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Orange Pi Development Boards

MINIX NEO N42C-4 Pro Review – Part 3: Ubuntu / Linux

In the second part of MINIX NEO N42C-4 review (and on linuxium website), we looked at the device and the performance using Windows.  In this third part, we will look at how to install and the performance of using Linux (Ubuntu).

The BIOS does not include an option to select Linux as a boot OS and a standard Ubuntu ISO written to a USB will not boot. So to install Ubuntu to the eMMC as dual-boot first it was necessary to respin a standard Ubuntu ISO using my ‘isorespin.sh’ script with the ‘–apollo’ option, and which after creating a LiveUSB using the ‘dd’ command was used to boot and install Ubuntu.

First let’s remind ourselves of the hardware configuration by running some standard Linux commands:

This shows the memory will be dual-channel once the second slot (bank:1) is populated and also confirms that the eMMC 5.1 (mmc0) is running the faster HS400 interface. Headphones shows up as ‘Line Out’ in the sound settings and are selectable along with HDMI/DisplayPort and S/PDIF audio output:

Running my standard set of benchmarking tools shows performance is as expected:

and can be compared with other Intel Apollo Lake devices:

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Looking at real-world usage cases the first tested was watching a 4K video using Google Chrome was unwatchable with dropped frames:

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however at 1080p the video is watchable:

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Running Kodi videos encoded with the VP9, H.264 and H.265 or HEVC codecs used hardware for decoding:

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however some H.265 videos resulted in a blank (black) screen just with audio whereas others played without issue:

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The internal fan was inaudible but works and prevents the device from heats up playing videos:

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with the external surface temperature not exceeding 38°C during continuous video playback:

Ethernet throughput measured using ‘iperf’ shows 941 Mbits/sec for download and 940 Mbits/sec for upload. For Wifi connectivity the 2.4 GHz throughput showed 42.2 Mbits/sec for download but only 30.1 Mbits/sec for upload. However 5.0 GHz throughput is good with download measuring 133 Mbits/sec and upload of 146 Mbits/sec.

Power consumption for the device was measured as:

  • Power off – 0.5 Watts
  • Boot menu – 4.0 Watts
  • Idle – 4.1 Watts
  • CPU stressed – 10.0 Watts
  • 1080p video – 9.3 Watts

When I reviewed Windows on the device I also added 4GB of RAM and installed a 240GB M.2 SSD. The updated memory hardware configuration now looks like:

After successfully installing Windows to the M.2 drive I also installed Ubuntu to the eMMC:

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And then after successfully reinstalling Windows on the eMMC flash, I also reinstalled Ubuntu on the M.2:

with no issues booting either OS from the BIOS boot menu (F11) showing that there is flexibility in installing Ubuntu either as dual-boot sharing a drive or using a dedicated drive.

Power consumption increased slightly with the extra RAM and M.2 drive and was measured as:

  • Power off – 0.5 Watts
  • Boot menu – 4.6 Watts
  • Idle – 4.6 Watts
  • CPU stressed – 10.9 Watts
  • 1080p video – 8.5 Watts

Finally given the price it is clear that MINIX have positioned this device as a Windows platform as evidenced by the lack of a Linux option in the BIOS. It performs well under Ubuntu however if that was to be the only installed OS then an Intel NUC or similar barebones device should probably be considered because the primary selling point for this device is the inclusion of the activated Windows 10 Pro license.

$25 Orange Pi Lite2 Board Comes with Allwinner H6 Processor, 802.11ac WiFi + BLE Module, USB 3.0, and More

January 10th, 2018 13 comments

After Shenzhen Xunlong launched of the first low cost Allwinner H6 development board with Orange Pi One Plus at the very end of last month, we know more Allwinner H6 were coming, and the company has now launched Orange Pi Lite2 development board with 1GB LPDDR3, 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth module, and a USB 3.0 port.

The board however does not come with an Ethernet port, so people wanting to get H6 with Gigabit Etheret and USB 3.0 will need to wait a little longer. Orange Pi Lite2 is sold for $25 plus shipping on Aliexpress.

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Orange Pi Lite2 board specifications:

  • SoC – Allwinner H6 V200 quad core Cortex A53 processor with Arm Mali-T720MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 1 GB LPDDR3
  • Storage – micro SD card slot up to 32GB
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDCP 2.2 (TBC)
  • Audio – HDMI audio output, built-in microphone
  • Camera – Parallel CSI connector with support 5MP camera up to 1080p30
  • Video Decoding – 10-bit H.265 up to 4K @ 60 fps, VP9 and H.264 up to 4K @ 30 fps
  • Connectivity – 802.11b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 via Ampak 6255 module
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 port, 1x USB 2.0 host port, 1x micro USB OTG port (also used for power)
  • Expansion – 26-pin header
  • Debugging – 3-pin serial console header
  • Misc – Power & status LEDs, power button, IR receiver
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A via power barrel jack, or micro USB port; AXP805 PMIC
  • Dimensions – 69 x 48 mm
  • Weight – 50 grams

The company provides Android, Ubuntu, and Debian for the board, but as mentioned for Orange Pi One Plus, Allwinner H6 is pretty new, so if you plan to use Linux, expect some initial pain… The images will eventually be one Orange Pi resources pages, and I can see the company release Android 7.1 firmware & SDK, tools, and a “user’s manual” for Allwinner H6. I’d expect Allwinner H6 to be supported by Armbian in a few months.

Popcorn Hour Transformer Media Computer / NAS Launched for $95.90 and Up

January 4th, 2018 11 comments

Last month, we wrote about Cloud Media’s Popcorn Hour Transformer, a platform based on Rockchip RK3328 processor that could be used a 2.5″ drive NAS, and/or a 4K HDR TV box, and looked like an interested alternative  to ODROID HC1 NAS system.

The company has now officially launch the device, and is taking orders for $95.90 or $115.90 for respectively the 2GB RAM/16GB flash, or 4GB/32GB versions.

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Popcorn Hour Transformer specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor with Mali-450MP GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB or 4GB LPDDR3
  • Storage
    • micro SD slot
    • 16 or 32GB eMMC flash (removable and upgradeable)
    • 128 Mbit SPI NOR flash
    • SATA interface via USB 3.0 to SATA bridge chipset for 2.5″ HDD/SSD
  • Network Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K 60Hz with HDR (HDR10/HLG) support
  • Audio Output – Via HDMI, and 3.5mm audio jack (analog stereo or optical S/PDIF)
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 type A ports including one OTG port
  • Misc – Power button, IR receiver, RTC
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A via power barrel jack
  • Dimensions & weight – TBD (aluminum casing with passive cooling fins)

The transformer ships with a 5V/3A power supply, and an IR remote control.

Two variants are offered with exactly the same hardware, but while the “Media Computer” version is pre-loaded with Android 7.1.2, the NAS version comes with OpenMediaVault instead. The company also mentions community supported images for the device, which should be (mostly) software compatible with Pine64 ROCK64 development board, including Lakka (RetroArch) for retro-gaming, open source Android TV and Xenial Mate Desktop both maintained by ayufan, LibreELEC maintained by Raybuntu, and others.

At first, I found the price gap to ODROID-HC1 (sold for $49) ludicrous, but Transformer does include 16GB storage, and a power supply, which needs to be purchased separately for the Hardkernel mini NAS, so while the gap is still there, it’s not as large as the advertised prices entail. Popcorn Hour Transformer also supports video output, and comes with a fully closed case.

Year 2017 in Review, Top 10 Posts, and Some Fun Stats

December 31st, 2017 20 comments

2017 is coming to an end, and as I do every year, I’ll take a look back at the year that was on CNX Software. The pace of development boards launches has not slowed down this year, and we get an even wider range from the low-end with Orange Pi or NanoPi boards, to much more powerful ARM boards, and some new entrants like Libre Computer. The same is true for TV boxes, most of which now support 4K HDR, ranging from ultra cheap models selling for less than $20 to higher end Android TV boxes, while mini PCs were dominated by Intel Apollo Lake models, although some Cherry Trail products were also launched.

Processor-wise, Amlogic launched more Amlogic S905X derivatives with S905W/S905D/S905Z, which are popular in the TV box market. Rockchip’s most interesting processor this year was RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor designed for 4K HDR Android TV boxes, but also popular with single board computers thanks to Gigabit Ethernet and USB 3.0 interfaces that provide good I/O performance. Allwinner H2+/H3/H5 were launched last year, but they kept being used in cheap development boards, retro game consoles, etc.. The company also launched A63 SoC for 2K tablets, and H6 for 4K OTT TV boxes, and we can expect the latter not only to be found in TV boxes such as Zidoo H6 Pro, but in more Orange Pi H6 boards, and likely other products in 2018 since beside media capabilities, the processor also supports Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, and PCIe. Intel’s Celeron and Pentium Apollo Lake processors dominated the entry-level Windows mini PCs market this year, and Linux was much better supported than in Bay Trail / Cherry Trail processors, but few manufacturers decided to offer Apollo Lake mini PC pre-installed with Ubuntu or other Linux distributions.

2017 was also an interesting year for the Internet of Things (IoT) with Espressif ESP32 going into full gear, and prices dropping to $5 for maker boards. Other WiFi IoT solutions that looked promising last year such as RTL8710AF, did not really took off in a big way. LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) solutions got even more traction with LoRa dominating, but far from being alone with Sigfox, and the emergence of 3GPP standards like NB-IoT and eMTC.

While I had written articles about 3D printing in the past, it really became a proper category on the blog this year, thanks to Karl’s reviews, and 3D printers provided by GearBest. I’d also like to thank Ian Morrison (Linuxium), TLS, Blu, Nanik who helped with reviews and/or articles this year.

Top 10 Posts Written in 2017

I’ve again compiled a list of the most popular posts of 2017 using the pageviews from Google Analytics, but for a change, I’ll show the results in reverse order:

  1. Google Assistant SDK Turns Your Raspberry Pi 3 into Google Home (May 2017) – Voice assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant went beyond the companies’own products, and Google Assistant SDK release allowed developers to make their own DIY smart speaker based on Raspberry Pi 3 board, or other ARM Linux boards. I could successfully implement my own using an Orange Pi Zero kit.
  2. Mecool BB2 Pro Review – TV Box with DDR4 Memory – Part 2: Android Firmware, Benchmarks, Kodi (January 2017) – Mecool BB2 Pro was one of the first Amlogic S912 octa-core TV boxes with DDR4 memory, but my tests did not show any benefits over DDR3 memory.
  3. Mecool KI PRO Hybrid Android TV Box with Amlogic S905D SoC, DVB-T2 & DVB-S2 Tuners Sells for $80 (May 2017) – For some reasons, post about VideoStrong/Mecool Android set-top boxes are quite popular on CNX Software, and KI PRO was the first model based on Amlogic S905D processor with support for multiple demodulators.
  4. Orange Pi 2G-IoT ARM Linux Development Board with 2G/GSM Support is Up for Sale for $9.90 (March 2017) – “Cellular IoT Linux board for $10? Where’s the buy button?” might have been the first reaction to many people. But when buyers received their board, it was a struggle and may still be, since it was based on a  RDA Micro processor for phones poorly supported in Linux.
  5. Installing Ubuntu 17.04 on CHUWI LapBook 14.1 Apollo Lake Laptop (February 2017) – People want their cheap and usable Ubuntu laptop, and if manufacturers won’t make one for them, they’ll find ways to make their own. Sadly, CHUWI massively changed the hardware, and it’s not such a good solution anymore.
  6. ASUS Tinker Board is a Raspberry Pi 3 Alternative based on Rockchip RK3288 Processor (January 2017) – A large company like ASUS entering the maker board market, and the solution inspired from Raspberry Pi 3, but more much powerful. That got people interested!
  7. Creality CR-10 3D Printer Review – Part 2: Tips & Tricks, Octoprint, and Craftware (May 2017) – It was the year of cheap $100 to $200 3D printer, but CNX Software visitors were more interested in a better model, and Creality CR-10 review was the most popular 3D Printer review/post this year.
  8. Mecool KIII Pro Hybrid STB Review – Part 2: Android Firmware, TV Center, and DVB-T2 & DVB-S2 App (March 2017) – VideoStrong sells some inexpensive Android TV boxes with tuner under their Mecool, and KIII Pro was their first octa-core model with both DVB-T/T2 and DVB-S2 tuners.
  9. ASUS Tinker Board’s Debian & Kodi Linux Images, Schematics and Documentation (January 2017) – ASUS board was somehow started selling before the company intended to, and while firmware & documentation were there, they were hard to find, so people looked for that information, and found it on CNX Software.
  10. MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware & Kodi 17 (March 2017) – Apparently, I’m not the only to consider MINIX NEO U9-H to be one of the best Android TV boxes, as my review of the media hub was the most read post of 2017.

Stats

981 posts were published in 2017. Let’s go straight to users’ country and city location data.

The top five countries have not changes, but this year Germany overtook the United Kingdom in second position. Traffic from India increased on a relative basis, and Australia made it to the top ten at the cost of Russia. London and Paris kept the two top steps, but Bangkok rose to third position, while last year third, Tel aviv-Yafo went away completely from the list. New York is gone being replaced by Warsaw in 8th position.

The list of the most used operating systems, and browsers is fairly stable, but the trends noticed in past years continues, with Windows share of traffic going down, Android going up, and Linux stable, while Chrome dominated even more, with most other browsers going down in percentage basis, except Edge that is very slowly replacing Internet Explorer, and Samsung Internet that replaced Opera mini in the list.

Desktop traffic still rules, but mobile + tablet traffic now accounts for around a third of the traffic.

Finally, I went to dig into pagespeed data with pages loading in 15.58 seconds on average. I then filtered the countries with more than 5,000 pageviews, and CNX Software pages and posts loaded fastest in Portugal, Denmark, and Macedonia. However, people in Venezuela need to wait close to 2 minutes for a page to load on average, and in China and Iran around one minute.

Next year looks promising, and I expect to test Gemini Lake mini PC, and maybe some ARM based mini PCs or laptops, but I’ll review less TV boxes as due to some new regulations I can’t easily import them. The regulatory framework is now in place for LPWAN standards, and I should be able to start playing with LoRa and NB-IoT in 2018, using local services, or my own gateway(s). I’ll keep playing with development boards, as I’m expecting interesting Allwinner H6, Realtek RTD129x, Hilsicon, and other platforms in the year ahead, as well as various IoT products.

I’d like to come together with some of the devices and boards reviewed in 2017 (and a Linux tux) to wish you all a prosperous, healthy, and happy new year 2018!

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Orange Pi One Plus Allwinner H6 Board Launched for $20

December 28th, 2017 42 comments

Allwinner H6 is a processor designed for 4K HDR set-top boxes such as Zidoo H6 Pro, but with USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet, and PCIe interfaces, the processor is also a good candidate for ARM development boards where you need fast I/Os.

I was expecting Orange Pi 3 Plus as the first board based on the processor, but instead Shenzhen Xunlong has just launched a cheaper Orange Pi One Plus version that sells for $19.99 plus shipping.

Orange Pi One Plus specifications:

  • SoC – Allwinner H6 V200 quad core Cortex A53 processor with Arm Mali-T720MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 1 GB LPDDR3
  • Storage – micro SD card slot up to 32GB
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDR, HDCP, CEC
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet (via Realtek RTL8211 transceiver)
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 host port, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Expansion – 26-pin header (but no detailed info available yet)
  • Debugging – 3-pin serial console header
  • Misc – Power & status LEDs, power button, IR receiver
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A via power barrel jack, or micro USB port; AXP805 PMIC
  • Dimensions – 68 x 48 mm
  • Weight – 50 grams

The board only supports Android 7.0 for now, with Linux images (Ubuntu and Debian) under testing. Bear in mind that Allwinner H6 is relatively new, and Orange Pi One Plus is the first low cost Linux development board to be launched with the target, so I’d expect some difficulties at first. Everything will likely have to be based on legacy kernel (Linux 3.10), and some features like 3D graphics acceleration may not work in Linux, but hopefully better support will eventually come through the work of linux-sunxi (u-boot/kernel), and Armbian (integration with Ubuntu/Debian) communities.

This first board is a bit of a disappointment, as beside Gigabit Ethernet, and HDMI 2.0a, it does not really leverage the nice features found in Allwinner H6 processor. I’m especially surprised by the USB 2.0 connector since USB 3.0 would have been nearly free to add as it’s supported by H6 SoC. But I’m told that Orange Pi Lite2 will come with USB 3.0 later next month. However, since it is based on Orange Pi Lite design, then the board will use WiFi, and Gigabit Ethernet will not be present. So we may have to wait for Orange Pi 3 Plus to get a more features-packed H6 board with GbE, USB 3.0, and PCIe interfaces.

Another interesting part of Orange Pi One Plus board is the DDR3 chip: Allwinner AW52A8G32. So it looks like Allwinner has entered the RAM business, or they re-branded the chip from some other company.

UBPorts Ubuntu Touch Firmware to Add Android App Support using Anbox

December 27th, 2017 1 comment

Last spring, Canonical stopped working on mobile and convergence, and dropped any work on Unity, which explains why Ubuntu 17.10 is now running Gnome desktop environment by default. The company had to take this decision because there was little interest from manufacturers for such solution, and instead they refocused on the more profitable IoT and cloud markets.

However, some members of the community still wanted to run Ubuntu on their phone, and that’s why UBPorts community decided to carry on development on their own and released their first stable Ubuntu Touch image for supported smartphones last summer.

A phone running Ubuntu Touch is great, but you’d have a very limited set of app to play with, so the developers are now working on adding support for Android apps support. There are various ways to implement such features, but they went with Anbox, as it executes Android apps natively in a container, which does not compromise performance and usability as the more common approach of using an Android emulator does.

The images are not available for download yet, but a pre-alpha version of Anbox with setup instructions is expected in a few weeks. If you don’t want your phone to hae anything to do with your Ubuntu phone, don’t worry as Anbox will be an optional feature.

If you want to check out the status of UBPorts Ubuntu Touch firmware, you can install it on your phone/tablet, provided you own Fairphone 2, Nexus 5, OnePlus One, or BQ Aquaris M10 FHD. Some other phones and tablets may also run Ubuntu Touch, but they are not officially supported by the community.

Via Liliputing

Ubuntu 17.10 May Corrupt the BIOS on Some Lenovo, Acer, Dell, and Other Laptops

December 21st, 2017 2 comments

Canonical has decided to temporarily remove the download link to Ubuntu 17.10 due leaving a notice reading:

The download of Ubuntu 17.10 is currently discouraged due to an issue on certain Lenovo laptops. Once fixed this download will be enabled again.

The issue that many user are reported being unable to save BIOS settings or boot with USB in several Lenovo Laptops with many topics about this issue on Lenovo Forums. The installed operating system still boots normally, so many affected people may not have even noticed.

Based on the bug report it seems to be related to the enablement of intel-spi-* drivers (Intel Serial Flash drive) in the kernel (CONFIG_SPI_INTEL_SPI_PCI option), and this could also affect Ubuntu 16.04 with HWE kernels. The fix is to disable the driver in the kernel, and Canonical will soon release images. The downside of not using the driver are likely null or minimal, since according to the bug report “it’s unlikely anyone is actually doing anything which requires this driver”.

If you’ve been using isorepin.sh script to run the latest Ubuntu version/Linux kernel, you may also be impacted.

The current list of impacted system include:

  • Lenovo B40-70, B50-70, B50-80
  • Lenovo Flex-3, Flex-10
  • Lenovo G40-30, G50-70, G50-80
  • Lenovo S20-30
  • Lenovo U31-70
  • Lenovo Y50-70, Y70-70
  • Lenovo Yoga Thinkpad (20C0)
  • Lenovo Yoga 2 11″ – 20332
  • Lenovo Z50-70, Z51-70
  • Lenovo ideapad 100-15IBY
  • Acer Aspire E5-771G
  • Acer TravelMate B113
  • Toshiba Satellite S55T-B5233
  • Dell Insperion (with Insyde Software BIOS)

It’s likely other models / brands may also have the same problem. The bug report also include a link to a temporary workaround.

Via Linuxium

SolidRun MACCHIATObin Single Shot Networking Board Launched for $269 and Up

December 20th, 2017 7 comments

Earlier this month, I listed SoliRun MACCHIATObin networking board as one of the top 5 most powerful ARM boards in 2017/2018, thanks to its fast quad core Cortex A72 processor, support for up to 16GB RAM, three SATA interfaces, and network connectivity options with several Ethernet copper/SFP interfaces up to 10 Gbps.

The problem with powerful boards is that they can be expensive, and the original MACCHIATOBin (Double Shot) board sells for $369 and up. The good news is that SolidRun has just launched a cheaper version called MAACHIATOBin Single Shot with a quad core Cortex A72 processor limited to 1.6 GHz (instead of 2.0 GHz), and the two 10 Gbps interface are only accessibly through SFP cages, and not Ethernet copper (RJ45) ports anymore.

MACCHIATOBin Single Shot is based on the same PCB as the original version of the board, and the rest of the specifications are just the same:

  • SoC – ARMADA 8040 (88F8040) quad core Cortex A72 processor @ up to 1.6 GHz with accelerators (packet processor, security engine, DMA engines, XOR engines for RAID 5/6)
  • System Memory – 1x DDR4 DIMM with optional ECC and single/dual chip select support; up to 16GB RAM
  • Storage – 3x SATA 3.0 port, micro SD slot, SPI flash, eMMC flash
  • Connectivity – 2x 10Gbps Ethernet via copper or SFP, 2.5Gbps via SFP,  1x Gigabit Ethernet via copper
  • Expansion – 1x PCIe-x4 3.0 slot, Marvell TDM module header
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 port, 2x USB 2.0 headers (internal),  1x USB-C port for Marvell Modular Chip (MoChi) interfaces (MCI)
  • Debugging – 20-pin connector for CPU JTAG debugger, 1x micro USB port for serial console, 2x UART headers
  • Misc – Battery for RTC, reset header, reset button, boot and frequency selection, fan header
  • Power Supply – 12V DC via power jack or ATX power supply
  • Dimensions – Mini-ITX form factor (170 mm x 170 mm)

They just did not solder the 10 Gbps Ethernet connectors and related chips, and used some ARMADA 8040 SoCs that may not have passed QA @ 2.0 GHz, but work fine up to 1.6 GHz.

The board supports mainline Linux or Linux 4.4.52, buildroot 2015.11, Ubuntu 16.04.03 LTS, OpenWrt, and more. Software and hardware documentation can be found in the Wiki.

Just like it’s predecessor, the board ships with either 4GB or 16GB DDR4 memory, an optional 12V DC/110 or 220V AC power adapter, and an optional 16 GB micro SD card. The changes made bring the price down to $269 for the 4GB RAM version of the board, exactly $100 cheaper than the original “Double Shot” version.

Thanks to Blu for the tip.