberry Pi HATs, though with software translation, they may work.

In its Twitter post, Libre Computer said that it started working on Project Cottonwood all the way back in 2019 and this line, along with another named Sweet Potato, will be its first new products in more than five years. Coincidentally, the Raspberry Pi 4 was released in 2019 and it has remained at the top of Raspberry Pi’s product stack since that time.

Raspberry Pi products have been harder to find in the last couple of years thanks to a chip shortage, though availability seems to be improving and CEO Eben Upton recently told Jeff Geerling that inventory will improve a lot later in the year. He also has gone on record saying that there will not be a Raspberry Pi 5 launching in 2023.

If it does beat Raspberry Pi 4 on speed and availability, it’s possible that Libre Computer could secure a place for itself with makers. However, the size of the Raspberry Pi ecosystem, which includes HATs, cases and other accessories, makes it tough for anyone else to compete for the SBC throne