Orange is the New ($15) Pi

When the Raspberry Pi came on the scene it was hard to imagine that you could get a fairly complete Linux system for such a low price. The Pi has gotten bigger, of course, but there are still a few things you miss when you try to put one into a project. Wifi, comes to mind, for example. The first thing you usually do is plug a Wifi dongle in, consuming one of the two USB ports.

The Orange Pi is a direct competitor and has a few variants. Originally, the board cost about $30 but sports WiFi, a 1.6 GHz processor, 8 GB of flash, and a SATA interface. There’s now a reduced version of the board for about $15 that deletes the flash and SATA along with the WiFi and one of the original’s 4 USB ports. Still, the Raspberry Pi doesn’t have built-in flash. And the $15 Orange Pi PC has the things you’d expect on a Pi (HDMI and Ethernet) along with other extras like an IR receiver and an on-board microphone. Not bad for $15 considering it has a quad-core processor, a GPU and 1GB of RAM.

The Orange Pi PC is compatible with the operating system loads intended for its big brother, so you can run Lubuntu, Android, Raspbian, and more. You can find some manuals and other tools there as well. Of course, if you are looking for community support, you’ll probably find more Raspberry Pi users, forums, and projects–at least for now.

You can see Debian running on a very similar Orange Pi in the video below. The actual hardware in use is the Orange Pi Mini 2, which has an extra USB port, but is otherwise nearly identical to the PC. Personally, for most projects we’d rather spend a little more and get the onboard WiFi (just about every Raspberry Pi project we cover has Wifi). But if you don’t need WiFi, it is hard to beat $15 for a pretty capable little single board computer.

105 thoughts on “Orange is the New ($15) Pi

  1. “we’d rather spend a little more and get the onboard WiFi (just about every Raspberry Pi project we cover has Wifi)” – sounds like there is built in wifi in the raspberry, which is misleading.

    1. It is only misleading when taken out of context. If you read the whole post, the first paragraph specifically states that RPi projects with wifi are very common and require the use of a dongle.

      1. Though he’s right, with or without context that sentence is misleading. Especially for people still getting known with things as raspberry pi’s or evenly for people who are not native english speaking. Also link to buy would be nice. :)

      1. I admit that I skim read the parts about the -known to me- raspberry pi which led me to write my comment. Thanks for the article, Al, I’d love to see some comparison articles about all the fruits out there.

  2. The price is certainly awesome. However for me the lack of SATA and the 10/100 Ethernet sorta kill it. I mean I’d probably pick it up before I’d pick up a Pi2 but I’d probably spend the little extra and get something else with SATA or at least gigabit Ethernet.

          1. The plus version of this device uses a USB to sata chip, I dont think you can.

            I was hoping for a native sata controller, or at least a PCIe connected one. :-(

      1. Look into the Pogoplug Mobile (or v4): originally designed for an OwnCloud sort of thing, you can reflash it with Arch Linux. For under $20 on eBay, you can get a new-in-box: ARM processor, some 512MB ram, one laptop hdd sata plug, USB x1 (or x3), SD slot and 10/100 ethernet jack.

        Similar devices would be a used Dockstar or other “just add one HDD” nas thing

        I bought one planning to hook up cheap webcams to do home security.

        1. Dockstars were cute but way too underpowered to do much. On the positive side they run stable and cool, but on the downside their underperformance leads to response time issues on occasion (especially if using DLNA.) Not to mention you’ll live in constant fear of knocking the drive out of the cradle when dusting. :)

    1. Erm que?

      Allwinner socs are quite well supported these days. Granted the H3 isnt yet, but the chop is also just out. We allready know the arch is very similar to sun5i so support should be comming the next few months ..

        1. Not major, by far not. There are still some issues with the media codec i think but even mist of that is beingvsolved. Truue though, they are slow in solving issues.

          That said these these chips getting better and better support and some even claim support is better then exynos.

          They are def. Not the worst offender and tgey do try to work with us.

    2. There’s community-developed mainline kernel support for most Allwinner SoCs these days, though possibly not for this one quite yet – it looks like people have been working on it but it hasn’t quite made it upstream yet. (Most of the peripherals are already supported, but apparently the clock controller has changed somewhat and you’re not going to get far without support for that.)

  3. Only two USB on a PI? Only if you were an early adaptor have a Pi 1 B model. B+ and Pi 2 B have 4 USB ports.
    Personally, I’m glad I waited, as the B+ was released without the pretty much useless composite port.

    1. I haven’t pervonally used the composite port but it’s very subjective. For live video transmission composite is great because you can connect directly to an analog transmitter without introducing any delays like those always present in digital video.
      For me HDMI and ethernet are the two bulky and useless components on all these boards, I wish for a small & light SBC with lots of GPIO and interconnects for actual work.

    2. Depends on your use. I have a portable tv with composite in that i use as a console screen. One of my plans is to buy a radio with video input for my car to make a poor mans infotainment system. I doubt i’ll be able to get a radio with HDMI in at walmart for cheap.

      1. I would not any more use a CVBS signal/device/monitor for a computer application. This is the technological standard from 30 years ago (early 1980ies) when I had the commodore 64. It was already crappy back then. I am used to full HD pictures now and “can’t stand” this blurred stuff.

    1. Hi I’m Tetsuo and I’d like to share my Buyer Beware !!! Orange Pi experience.

      I was wildly enthusiastic about the idea of an Android/Linux RasPi clone for US$15+.

      I went straight to AliExpress and ordered 2 of them.
      I also ordered 2 of the full house SATA,WiFi etc boards.

      If you are considering doing the same, please be aware of the following.

      The money was withdrawn from my account the next day – US$106

      07-09-2015 TETSUO : I sent a msg asking when the order would be shipped. I was going
      away for a week on 27-09-2015 and wanted to make sure the order went to the Post Office
      NO ANSWER

      16-09-2015 TETSUO : I sent another msg asking when the order would be shipped as Stores on AliExpress usually ship in 2-5 days.
      NO ANSWER

      16-09-2015 TETSUO : I went to http://www.orangepi.org to see if there was any info about shipping/factory delays. I applied to join the user forum so I could post questions.
      FORUM REQUEST NEVER ANSWERED

      23-09-2015 AliExpress cancels the order due to non-shipment by supplier

      23-09-2015 TETSUO : “Give me a refund NOW !!”

      25-09-2015 Steven Zhao : ONLY msg from Orange Pi/ Shenzhen Xunlong Software CO.,Limited.
      “Sorry for the delay ,we need time to refund to you , trust us we will give you a sasatisfy response,thanks”

      25-09-2015 TETSUO: “I don’t believe you, you had 3 weeks to respond to a single
      email and happily took my money. So WHY should I trust you ??? If you
      can’t deliver the product WHY is the sales page still up and WHY are you
      taking other peoples money too ??”

      NO REPLY

      I contacted AliExpress disputes and LUCKILY got an excellent chat operator who
      immediately processed my refund request thru their buyer protection policy.

      27-09-2015 AliExpress : Full refund deposited into my CC acc.

      The Orange Pi sales page on AliExpress is STILL live and shows they have sold 3,300.

      How many customers got ripped off like me ? I don’t know.
      The most annoying part is I STILL want one !!

      Tetsuo

      PS: I’ve ordered some small items from AliExpress and have generally been incredibly happy with the products/service.

    1. The camera interface is specifically the only reason why I recently opted for a Raspberry instead of the Orange Pi Mini 2, which was superior in most aspects. Turns out the CSI interfaces of the Broadcom and the Allwinner chips support different sets of image formats and the most popular OV5647 raspberry cameras are not compatible with Allwinner chips. There are a lot of cameras that are compatible with both (even from OmniVision) but not OV5647 which is the one you can get in various different camera boards for RPi including with interchangeable lenses, quality optics and stuff. For my next project I hope I can use an Orange Pi.

  4. It’s good to have competition, keeps the prices reasonable.
    (Caveat being that it should not end up destroying the whole market of course.)

    I was thinking the same thought earlier when I saw the new logitech harmony remote is a mind-boggling €250.- and was wondering why the hell they think they can ask 250 in 2015 for a freaking universal remote. (And why apple doesn’t make one when you can ask such outrageous money for $10 in parts)

  5. While I don’t have an Orange Pi and can’t be sure, I nevertheless think it’s important to note that you can expect overall product quality to be significantly worse that an RPi. Keep in mind that this is a rush-to-market Chinese knockoff by all measures.

    1. I don’t like RPi for its closed SOC, but i don’t like allwinner for their GPL violations. I’ll leave both to the shelf. I don’t think the quality is any worse than RPi. They are probably both made in the same factory.

    2. Knockoff is a nice word in the Apple and Microsoft world. Here it’s simply about compatibility, not creating a millionth formfactor and charger plug, and about contributing to the ecosystem of these devboards. About being useful and cheap. Orange is smaller than Raspberry but they’re by no means unknown or unreliable.

      1. On the RPi, the Ethernet’s actually over USB. The H3 chip used in the Orange Pi has a built-in Ethernet controller with on-chip 10/100 PHY, so it should be better than the RPi’s Ethernet at least on paper. (According to the datasheet, it is on the same on-chip AHB bus as the USB Host controller though.)

      2. The Ethernet on the OPi has a direct bus to the AllWinner H3 CPU. This is clearly reflected in the Network performance.

        I ran some tests on Ethernet capabilities of the OPi and RPi and found that the OPi was able to deliver nearly 100 Mbps speed while the RPi-B+ was only able to deliver about 35 Mbps.

        The results are posted here: http://www.rajib.com/review-of-orange-pi-mini-2/1295/
        Simply scoll-down the article and please ignore the generic glib at the top.

  6. I think the fact that it has a microphone is a major plus. I know a lot of hams that would like to set up some kind of tiny APRS computer around an audio interface and a transceiver. But almost none of these tiny computers has a microphone. Sure you can work around it using ADC pin and extra care, but there’s nothing like the convenience of a real mic jack.

      1. Sounds like it might be an opportunity for a quick hack to replace the on board microphone with a microphone jack? You probably could even get it published on Hackaday as they seem to like hacks like that.

          1. The other annoying thing is that I2S isn’t pinned out on the header as far as I can tell. It’s almost compatible with the Pi’s header connector, but I think they had to compromise a little because the I2S pins on the Allwinner can’t be used as GPIOs. So they sacrificed I2S support.

    1. I ran the most rudimentary benchmark on the RPi-B+ and the OPi-M2 by running multiple cycles of SunSpider JavaScript benchmark on the installed web-browser/s.
      The OPi wins the battle hands down. In fact, it feels fast too! Almost like a regular PC. I have LibreOffice installed on my OPi and the apps start in 3 – 5 seconds. Using the apps is snappy too.

      I documented the benchmark results here http://www.rajib.com/review-of-orange-pi-mini-2/1295/
      Please pardon the long-winded article; just scroll down towards the bottom to see the numbers.

    1. As of now, only Android on OPi is capable of taking advantage of the MALI GPU and the H.265 decode capabilities. Raspbian / Lubuntu / Ubuntu-Mate are unable to take advantage of the graphics subsystem due to lack of driver support.

  7. I own both Orange Pi (A20) and Orange Pi + (H3) and even a 7″ LVDS touch screen since ~5 months, and I can talk a little about these boards.
    While the hardware is great, there is NO software support. The only working image is a (great) headless debian built by a third party developper, and the hardware still doesn’t work 100%. Orange Pi “team” is only one guy, please check the forums. The man is releasing boards, waiting for the community to develop software, and is often not replying to questions, even directly. So, right now, if you are not a very experienced user of this kind of hardware, don’t buy it. Even the Orange Pi website is not updated (look at the downloads section)

    Instead, I strongly advice to look at LeMaker team. They are original developpers of Banana Pi board (released in 2014) and Banana Pro. They are very talented people, are providing excellent support, are very innovative and very active in the open source hardware scene.
    I just posted a review (part 1) of their new “Guitar” board, and this one is very, very good : http://hardware-libre.fr/2015/08/review-lemakers-guitar-board/
    Please don’t waste your time and money, and give it to people who do really good work :)

    1. That board apparently uses an Actions Semi S500 SoC. I can’t find any information about it online at all, other than the manufacturer’s marketing page. No datasheets, no kernel source, no guides on stuff like loading firmware into the onboard flash, nothing. On the other hand, there’s a huge amount of information out there about All winner coups because so many of these boards use them

  8. Cheap CCTV linux NVR’s commonly have multiple SATA ports on the BUS. But it’s a roll your own kernel which is beyond my time/capabilities verses just spending cash.
    I dunno why no one is really looking at reserve engineering these for budget data/media servers tho, they are very cheap and designed for large data transfers. Plus have rather good video outputs and H/264 decoding as well as plenty of other I/O.

  9. As usual It will lack the community and support. I have this trouble with Banana Pi now – no good HW acceleration in Linux, very slow packages updates. Drivers trouble, while AllWinner (same as all other China CPU developers) doesn’t made good drivers for Linux – they concentrated on Android, and make proprietary ones. Android has Linux inside, but the drivers aren’t normally compatible because of different library versions and kernel versions. As conclusion: to buy something different than Raspi – just buy more trouble for less money. At least my Banana Pi have SATA, good Ethernet and was bought on the time of the first Raspberry was on the market. This had sense. Now I see no reason to buy those tricky boards.

    1. Are you sure that it’s still no sense buying Banana Pi Pro / M1+ for cheap NAS purpose that can do something more?
      After ready many reviews, benchmarks, specs & datasheets… I’m pretty convinced to buy old BPi M1+ / Pro.
      It’s probably the only one currently still available board that doesn’t have design flaws like built-in USB HUBs, USB-SATA or USB-Ethernet that limit throughput on other “more advanced / feature rich” boards to 1/10th of real capabilities.
      People are asking for more USB ports, but…. most boards have that done via built-in USB HUB, which makes problems if you connect few devices at once or even one more power demanding.
      I agree that official support for BPi seams to be near to “zero” but few people from its community proven that this board has potential and works good for at least cheap server / NAS purposes.

  10. I got the two Orange Pi PC boards I ordered the other day. They’re kind of crappy in a few ways.

    1.) The docs are atrocious, borderline nonexistent.
    2.) Some of the links to the official software images are broken.
    3.) The manufacturing is low grade, crooked parts, etc.
    4) No hardware video acceleration under Linux.
    5.) No working link for an official Android Image and the community one only has one functioning USB port.

    Most of that I expected, the last two are pretty aggravating.

    I kind of regret ordering. I’ll find some kind of use, maybe some remote monitoring/reporting projects. The CPU seems decently fast/powerful. Good amount of I/O. I’d say avoid if you plan to do anything multimedia with them. My son is autistic and can be a little rough on electronics when he gets emotional(FYI the Roku 2 is built like a brick shithouse) so I was going to do a little gaming box for him but they just aren’t suitable.

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