Office, Factory, Business Model, and Ambitious Plans of Shenzhen Xunlong Software, Orange Pi Maker

Orange Pi Development Boards

Parts of the article have been updated after Steven Zhao update at the end.

Since Steven Zhao is the only one contact person at Shenzhen Xunlong Software, the maker of Orange Pi boards, and the company appears to be focusing on hardware development more than on software and documentation, so at one point in time, people were speculating that it could be one person operation ๐Ÿ™‚ Last year, Steven told us there were over 10 persons working in the office. But hey, photos, or it’s fake! We now have a definite proof as Renaud Coustellier visited Steven Zhao in his Shenzhen Offices, and published a report on Minimachines (in French). I’ll provide a summary below, but visit Minimachines website, if you want the full story and more pictures.

First, Shenzhen Xunlong rented a floor, or part of it, in one of the many Shenzhen office buildings, and engineers are working in the typical cubicles, you’ll find in most other companies in China. The 200 m² office is now occupied by 50 employees doing hardware design, testing, and some customer support, and another part of the office is used for shipping parcels to customer. Manufacturing takes place in another factory in a cheaper place in inner China.

Click to Enlarge

The company is not only doing development boards, but also working on projects for their customers such as point-of-sales and game consoles. Those are not Xunlong products, and Renaud was not allowed to take pictures.

Xunlong was apparently initially involved in the development of the first Banana Pi board, and then went on to create their own Orange Pi boards. We also learned the typical development cycle for a new board: two months for the first design, and one month extra for testing, before mass production, so it takes around three monthsin total. Each card has to go through hardware and software tests to pass QA.

Xunlong sells around 40,000 boards per month, but the company is ambitious with a target of around 100,000 units per month by the end of 2017, and a new 5000 m² factory is now being built in Dongguan. Another positive point is that the company plans to hire (more) software engineers in 2017, instead relying  only/mostly on external projects such as Armbian. According to the report, beside Orange Pi board samples, the company also gave $24,000 to Armbian community to help them out. Xunlong also launched an initiative to provide free development kit if you have a specific project for it that would be beneficial to both parties (but I could not find a link).

Renaud and Steven (Right)

Then we also learn a bit more how the company can make boards at such a low price, and this get interesting. This was their conversion:

  • Steven: Orange Pi can purchase a good WiFi component for $1, with which boards will have a good WiFi connection
  • Renaud: Hmmm, if the price of the components is $1, then the price will be higher to the end user, and if you tell me the price, then I know your margin…
  • Steven: No, because today, all Orange Pi boards are sold to the BoM price.
  • Renaud – Does that mean the cost of engineers, office rental, equipment for development and design, and so on, is not reflected int othe price of the board?
  • Steven: Correct.
  • Renaud: But how how is that possible?
  • Steven: We receive subsidies from the government.

There you have it. That explains everything. We all pay about 50% of what we ought to be paying thanks to the Chinese taxpayers.

Beside the new factory, Xunlong has other bigs plans, as while they now sell though Taobao in China, and Aliexpress to the rest of the world, they plan to setup their own shop, where we should be able to buy the board directly from them. They intend to expand to IoT boards with 2G to 5G boards, ARM servers, and so on, and over the next 3 years, the plan is to recruit around 500 engineers, and sell ten times more boards than Raspberry Pi foundation. Maybe subsidies will have long been gone if that happens…

[Update from Steven:

Yes, there are some mistake, maybe it is because our translator wrong expressing.

1. About time arrangement for designing a new board: yes, we need 2 month for first design which also include samples production, but usually we take only 40-45days(30working days). Then after tested at customer side, we need around one month (20working days) for mass production. Which mean for a new product we need 3 months if do not take customer’s time calculating in testing.

2.  The new factory size is only 5000㎡ in Dongguan, and yes, we will donate Armbian $24,000 by the end of this year, for now we have only donated them part of the total amount.

3. About our cost and subsidies from government, yes, we sell most of our product at BOM cost, but we also have some models that still have margin profits, like PC Plus, Plus 2. If we keep running behind our expenses, how could government could support us? Government would not support you, if you have no income, they could only support you parts of the cost, like engineering cost, or part or office renting cost. So most of the cost should cover by ourself, we need to figure out how to how to sell more with margin profit. As you see, we do it now.

Finally, yes, we know what our weakness is, we will try to improve it in the following days.]

Thanks to Nobe for the tip.

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lordzahl
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lordzahl

..only in China ๐Ÿ˜€

Daniel
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Daniel

Wow seems Orange Pi is here to stay. Let’s hope their software promises come true, I quite like their boards.

Varghese
Guest
Varghese

it is really a good hardware , only headache is display ( raspberry will show something on the screen irrespective of resolution setting) which is very normal for a mobile SOC chip. if you have some software background,it is not a big issue … again kids always expect to spoon feed them & they always complain.

OvCa77
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OvCa77

On this picture I see some new Orange Pi boards: http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4256/35919334535_2d794aecd1_o.jpg

JotaMG
Guest
JotaMG

” the company has gave $24,000 to Armbian community ”

-> what a waste of money !!

JotaMG
Guest
JotaMG

” We receive subsidies from the government ”

-> and, of course, customers receive some spy bots hidden in firmware… really!

theguyuk
Guest
theguyuk

@cnxsoft I wonder about Nanopi Friendlyelec, are they government paid or is Orange Pi dumping model going to damage Friendlyelec Nanopi?

The apply for a dev board link under community on Orange Pi site is only I have found, do they have a different apply page on Chinese version of site I wonder?

PM Nordkvist
Guest
PM Nordkvist

Wow! Great read. I always wanted to know mรถre about these guys.

Wolf
Guest
Wolf

@cnxsoft

Excelent news. That RTD1295 dev board may be the one I’m looking for (native SATA+GPIO will make it a win for me)
I hope you’ll get your hands on a sample board soon for a proper review.

2mike
Guest
2mike

// if the price of the components is $1, then the price will be higher to the end user///
stupid mentality ๐Ÿ™
End users are forced to spend a few dollars to purchase a separate wifi dongle ๐Ÿ™
//We receive subsidies from the government.///
Now it’s clear, why they do not fix bugs in their boards.
The only advantage of their boards is the low price and low postage of aliexpress

nobe
Guest
nobe

@OvCa77 you’ve got good eyes ๐Ÿ˜‰
in another picture, on a desk, we can also see a bunch of very small boards with 2 ethernet connectors side by side. i’m not sure it’s a known product.

Fossxplorer
Guest
Fossxplorer

@JotaMG
Why do you state that? For me it seems Armbian community puts a lot of effort into supporting different boards.
Also, $24.000 is nothing wrt. to salaries of IT personal in north Europe in general.

JotaMG
Guest
JotaMG

@Fossxplorer
because even with 1% of that resources, the students at my local university can do a much better job than Armbian does !
(for instance they already had design a much better and friendly install)

Drone
Guest
Drone

“We receive subsidies from the government.”

Enjoy those impossibly low prices while you can you dumb Capitalist Sheeple. Once the Chinese put all your domestic factories out of business, they’re gonna bust you like a shotgun and shove a broken baseball bat straight up where the sun don’t shine!

theguyuk
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theguyuk

@Drone
Which countries factories you thinking of?

lvrp16
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lvrp16

Some information here are not necessarily correct. They only have a small subsidy from the government that is open to all tech companies that want to fill out a pile paperwork. The boards are also not sold at BOM.

It is a kind of misinterpretation of China of sorts thats to be expected. Also, Raspberry Pi is only a small player in the sbc market. The big ones do not make the headlines.

Renaud Coustellier
Guest
Renaud Coustellier

Thank you to publish my article wand my photos without my authorization.
I will see what to do, but i am speechless. Incredible.

KaiZen
Guest
KaiZen

any action taken yet ?

LinAdmin
Guest
LinAdmin

I am not in a position to believe all what this french guy said. Maybe Igor will comment?

itchy n scratchy
Guest
itchy n scratchy

Missing @tkaisers rant ๐Ÿ˜‰

TC
Guest
TC

itchy n scratchy :
Missing @tkaisers rant

he is probably still typing on it ๐Ÿ˜‰

Fossxplorer
Guest
Fossxplorer

@TC
More likely on vacation ๐Ÿ™‚

crashoverride
Guest
crashoverride

After receiving $24,000, what is there to rant about? I would say kind things for half that! ๐Ÿ™‚

Igor
Guest

> Maybe Igor will comment?

I can only confirm that donation was promised and that man on the picture is Steven Zhao. Donation is not on the level to help expansions since we already have few full timers (with a real paycheck), from Europe, to keep the project running + there are other fixed costs. Armbian project is non profit and we are probably exaggerated 99% away from making one. In such project there is no need for hiring slave labour @JotaMG to do our “lousy job” better.

Igor
Guest

@Igor
I manage to make a mistake in such a short notice … “with” a real paycheck is “without” a real paycheck ๐Ÿ™‚

theguyuk
Guest
theguyuk

@Igor
For those of use not in your trade can you give us a idea of what costs the project has to meet?

JotaMG
Guest
JotaMG

Well Igorโ€ฆ
I follow your work since early days of cubieboards, and respect you very much for what you have achieved.
Armbian has done some very positive contributions to the usability of the boards.
But my opinion is that now Armbian seems to have lost its Karma….

Regarding you unfortunate and even stupid comment about โ€œhiring slave labourโ€, Iโ€™m just a teacher, they are not even students from my classes. Their code is still alpha quality (but works) and they are still undecided what to do with it, but its up to them to decide.

Member

@theguyuk

Fully loaded software engineer in the US capable of working on the Linux kernel costs a US company at least $250K/yr probably more like $350K in SF. Fully loaded includes office, equipment, expenses, all taxes, medical, SS tax, etc. –
this is not salary. Around $80,000 of that ends up in property, state and federal taxes. Even if you rent you are paying property taxes. Of course all of this varies hugely between SF and Alabama.

Igor
Guest

@theguyuk

Open source projects can and do create value and debt. Our is no exception in this. Some are repaid with micro donations but only if you manage to make users happy and if they can and want to give something in return. This is extremely hard and rare. And on top of this, we need to fight predators, which abusing even more of our precious time.

If we don’t count time working on a project – research & development, planning, giving free 1st class end user support, if we neglect this is actually a daily job (for few people) and if we don’t add past investments … we don’t have many costs ๐Ÿ™‚ Infrastructure costs are negligible from this perspective.

Our team, made from volunteers, is creating value matched to similar professional teams. Since we are non-profit oriented and we don’t sell anything, we don’t make profits and we don’t match salary costs either. For one(1) general IT person (not kernel hacker) in my country, they start at around 35.000 EUR / year (taxes included). In Germany, this is about doubled and in Swiss tripled. Life expenses are in a similar relationship. Plus there is company running costs. Thanks for @Jon Smirl for data from US.

We can be happy volunteers or just another precarious workers. Now do the math.

@JotaMG
We don’t want to employ slave labour, which is only possible within 1% of this money and I wanted to emphasise that. If we need to pay for people and/or teach them – students – this is yet another long term investment, which is not exactly helpful, when you need a full blown workforce to relieve stress on the current team.

Jerry
Guest
Jerry

@Varghese
Yes, RPi is still a better choice if you need open source 3d graphics and HDMI CEC on your NAS. It’s sometimes hard to choose between gigabit LAN & native SATA ports and a 100M LAN shared with USB/SATA bridge on the same USB2 host.

TC
Guest
TC

Igor :
For one(1) general IT person (not kernel hacker) in my country, they start at around 35.000 EUR / year (taxes included). In Germany, this is about doubled and in Swiss tripled.

Munich, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Here in the North of Germany IT’lers are more near to the 35k, tho…

Eric
Guest
Eric

@Igor

I just hope JotaMG is not an EE or softdev teacher, because that’s just scary in terms of emptyness and basic financials…

beat armbian for 240$… he should start a freakin kickstarter!

If I would be half as bad as trolling, I’d say he’s from the “if you can’t do it, teach it”. Oops.

Jealous people seeing 5 didgits going boohoo is sad. 24K is nothing in terms of operations, its not like if Armbian won the lottery nor its a “waste of money”, because one of the reason I (and a lot of people) tried a few orangePis is because of armbian support.

So @JotaMG please go back under your bridge, light a fire in that barrel and ponder…

Then, start coding some awesome stuff and make the world a better place through some hard work, not harsh words, and only then you will earn some credits and enough respect to piss on any open source projects and call something a waste of money, because right now, the only thing that looks like a waste of money is your salary and my time replying to your statements.

Keep it up armbian!

miniNodes
Guest

Orange Pi Plus 3 (top left board in photo) looks to be interesting. Upgraded from 32-bit H3 to A64, and if it has 3 or 4gb or RAM then yes, virtualization becomes possible. SATA speed will probably be limited, but, we’re not expecting to break any speed records at this price point. ๐Ÿ˜‰

nobe
Guest
nobe

hopefully the useless internet drama will now stop…
@cnxsoft
very interesting feedback, thx.
also this is close to @lvrp16 ‘s comment.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

@miniNodes
That’s no OPi Plus 3 but you’re talking about already selling ‘Orange Pi Win Plus’ (A64, 2GB DRAM, 4 USB ports sharing bandwidth). IMO way more interesting is the Plus 2E successor called ‘OPi Prime’ with H5 that is two times on the picture. Both boards have 2 GB DRAM since this is the maximum we get with Allwinner anyway (won’t change with H6 too unfortunately).

‘SATA speed’ does not exist since these things have no SATA. But when using a good UAS (USB Attached SCSI) capable USB-to-SATA bridge performance is already known and can be found as always in Armbian forum: https://forum.armbian.com/index.php?/topic/1925-some-storage-benchmarks-on-sbcs/&do=findComment&comment=34192

The only interesting boards I spotted is the large one based on RTD1295 with native SATA, dual GbE, dual HDMI, 6 antenna connectors, USB-C, at least another USB3.0 port and 2 x mPCIe (but no one knows about software support yet and I’ve not seen any performance tests for SATA and GbE here). And then on another picture the small H3 or H5 OPi Zero board which seems to expose Fast and Gigabit Ethernet (EMAC/GMAC) at the same time.

Mum
Guest
Mum

To all this debate about funding Armbian…

Of course it’s nice that the project gets money so they can improve build system/infrastructure, etc. As Igor mentioned, it’s structured as non-profit, so money just increases the capacity. No one is contributing to Armbian and expecting to make money from it.

To everyone else saying $24,000 does not pay the salary of employees, of course you’re right. But this has never been the point of open source. The Linux kernel is arguably the best example of this. Sure, a lot of people who commit to Linux work for companies like Intel, AMD, ARM, etc. but you as a normal person without any help can commit a patch/feature to the kernel. Open source is mostly about people volunteering in their spare time.

I hope Orange Pi follow through and donate money to Armbian, since they are getting a lot of benefit from the project. In addition to this, it would be great if they listened to the community during design (e.g. don’t release products with crummy WiFi radios), and also worked more to distribute better OS images (unlike the BSP garbage they give you now, which only harms their reputation because everyone thinks the boards needs a fan and performs like trash because cores are too hot and shut down).

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

@cnxsoft
Yeah, RTD1295 Ethernet performance looks promising but we have 2 GbE ports here and iperf/iperf3 are no real network benchmarks anyway (as quick ‘saturate link’ test sufficient, for everything else rather useless).

Wrt storage you can’t test with HDDs anyway (since way too slow). If you want to test for SATA 3.0 bottlenecks you need something like a Samsung 850 Pro with at least 256 GB capacity (since the 128 GB variant is still too slow: write performance is below SATA 3.0 limitation). Wrt USB 3.0 the same applies (USB3/UAS is good for up to 400 MB/s). With a connected HDD you can tell ‘fast enough for home use’ but that’s not really a benchmark describing the device’s capabilities/limitations.

Wrt random IO performance that usually depends on the storage device connected but there are also host limitations possible. To get high random IO performance you need features like native command queueing (NCQ) working on both sides of the connection (so here ‘USB Attached SCSI’ — UAS — becomes a must when talking about USB storage) and with both SATA and USB host controller limitations might need some tweaks/quirks.

For example with some cheap mPCIe attached SATA controllers like ASM1062 (the one on Banana Pi R2 for example) you run in troubles with some kernel/settings combinations and sometimes it’s even necessary to more or less make NCQ useless by manipulating /sys/block/sdX/device/queue_type (none, simple, ordered) or play around with /sys/block/sdX/device/queue_depth. This can horribly impact random IO performance especially when there’s more than one disk used in parallel. Is that something we have to take care with RTD1295’s SATA implementation? We don’t know yet since no one looked into.

None of this stuff gets addressed by SoC or board makers and that’s where Armbian comes into play. We invest an insane amount of time and efforts to test for this stuff, come up with better settings, identify and eliminate bottlenecks. These settings if proven to work correctly then become part of the automated build system and after some time appear hopefully everywhere so every SBC user can benefit from regardless of the chosen distro.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to work! Wrt board makers there are some like Xunlong who listen, adopt community’s work and ideas, help the community by providing sources, correct documentation/information and — not that important — free board dev samples (I can buy boards easily myself, but I can’t buy sources and correct information). And there are of course some other board makers who behave like ignorant brain damaged retards.

And even on platforms Armbian hopefully will never support directly users can benefit from the work done at Armbian after some time, eg. Raspberries: https://forum.openmediavault.org/index.php/Thread/18991

JotaMG
Guest
JotaMG

I say it again: giving money to Armbian is a complete lost of time and resources.

( why? well, you know… because money just can’t buy talent and inspiration… )

And Igor comments here (and Thomas Kaiser on other topics) pinpoint with extreme precision why Armbian is going nowhere: you now feel like gods of the arm world !

Daniel
Guest
Daniel

You are aware that you and your students are perfectly free to create something better than Armbian, aren’t you? Who knows, if anyone would use it, they might even pay you.

Every Armbian dev contributed their time and knowledge to create what is objectively the best OS for the supported SBCs, so they can rightfully voice their opinions and experiences, whether others agree or not. I’d rather read tkaisers complaints than buy an OPi Zero, or read about those NAS tweaks and apply them than not knowing about them.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

Mum :
it would be great if they listened to the community during design (e.g. donโ€™t release products with crummy WiFi radios)

Well, XR819 on OPi Zero is one example for a bad Xunlong hardware choice and GL830 USB-to-SATA bridge on their first H3 board ever (Orange Pi Plus and later ‘Plus 2’) is another. Do you know a third?

2 years ago GL830 was used everywhere and is still used on some new products today but at least Xunlong doesn’t use it on their new designs any more (on their NAS Expansion board there sit 2 great JMS578 USB-to-SATA bridges and I really hope the small new OPi Zero variant with 2 Ethernet jacks that can be seen on one of the photos will be the perfect companion to this NAS Expansion board soon… and not just a prototype).

Wrt XR819: Xunlong was the first who used this and most probably didn’t know what to expect. It’s ok-ish for the use cases an OPi Zero should be used for (IoT node) and we currently have a lot of users complaining that Armbian’s mainline images don’t contain support for it any more (since ‘works perfectly for what it’s made for’). The real problem with Wi-Fi on OPi Zero are users that only ‘buy as cheap as possible’ and then expect from a $7 device performing like a $100 device and getting free life-time professional support for free.

BTW: FriendlyELEC also used XR819 on their first NanoPi NEO Plus2 samples but then chose to redesign the board this time relying on AP6212A for Wi-Fi (and also a better power design since they learned from conversation with community that with mainline kernel voltage regulation works unlike with Allwinner’s shitty H5 BSP where it’s still impossible to adjust CPU core voltage). In other words: Xunlong’s use of XR819 saved other vendors from making the same mistake ๐Ÿ˜‰

There are rumours that most recent OPi Zero PCB rev 1.4 has a different power design allowing XR819 to ‘perform’ better. For reasons unknown to me nobody is testing this and I really don’t feel like wasting my own time again to do such tests in my spare time.

Member

@tkaiser

Maybe Armbian could help out on the Android front. Right now Android support is chaotic. A first step would be to simply get the releases we have for Allwinner and Rockchip checked into source control and then verify that they build the images without issues. Doing that would provide a central repository for people to work in since the vendors won’t supply one. It also eliminates the need for everyone to painfully copy 6GB files out of China.

Doing this generates a significant git load so maybe do it on github or gitlab and then just manage it via Armbian. I am using gitlab since they allow larger files (zipped toolchains). Also note that you do not need to mirror the complete AOSP source, you only mirror the repos Allwinner/Rockchip changed. For A64 this is about 10% of full AOSP. I can help set this up, but ayufan knows more about how to automate it all.

Long term purpose for doing this would be to get these Android releases running on mainline kernels that can be updated. Plus maybe Allwinner/Rockchip might even let us mirror their secret git servers after they see this.

Drone
Guest
Drone

@theguyuk
@theguyuk, you said, “Which countries factories you thinking of?” Answer: Obviously any factories EXCEPT Chinese factories!

TC
Guest
TC

tkaiser :
There are rumours that most recent OPi Zero PCB rev 1.4 has a different power design allowing XR819 to โ€˜performโ€™ better. For reasons unknown to me nobody is testing this and I really donโ€™t feel like wasting my own time again to do such tests in my spare time.

is there a 100% chance getting a 1.4 rev when ordering now?
probably just not enough people got one so far…

irt to what you do for the community, 24k is a joke, tho.
Armbian is like the actual SW dev department of Xunlong

@cnxsoft: can’t you just ban that JotaMG troll?

Tj
Guest
Tj

Still dreaming of cheap soc with multiple native sata ports with minimally 4gig ram.
Dreaming to replace linux with zfs on linux with arm based.

My mutiple zfs are running x86 entry level server board

My dream is minority voice in cheap arm sbc board on my understanding.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

tkaiser :
And then on another picture the small H3 or H5 OPi Zero board which seems to expose Fast and Gigabit Ethernet (EMAC/GMAC) at the same time.

In the meantime Icenowy fortunately reminded me that’s not possible since the only Allwinner SoCs having both EMAC/GMAC are A20 and R40/V40/T3. Looking at http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4280/35919268085_43dbf1ec0c_k.jpg again another variant would be H3/H5 combined here with the usual external RTL8211E PHY (7x7mm 48-pin QFN package) using the SoC’s internal Gigabit Ethernet MAC and one of the SoC’s USB2 host ports (usb1) directly connected to an RTL8153 USB GbE adapter (also 7x7mm 48-pin QFN package).

Would be a smart choice since with mainline kernel we get +350 Mbits/sec with RTL8153 connected via USB2/Hi-Speed. So really looking forward to this new OPi Zero variant combined with Xunlong’s NAS Expansion board.

@TC
IMO if you think someone is behaving like a troll ‘don’t feed the troll’ should be the best approach. Everyone is free to express his opinions and banning/censoring/supressing is never the way to go. No idea which OPi Zero PCB rev you now get but based on user feedback when ordering through Aliexpress/Taobao it should be at least 1.4.

@Jon Smirl
We talked about that already 11 months ago and while a lot has changed in the meantime Armbian being focussed solely on Linux has not. Also Armbian ‘core team’ is still way too small for doing additional work. Let’s wait until ayufan is back from vacation and then maybe discussing this over at ROCK64 IRC?

cortex-a72
Guest
cortex-a72

because SBCs have been made with mobile SoCs. that’s why your dream is so unrealistic. in addition to the “at least 4 GB of RAM” and “cheap” don’t mix well.