This blog item last update May 2016 – and it is all thanks in large part to you, the readers. Thank you. Well, let’s see shall we…
The Orange Pi PC (note, specifically the PC version, I’ll make no comment about others – this is the CHEAP one – cost me something in the region of £12 + post from AliExpress) is a “Raspberry Pi rippoff” in that it is very similar in look and function. It has an Ethernet connector, 3 USBs, HDMI and audio as well as a power connector and micro-USB “host mode” connector (you CANNOT apply power via this connector so don’t confuse that with the RPi).
Mine arrived around 3 weeks after I ordered it. I eagerly opened the box and noted I had to give it a power supply able to handle up to 2 amps.
The first issue I had, NONE of my large number of 5v supplies had a connector that fitted – why on earth we have to have so many variations of 2-pin connector defeats me. So I took out the soldering iron, carefully checked to find that of the 3 pins under the connector, 2 were ground, one was 5v power – so I carefully soldered a lead and hooked it up to my power supply. I plugged in a monitor to the HDMI connector, plugged in Ethernet and… I don’t know what I was expecting with no microSD but I expected SOMETHING. I turned on the power. In total, the two lights in the Ethernet controller came on – and that’s IT. NOT what I expected – I at least though a power light might come on.
I had it in my brain from the very misleading ads that this would take a “Raspberry Pi image” – well, it doesn’t – and so after plugging in a microSD with RPi setup on it and getting nowhere (NO more lights, NOTHING on the monitor) I started looking for help. Well, DON’T make the mistake I did and go looking to the design company – you’ll get no replies and their website is often as slow as HELL – I think they might be running the site on a Pi (and there are no schematics for the PC version of this board, at least not at the time of writing).
So then I turned to the forums. It turns out (and this is important) that you will NOT see a board light until you have a valid SD image in there. I found a Debian 8 ”Wheezy” image (NOT a Raspberry Pi image – still not resolved that claim), formatted the SD (16G class 10) with SD Formatter (on my Windows 10 PC) and then blew the unzipped image using Win32DiskImager. I plugged in the SD, applied power, ON came the red board light, UP came the monitor. I was getting quite excited.
That was soon dashed when I realised the hardware ETHERNET wasn’t working. The instruction onscreen said to run a command to expand the disk partition. I did that and immediately the board rebooted, showed a TON of disk errors and died. I tried that several times – same result. Just on a whim – I used Windows to LONG format the SD before using SDFormatter to quick format it. I don’t know if that helped, but… read on.
Next attempt – I went off for the Ubuntu version. This worked better, allowing resizing and coming up in graphical mode – with horrendous overscan on my monitor – but hey… still no hardware Ethernet. I plugged in my WIFI usb board (I don’t like to use it, not reliable enough for my use as an MQTT/Node-Red server) and rebooted. Wifi was up. No hardware Ethernet, no sound but it was all working so I started to install my script designed (kluged) for the Raspberry Pi. WELL don’t you know it – some of the folders are different in Ubuntu – so much for complaints about Windows versions. The script largely installed – I had Webmin, Node-Red, MOSQUITTO and other programs running – but the lack of wired Ethernet and other features and the awful screen res made me want to give up.
One of you kind readers had previously send me off here for images…
I kind of thought that with the formatting I may have cured some ill with the SD – perhaps I should give Debian another go – but with no wired Ethernet – what was the point. I re-read one of the emails in here and it turned out there were a couple of scripts needed – but where were they?? The GIGA link in that page link above made no mention of the scripts… however, one thing at a time – I went back to Debian and put that on the SD with Win32DiskManager, having reformatted the disk.
At that point I took a look at the SD – sure enough – sample scripts were on the Windows-readable boot partition – just waiting to be renamed – so ALL you need is the Debian image. I renamed the two scripts (see comments from cnxsoft below) and booted up the board. THIS time it booted up, taking a little longer but with the ethernet WORKING. No graphics – I didn’t really want that anyway as I control everything via the PC using WinSCP and then after installing TightVNCServer, using TightVNC viewer.
I gingerly followed the command line instruction for resizing the partition (one instruction, trivial) and LO – all working. I moved to WinSCP so I could work from the comfort of my Windows PC – and – apt-get-update and upgrade worked a treat.
At this point my script which installs the kitchen sink. I’m going to cut a long story short – the Debian Wheezy mini installation just DOESN’T WORK, TightVNC would not work, Webmin. It doesn’t work. i detailed it all in here but what was the point!
So I started again – using Jessie this time in no time I had a properly working graphical interface running. I pulled up the Chromium browser, went off to the BBC website, tried to run a video – it wanted the FLASH player, I said ok – and the entire graphical interface came to a halt. But… I think I heard something out of the speaker… and accordingly having remoted into this installation via ROOT (which in this case CAN be accessed externally) – I decided to give my script another go.
Well, both TIGHTVNC and WEBMIN installed – which is a plus compared to the previous version, and…. alas, no sound – I loaded an MP3 onto the machine – set the sound mixer to analog output – turned the volume up – the little bar was showing the music playing, but as for any sound actually coming out of anywhere… nothing, zilch. PHPLiteAdmin would not work but I realised – no unzip – so that quickly got added to my script – just in case..
And what do I find? A brand new version of Apache2 – for **** sake!!!! – which now doesn’t work out of the box!
DEAD easy – says the web – NOW you have to put all your files now into /var/www/html - and you can change this with THIS file -
Ok, THAT worked….. going to need some conditional coding in my script! I also discovered UNZIP was missing – I added that to the script.
PM2 installation started to throw out errors as had the node installation – I seem to recall npm WARNINGS before.. maybe they too were errors.
Password setup for Node-Red failed but that always fails – always complains about no bcrypt – even though bcrypt is installed – that needs work… solution is simple – run it again after the script is done – and remove the dead entry. I need a SED text to prevent duplicates – that’s a detail.
Despite gripes during the PM2 installation it still worked!
I can likely fix most things here but the SOUND – absolutely no joy…
SO – the CONCLUSION: I believe that the only thing wrong with the Orange Pi is an AWFUL, UNRESPONSIVE COMPANY, RUBBISH documentation and incomplete implementations of drivers. When I wrote this I had a functioning equivalent of my setup on the PI with Node-Red, MOSQUTTO etc all running – for £12 but since then the Pi3 has taken us another step forward and I doubt this model of Orange Pi would compete.
BEAR IN MIND for those of you not familiar with the more expensive alternative – the Raspberry Pi (and possibly with less time to experiment)– all this stuff works first time every time out of the box on a Raspberry Pi. You have to ask yourself if it is worth the bother? probably not - at least not until the Orange Pi people get their finger out and provider better documentation, better drivers and get rid of the out of date stuff on their website.