NanoPi NEO4 is the Cheapest & Smallest RK3399 Board So Far

As you should be well aware the RK3399 SBC market is quite crowded these days, and FriendlyELEC had already released two Rockchip RK3399 boards with NanoPC-T4, and NanoPi M4 boards. But the company  has now announced another board – as expected – with NanoPi NEO4, the smallest and cheapest RK3399 board on the market at this point.

NanoPi NEO4NanoPi NEO4 board specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3399 big.LITTLE hexa-core processor with  2x Arm Cortex-A72 @ up to 2.0GHz, 4x Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5GHz, a Mali-T864 GPU with support OpenGL ES1.1/2.0/3.0/3.1, OpenVG1.1, OpenCL, DX11, and AFBC, and a VPU with 4K VP9 and 4K 10-bit H265/H264 decoding
  • System Memory – 1GB DDR3-1866
  • Storage – eMMC module socket, micro SD card slot
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDCP 1.4/2.2 support
  • Camera – 1x 4-lane MIPI-CSI connector for camera up to 13MP
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 2.4 GHz 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 with 1x u.FL antenna connector
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 2.0 type-C port with OTG mode and power input, 1x USB 2.0 type A port, 1x USB 2.0 interface via 2.54mm header
  • Expansion
    • 40-pin GPIO1 header with 2x 3V I2C, 1x 3V UART/SPI, 1x SPDIF_TX, up to 8x 3V GPIOs, PCIe x2,  1x PWM, PowerKey
    • GPIO2 header with 1x 1.8V 8ch I2S
    • GPIO3 header with debug UART, 1x USB 2.0
  • Misc – Power LED, user LED, 2-pin header for RTC battery
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A via USB-C port; RK808-D PMIC
  • Dimensions – 60 x 45 mm (8-layer PCB)
  • Temperature Range – -20℃ to 70℃

Smallest RK3399 BoardThe company provides Ubuntu Desktop 18.04(64-bit), Lubuntu 16.04(32-bit), Ubuntu Core 18.04(64-bit) and Lubuntu Desktop with GPU and VPU acceleration for the board, as well as the usual detailed documentation in their Wiki.  Note there appears to be only a 1GB RAM version available, so the board may not be suitable for all applications, but if you are after something inexpensive, packing plenty of processing power in a small package, and with a target application that can do with 1GB RAM, NanoPi NEO4 should perfectly match your requirements. If your plan is to use the board as a low cost Linux mini PC, I’d really recommend a board with 2GB or 4GB RAM instead such as FriendlyELEC’s own NanoPi M4, or Pine64 RockPro64 board.

NanoPi NEO4 Heatsink
NanoPi NEO4 with Heatsink

FriendlyELEC currently offers the board for $45.00 plus shipping, but that’s without the highly recommended – some would say necessary – heatsink that adds $5.99. If you don’t include the provided heatsink or add your own, the performance will drop significantly pretty quickly under most loads. You may also consider a 16GB eMMC module for $12.99 for better performance compared to most micro SD cards, as well as other accessories. If you have long term plans for the board, note that FriendlyELEC always launches their board with a promotional price, and in a few months the price should increase to $49.99.

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blu
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blu

Apropos, T-860 does GLES 3.2 with a recent-enough sw stack (e.g. r22p0): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kpsW7WUd11oHy3XoCBPCq8hlC8kCxfMr/view?usp=sharing

tkaiser
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tkaiser

I had the chance to test with 2 NEO4 days ago and collected already some info wrt (thermal) performance and powering here: https://github.com/ThomasKaiser/Knowledge

TLS
Guest
TLS

FYI, thermal pads don’t suck, as there are a lot of different kinds of thermal pads. If you use something like Shin-Etsu or other high quality thermal pads, you should have very good thermal transfer. If you use the cheap crap, well, then you might as well use toothpaste. You also want a thin thermal pad, not a slab of it, like many of the ARM board makers use. Shin-Etsu makes thermal pads with conductivity up to 8.0 W/mK, which is the same as high-end thermal pastes, so your logic here is a bit flawed, or you’ve just been unfortunate and not had access to decent thermal pads. Thermal Grizzly offer a different type of thermal pad with the same conductivity performance as well, which you could most likely pick up online quite easily to do some testing with.

nobe
Guest
nobe

there are also the fujipoly thermal pads, up to 17 W/mK thermal conductivity
they can be ordered from amazon US for example

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

> You also want a thin thermal pad, not a slab of it, like many of the ARM board makers use

That’s the main problem at least with the vendor offerings. FriendlyELEC’s thermal pad is 1.5mm thick and performs rather poorly. I don’t want to buy other thermal pads but getting the board makers to provide better options like heatsinks that are able to directly connect to the SoC surface so only some thermal compound is needed.

Yesterday I had a talk with Pine Inc’s TL Lim and he mentioned: ‘we will include Thermal compound pack on all ROCKPro64 heatsink deliver and also on ROCK64 aluminum case’ — problem solved.

willy
Guest
willy

In fact I’ve found one case where a (good) thermal pad is better than a plate, it’s when the CPU only exposes a small silicon surface, like the S5P6818 on the NanoPI Fire3. The silicon surface is extremely small, probably 5x5mm, but the CPU itself is something like 14x14mm. Using a flat thermal plate only touches the silicon and picks at best half of the heat (the part that comes from the top side of the silicon).. A thermal pad also collects heat from the rest of the CPU which is heated by the bottom of the silicon. Ideally I’d like to have a square thermal pad with a hole at the center, and a plate on top, so that the plate touches the silicon and also collects heat from the rest of the CPU. But that’s difficult to do so I kept a pad for the Fire3.

Over years, I’ve accumulated various pad types, thickness and sizes, salvaged from various hardware. The best ones I’ve found were used between MOSFET arrays and their heat sink on server motherboards. They’re thin, dark gray, fragile and contain some thin metal fabric inside. I don’t know what they’re made of, they look like mud to the touch.

Mark Birss
Guest
Mark Birss

@tkaiser with regards to the adhesive, you used the same STARS-922 adhesive ?

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

I followed the 2nd eBay link from here. Looks like ‘Thermo Electronics’ TM910 Thermal Glue. Obviously low conductivity.

Mark Birss
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Mark Birss

Thank you, understood

tkaiser
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tkaiser

For users interested in the NAS use case (I still hope FriendlyELEC will do a 2 port ‘SATA HAT’ for the board using a PCIe attached ASM1062)… OMV images are ready: https://sourceforge.net/projects/openmediavault/files/OMV%204.x%20for%20Single%20Board%20Computers/

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

> there appears to be only a 1GB RAM version available, so the board may not be suitable for all applications

If you happen to run a somewhat modern Linux distro on such a board 1 GB RAM might be ok even if the application in question needs more than that. Simply use RAM overcommitment (adjusting ZRAM_PERCENTAGE in the relevant config file to 250 or something like that and test again):

Unfortunately at the time of this writing those in-kernel compression code on ARM makes no use of NEON optimizations (unlike on x86 where SIMD extensions are already used). But still the slowdowns aren’t that heavy once the kernel starts to use RAM compression.

back2future
Guest
back2future

From my experience, ZRAM is an appropriate solution for temporarily avoid RAM limitations. Means, that if someone often is on low memory on daily, average usage with a (nowaday) sbc-platform and soldered onboard RAM size, going for a 2GB or 4GB RAM board seems to be a reasonable recommendation.
Anyway, Thx for Your insights.

Dim
Guest
Dim

Nice hint. Thanks!

e97
Guest
e97

Why don’t they make one board correctly instead of 3 mediocre boards?

blu
Guest
blu

Those boards constitute an incremental (wrt pricing and features) lineup, no?

ahrlad
Guest
ahrlad

There’s no “correct” board

xtract
Guest
xtract

Why do you think they are mediocre? Which other RK3399 boards do you think are better?

I am asking seriously here, I’d like to know which ones are better in terms of hardware / cooling / software availability. It looks like we have a bunch of RK3399 sbcs but no decent comparison, and saying they are ‘mediocre’ and no reasoning after that statement is not helpful for some people.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

> which ones are better in terms of hardware / cooling / software availability

You could start with this link list: https://forum.openmediavault.org/index.php/Thread/23508 (Edge-V is missing but following the Edge link will give you an idea, Rock960 is missing since ‘crippled’ due to annoying 96Boards specs, the large Firefly RK3399 AIO thing is missing since too expensive anyway and another RK3399 board arriving soon is also missing — I don’t know whether I can talk about that already).

Software support situation is more or less the same since there’s either Rockchip’s 4.4 BSP kernel involved or Mainline kernel. FriendlyELEC managed to get GPU/VPU acceleration working and I would believe ayufan’s kernel tree for RockPro64 is the most advanced right now.

Performance is more or less the same everywhere as far as device-tree settings are concerned (RK’s default is 1.8/1.4GHz max for big/little cores while Armbian or Hardkernel for example unlocked the 2.0/1.5 GHz cpufreq OPP) and of course heat dissipation is important here (check the links above to my reviews and sbc-bench numbers)

TLS
Guest
TLS

IMHO the best board right now is the NanoPC-T4, at least from a board design perspective. Obviously this depends on your requirements. If you need SATA you might want to look at the Odroid-N1.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

> If you need SATA you might want to look at the Odroid-N1

Didn’t they cancel N1? https://forum.odroid.com/viewtopic.php?f=149&t=31277#p226287

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

Forgot to mention that powering these RK3399 thingies is also an important differentiation factor. There exist 3 categories at the moment:

1) powered with 12V using a sane 5.5/2.1mm barrel plug (no powering problems whatsoever)
2) USB-C in ‘dumb’ mode
3) USB-C and USB PD (power delivery) compliant

1) means inexpensive and flawlessly, 2) means undercurrent and undervoltage troubles likely and 3) means expensive USB-C charger needed.

fossxplorer
Guest

Their 4 port SATA HAT can’t be used with this board?

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

Nope, that one only fits on the M4. On the NEO4 maybe a dual SATA HAT based on ASM1062 could fit.

DurandA
Guest

Is it good for a Kodi HTPC? E.g. can it decode h264/h265 out-of-the box using the provided images?

willy
Guest
willy

Quite frankly, for developers interested in testing their code optimizations on different CPUs, this probably is the cheapest A72-equiped board you can find, and if you’re interested in your code’s performance you should get one! If I didn’t already have the NanoPI M4, I would definitely buy this one. As usual they’re missing an enclosure. I don’t know if the aluminum enclosure made for the NeoPlus2 can fit or not, at the very least the front plate needs to be modified to fit the different USB connectors (hopefully they’ll just add this new plate to the enclosure kit). But at the very least, having the ability to leave this board running on your desk and SSH into it to run your code is cool. I do regularly test haproxy’s optimizations on various boards (mostly on the McBin nowadays) and this is extremely convenient. My next goal is to have a new optimization pass on libslz to improve compression speed on such CPUs.

blu
Guest
blu

@willy Exactly. About a year ago the cheapest A72 board one could buy was well above $200. Now it’s $50. Yes, there’s been an advent of A72 SBCs (and for some of us, notebooks in the form of chromebooks), but whether that makes the market ‘saturated’ is beyond the point here. The point is that if one wants to experiment with modern, weakly-ordered memory-model CPU architectures, modern feature-rich + power-efficient GPU architectures and their APIs (GLES 3.2, Vulkan 1.x, OCL 1.2/2.0) they could do that at a very symbolic price of entry, or pay some extra for extra features — their call.

Philipp Blum
Guest
Philipp Blum

Just 1 GB memory… Would be nice to get 2/4 GB options as well.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

These options are called NanoPi M4.

FransM
Guest
FransM

Depends on what you want to use it for.
You could also look at the NanoPC-T4
This one is 4GB and $ 15 more than the M4 with 4GB, but it has an M.2 connector allowing you to connect an SSD.

It seems tempting to pair this with e.g. a Samsung 970 Evo 500GB and use it as a small media server.
Then again I’m not sure if that would fit in the metal case (and I have also some doubts on the thermal of this combo, even if the heatsink is added (not sure if that fits into the case either)

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

> NanoPC-T4. This one is 4GB and $ 15 more than the M4 with 4GB, but it has an M.2 connector allowing you to connect an SSD

Or as @blu pointed out: ‘Those boards constitute an incremental (wrt pricing and features) lineup, no?’

The T4 metal case will work with an NVMe SSD but since these SSDs usually get hot like hell I fear it’s not the best solution from a thermal point of view since such an SSD would need improved heat transfer (maybe a thermal pad between SSD and enclosure?) and IMO the same is true for FriendlyELEC’s heatsink for the RK3399 there.

BTW: running a ‘Desktop Linux’ on T4 when the system is on a NVMe SSD is most probably the fastest ‘Desktop experience’ you can have on any SBC. For the simple reason that ‘Desktop Linux’ depends on high random IO performance without extensive tweaks: https://twitter.com/armbian/status/1043228923818139650

sola
Guest
sola

Can I use this with a SATA drive like an Odroid HC1 or similar NAS-targeting boards?

I don’t see any sign of a dedicated connector this but maybe with an adapter?

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

On ODROID HC1 the SATA port is provided by an USB3-to-SATA bridge on the PCB. Something like this is missing here but if we’re lucky (and users voice their demands) then FriendlyELEC might provide an ASM1062 based ‘SATA HAT’ for NEO4 since here we can make use of two PCIe Gen2 lanes exposed on the 40 pin header.

Such a ‘SATA HAT’ could then also prevent potential underpowering hassles since ‘as expected’ users combine the USB-C port on NanoPi NEO4 and M4 with insufficient USB-C cables and suffer from voltage drops leading to all sorts of problems: https://forum.armbian.com/topic/7511-nanopi-m4/?do=findComment&comment=63805

USB-C here is not USB PD compliant which results in the need of a good but ‘dumb’ 5V PSU and a superior and very short USB-C cable with thick power wires.

Member

I’d love to see a 2GB version and without shitty WiFi for a similar price. Would be killer option for a NAS or a very cheap useable Mini PC.

tonny sofijan
Guest
tonny sofijan

Seconded. With these prices, and if there’s 2GB version, getting this is a no-brainer than rpi3+.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Onewire possible?

theguyuk
Guest
theguyuk

The nanopi Duo 2 and iot 2 G carrier board are now launched, Allwinner H3.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

Old news. Everyone interested in FriendlyELEC updates uses http://wiki.friendlyarm.com/wiki/index.php/Special:RecentChanges and some web2feed service (maybe combined with some feed2email service).

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

RPi 4 finally arrived: http://rockpi.org 😉

edrrwwf
Guest
edrrwwf

why only one ethernet?
i need open source router i nedd five 1000G ethernet

VinceLe
Guest
VinceLe

so, get some other SBC that suits your needs better then…

Lalith
Guest
Lalith

You might need to build a time machine first.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terabit_Ethernet