Improving Router-Based Dev Boards With The Onion Omega2 Pro

Before we had Raspberry Pis and Beaglebones, the art of putting a Linux system in a small, portable project was limited to router hacking. The venerable WRT54G controlled Internet-connected robots with a careful application of a Unix-ey firmware. Now, things are different but there’s still a need for a cheap, portable Linux system that’s just good enough to get the job done. Now, there’s an upgrade to the board that follows in the footsteps of that router hacking The Onion Omega2 Pro is up on Crowd Supply, and it’s got more buttons, more switches, and it’s still smaller than a breadboard.

The Onion Omega2 Pro is a slight upgrade over the breadboard-friendly SoM launched a few years ago. The Pro version features a 580 MHz MIPS CPU, 512 MB of RAM (Update: this is 128 MB physical RAM and 384 MB flash swap file), 8 GB of storage, and connectivity with b/g/n WiFi. Unlike the previous version, this is a far more functional system with a 30-pin expansion header, support for battery charging, a micro USB for charging and serial, and a USB host port. Because this is at its heart the guts of a router on a development board, you also get all the fun of WiFi networking. The expansion header connects to various add-ons including a GPS module, OLED display, and an Ethernet port.

Now we have Raspberry Pis and other various boards based on smartphone Systems on Chip, but sometimes you don’t need that much overhead. You don’t need weird Linux distributions dealing with ARM bootloaders. Sometimes you just need something simple, and the Onion Omega2 Pro does just that.

23 thoughts on “Improving Router-Based Dev Boards With The Onion Omega2 Pro

  1. It actually only has 128MB of RAM but creates a flash-based swap file for the remaining 384MB if you read the fine print. Swap-to-NAND has serious performance and reliability issues such that it’s not something I have ever seen a real embedded system (i.e. in production and deployed to serve an actual mission critical function) do.

    1. I think that’s actually pretty cool feature. It allows to have lot of ram during development when it’s mostly needed; yet keep the price down for the final product. 128GB is plenty for many applications as long devs keep an eye on optimal usage and as long you don’t need image processing or other data heavy tasks, which you don’t really want to use a board like this for anyways.

    2. That’s what I already railed at them for: advertising the board as having 512MB of memory and acting as if that was a huge upgrade over the original boards isn’t just misleading, it’s them deliberately trying to deceive people! Selling it as a 512MB board is bullshit! Besides, there’s nothing stopping one from using swap on the original boards, either, since it’s not a hardware-feature!

        1. And truthfully, I never liked the actual selling prices of the pi’s all that much. Some people get them at their MSRP but for a lot of us, we are stuck with eBay and the $5 zero becomes more like $20. And you still need a good power supply and a good sd card for it. They are not inexpensive pieces.

    1. Having been a manager for Sprint, I think there’s a way to abuse their system with something like this. If you get out of a 4G sim slot and radio, the ESN can be added to the Sprint database through their DNA tool, and it can be activated as a tablet. That would give you unlimited 4 G data delivered into your router recommend be shared with your devices. I believe it would cost about $10 a month.

  2. I was backer of the Omega2. Had very high hopes for the device. Unfortunately the creators never bothered to answer any questions on the forums and all users were left hanging. So the small community withered away.

    The Pi May have all sorts of shortcommings, but the community and dupport are its true strength.

    Onion didn’t care much for the Omega2. This looks like a rehash of the same.

    1. I was a backer of the Omega2 as well. I liked the little guy – especially how Linux-y it was, but by that time I was getting a bigger bang for the buck from ESP8266s for the wifi part. And agreed about the rPi as well (currently using one for a proof-of-concept project)

  3. I question the description of the board as “breadboard friendly”, since the pin spacing is 2mm, not the more conventional 0.1″.
    Which brings me to a question, what do folks do with devices that use 2mm pin spacing, if you want to breadboard a circuit?
    I have a collection of 2mm headers that I bought, and can solder wires to those to enable breadboarding, and have also just purchased a set of 2mm “DuPont” female connectors and 2 and 3-way shrouds. It’s still quite a mission, though!

  4. Seems a bit pricey for a 128MB RAM linux system. Running lots of services in a browser can work fine from swap because most of the services are idle at any given time. In an embedded application you are more likely to need most of what you implemented active. Mostly I’m a bit peeved at the description claiming 512M when it clearly is only 128M, a 4X exaggeration is not really acceptable. Especially given that for decades we’ve typically uses a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of swap versus RAM in server and desktop configuration, and a 3:1 configuration is known to have some very big caveats when it comes to performance.

  5. Check out the Link it Smart at Seeedstudio.com. It is a nice barebones Linux wif I board. Very much like a router board. It uses an overlay filesystem. It is a great for applications inbetween an esp8266/esp32 and a raspberry pi. It really deserves to be more well known. It’s inexpensive to boot.

  6. Ah I was hoping for a new cheap ethernet device. <$20 single chip boards with 2 or more gigabit Ethernet ports are still severely lacking in selection, surprising in the sea of choices. Orange Pi R1 and the Tangerine are the only two that come close right now at a low cost that I'm aware of.

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