ROCK64 Board Review – Part 2: Quick Start Guide with Ubuntu 16.04.3 MATE, Multimedia Features, Some Benchmarks

Pine64 ROCK64 is the first maker board based on Rockchip RK3328 processor, and is potentially interesting for various applications including network storage thanks to USB 3.0 and Gigabit Ethernet, multimedia applications with 4K HDR video support, as well as other applications requiring I/Os. I’ve already tested Rock64 board with Android 7.1 operating system, so today I’ll report by finding and experience with Ubuntu 16.04.3 with MATE desktop.

Selecting and Flashing a Linux Image

You’ll find several operating systems in the Wiki, but you’ll also find more cutting edge images in ayufan’s github. But first let me explain some vocabulary used for Pine64 firmware files:

  1. Engineering version – Becomes with release build based on the stock build develop by Pine64 and the SoC vendor. It’s supposed to be more stable, but get less updates
  2. Community versions (currently managed via ayufan) are more frequently updates, and comes with more recent features. You’ll find two categories
    1. Release builds – The current stable version released by the community
    2. Pre-release builds – Version under test to eventually become the release build

Currently, documentation is still work in progress for the board, so I spent some time on IRC #Rock64 chatting with the helpful community there, and I noticed most of them used the community builds. I’ve also been told there has not been that much work on the Desktop version right now, with most people focusing on NAS support with images such as Debian + OpenMediaVault. But since I wanted to test a desktop image I was recommended the Ubuntu Mate image, and download the pre-release 64-bit version: xenial-mate-rock64-0.4.17-85-arm64.img.xz.

If you’ve read the WIki, you’ll notice all those are “micro SD” images, so since I had a eMMC flash module, I was a little confused at the beginning, but since I have Hardkernel’s micro SD to  eMMC flash module adapter, installation was just the same as on a micro SD card with Etcher.

Top to Bottom: ROCK64’s 16GB eMMC flash Module, Hardkernel adapter, and micro SD card reader

But Pine64 does not sell such adapter, so how are you supposed to do with you bought an eMMC flash module? I’ve been explained you first need to flash a micro SD card with the image, and then interrupt the boot in u-boot (USB to TTL debug board required), remove the eMMC jumper, and continue the boot by typing “boot”. This has be to be done, or you won’t see the eMMC flash module, while booting from a micro SD card.

Now you can download, and flash the firmware to the eMMC flash module with curl:


Not the most user-friendly method, but it should work. If you don’t have a USB to TTL board, first you should really buy one, but for this specific case, you could remove the eMMC jumper about two seconds after applying power. In that case, your mileage may vary though… Pine64 is working on an easier method of installation to the eMMC flash module.

Rock64’s Ubuntu 16.04.3 MATE Boot, System Info, and Initial Setup

Since I want to get the boot log, I connected the USB to TTL board. There’s no dedicated UART connected on the board, so I download the GPIO pinout charts for Pi 2 Bus and Pi 5+ Bus from the Wiki, amd we’ll use it to test GPIOs later on.

Pi 2 Bus – Click to Enlarge

 

Pi 5+ Bus – Click to Enlarge

UART Tx and Rx can be found on respectively pin 8 and 10 of Pi 2 Bus header, so I connect the debug board accordingly, together with USB keyboard and mouse, a USB harddrive, Ethernet and HDMI cables.

Click to Enlarge

Finally I put the eMMC flash module into the board, applied power, and after a few seconds, I got to the Ubuntu MATE desktop. however, I only got ribberish in the serial console, which was set to 115,200 8N1, the most common settings “in the universive”. There’s currently no info about serial console setting in the Wiki, but a web search lead me to the right settings: 1,500,000 8N1, which apparently is the default in Rockchip SDK.

This high bitrate may cause troubles with some serial adapter, but after changing minicom settings accordingly, I had no trouble with the serial console. That’s the complete boot log after a reboot:

We can now login with rock64/rock64 credentials in the desktop or the serial console:


I checkout some infor about CPU, storage, memory usage, and Linux & Ubuntu versions:


I have the 1GB version of the board, and the firmware is based on the latest Ubuntu 16.04.3 LTS release with a fairly recent Linux 4.4.70 kernel. However, we can see that with just 4.8GB capacity the rootfs partition has not been automatically resized during the first boot. So let’s run the relevant script, and check again:


All good, as we now have a 14GB rootfs partition. It’s worth noting the other scripts in /usr/local/sbin too:

Modules and GPIOs on Rock64

The next step was to check pre-loaded modules and GPIOs:


Only uas and usb_storage modules are loaded, which shows people are truly focusing on the NAS part right now, or some other drivers are directly built-into the kernel. GPIOs need to be exported manually, and a quick search lead me to that forum post (again no info in the Wiki right now).

You need to convert the gpio pin name as shown in the pinout diagram (e.g. GPIO3_A5) into a raw number using a formula combining bank number (3), pad name (A) and pad number (5). marcushh777, who is also a helpful member on IRC, wrote a Python script to do just that, and you may want to create that script in /usr/local/sbin/name2gpio.sh:


The file is also on Github so you could use wget or curl instead:


We can now run the script with the GPIO we want to use…


… switch to root, then use sysfs to export the gpio number and set the direction, and switch the GPIO to high and low levels:


I connected a 5V LED to GPIO3_A5 pin via a transistor and could turn it on and off with the last two commands above.

Eventually, a PDF document will be uploaded to the Wiki, but it does not appear to be ready yet. I was unable to find info to use I2C or SPI at this stage.

GPU (OpenGL ES) and VPU (Video Decoding) Testing

GPU and VPU support are often problems in Linux on ARM, and while I had low expectation, I still tried those by installing the usual OpenGL ES demo to test Mali GPU support:


I ran es2info first, and Mali-450MP GPU support is indeed enabled:


That command ended in a segfault however. Not too reassuring.

So I ran es2gears demo, but could not take a screenshot, as all screenshots were black with only the mouse pointer showing up, so instead I some photos, and it works, but the transparent window is unlikely to be normal.

Performance does not appear to be optimal right now however with just around 35 fps.
glmark2-es2 demo started well too…

Click to Enlarge

… but some features are not supported (maybe normal), and it crashed at the end as shown in full log below:


The results are actually better than I expected, but there’s still some work.

I tried to play 1080p60 H.264 Big Buck Bunny video with VideoLAN (VLC) first, and all I got was the first frame with changing artifacts around the bufferfly, and I had somewhat better luck in SMPlayer with the video playing almost smoothly in windowed mode, and some saturated and accelerated audio. Switching to full screen mode would just show a black screen, until I was asked to signing again a few seconds later…

So video playback is basically unusable at this stage in the Ubuntu MATE image, and you’d better go with Android, or potentially LibreELEC currently released as alpha for ROCK64 board.  LongChair also told me in IRC that “we have ffmpeg / mpv working on rock64 … we need to do more testing and get a few bugs fixed by rockchip before I finally upstream that to ffmpeg / mpv”, so video support is definitely coming. It’s just not ready yet. Another person informed me that contrary to Amlogic, Rockchip does not use AFBC (ARM Frame Buffer Compression) natively, and the memory bandwidth is critical, 4K H.265 HDR videos may not always play that well in RK3328. I’ve been told it may take one to two more months for 4K support in Linux, and that 1080p is now supported but not released just yet in the Ubuntu image.

Storage and Networking Benchmarks

I’ll skip the Phoronix benchmarks in this review, as we’ve had so many ARM Cortex A53 platform the results won’t be much better, unless there’s a bug, which would eventually be fixed. Instead, I’ll focus on storage and network performance on Rock64, since it may vary between boards.

Those are the results for the 16GB eMMC flash module:


Up to ~115 MB/s read speed, and ~69 MB/s write speed, and good random I/O too. For reference, Ubuntu boots in 17 seconds from power on to the login screen.

I then tried to create the iozone test on the NTFS partition of my hardware, but it failed because NTFS is read-only.


That can happen because of file system error, or because the image using the NTFS kernel module that provides read-only access only. So I installed ntfs-3g instead:


and remounted the drive inside the file manager in the desktop.


You can see the type is now “fuseblk” instead of “ntfs” – meaning the userspace ntfs-3g driver is used – , and the partition mounted as read/write.  So I could run iozone on the NTFS partition:


Something is clearly wrong with the read speed: up 271 MB/S is not right, as it’s much higher than what my USB drive is capable of (~115 MB/s) on my main PC. That means caching must be involved here, so I’ve increased the file size to 500 MB in the test:


and the results are much more realistic, except for the random read with 16384 reclen. It shows up to 119 MB/s reads, and up to 92 MB/s writes, which means everything is working as expected. So I repeated the test with the EXT-4 partition:


The results are a bit lower at 96 MB/s read and 94 MB/s write, but still pretty good for a mechanical drive over USB 3.0.  It should be noted that performance decreases the closer you are from the center of the drive. The NTFS partition in the first quarter, and the EXT-4 in the second quarter of the drive, and I got 108 MB/s with the first partition (NTFS) and 96 MB/s with the second partition (EXT-4) using “Disks” utility in Ubuntu when I first bought the drive. Other people have reached close to 400 MB/s with SSDs over the USB 3.0 port of ROCK64 board, but for most people getting to around 100 MB/s should be enough for their data.

Finally I tested Gigabit Ethernet by doing the usual full duplex test with iperf:


That’s OK, but not overwhelming, maybe it will improve with a more recent kernel as with some other platforms. I also did a download-only test with iperf3, and it could do so at around 933 Mbps: