RockPro64 RK3399 Board Linux Review with Ubuntu 18.04 + LXDE

Let’s do one more RK3399 Linux review using Pine64 RockPro64 development board. After shortly checking out the hardware, I’ll test Ubuntu 18.04 “Bionic” LXDE on the board, test 3D graphics acceleration, video playback, USB storage and network performance among other things on the board.

RockPro64 Board Unboxing

The board came in a cardboard package, and the sticker made it clear I had received the 2GB LPDDR4 version.

PINE64 RockPro64 PackageEven after FriendlyELEC NanoPi M4 announcement, Rockchip ROCKPro64 is still the cheapest RK3399 development board around, so it should come as no surprise that the board does not come with any accessories by default.

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Another way to keep the price low was not to include any built-in storage apart from SPI flash, so instead most people will either boot from micro SD card or an eMMC flash module both of which need to be purchase separately. Another cost-saving is the lack of built-in wireless module for WiFi and/or Bluetooth connectivity, which makes sense as FCC certification is easier that way, and the board is cheaper for people who do not need WiFi. WiFi can be added via Pine64 802.11ac 2×2 + Bluetooth 4.2 module ($15.99 – Ampak AP6359SA),  or USB. The power supply is not included either, and you’ll need a 12V/3A or greater, especially if you connect power-hungry devices to the USB 3.0 port and/or the PCIe slot, in which case a 12V/5A power supply is recommended. The latter is an exclusivity for RockPro64 as I can’t remember seeing it on any other RK3399 maker boards. I won’t test PCIe myself in this review since I don’t have any compatible card, but Pine64 provides card mostly for storage with a PCI-e to Dual SATA-II Interface Card ($9.99) and a PCI-e X4 to M.2/NGFF NVMe SSD Interface Card ($5.99). Note that Rockchip RK3399’s PCIe interface is not suitable for graphics card since addressable memory is limited to 32 MB.

RockPro64 Board Bottom
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There’s not much to see on the bottom of the board except for the micro SD card and Everest Semi ES8316 audio codec.

It’s also interested to look at the sides fo the board, especially with regards to the USB 3.0 + USB type-C connector which I don’t think I have seen in the past.

RockPro64 USB Ports
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The other side is more “traditional” with an HDMI 2.0 port, RJ45 connector for Gigabit Ethernet, and the DC jack.

RockPro64 HDMI Ethernet

Since I’ve tested five Rockchip RK3399 development boards so far,  I thought it would be interested to take a photo of all five models to compare the form factors.

Rockchip RK3399 Boards
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From top left to bottom right: RockPro64, NanoPC-T4, Videostrong VS-RD-RK3399, AIO-3399J, and Firefly-RK3399. The smallest of the lot is NanoPC-T4, but now we have a smaller board with business card sized NanoPi M4 board, and soon an even smaller RK3399 SBC with the upcoming NanoPi NEO4.

Initial Setup and First Boot

While RockPro64 does not come with a heatsink by default, some sort of cooling solution is a must for Rockchip RK3399, as we’ve seen with Firefly-RK3399 that a fansink can make a big difference in terms of performance compared to a thin heatsink, so I can’t imagine what would happen if I run the board without any heatsink at all.

RockPro64 Firefly HeatsinkI first try the same heatsink as used in AIO-3399J review, and it was close but no cigar, so instead I went with another thicker heatsink and some old thermal paste.

RockPro64 Heatsink Ports
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I connected Ethernet, HDMI, USB key board and mouse, as well as USB 3.0 drive, but I did not connect a USB-C adapter with HDMI output just yet, since it caused issues with other boards (HDMI disabled when USB-C DisplayPort Alternate mode is enabled). I also connected a serial debug board as explained in Pine64 forums.

But first we need to get some firmware to play with. News about Ayufan firmware images is also reported in the forums, so I went to Github release page and download one of the latest stable image, currently v 0.7.9 with  bionic-lxde-rockpro64-0.7.9-1067-arm64.img.xz.

I flashed the image to a 16GB micro SD card using Etcher, inserted the micro Card into the board, connected the power, some light turned on, and …nothing. I connected the serial console using 1.5 Mbps 8N1 no flow control and no output in the serial console. I took out the micro SD card, and pushed it back in the socket, and … success!

RockPro64 RK3399 Board Linux Review with Ubuntu 18.04
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I would get a login prompt in the HDMI display for Rock64 and in the serial console. Default username/password for RockPro64 images are: rock64/rock64.

Here’s the boot log for reference (N.B.: not the first boot):