Hands On With The Odroid C2; the Raspberry Pi 3 Challenger

A couple of weeks ago we covered the launch of the Odroid C2, a single board computer from the Korean company Hardkernel in the same form factor and price segment as the Raspberry Pi 3. With four ARM Cortex A53 cores at 2GHz and 2Gb of DDR3 on board it has a paper spec that comfortably exceeds that of the Pi 3’s 1.2GHz take on the same cores and 1Gb of DDR2. This could be a board of great interest to our readers, so we ordered one for review.

The parcel from Korea arrived in due course, the C2 in its box inside it well protected by a sturdy cardboard outer packaging. We had ordered a couple of extras: a micro-SD card preloaded with Ubuntu and a USB power lead (more on that later), both were present and correct.

When unpacking the board it is immediately obvious how closely they’ve followed the Raspberry Pi form factor. There are a few differences, no camera or DSI connectors, the SD card in a different place, a power jack where the Pi has its audio jack, and oddly the network port is the other way up. Otherwise it looks as though it should fit most Pi cases. Of course the only case we had to hand was a PiBow which are cut for specific Pi models, so sadly we couldn’t test that assertion.

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Odroid C2 Bests Raspberry Pi 3 in Several Ways

It’s been a big week in the world of inexpensive single board computers, and everyone’s talking about the new Raspberry Pi 3. It blows away the competition they say, nobody can touch it for the price.

Almost nobody, that is.

With a lot less fanfare on these shores, another cheap and speedy 64-bit quad-core ARM-based SBC slips onto the market this week, Hardkernel’s Odroid C2. And looking at the specification it seems as though the Pi 3 may be given a run for its money. Like the BCM2837 in the Pi 3 its Amlogic S905 SoC is a quad-core ARM Cortex-A53, but the C2’s 2GHz clock speed gives the raspberry to the 1.2GHz of the Pi 3. There is twice the RAM of the Pi 3 at 2Gbytes, and the onboard Mali-450 GPU can deliver 4K video.

Unlike the Pi 3 there is no wireless or Bluetooth on board, but the C2 has a Gigabit Ethernet port which is wired directly into the SoC. Compared to the Pi 3’s 100 megabit port which suffers through being on a USB interface, that’s likely to be very quick.

Storage can be a choice of either the usual micro SD card or eMMC. Given that the two boards share a very similar form factor it is no surprise that they have very similar GPIO capabilities, however it is worth noting that the C2 has a built-in analog-to-digital converter. As to operating systems, the C2 can run Ubuntu 16.04, or Android Lollipop.

Of course, we’ve seen so many boards touted as Pi-killers, and like all those also-ran tablets touted as iPad killers a few years ago we’ve never heard of most of them again after a brief moment of chatter. They look so good on paper but the price always lets them down.

The C2 could just escape that fate though, its $40 price point is very close to that of the Pi 3. Setting aside for a moment how much shipping and customs might cost for a package from Korea, that sounds interesting to us.

Why might you buy a C2 then, and why might you buy a Pi 3? That the C2 has a much faster processor is beyond doubt. This and its faster wired networking would make it a much more interesting prospect for anyone whose work involves network-attached data processing. But even though a USB wireless network adaptor can be had for only a few dollars the Pi 3’s onboard wi-fi and Bluetooth makes it much more attractive to a home user or someone using a computer on a platform unfettered by wires.

However impressive the C2 may be it is overwhelmingly likely that the Pi 3 will outsell it many times over. This will not just be due to the massive publicity advantage achieved by the Pi Foundation, but the huge ecosystem of hardware and software developers that have made the Pi boards perform to the limit of their abilities in all directions. If you don’t mind forgoing that support though, you could just find that the board from Korea gives you enough extra bang for your buck to make having it on your bench worthwhile.

We’ve followed the Odroid products from the start here at Hackaday. The C2 is just the latest of a procession of boards from Hardkernel, and we’ve featured a few projects that include them. Theirs is always the name at the top of the list when the subject turns to Raspberry Pi competitors, perhaps with the C2 they’ve got a winner.

Our thanks to [Derrick].

A Third Scale Mini PowerMac

We’re surrounded by tiny ARM boards running Linux, and one of the most popular things to do with these tiny yet powerful computers is case modding. We’ve seen Raspberry Pis in Game Boys, old Ataris, and even in books. [Aaron] decided it was time to fit a tiny computer inside an officially licensed bit of miniature Apple hardware and came up with the Mini PowerMac. It’s a 1/3rd scale model of an all-in-one Mac from 1996, and [Aaron] made its new hardware fit like a glove.

Instead of an old Mac modified with an LCD, or even a tiny 3D printed model like Adafruit’s Mini Mac Pi, [Aaron] is using an accessory for American Girl dolls released in 1996. This third-scale model of an all-in-one PowerPC Mac is surprisingly advanced for something that would go in a doll house. When used by American Girl dolls, it has a 3.25″ monochrome LCD that simulates the MacOS responding to mouse clicks and keypresses. If you want to see the stock tiny Mac in action, here’s a video.

The American Girl Mini Macintosh is hollow, and there’s a lot of space in this lump of plastic. [Aaron] tried to fit a Raspberry Pi in the case. A Pi wouldn’t fit. An ODROID-W did, and with a little bit of soldering, [Aaron] had a computer far more powerful than an actual PowerMac 5200. Added to this is a 3.5″ automotive rearview display, carefully mounted to the 1/3rd size screen bezel of the mini Mac.

The rest of the build is exactly what you would expect – a DC/DC step down converter, a USB hub, and a pair of dongles for WiFi and a wireless keyboard. The software for the ODROID-W is fully compatible with the Raspberry Pi, and a quick install of the Basilisk II Macintosh emulator and an installation of Mac OS 7.5.3 completed the build.

Eye-Controlled Wheelchair Advances from Talented Teenage Hackers

[Myrijam Stoetzer] and her friend [Paul Foltin], 14 and 15 years old kids from Duisburg, Germany are working on a eye movement controller wheel chair. They were inspired by the Eyewriter Project which we’ve been following for a long time. Eyewriter was built for Tony Quan a.k.a Tempt1 by his friends. In 2003, Tempt1 was diagnosed with the degenerative nerve disorder ALS  and is now fully paralyzed except for his eyes, but has been able to use the EyeWriter to continue his art.

This is their first big leap moving up from Lego Mindstorms. The eye tracker part consists of a safety glass frame, a regular webcam, and IR SMD LEDs. They removed the IR blocking filter from the webcam to make it work in all lighting conditions. The image processing is handled by an Odroid U3 – a compact, low cost ARM Quad Core SBC capable of running Ubuntu, Android, and other Linux OS systems. They initially tried the Raspberry Pi which managed to do just about 3fps, compared to 13~15fps from the Odroid. The code is written in Python and uses OpenCV libraries. They are learning Python on the go. An Arduino is used to control the motor via an H-bridge controller, and also to calibrate the eye tracker. Potentiometers connected to the Arduino’s analog ports allow adjusting the tracker to individual requirements.

The web cam video stream is filtered to obtain the pupil position, and this is compared to four presets for forward, reverse, left and right. The presets can be adjusted using the potentiometers. An enable switch, manually activated at present is used to ensure the wheel chair moves only when commanded. Their plan is to later replace this switch with tongue activation or maybe cheek muscle twitch detection.

First tests were on a small mockup robotic platform. After winning a local competition, they bought a second-hand wheel chair and started all over again. This time, they tried the Raspberry Pi 2 model B, and it was able to work at about 8~9fps. Not as well as the Odroid, but at half the cost, it seemed like a workable solution since their aim is to make it as cheap as possible. They would appreciate receiving any help to improve the performance – maybe improving their code or utilising all the four cores more efficiently. For the bigger wheelchair, they used recycled car windshield wiper motors and some relays to switch them. They also used a 3D printer to print an enclosure for the camera and wheels to help turn the wheelchair. Further details are also available on [Myrijam]’s blog. They documented their build (German, pdf) and have their sights set on the German National Science Fair. The team is working on English translation of the documentation and will release all design files and source code under a CC by NC license soon.

Hacklet 46 – ODROID Projects

It seems you can’t mention the Raspberry Pi these days without someone bringing up the Odroid. Named after the combination of Open and Android, the current Odroid brand covers several boards – the U3, the UX3 with its 2 Ghz Samsung quad-core processor, and the C1, which is directly aimed at our favorite fruit pie computer. With all this popularity, one would expect a few awesome projects based around the Odroid machines, and you’d be right! This week’s Hacklet is all about projects using the Odroid on Hackaday.io!

Robbie jrWe start with [herrkami] and CRONUS. Cronus started life as a Robbie Junior, Radio Shack’s re-branded version of Takara Tomy’s Omnibot Jr.  [herrkami] has upgraded Cronus’ brain with an Odroid U3. Cronus can now reliably respond to voice commands thanks to a little help from Google’s speech recognition engine and the accompanying Python API. Cronus is rather conversational as well, all due to the AIML framework. [herrkami] hopes to cut the cord (or WiFi link) once he gets CMU sphinx up and running. Some of [herrkami’s] best work is in his cardboard templates to create a mechanism for turning Cronus’ head. These are some pretty sweet updates for a 1986 vintage robot!

 

serverNext up is [tlankford01] with Linux Tutorial: Odroid U3 Server w/ Seafile Cloud. [tlankford01] walks us through setting up a file server using the Odroid, a 16 Gigabyte EMMC card, and a hard drive to hold the files. As one might expect, this tutorial covers a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) server stack. The 9 project logs take us from a bare microSD card to a full server. The Odroid’s 2 Gigabytes of ram are put to good use running the open source Seafile cloud server package. Tutorials like this deserve lots of love from the Hackaday.io community. Sometimes you just need to get a solid file server up and running. When that happens, this type of project is often just what the doctor ordered! So don’t be a lurker, head over to [tlankford01]’s page and give him a skull!

 

touch[Victor] gets us one step closer to an Odroid tablet with the HDMI touchscreen. HDMI touchscreen is a project to connect a 7″ 1024 x 600 LCD with a capacitive touchscreen to HDMI based computers. The heart of the project is Texas Instrument’s TFP401 panelbus DVI receiver chip. This chip makes interfacing LCD screens to HDMI or DVI video cards (almost) painless. There still is a bit of X configuration to do to get things running. [Victor] even got his Odroid running in Android with his custom screen setup. Those of us who have spent time in display an input configuration file limbo know that this is no small feat!

htpcFinally we have [darth_llamah] with Odroid-U3 HTPC. [Darth] raided his junkbox and parts drawers to build a solid home theater PC using the Odroid-U2. The U2 is a bit older than the current U3 models, but all [Darth’s] work should apply to any of the Odroid series. An old Itona case provided the frame for this hack, but it took a lot of custom work with plastic and epoxy to make everything fit. [Darth’s] software stack is the popular OpenELEC Linux build. [Darth] even setup a real “soft” power button using an ATtiny85 connected to USB and s Adafruit’s TrinketHidCombo library.

If you want to see all the Odroid projects in one place, check out our new Odroid projects list!

That’s it for this Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

The Smallest Portable Pi

What do you get when you take an extremely small Raspberry Pi clone and stuff it inside a Game Boy Advance SP? We don’t know what to call it, but it’s probably one of the best portable gaming machines ever made, able to run emulators ranging from the Apple II to playing Quake III natively on a tiny flip-top display.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen [frostedfires]’ work on a tiny system stuffed into a Game Boy. The initial post on this build over on the bacman forums just covered the basics – getting an Odroid W up and running, and putting Quake III on the tiny display. Now that the build is complete, we can get a look at what it takes to turn a Raspberry Pi clone into one of the smallest portable projects we’ve ever seen.

Using a Raspi clone as the only component in a tiny portable emulation station isn’t possible, so [frostefires] added a few other bits of electronics to make everything work. There’s a joystick from a PSP in there to work as the mouse, a few extra buttons in addition to the stock Game Boy ones, A USB hub, WiFi adapter, speaker and amplifier, a battery and the related charging electronics, and a Teensy 3.1 to handle all the input.

It’s a very impressive build that can run emulators ranging from the Apple II to later generation Nintendo consoles and handhelds (including the Game Boy Advance), but since the HDMI connector is availble on the outside of the case, [frostedfires] can also use this as a tiny, portable media center. Check out the video below to see this Game Boy in action, playing Mario Kart and 1080p video.

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A Raspberry Pi in a Game Boy Advance SP

It’s not the biggest use of a Raspberry Pi, but running emulators for old game systems is by far the most visible use of the Pi. In fact, putting Pis inside old game systems has led to a resurgence of case modding not seen since the heyday of the Mini-ITX craze of the early ‘aughts.

You’d think every possible Pi casemod had been done by now, but [frostedfires] is still raising the bar with a Pi casemod that stuffs a clone of everyone’s favorite credit card sized computer into a Game Boy Advance SP.

[frostedfires] isn’t using a real Raspi from The Foundataion. Instead, he found the Odroid W, a raspi compatible board that’s about half the size of a model B. It still has everything needed to complete the build – analog video out, a reasonable Linux system, and enough processing power to run Quake III. Right now, [frostedfires] has the screen working – that was taken from a car backup camera. Other than that, the only portion of the build left to go is a few buttons.

This is officially the smallest derivative casemod we’ve ever seen. the previous record holder was the still tiny Game Boy Pocket build from last summer. That build required heavy modifications to the Model B board, though, so if you’re aiming for a smaller build, the Odroid is the way to go.

Thanks to the Bacman forums for yet another great build.