Orange Pi Releases Two Boards

A few years ago, someone figured out small, cheap ARM Linux boards are really, really useful, extremely popular, sell very well, blink LEDs, and are able to open the doors of engineering and computer science to everyone. There is one giant manufacturer of these cheap ARM Linux boards whose mere mention guarantees us a few thousand extra clicks on this article. There are other manufacturers of these boards, though, and there is no benevolent monopoly; the smaller manufacturers of these boards should bring new features and better specs to the ARM Linux board ecosystem. A drop of water in a tide that lifts all boats. Something like that.

This week, Orange Pi, not the largest manufacturer of these small ARM Linux boards, has released two new boards. The Orange Pi Zero is an inexpensive, quad-core ARM Cortex A7 Linux board with 256 MB or 512 MB of RAM. The Orange Pi PC 2 is the slightly pricier quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 board with 1 GB of RAM and a layout that can only be described as cattywampus. We all know where the inspiration for these boards came from. The price for these boards, less shipping, is $6.99 USD and $19.98 USD, respectively.

The Orange Pi Zero uses the Allwinner H2 SoC, and courageously does not use the standard 40-pin header of another very popular line of single board computers, although the 26-pin bank of pins is compatible with the first version of the board you’re thinking about. Also on board the Orange Pi Zero is WiFi provided by an XR819 chipset, Ethernet, a Mali400MP2 GPU, USB 2.0, a microSD card slot, and a pin header for headphones, mic, TV out, and two more USB ports.

The significantly more powerful Orange Pi PC 2 sports a quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 SoC coupled to 1 GB of RAM. USB OTG, a trio of USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, camera interface, and HDMI round out the rest of the board.

Both of Orange Pi’s recent offerings are Allwinner boards. This family of SoCs have famously terrible support in Linux, and the last Allwinner Cortex-A53, that we couldn’t really review, was terrible. Although the Orange Pi Zero and Orange Pi PC 2 are new boards and surely software is still being written, history indicates the patches written for this SoC will not be sent upstream, and these boards will be frozen in time.

If you’re looking for a cheap Linux board with a WiFi chipset that might work, The Orange Pi Zero is very interesting. The Orange Pi PC 2 does have slightly impressive specs for the price. When you buy a single board, though, you’re buying into a community dedicated to improving Linux support on the board. From what I’ve seen, that support probably won’t be coming but I will be happy to be proven wrong.

130 thoughts on “Orange Pi Releases Two Boards

          1. Impedance is only dependent on dielectric constant, separation distance(s) to plane(s) and track width etc. It has nothing to do with parts rotations. That’s basic knowledge.

          2. What happens when intelligent AI routing techniques are used to truly optimize boards?

            https://www.damninteresting.com/on-the-origin-of-circuits/

            The plucky chip was utilizing only thirty-seven of its one hundred logic gates, and most of them were arranged in a curious collection of feedback loops. Five individual logic cells were functionally disconnected from the rest— with no pathways that would allow them to influence the output— yet when the researcher disabled any one of them the chip lost its ability to discriminate the tones. Furthermore, the final program did not work reliably when it was loaded onto other FPGAs of the same type.

            It seems that evolution had not merely selected the best code for the task, it had also advocated those programs which took advantage of the electromagnetic quirks of that specific microchip environment. The five separate logic cells were clearly crucial to the chip’s operation, but they were interacting with the main circuitry through some unorthodox method— most likely via the subtle magnetic fields that are created when electrons flow through circuitry, an effect known as magnetic flux. There was also evidence that the circuit was not relying solely on the transistors’ absolute ON and OFF positions like a typical chip; it was capitalizing upon analogue shades of gray along with the digital black and white.

          3. It looks to me like the two memory chips are symetrical to the soc, possibly for this very reason, so this seems to be a logical layout, and certainly more interesting than most.

    1. Ima find the guy who got stuck with a truck load of 486 heatsinks, and make his day by offering him double scrap weight….

      Then sell them to “OCD” people at $10 a pop to go on “straight” and cover up the wonky chips.

      1. That sounds very interesting but didn’t Steve Jobs make the earlier Apple computers? If so then I very much doubt that he would have forgotten that the track density between RAM chips is twice the density because most of the pins are a parallel connection from one chip to the next.

    2. The layout is probably to fit more stuff into a smaller space. Sometimes putting a square cattywammpus, into a bunch of other squares, actually makes more space. Who cares how it looks, so long as it works and is smaller. Speaking of, I don’t think OrangePi’s lack support at all or “might work.”

      My boy Igor over at http://www.armbian.com already has a working kernel for the Orangepi Zero model. He’s been kicking those things out like candy since before he expanded to an armbian forum. So if these were ‘just’ released, give him a little while and he will have a working model/kernel to go off of. I’ve been using OrangePi’s since their first release (now obsolete) and the least of my problems has been finding a kernel or OS that works. Seriously, http://www.Armbian.com is where it’s at for anything Raspi, Orangie, and beyond.

      1. I agree, I’ve just got my orange pi pc, which was stuck in a draw for six months, up and running with armbian. Had problems with other firmware, and of course the notorious power problems – the power cable really needs to be thick enough to deliver a full 2A or better to the board, or it just fades out on boot.
        Just one issue with armbian, my ralink wifi worked out of the box with it, but broke as soon as I apt-get upgraded, with a “missing firmware” error. Solution: apt-get install ralink-firmware, though that’s easier said than done with no wifi of course.

      2. Yes, Armbian was truly the rescue for my OrangePi. I tried several images before, non worked satisfyingly. The first problem was some HDCP-required setting which prevented it from working with a HDMI to DVI cable.

  1. “Look, my CAD software lets me rotate the components at any angle! Neener neener neener!”

    OK, so sometimes that does help wit routing a bunch of traces out of a package with tightly spaced leads, but this is a really odd way to use it and looks more like somebody was just showing off, or doing board layouts while drunk.

    1. Look closely – they did it because of the ton of matched length traces needed for the various things on the board. Without that it probably wouldn’t have fit on the board (not fitting the RPi form factor anymore) or they would have had to use more layers (much more expensive).

    1. Software wise, the support isn’t that great at release but tends to rapidly get better afterwards. I’m running Debian stable on my Cubieboard 1 with the official Debian kernel, though I don’t think video out support quite made it in. More recent upstream kernels have quite a bit more progress; I think there’s usable support for the original Orange Pi PC as of 4.8/4.9 and work-in-progress patches for quite a lot of the functionality. Someone’s probably rolling images with the necessary patches somewhere.

    2. Brian should be ashamed. Linux-sunxi.org is the community working hard on mainline support and have come a very far way. Support is ever growing and not so bad. And far from abandonware. Id even say allwinner devices are quite well supported and has the boggeat community of all.

      Shame on you brian. Shame on you.

    3. linux-sunxi is in mainstream kernel now. It works all good if you compile from sources. Not tried the Orange Pi PC2 but I found the first version with a H3 chip pretty stable and better performance/price than RPi2.
      This newest Orange Pi PC2 is a good alternative to Raspberry Pi 3. This board also does not have binary blobs like Raspberry Pi.

      The support, yes is not good, but can get only better. It is actually not really a barrier if you compile your kernel, but it is for a wider adoption.

      The website sucks, the forum sucks and does not give really justice to the hardware they produce.
      They could:
      – build up a compilation chain, producing regularly updated iso images for different Linux distros
      – open their wik to contributors
      – communicate better on the forums / clearer website organisation
      that would be a great improvement and they likely would sell much more boards as consequence.

      It seems they have resources to care about the support, only on the hardware.
      Some boards schematics and mechanical drawings when asked to on the forum, don´t know for pcb.
      At least they have a “open source hardware” forum …

        1. First, not everyone even needs a 3D driver. One can run a Linux desktop system without it perfectly fine.

          Second, the Raspberry Pi mesa driver is still a work-in-progress project and is not ready for production. Yes, it is making a good progress and will be usable some time in the future.

  2. I bought two of the previous generation of Orange Pi boards. Completely unusable – I struggled to see if I could even boot them before my “free returns” window closed. They had very poor support, and a community of only one guy working to improve it, or so it seemed at the time.

    That said, you’ll probably actually be able to buy these because of low demand. Is a board that just ends up in a drawer better than one you can never find in stock?

    1. Been playing a while with the Opi PC and made the same experience as you did first.
      Buildroot, U-boot, vanilla kernel support… it’s all there though not as mature and easy as in rPi.
      Still kernel 4.9 and u-boot developer branch are missing some things, even though there are many good Opi pendants for Rpi established stuff.
      RetrOrangePi for emulation
      OpenElec for media
      Armbian vs. Raspbian

      Bottom line for me is, that I’ve learned a lot and still there’s a lot to discover (e.g. integrated OpenRisc core and the Mali capabilities); I’d even say that for some things it seems to be a good / cheap rpi alternative, though not for everything and before I’d get one of the new ones I’d rather wait for at least some basic mainline SW support (which is in my opinion a good indicator for active development – having an Android image means just nothing).

    2. Armbian and DietPI work perfectly on H3 boards. 64 bits ones will get support one day, hopefully. In the meantime we should refuse to buy them to send a polite message to Allwinner, …assuming they would care.

    1. If it only reads off the eMMC Flash at 40 MByte/sec there is no way it can match a real PC with a 1GBit NIC on real tasks because they can move data at +100 Mbytes/sec between machines via SSH. I know because I do it all the time.

      The H3 has SATA II so that, if you can access it, may change things completely. Anyone know?

  3. What’s the other board mentioned in this article? It says it gets more views on the page, but they don’t mention it. Bad form, Hackaday. Way to alienate your readership.

    1. Thank you for that one. Seems like the zero is another cheap chinese crap board without proper 802.3af implementation, the “poe option” puts the dc voltage straight to the USB input.. insane!

    2. Thank you for that one.
      Seems like the zero is another cheap chinese crap board without a proper 802.3af PoE implementation. The “poe option” even puts the dc voltage from the ethernet cable straight to the 5V usb voltage input… insane guys!

      1. Wow that’s crazy…so bad, right onto VBUS. That’s what caught my eye about this board but there’s obviously no 24-48V buck on the board. I would really like a rpi variant that has the 802.3af PoE implemented correctly with auto switching and protection.

    1. I dont know how the h2 fairs. But most of these simple budget allwinner socs are still based on the sin[457]i generation which are very reasonably supported. check out linux-sunxi.org

  4. Hi. this may be a noob question, but: the orange pi 0 has no video port. do you need to pre-configure it somehow to ssh and use it that way? or use the pin-heads to get some kind of video output? it looks weird

      1. In my specific use case I am running it on battery (as an automatic Atmega 32u4 programmer) plug in board, udev sees it fires off script running avrdude… shows me the progress on a little oled via python. Powered by a cheapo USB battery bank wired to 5v and Gnd on the board.

      2. The supplied heatsink is coupled using a thick thermal pad which doesn’t transfer properly the heat from the cpu. If you’re interested there’s a good thread at the Armbian forums about that and how to optimize cpu scaling.
        I’m going to order a couple soon and my first mod will be to glue (thermal glue for heatsinks) a copper pad on the cpu so that I can use a much thinner thermal pad under the heatsink. That will increase the overall thermal mass while easing the transfer to the heatsink.

  5. Nice boards for the price but useless unless they have decent support. Even the CHIP $9 computer has pretty good support and. of course, the gold standard is RPi. I could have quite a few uses for the Zero version if it had a decent distro of Linux with worthwhile support. Maybe Hackaday could do a review and let us know what sort of support there is for it.

  6. I’m interested in the Orange Pi Zero as it says there is a POE option!
    That opens a lot of possibilities, like retrofitting an an old dead IP camera and drive the motors, all powered from the POE switch. This is something I will be looking into…

  7. Why do you say the Allwinner SoC’s have terrible Linux support?
    Alright, AllWinner is still only interested in old kernels on Android and are violating the GPL with their VPU SDK. But the Linux-Sunxi effort has done great work getting the mainline kernel working on Allwinner chips.

    Just go to the Armbian download page and click on the “mainline” button to see boards with mainline kernel support. Most of them are using Allwinner SoCs:
    http://www.armbian.com/download/

    1. I believe his point is more true to form than to function. As a pine64 owner I get what he is saying. To me GOOD linux support means I can grab current source, and compile it on the board. If it requires that I grab a bunch of precompiled crap from the manufacturer or that I run a non mainline kernel, its not GOOD support its just functional. I am not a huge purist like some are but even the Pi agonizes me somewhat. I understand we are having to accept a compromise but that doesnt make me smile. To me the beauty of linux is in the ability to make it what I need, if I need to add in some esoteric bit of code, module etc and compile my own kernel then thats the true power of linux in my book. If I cant, or have to work around bugs and crap because I am stuck using someone else’s “its good enough for retail” binary that sucks. Then if the chip manuf refuses to help or work with the community you have something net very useful unless someone comes along and is able to reverse engineer a solution.

    2. It saying “mainline” there only means that the mainline-kernel boots, it doesn’t mean anything else. HDMI missing, SPI not working, CPU-frequency scaling gone with the wind and then the instabilities are some of the issues with H3, for example. They did just recently switch to a fork that has working Ethernet, so that’s at least something.

  8. The Orange Pi Zero is a direct competitor to the Nano Pi Neo. It’s slightly bigger (46×48 mm^2 instead of 40×40 mm^2), though. They somehow managed to reduce the price by more than one dollar by using an H2 instead of an H3, which makes me wonder why FriendlyArm chose the H3 when the only difference appears to be the better GPU. Some of the saved money went into that SDIO wifi chip that nobody has ever heard about. The schematics mention the RTL8189 but I can’t copy surrounding the hanzi into Google translate to know what it says. It has the same digits in its name, but the RTL8189 is QFN32 instead of QFN40 (although 14 pins are NC, so it might still be the same die).

  9. Well that sums up what I think about driver support (low level support) for the ‘Orange’ series.

    The Orange Pi Zero might be worth a gamble as a Wi-Fi media (File) server with a USB HDD though. $7 is nothing to worry about loosing and some research might even save the risk.

  10. Not sure what anyone else uses hardware for, in general, but I’ve been using the OrangePi PC or One system as a media player loaded up with Kodi and also an OctoPrint machine. Both have run stable in place for over a year.

    Using Armbian for the release OS: Armbian: http://www.armbian.com/

    The hardware support available’s better than some of the Intel systems… I’m looking at you PowerVR based CPUs.

  11. ok hardware at great price point forcing geeks with poor self control to order one… just so it lands at the bottom of the drawer due to GARBAGE software with zero support :(

  12. Hm… i’m searching for a low(er)-power RPi replacement. Anyone has an idea?
    I do not need ethernet, hdmi or sound. Basicly just USB (to connect UMTS-Stick), Camera-Interface and GPIO (SPI).

        1. I use a NXP PCF85263A real time clock with 2 alarms to let the RPi switch it’s power supply on and off via the timers.. so there are solutions if the Pi doesn’t need to be awake all the time.

      1. “What’s wrong with the Pi Zero?”

        Availability.

        It is only possible to by one at the time, eg. at the PiHut, but not by the numbers at RS og Farnell.

        So each and every Zero has to be ordered separately, and shipping is added for each and every Zero – that is a showstopper.

        1. Yes, and if you live anywhere apart from the UK or US then the shipping costs. I would be happy to pay for relatively expensive shipping but I refuse to pay for a gold plated ship just to bring it to my country.

        2. The Raspberry Pi Zero likely costs $5 just to make. It’s a loss leader. It will *NEVER* be available in quantity for anything close to $5, at least not until it’s gone obsolete or on clearance. A year has passed and nothing changed. Microcenter is the only place where you can get just one for the advertised $5. It always was and always will be a marketing scam. At least the Orange Pi Zero is an honest $10 shipped, and you can order as many as you want. It could be even be made cheaper if they got rid of that ethernet port and transformer IC. It takes up half the board space. The relatively huge USB port could go too. Maybe in the next model, the Orange Pi -1.

          1. Regarding the Pi Zero being a loss leader, I also can’t help but wonder if it was produced as a two-fingers to the BBC who had recently announced the micro:bit giveaway. The Raspberry Pi Foundation seemed decidedly cool about the micro:bit’s launch and it’s a great sadness to me that a foundation whose aim is to promote educational computing has never shown the micro:bit project any real support.

            I think there are historical reasons why the RPi Foundation and the BBC have fallen out over this but I would have hoped that they could have put aside their differences to work together on what could have been an amazing project. As a hobbyist, I love the Raspberry Pi but as a secondary school teacher, I love the BBC micro:bit. I wish they could just be friends!

  13. Not sure if whoever designed this was a Genius or a Madman.

    On one hand it is mad to see something throw convention into the wind, but on the other hand it is genius. Why should components and traces still be restricted to 45 degree rotations?? It used to be that way cause limitations in software, fabrication, Pick&Place technology and such. Now we have the freedom and can use arbritrary placement for better layouts. This design uses it to minimise the use of long traces to match lengths.

    Granted it does become more difficult. When you are used to organized placement you can’t just adopt this kind of freestyle just like that. Still interesting tough!

  14. All I want at the moment is a board with HDMI out, H.264 decoding, USB device and host at the same time. It looks like this could do that, but are there any limitations in this that I should be aware of?

  15. And while there is all this clueless whining here we already enjoy running Linux with lowest consumption possible on the real Zero: https://forum.armbian.com/index.php/topic/2808-orange-pi-zero-went-to-the-market/?view=getlastpost

    Mainline kernel also boots happily (used megous H3 4.7 branch with working Ethernet, USB, thermal/throttling/dvfs stuff + Armbian DT overlay patches to get SPI and I2C up and running). Everything is fine with this board, excellent software support as usual.

    With OPi PC 2 it’s a bit different due to this thing being a real 64-bit platform using a brand new SoC. But linux-sunxi community is already pretty active, dev samples should arrive today and tomorrow so we’ll see a lot of progress soon.

  16. I use the Orange Pi One for home automation with Node Red and Mosquttio (Armbian OS). Works great! Got the Orange Pi 2E coming in the mail for a Minecraft server :)

    Have to say I’m very happy with the boards…..

  17. OPi PC 2 booting with 4.9: https://gist.github.com/apritzel/c128b29c601d180d32d68ee4c9ed8f47

    This is the result of still having no H5 SoC user manual (still trying to kick some a** at Allwinner to get documentation shipped) but some linux-sunxi folks getting their boards yesterday, just trying out what’s possible and succeeding a few hours later. Fortunately the new H5 seems like a mixture of H3 (peripherals) and A64 (CPU cores) so getting this stuff up and running should work pretty soon.

    @Brian: in case you ever try to review any Allwinner based board again please don’t make the mistake to rely on vendor’s offerings (eg. OS images they provide). For reasons unknown to me the major players here totally suck when it’s about software but fortunately that doesn’t matter that much since around Allwinner devices there exist pretty active communities (linux-sunxi to name the most important and Armbian for example who care more about end user aspects).

  18. And here we go with the Zero. This is Orange Pi Zero booting Armbian 5.24 with latest and greatest mainline kernel version 4.9: http://sprunge.us/LSUb

    @Brian: While it’s true that the situation with Allwinner sometimes is a bit complicated this doesn’t matter that much since there’s an active community. H2+ as used on OPi Zero is just a slightly limited H3 SoC so there’s already a lot of stuff in mainline kernel with a few more things to be added with next versions (in Armbian we collected the patches floating around already).

    Will now solder a step-down converter to make use of the PoE option of this little gem: http://linux-sunxi.org/Xunlong_Orange_Pi_Zero#Powering_the_board

  19. I buy orange pi zero. Then notice that there is no information of default ip etc. So I try ask from orange pi support. Response was that also they do not know what is default ip of that :P does not give promising look of their skills =)

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