What is that, you may well ask. Well, until recently I’d not heard of them either. I can’t remember if one of you good readers brought them to my attention or if I just stumbled across them on one of my late-might web-trawling expeditions.
So without further ado – here’s the low-down. The VIM is an Amlogic S905X-based SBC. That is, a 64-bit quad-core Cortex A53 board. It is about, but not quite the same size as a Raspberry Pi but slightly thinner even including the Plexiglas case which looks like it was engineered for a precision record-deck. Very pretty. With the components getting warm, the company must have confidence as there is no provision for heat sinking or fans.
But there is more than just good looks here, the board comes with USB type-C connector (which means I have precisely one lead – the one that comes with the board) with USB 2.0 OTG supported. 2GB of RAM and (in this case) 16GB of EMMC 5.0. There is of course a micro-SD connector on-board as well. They do have a remote control for it but I didn’t get one.
Wifi and Bluetooth are included as is HDMI 2.0a with 4K H.265/VP9 1 bit and HDR-10 video processing. In other words, this board is targeted at the media player end of the market. Not cheap, Banggood want $60 for this model though AliExpress appear to have them beaten hands-down.
Described as an “Open Source Box” – the VIM claims multi-OS support – so rather than read the headlines I went straight to the download location on their site. I took a load of pictures but there’s a good video on YouTube. I say good, I meant good visuals- I managed exactly 2 minutes of it – too slow… What you see there is exactly what I received (except theirs is the 8GB version).
I plugged the board (straight from the box) into my Ethernet connection, USB and HDMI screen and was very quickly greeted with Android 6.01 coming up onscreen – in high resolution. A quick check and sure enough – 2GB RAM and the usual 11GB or so left after applications.
I checked for online updates but none appeared available. Possibly more of a worry, it took over a minute to come up with “Check failed! Check your OTA Servier Argent”. Well, I hate to appear old-school but I don’t have the foggiest idea what a “servier argent” is.
I tried again – switching the monitor input back to my PC to do this report – when I switched back – no signal. I think it is quite reasonable for someone of a technical nature to want to upgrade to the latest software on receipt of product?
I’ve no idea why but that wasn’t too encouraging. I waited awhile but no progress so cycled the power. Now, in a media centre setup it is quite likely that users might switch input signals back and forth - so the company needs to look at this. I re-applied power and all seemed well. I went back to the “update and backup” page and tried again – once again the long wait… once again the “servier argent” at the end.
This unit could be used as-is with it’s Plexiglas case as a media centre and would not look out of place – it has a single RED LED in normal operation and there is an IR receiver built into the front – as you’ll see in the video it is all very nice looking. The unit got warm but not hot in it’s transparent case.
I’m rather partial to watching “The Daily Show” and as it happened there was an update on YouTube – so – I decided to watch.
Half way through the video, YouTube gave up and I ended up back at the front panel. I went back into YouTube and started to type this – it jumped back to the main menu. I tried again and this time it stayed put. Incidentally in case you’re wondering – using the supplied lead I was plugged into 5-output USB supply able to supply up to 5 amps in total. I watched a few Unreal Engine 4 demo videos without any further issues.
Android 7: I then discovered this page which has links to various operating systems for the VIM including Android 7, LibrELEC, Ubuntu and DUALOS (which has Android 6 and Ubuntu). The date on the Android 7 image was 17/06/2017 so I thought I’d go for that. Notably this is a ROOTED copy of Android – I could not tell you how many problems I’ve had trying to root Android for other systems yet here’s the latest Android already rooted. Good start. The file was around 500 meg.
Having grabbed the update image and the PC program “USB_Burning_Tool_v2.08” to do the upload via USB – I followed the instructions which included several spelling mistakes – and the process of upgrading to Android 7 went without a hitch and took just under 4 minutes.
I removed the device, closed the program and plugged the device back in – Android started to show up… I waited patiently. The new version of Android came complete with utility SU and I clicked on settings which announced “settings has stopped – open the app again”. I did that and was greeted with a new settings panel. Model VIM version 7.1.1 – System update now reported immediately that I was on Android 7.1.1 with a security patch from March 1st.
This time there was no YouTube installed so I went off to the Play store to get it. I grabbed YouTube and it ran immediately unlike previous versions of Android where you had to go update Play Services.
I watched another video full screen but when attempting to back out – I got a pop up box “YouTube isn’t responding”. At that point Google wanted me to submit some feedback. My mouse was working – but the keyboard would not respond. I could do nothing.
I had no choice but to reboot as the mouse was responsive but would not DO anything.
So here we have a board oriented toward media – which has issues with YouTube – or so it would seem.
On reboot the keyboard was fine as was the mouse. I picked a 4K video on YouTube – Costa Rica… first one I came to. Full screen it took a while to start even though I have up to 10Mb connection. The quality set itself to 720k but I could not get anything out of the mouse or keyboard…. reboot…. I gave up.
Ubuntu: Thankfully the USB burning tool makes it a snap to try again – so having informed the designers of the problems, rather than wait (nothing from them after waiting 16 days – then a confirmation that they’d come back to me then…. nothing) I thought I’d try Ubuntu Mate 16.04 (Linux 4.9). Just as easy as the last time – download the image (checking for any upgraded Android images – there were none) – plugged in the board, pressing a couple of buttons to put it into programming mode and off it went setting up Ubuntu Mate.
7 minutes later I rebooted the machine with an Ethernet lead plugged in. At the time I didn’t have a monitor attached and so I was counting on it having SSH already set up as do many of the boards I’ve tried in the past.
I started up Advanced IP Scanner and waited…. and…. nothing. I hooked up a monitor and sure enough – a nice graphical interface awaited me.. but then I realised I’d installed Mate and not the server version – I really wasn’t interested in the graphical interface here… I went back to the site and sure enough instead of 700MB, the server version was only 113MB. I downloaded and installed that. This time it took just a minute to flash the operating system.
I booted up Ubuntu server, sure enough in command line mode – and hit the first hurdle – user name and password – no-where could I find these. Eventually I tried root and that seemed to work with password khadas (just a guess). Good start. But no IP address. I checked my cables – no difference.. I rebooted the board thinking this might be a first time security thing.
This time at the login I could see Bluetooth timeouts – what? I’d not set that up… so now I was not even getting to the prompt. I rebooted and noted something about a script running. This time I got a prompt but still no IP address.
Clearly nothing had been set up – I did my usual next thing “nano etc/network/interfaces”… sorry. No nano.
It occurred to me that the USB supply on my PC might be a culprit – so I plugged the board into a USB box able to push out several amps.
No difference. I checked my router – sure enough the light was on for that connection – checked the lead – fine.
I was not about to get into using VIM and so that pretty much ended that.
Using a couple of Linux commands I managed to get an Ethernet address running eventually but with no SSH and not even working FTP, that made it very difficult to improve the situation. I rebooted but the Ethernet connection didn’t survive and now I had that weird Bluetooth timeout again at the prompt.
Now I had a command to get the network running even if only temporarily – I did the usual update/upgrade and installed NANO.
I then proceeded to get the Ethernet running permanently – however at this point I noted another issue. I’d been struggling with a TV as the visual interface – the text was missing alternative lines etc. and there was some overscan. but I put it down to the TV. When I eventually got NANO working I plugged in a proper monitor – one I use every day for all kinds of tests and which works perfectly. I booted up the VIM and… same issues – once the prompt came up as I typed stuff, the prompt seemed to go in and out of focus almost – with lines disappearing and re-appearing.
Unless the board is taking 3 amps or more there is no chance this is power related. I could not try another USB lead as the one they provided is USB3 – and that is the only one I have.
I decided that life is too short. I hope this is all just a lot of bad luck but it seems to me that much work is needed here – it would help if the company would respond as promised. Overall then – the hardware looks great – but it is no good without rock solid software… more if and when they come back to me with support – they’ve been aware of the above info for some time now.