Unpacking Project Cottonwood, an actual Raspberry Pi 4 Challenger?

Since the first Raspberry Pi form factor clone appeared on the market, the tech press has loved the term "Raspberry Pi Killer." I have found myself typing it more times than I could count over the years, and it's always somewhat tongue in cheek, as it would take something truly outstanding to challenge everything the Pi offers.

That's why a recent tweet (or X message as it appears to be called this week) has sent all corners of the embedded internet buzzing. Libre Computer recently revealed its latest creation on Twitter in what might be the most exciting yet vague announcement in recent times.

In short, Project Cottonwood, which is set to release later this year, is a Single Board Computer (SBC) promising twice the power of the Raspberry Pi 4, with just a $70 price tag. But who is Libre Computer? And in a market flooded with options and promised hardware that never materializes, why get excited about this project?

Well, we talked about what we know - and what we don't - on this week's Electromaker Show on YouTube:


Today we'll try to find out if this is as exciting as it sounds, but spoiler alert: There isn't much to go on!

Libre Computer: Who Are They?

Known for crafting Raspberry Pi-sized boards, the Shenzhen-based company provided us with a single image of Project Cottonwood - with a well placed heatsink covering the processor - and a few details. Interestingly, they use their older hardware as a price benchmark. Rather than giving a set price for the Cottonwood boards, they talk about them in relation to their existing Raspberry Pi form factor Le Potato boards.

Two new boards will grace the lineup: Little Cottonwood, priced $10 higher than the existing Le Potato at $35, and Big Cottonwood, costing twice as much as Le Potato but boasting double the speed of the Pi 4. Thus, we can anticipate price tags of around $45 and $70, respectively.

So far, so good. Libre Computer have a history of releasing hardware, but what is actually under the hood of the Project Cottonwood boards?

Project Cottonwood: Powered by What?

Libre Computer remains somewhat enigmatic about the specs, showcasing the SoC with a heatsink in the teaser image and hinting at an ARMv6 processor without divulging further specifics. However, the picture offers valuable clues about the board's features.

In appearance, Project Cottonwood bears a striking resemblance to the current Le Potato model. With a similar form factor as the Raspberry Pi 3B but a white PCB, the new board boasts a single, full-size HDMI output, not dual micro HDMI ports like the Pi 4. Like its Pi counterpart, it includes a 40-pin GPIO, CSI camera connector, and DSI display connector.

An exciting upgrade from Le Potato is the inclusion of at least two USB 3.0 ports on the back, indicated by their characteristic blue color. Furthermore, the board appears to adopt a USB-C power connector instead of the microUSB seen on the earlier model.

While the SoC's manufacturer remains undisclosed, Libre Computer has a history of utilizing processors from AllWinner, RockChip, and Amlogic in their current SBC lineup. Le Potato, for example, houses Amlogic's S905X, and shares the most similarities with the Raspberry Pi 3, and all we know about the Cottonwood boards so far.

Software, Firmware, and the Hope for no Vapourware

Existing operating systems that run on Le Potato, such as Ubuntu, Android, Debian, and Raspberry Pi's Raspbian, are likely to extend compatibility to Project Cottonwood, and this might be the main thing that decides just how many folks will adopt the board. Project Cottonwood has been in development since 2019, and it is unclear what software support will be available for it. Libre Computer just released a large update to the existing firmware for Le Potato and its other boards, promising yet more Raspberry Pi busting benchmarks:


Check the tweet replies for all of the details, including faster read/write times on the MicroSD card slot among others. With its potential to outperform and rival the Raspberry Pi 4, Project Cottonwood may carve out a niche in the hearts of makers. However, the vast Raspberry Pi ecosystem, boasting HATs, cases, and a myriad of accessories, remains a formidable force in the SBC realm, making any competitor's journey to the throne formidable.

Libre Computer says that samples of Project Cottonwood boards should be available mid-Jul 2023, and the general release will come later this year - that said, their official website doesn't mention the new board at all as of yet. For more information, head to Libre Computer's Website though you may have more luck following their Twitter account for the latest updates!

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