FriendlyARM: A Different Flavor of Raspberry

A lot of old science fiction movies show people wearing the same–or nearly the same–clothes. We’re left guessing if this is because there is a single centralized plant mass-producing skin-tight jumpsuits, or if everyone is under orders to dress the same. Now that we live in the past’s future, it looks like science fiction was a poor predictor of fashion. People want variety.

Which calls to mind development boards. How many different ones do we need? Need doesn’t matter, because we have plenty of them. There may be strong leaders: in the 8-bit world, you think of the Arduino, and on the Linux side, maybe the Raspberry Pi. But there are options.

[Eric Brown] recently compared several inexpensive development boards from FriendlyARM including the NanoPi M3, the NanoPi M1, and the NanoPC-T3. These range from about $11 to $60 with the M3 costing $35. You can see an M1 booting on an HDMI screen in the video below.

The $35 board (the M3), in particular, is pretty impressive:

  • Processor — Samsung S5P6818 (8x 28nm Cortex-A53 cores @ 400MHz to 1.46GHz; Mali-400MP GPU
  • Memory — 1GB DDR3 SDRAM; microSD slot (up to 64GB)
  • Wireless — 802.11b/g/n; Bluetooth 4.0 dual mode; IPX interface
  • Networking — 10/100/1000 Ethernet port
  • Multimedia I/O: HDMI 1.4a output; LCD interface; LVDS interface; DVP camera interface; 3.5mm audio jack; I2S audio interface
  • Other I/O: 2x USB 2.0 host ports; 2x USB 2.0 host headers; Micro-USB 2.0 client port; Debug serial port header; 40-pin, Raspberry Pi compatible GPIO connector for UART, SPI, I2C, PWM etc.
  • Other features — Power and reset buttons; power and status LEDs
  • Power — DC barrel jack; +5V @ 2A; RTC Battery header; AXP228 power management unit
  • Dimensions — 64mm x 60mm

The board can boot several Linux flavors and Android. It looks like a strong choice.

The geodesic dome didn’t replace conventional homes, and unitards didn’t replace the business suit. These probably won’t replace the Raspberry Pi, either. We’ve covered other “Pi killers” in the past that either compete on price or features. While none of them are likely to displace the Pi either, they do give you choices, should you dare to be different.

31 thoughts on “FriendlyARM: A Different Flavor of Raspberry

        1. To be fair the problem source was AllWinner shipping debug code in their default kernel and the really big problem is use of their processor chips in set-top-boxes A10/A20/A.. where you can not just upgrade the OS, on SoC boards that use their chips it is easy to check for the major security hole and to fix it.
          Does “id ; echo rootmydevice > /proc/sunxi_debug/sunxi_debug ; id” as any user account give you root ?
          “sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude upgrade”

    1. Correct. I read through the list of specs and was hopeful… but unfortunately a SATA port was not found. I bought a fistful of IFC6410 boards a while back when there was a sale. They were $89 a piece. You get a quad core Snapdragon 600 with gigabit either and SATA port. And not some silly USB SATA or Ethernet, either. I had one of these puppies running my 24 TB RAID 5 array (with a SATA port multiplier card… yeah I know). Anyway the successor to the IFC6410 (called the IFC6410Plus) is way more expensive and does away with the SATA port, which in my opinion makes the thing useless.

      Anyone know of a replacement to the IFC6410? I haven’t been able to find a sub $400 dev board with proper hardware SATA and gigabit ethernet since.

      1. PCEngine’s APU2 at less than $200 is a real contender.

        Two SATA ports (one of them M.2), two mini-PCIe slots, two USB3 and two USB2 ports, 2 serial, 16 GPIOs incl. i2c, thee Intel gigabit ethernets. 2 or 4 GB RAM, 1 GHz AMD CPU. Runs stock Linux or BSD systems. No display though, it’s meant as an appliance (router, wireless, etc.)

    2. Why SATA? I would guess embedded designers today figure SDIO is going to handle whatever comes up. There was the little laptop type IDE on boards this size a few years ago intended for cell modems and SSD and it flopped.

      1. there was no obese people in the shows featureing skin tight jumpsuits that I recall – therefore if they were right about the jumpsuits they would also be right about the average BMI ;)

  1. Linux support with these boards should be taken with a big grain a salt… let me quote what Arnd Bergmann, co-maintainer of the linux arm-soc kernel tree, has recently said about it :

    “Source code is available but awful. Note that this is not a Samsung design at all, it comes from a company called Nexell, see

    It’s probably not a bad chip at all, but it has zero upstream Linux support (unlike the real Samsung chips that generally just work), so you are stuck with whatever kernel version you get.

    Specifically, this is a Linux-3.4 kernel that looks more like a Linux-2.6.28 platform port that was forward-ported, see
    Note that this is a 32-bit port, it’s unlikely to ever run a 64-bit Linux unless someone starts a new kernel port from scratch.”

    Source : (via

    1. I’m glad you called this out. It’s always easy to drool over new hardware – but if the software is going to stay more or less exactly the same as it was when it first shipped – it’s going to be a major pain down the road to keep things up to date and patched. My favorite example of this was the Odroid W pi clone. Great package, comparable hardware to the pi, but the kernel got locked in a funky state where the fuel gauge and other power management features were broken. The Banana Pi has actually been pretty good about this…and of course a genuine raspberry pi is incredibly well supported from the software side.

    2. The distribution for North and South America is ARMWorks LLC, near Seattle. They work on updated kernels, Debian Jessie, special drivers, and Python/PyQt and all that. (partly owned by FriendlyARM). They also tack on a two year parts and workmanship warranty for OEMs.

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