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Banana Pi: The next generation of single-board computers? (zdnet.com)
37 points by tanglesome 1328 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments

Olimex already have a board based on this same SoC (and others from the same family of AllWinner SoCs), but unlike the Raspberry Pi, are completely open source hardware. (Banana Pi doesn't seem to be open, given the limited information too). The price is the same, and I'd much rather support open source hardware efforts.

The schematics and Eagle files are on their github page. More info here: https://www.olimex.com/wiki/A20-OLinuXino-MICRO

They're already working on a board for the next generation A31 SoC too.

I actually don't want a faster version. What I want is a more energy efficient version (still ARM) with roughly the same performance that makes it feasible to run on batteries or solar. Does that exist?

The current RPi A is about 2.5W, so already pretty cheap to solar power w a battery/small panel. Search for "solar rpi" etc to find lots of examples. Depending on your use case, the Beaglebone Black is a good alternative and idles at about 1W.

Go bare metal and make constant use of sleep modes. The less time your system is awake and running at full speed the better. There are some cool low power chips like the Tiny Gecko: http://www.silabs.com/products/mcu/lowpower/pages/efm32tg-ti... However you can probably get most chips down into the sub-milliamp range while asleep and run for months or more off a few batteries.

I imagine a 800-1,000 Mhz Cortex A53 version would be 0.5-1W, if they decided to make one for next year. But not sure if that's their target market. They will probably keep power consumption about the same, and launch one at a higher clock speed, perhaps even as dual-core, to better run other distros on it (such as Ubuntu).

Why does it seem to be so difficult to run a Pi off of batteries? It draws less power than many phones. I was boggled that the Raspberry Pi AdaFruit store, which has dozens of different Pi-compatible displays, keyboards, cases, and exotic sensors and output devices, doesn't have a single external battery pack.

it doesn't seem to be difficult: check out this thread or google for hamish cunningham. http://www.raspberrypi.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=41&t=25674

Interesting set of comments. Clearly the RasPi does what it does, for those who want that, really well. As embedded/single board computers go, it has been very successful. The flavor of comments about the Banana[sic] Pi are very similar to those made about PCs, especially in the earlier days, of the form "I want it to be more like <computer I'm used to>."

I have come to believe that this is really a form of saying "I want the computer I have at the price of this computer which can't do what I can do on the one I'm using." Sort of a having cake and eating it too sort of comment.

Looking at the various entrants in this space, the Pi, the Beaglebone Black, the Galileo, Etc it is clear to me that manufacturers are exploring this space. Its unfortunate that there isn't a lot of coherent feedback to them. I was talking to Carl Helmers last week (we were at the same conference) and mentioned that once again there is probably a need for a journal like the one BYTE magazine started out to be. A place where folks to deconstruct the various offerings that manufacturers were putting out there and having discussions about worked and what didn't work in that space. Unfortunately magazines are somewhat out of favor and there hasn't been a really solid tech site to fill that particular niche.

$74 after shipping? Newegg will sell you a motherboard with a dual-core x86 CPU for $50 ($32 after rebate). With a new AMD AM1 platform, you can get a four-core x86 and a motherboard for $69.

Raspberry Pi is a nice thing for $35. For $75, much nicer alternatives exist.

Actually, I hadn't thought about this. My uncle's in need for a media center (he's already got the home theatre and the forty-something-inches LED T.V. and I was thinking of gettin'im a RPi with the rest of the fancy stuff but you totally would get waaaay better performance with a little bit more "expensive" board. The last time that I checked for this kind of solutions I was fancying some Zotac box but that one was ~US$350. Which $75, much nicer alternatives are you talking about here? :)

For a media center, Raspberry Pi is great since it has hardware video decoding in GPU. The menus in XBMC use the CPU, so they are a bit sloppy, but overclocking it a bit is reported to help. Mali (A20's GPU) has no driver for hardware-accelerated decoding, so it's going to decode video on CPU, and will likely be even slower than RPi. Other boards, I'm not really know but XBMC site has a list of recommended hardware.

On x86 front, if size matters, you can take a look at this: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813135... ($32 after rebate). It needs a stick of alaptop RAM and a laptop power brick. You can load XBMC from a USB stick.

If size doesn't matter, look for AM1 CPU/motherboard. CPU will run you $31 (http://www.amazon.com/AMD-Sempron-2650-1-45Ghz-AD2650JAHMBOX...) and motherboard, $34 (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157...).

The Intel NUCs are in a similar price range, especially once you take case, PSU, etc. into consideration. You can get them motherboard-only, but in the pre-built ones you just add RAM and Flash/HDD and you're done. The NUCs probably also win on overall power consumption, just check that you can use accelerated HD video decoding in the model you choose with the software you want to use.

There's Intel NUC cheap than 350$?

Also case and PSU aren't a problem, either you get a Pico PSU for 50$ with a cheap case, or you take a case that include a PSU. They are cheap and the fan are noisy but for under $60... http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811154...

The RRP of the Intel NUC Kit DN2820FYKH is $128:


I believe that includes the Wifi/Bluetooth module already, but not the DDR3L RAM module or an SSD/HDD.

If that model is missing something you need you can of course opt for one of the more expensive ones - there is a reasonable range. I'm considering getting one to act as a router, DD-WRT/OpenWRT on consumer/SOHO router hardware is incredibly fiddly. The power consumption of some of these devices is comparable.

Sure, but your dual-core x86 machine will be larger, likely require a fan, and eat quite a bit more electricity than the Banana Pi.

There are 25W CPUs, some are passively cooled. It's still more than ARM though. Here's the deal: ARM is very good at doing nothing, but x86 is better at doing something. If your project is doing nothing (not intensive), RPi is good for you; if it's intensive, x86 may be better.

These ARM boards certainly have their place. We use one to drive a TV with build/bug/CI status. RPi is too slow, and x86 is too big to fit, but a beefier board (Odroid-u3) is just fine, and still hangs behind the TV running on its USB port. But for most of the other projects, either a RPi is good, or you'd be better off with x86.

If you search for Banana Pi on Aliexpress, you'll find other sellers listing it at ~$55 if that makes it any better. However they don't have too much reputation, it may be annoying dealing with the escrow service if it doesn't arrive.

I was hoping for a cheaper board.

Even if the Raspberry Pi foundation were to just take the old model A and drop the analog I/O ports and LED lights - with their economies of scale and the natural decrease in chip prices, I'm guessing they could ship a ~20$ board.

There is no analog I/O on the Raspberry Pi. You can do PWM output on a pin, but otherwise no analog input or output. There really isn't much to drop from the model A--it's just the processor and supporting passive components with some headers, connectors, etc.

edit: I guess you could drop the analog video and sound output, but that would probably just save a few cents for the connectors.

I'm quite surprised the RPi team hasn't created a new model in two years. Sure they just released a new "compute module", but that's not destined to the same crowd. I'd like to see an RPi revision C.

Other than that, do any of you know of a chip I could buy to program from scratch? I'd be interested to learn a very simple processor but I have no idea where to start. I heard M68Ks are nice.

They intentionally haven't released a new model, and don't plan to do so any time soon. They want to have a stable hardware platform, and spend time optimizing the software so it can benefit all the RPi owners, instead of continuously releasing new models and fragmenting the community.

So basically rpi was LTS from start.

You can't go wrong with an Arduino. You can use the Arduino IDE to get up to speed very quickly, and then later program it with avr-gcc and get rid of the Arduino bootloader/libraries if you desire.

The next logical progression IMHO after Arduino/AVR chips is bare metal ARM development. Check out chips like the NXP LPC series which can be programmed with a free GCC toolchain, and more importably support on chip debugging with OpenOCD. Good getting started guide here: https://learn.adafruit.com/getting-started-with-the-lpc810/i...

M68K is dated. It's still used in some applications, but it's basically a dead end. ARM is where it's at these days.

There's tons of ARM development hardware out there, but two cheap, awesome development boards I'd recommend might include:

* The TI Tiva LaunchPad - http://www.ti.com/tool/ek-tm4c123gxl

* The STM32F4 Discovery - http://www.st.com/web/catalog/tools/FM116/SC959/SS1532/PF252...

Or, if you want to get adventurous, there's tons of ultra-cheap ARM development boards on eBay. You'll usually need to get your own JTAG adapter to work with them, and figuring out how to drive some of the peripherals may be a bit of an adventure, but the prices are unbeatable. (I paid about $40 for a "HY-STM32" board with a 3.2" touchscreen, for instance.)

I'd be interested to learn a very simple processor

Look at Atmel ATTiny and Microchip PIC10/PIC12 series.

What about one of the MSP430s?

> the $35 Raspberry Pi, which was introduced in 2012, with its 700MHz ARM11 processor and 512MBs of RAM, is looking a little dowdy these days.

Someone has fundamentally understood the reason that the Pi exists.

Also, these guys have immediately blown their trustworthiness by deliberately creating confusion between their brand and an established one ("[fruit] Pi").

Ugh. That should say "misunderstood," of course.

Neat board, but I think it's going to be more useful for the media center/home server crowd than makers/hardware crowd. Some of the gripes I have:

- Male header pins are kind of a pain to connect to a breadboard, at least compared to female pins on a Beaglebone Black or Arduino.

- I'm assuming there's no analog to digital converter, like the Raspberry Pi, so that's annoying if you're reading analog sensors or other things.

- Realtime support. Does the Allwinner A20 have any kind of realtime support microncontroller, kind of like PRU's on the Beaglebone Black? If not that's a bummer since interfacing with anything that has tight timing control (like lighting WS2811 LEDs) will be impossible or require more supporting circuitry.

Don't get me wrong though, an open/hackable stick computer that's not expensive is still very interesting and useful to some folks.

Only usecase for female header pins on board like this is sticking bare wires into it, which is highly unreliable. If you want reliable connection, both female PCB mounted headers and male cable connectors are significantly more expensive than other way around.

If you want to read some analog sensor and it is at least somehow critical for you, you still have to use external ADC. There are some processors that have usable precision ADCs (MSP430AFExxx comes to mind), but they are not exactly SoCs capable of running Linux. Generally, ADCs on MCUs/SoCs are meant for non-critical applications, mostly concerned with user interface.

Precisely, bread-boarding circuits with wires is why I prefer female connectors. Once you have something working and want to take it beyond a one-off prototype then you're going to want to build your own custom circuit board anyways, so I really don't see reliability being a huge issue for dev boards.

And having an ADC on board for non-critical stuff is still super useful for many projects. For example reading a thermister or LM335 to check the temperature of a water bath in a DIY sous-vide setup would be a great application of a cheap ADC on a Linux-based dev board. You don't need a crazy 24-bit ADC with precision voltage references, etc. just to measure if water is 140 vs 150 degrees F. A simple 10-12 bit ADC is great for many uses.

If the new part would be clearly useful for home servers, I would find that refreshing. "Makers" is not an actual use case. I always struggled to see exactly what Raspberry Pi was good for, that something else isn't better for.

"Makers" is not an actual use case.

I don't agree with that--it might not be a use case to you, but is certainly a valid use case for these small development boards. Look at the success of Arduino, Maker Faire, 3D printing, DIY drones, etc. to see evidence of a large and vibrant DIY and maker community.

I think a distinction can be drawn between the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi. I can see a use case for a (relatively) cheap, easy to program microcontroller with a board layout that makes it dead simple to integrate with sensors, motors, actuators, switches, etc. But that's an Arduino, not a Raspberry Pi. A Raspberry Pi is a small ARM SoC that tries to be both a microcontroller and a general purpose computer and doesn't do either particularly well.

What about when you want to get those motors, switches, actuators, etc. accessible over the internet? Linux-based boards are fantastic for this use. There are options to get an AVR or similar 8-bit micro onto a network, but if you do anything non-trivial (like parsing web service responses, trying to communicate over SSL, etc.) you will quickly hit the resource limits of the processors. Linux + realtime microprocessor is a really great combo. Right now the Beaglebone Black and Arduino Yun are some options, but it would be nice to see more.

One of the cool things about arduino lately is that they're getting cheap enough and small enough to just use as part of finished projects, instead of just as learning tools or prototypes. The neat thing about raspberry pi was that it offered a similar proposition, except instead of a microcontroller you could bring to bear the full power of a computer running linux. I'm more excited to see smaller, lower power, and cheaper versions of the pi than more powerful and more expensive versions. Because that's what will result in them being used in projects more.

Be careful with the Allwinner processors. The Cubieboard has some serious network speed issues. Do some homework before you expect to make a router or high-bandwidth server.

Who benefits from it though? When you buy a Raspberry Pi some of the money goes to the Foundation who then use it to promote programming in schools.

For those more technical than I, is there actually any benefit in having the 1000Mbps NIC on a board with still a relatively slow processor?

I fear the processor can't handle anywhere near that amount of throughout that NIC could support, so to me it looks like a feature for the sake of being different to the Pi.

At the minimum it is useful because it is connected to CPU/memory by something more meaningful than USB as is the case with Raspberry Pi.

Also for many interesting workloads (essentially anything that involves scatter-gather DMA from some other peripheral, eg. routing, file/storage server) you don't need that much powerful CPU to saturate gigabit ethernet.


I want a dual-core 1.4+ GHz ARM board with 2GB RAM (comparable to last years smartphones).

Why is there no Raspberry Pi C announcement already? The type B is already a bit dated and who needs the "compute module"?

They have already fragmented the type B model with releasing 256MB and later 512MB versions.

They should just release an type C model with faster CPU and GPU. The type B model is too slow for some "Full HD" resolution computation of the official Rpi-Cam as well it is too slow for most Linux distributions (even basic web browsing).

A ARM board version similar to Intel's first generation ATOM 320 (1.6 GHz dual core with HT) would be fine for "type C".

"Faster" versus "Fast Enough"

Excellent. The more competitors to the Pi the better. I've been nothing but disappointed by mine - it's slow, convoluted and totally unreliable. I do expect the opposite for the money when you can get a generic android tablet for not much more.

there's many ways of measuring speed, but for a two watt computer i find the speed more than adequate. in addition if you wish to use it as a desktop the long awaited wayland port should mitigate gui performance issues.

i can't see the competitors being less convoluted than a debian install. if your hardware is unreliable you should make a repro to make it fail(i ran a performance benchmark in a loop on one i had trouble with til it crashed) and send it back to the manufacturer.

the rpi's popularity, and low power consumption are it's selling points.

i wonder what utility an android tablet provides than an rpi could be expected to.

The thing is slow because the ARM core is tagged onto the side of the GPU. The chipset is designed for throwaway STB uses. The ARM core isny much faster than a 100MHz SPARC 20 I have. About 15% faster. The IO also sucks. For a general purpose computer it's painful.

I posted instructions on how to make it fail on the RPi forum. My thread was deleted.

The boot and video detection process is a total mess as well. Daring to suggest that is the case is frowned upon apparently as well as I was basically flamed for wanting to use composite video over HDMI. Bear in mind I didn't have an HDMI capable unit around and the thing is marketed as composite capable.

Also I was getting USB brownouts with a powered hub connected. My thread was deleted.

I've worked with embedded systems for a number of years and the RPi was a really low point in head bashing on wall. It's an awful platform.

Its in the bin where it belongs.

I am not sure what 'throwaway STB' means - something to do with phones? How many watts does your SPARC consume? I think the rpi makes a better stab at being a general purpose computer than an android tablet, and I think that the wayland port should improve it further. However I agree it's no replacement for a power hungry intel box.

Post the instructions here, I will test on mine to see whether it's a general problem or just your box - there have been faulty ones shipped, but it's a tiny percentage of the total.

Having threads deleted seems to be a common theme on popular forums, it doesn't usually signal a cover up - the moderators can take exception to your tone and then you have no recourse.

When my rpi posts it seems to look for a hdmi cable, if none is present it outputs to the yellow composite - how does yours differ?

I can't understand if you mean brownouts in terms of power or in terms of connectivity - what was dropping out?

I can't say I have any experience with embedded systems but typically when people say that they aren't referring to computers that the rpi is comparable to - e.g. hdmi out, usb, ethernet. What were you doing with the embedded systems that you couldn't do with a pi?

Care to elaborate what kind of applications you are using your Pi for? Also which generic Android tablet can you buy for not much more than $25?

The English on the official BananaPi website troubles me...

This is probably as good a thread as any to ask which single-board ARM computer has the best performance/price ratio, preferably one that's more powerful than the Raspberry Pi and can do duty as an everyday system.

Where are all the perfunctory Betteridge's law comments?

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