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 – however – the current version is 16.04 which is up to date.
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. 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.
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.
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.
And yes the board is fast. Total Time using the nightly built from Armbian to install the script was 46 minutes – as against several hours on the Raspberry Pi Zero WIFI !! Using the default Ubuntu from FriendlyArm, my script took about an hour.
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 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. I tried a typical Chinese WIFI dongle known to work with the M3 and similar boards – although IFCONFIG was aware that something was plugged in, no WLAN messages came up. GPIO apparently is on the way.
I think a little more time is needed before we can say this is a winner. I never understand why companies release boards without full GPIO support when the openly available competition such as the Raspberry Pi has support by the shedload.
Where I WAS disappointed was when testing the SERIAL ports – there are 4 of them – with serial port 0 being used for debug. Node-Red recognised all 4 of them and even said it was connected – but ONLY serial port 0 seems to be working. That is a real shame as there simply isn’t enough info out there to figure out how to get the others to work. Whether this is an issue with the operating system or the Node-Red serial port I don’t know but that’s a disappointment.
Update 9 May 2017
I've now heard back from FriendlyArm on the subject of GPIO and the issues I had - they have fixed the most trivial - the temperature display - here is the link - https://www.sendspace.com/file/eqh907
But they still have not addressed the almost total lack of information on GPIO, SPI, I2C and serial ports. I decided to go see, because this board uses the H5, if there was a WIRINGPI or WIRINGOP library for it. Well, what a disaster – there are several for the H3 but the only links I could find suggesting an H5 build FAILED until I came across this link - http://www.jianshu.com/p/0ee31099983e
I tried the instructions:
git clone https://github.com/kazukioishi/WiringOP.git -b h5 cd WiringOP chmod +x ./build sudo ./build
and sure enough it all compiled. I then went off to my favourite easy-to-use facility GPIO
By trial and error I discovered that setting pins 7 and 10 to outputs worked. That corresponded to FriendlyArm 198 and 67 respectively (goodness knows where they get these numbers from).
Of course – as the numbers were wrong – I could not see how things like serial and I2c could work – it would be up to FriendlyArm to amend the code for their board and I have pointed this out to them - it seems sensible to me that if the market leader i.e. Raspberry Pi -as open source WiringPi with the GPIO utility, then it would make sense for those bringing out products in a similar market space to modify this code for their own use - indeed I believe that Orange Pi do have a version called WIRINGOP to do this and that too is open source. Let’s hope FriendlyArm take notice as their products are good but when you can't do something as easy as GPIO without having to resort to fumbling around with sys/class etc that's not very good – but at least that’s an easy way to get to normal IO. The likes of PWM would not work either and I found the i2cdetect command missing. FriendlyArm pointed out that this link takes you to the I2c pins but that still doesn't help as the likes of GPIO is expecting other pins.
Friendlyarm have recently written to say that they WILL bring out a version of WIRINGPI to go with this board – the sooner the better – if you want this – be sure to write to them to let them know others are interested. The GPIO utility is really easy to use.