You may well have read my review of the NanoPi NEO back in August 2016 – a nice little H3 unit available in two versions, 256Meg and 512Meg RAM. Well, the new unit has an H5 64-bit processor and comes with 512MB RAM and although there is only one USB connector – there are three USBs available. Size is 40mm square! The NEO 2, however is more expensive than the original at $15 + post etc.
There are lots of add-ons available for it including WIFI, a TTL-RS232 module (just an FTDI but cheap enough), power dock, prototype board etc etc – you can read about it here so I won’t go into too much detail. Personally I wonder about the logic of bringing out add-ons for such a small board – would you not be better off buying more complete board in the first place? Where this board scores is size – it really is small.
So – nice looking - I’m not sure why they chose hardwired Ethernet over WIFI – I’d have gone the other way and kept the height down – but there you are. The existing case for the NEO does not fit the new model incidentally.
The board DOES have fast Ethernet which is a plus – but then if you were going to use it as a NAS the 512Meg RAM might be a limitation?
So you can log into the board via the FTDI or by normal micro-USB serial. At this point I headed off to the WIKI to get the operating system image..
One thing that worried me – and I’ve complained about this before – the requirements are: A NEO2 (obviously), a micro TFT card, a power supply and “a computer running Ubuntu 14.04 64 bit” - FRIENDLYARM - YOU MUST BE JOKING! Most of us in the west have Microsoft Windows PCs. I do have one PC running Linux – it is running MINT and I’ve no intention of changing that just for one new board!!!
I was a little disappointed to find that the website has only Ubuntu Core available – unlike the M3 and M1 both of which have excellent DEBIAN images which work straight out of the box. Again – this fascination with Ubuntu – a bit disappointing to those of us who like Debian and have used it on previous boards.
At the time of writing, the ARMBIAN site had only nightly releases available and they refer to WIFI – so not exactly customised to this board which by default does not have WIFI !!
So, despite desire for Debian, I downloaded the Ubuntu Core software from the FriendlyArm WIKI site. The image was a mere 244MB in size so took no time to grab. Well, it would have been very quick but their sharing site is not the fastest in the world. I blew the image file with Win32 Disk Imager as usual and plugged it into the NEO 2 board. From what I could read, this would expand on first use and might take some time.
Power on and both the green and blue lights flashed for a moment then the green went full on – and the blue continued to flash. A quick check with Advanced IP Scanner showed the board sitting at 192.168.0.193.
I opened winSCP as usual and I tried logging in as root with password fa.
No problem – straight in. But I realised when running my normal script that SUDO does not exist on this version of the operating system – so that has now been added to the script so the extra half hour starting again was not entirely wasted.
Having ran the script and that having created a PI user – I went off to log in as user PI – loaded and ran the script again. While all of this was running the processor was running at 53c, so depending on use, the heatsink may not be needed after all.
However – it THEN turned out that Friendlyarm were using 15.10 – which is ANCIENT – so -
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install update-manager-core
All of which went swimmingly well – until – the BOOT area ran out of space.
So it looks like, as things stand, you can’t upgrade to Ubuntu 16.04 – and as their Ubuntu is currently the only option - I have no option but to say this isn’t a lot of use until better software comes out or that boot area can be increased on the command line without needing a doctorate. Even EASUS won’t let me resize the larger partition to make space for a bigger BOOT area.
I cannot tell you how many times I have impressed on various companies – you cannot just put out hardware without software support – and Ubuntu 16.04 (if you have to use Ubuntu) is pretty standard stuff.
At this point I was out of options – but I remembered that Armbian do have a nightly build – I decided to give that a go. I downloaded the image, put it into the NEO2 – and rebooted.
The green light came on – but not the flashing blue. I waited. “nanopineo2.lan” appeared on my network – this time as 192.168.0.194.
I logged in as root with password 1234 and it seemed to come up – but would not stay – it would immediately disappear… so I fastened the serial interface up – no-where near as convenient… and logged in. Once that initial login was done – I could log in with winSCP as usual.
Several hours of testing for myself and Antonio later….
An updated script working with the Armbian Nightly build of 27/03/2017 works perfectly with this – there is a temperature monitor built in and at the peak of installation the temperature of the board sits at 63c. Based on that I would assume that a heatsink is not needed for general control use. Do not try the original script. This one is called “the script”. FriendlyArm have also written to assure me that Ubuntu 16.04 will soon be available.
And yes the board is fast. Total Time to install the script was 46 minutes – as against several hours on the Raspberry Pi Zero WIFI !!
Update 30/03/2017 – I’m glad in a way that I had hassle with operating systems as it focussed Antonio and I to improve the script. However, true to their word, in the early hours of the morning (probably daylight for them) FriendlyArm came back to me with an updated Ubuntu Core 16.04 – here it is.
Interestingly, at the start of the PI part of the setup, it asked me for my PI username – then again part way through the Node-Red setup, near the end of that section, it did the same again. This normally does NOT happen. Also, the script took over an hour to run, 25% or so longer than the Armbian nightly build time, which was 45 minutes. Perhaps some tweaking is still needed! Temperature (without any heatsink) never got above 60c.
I don’t know how long that will remain valid so you’d best check their site for details. The install did however, once again work perfectly. Need to sort out that need for a password in the middle though – something up there.
30/04/2017 - You'll see in the comments that there is an update for the operating system here - so today I tried that out on a 16GB Sandisk Ultra SD. The image expands to over 3GB and installed without issue. I have however noted some issues with the utility program as I could not get the unit to set up for 3.5mm jack audio. I got an error message. There were a couple of other minor niggles which I've reported and no doubt will be fixed. I've also noted that for the first time, they've created a PI user but when I used that for the script, it kept asking me for the password which was marginally annoying. The script ran in 1hr 34 mins and during that time the temperature (without heatsink) crept up to 62c. I think it is fair to say I'd want to use this board ventilated or with a heatsink on it. FriendlyArm do a nice heatsink but it does add a few mm to the thickness of the unit.
The unit still asked me for password so I ran:
and changed the sudo line to read
%sudo ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL
That sorted that out. Annoying but not that critical.
A brief check of my script and everything worked - so at least there are no negative changes and far less messing about than there was when I started this blog entry. As for the various GPIO - time will tell. I'll check all of that on my next look at this rather neat little board.