You’ve probably read my blog about the Nano Pi Neo, a device I can only describe as “cute” because of it’s really small size - but powerful non-the-less. Well, the AIR version takes things a stage further. No video, no USB (well, no connector anyway) and no Ethernet connector which makes it EXCEEDINGLY THIN. But it DOES have Bluetooth and WIFI including a socket for an optional external antenna (it also has on-board antenna).
So – H3 Cortex A7 Quad-Core processor – which means that a variety of alternative operating systems to the default Ubuntu will work (just as well as I for one have no interest in Ubuntu). The board is 40mm square and the highest point on the board before you (optionally) fit the (provided) connectors, is the micro-USB connector, which could make for a MIGHTY small controller!
The Neo AIR comes complete with 8GB of on-board eMMC loaded with Ubuntu. I really don’t see the point of this as it is so hard to fully make a copy as against just replicating SD cards. Aside from anything else – all these boards call themselves or refer to PI – and the PI comes with Debian – not Ubuntu! However – reporting this for the record. Idling power (depending on operating system as little as 1 watt (i.e. 200ma at 5v). Headers for 3 USB 2.0 ports (but no connectors) 512MB RAM and finally a DVP camera interface. Connectors include UART, SPI, I2C, GPIO, IR, SPDIF and I2S (though actually making use of these will be down to software support!)
Here’s a handy pinout:
The whole thing weighs less that 10gms. I’m thinking this could well make a minimal system for talking to Alexa DOT – perhaps with some IO all in one tiny box!!
A heatsink was provided but no box – but then again any box would probably be of a height to accommodate connectors and I’d really like to see this in a super thin box – or even on the back of a Nextion display.
I note that another blog has covered the use of the board with the Ubuntu operation system so I won’t get into that here.
Note the micro SD connector bottom left in this photo and the power connector/ OTG port top right. There is also a separate 4-way connector for serial debugging.
I tried to use one of my NEO SDs with DIETPI but the software worked – but without WIFI – I could not see a way to fix that and have written to the DIETPI site in case their software can be updated. That would be good.
Meanwhile I’ve just tried the latest ARMBIAN – blew the SD – popped it in – it works – (serial monitor) – went into NMTUI (command line WIFI etc. etc.) – works a treat. How there is NO mention of Bluetooth in that setup but as I don’t need that right now I’m not too bothered. One of our readers has already commented “No Bluetooth” so I’m guessing that remains off the table for now. I could of course use FriendlyArm’s image but that means re-jigging my script with umpteen installs which probably would not work. Erm, no.
Right now I’m in the middle of running my script from the serial terminal. WinSCP works with an IP address (it would be so much better if Samba were installed from the start so that the domain name worked) and I have noticed that when bringing up a terminal, it is SLOW – I suspect that is down to the WIFI signal – I noted when using Armbian in the past that the WIFI was not that hot on other boards – using DIETPI on he NEO it was marvellous – but that’s not working for the AIR so far.
I did note earlier that the TIME was wrong on the unit (no doubt an issue with Armbian) as it said the last log-in was November 1st – it is November 7th and I’ve only just installed Armbian.
Accordingly my script has been sitting here in a loop complaining that “binding.gyp has a modification time 180293 in the future” and it looked like it was going to sit there and wait that long! As I write this I’ve used the DATE command and all came along nicely if slightly more slowly than normal. First time I’ve ever had that date issue.
And while all of this was going on – the board was only just warm, certainly not warm enough to warrant a heatsink.
HOWEVER – initial impressions – once my script was done.. WINSCP – slow as a DOG. Not remotely in the same league as a typical Raspberry Pi – or even the NEO - HOWEVER - According to TKAISER of Armbian this is because the board needs an external aerial – which begs the question – why didn’t that come with the board!! On close inspection there is no internal aerial… dohhh…..
Update Nov 08, 2016: Ok, aerials on the way – I’m using it with a GPS aerial which is hardly ideal and the WIFI seems solid enough. I hope the proper aerials are small!! I read elsewhere that the chip used is the Ampak AP6212 as used on Raspberry Pi 3 and there’s a link to more info on that… https://github.com/seemoo-lab/bcm-rpi3 (https://github.com/seemoo-lab/bcm-rpi3). Still running cool enough to NOT need a heatsink.
Update Nov 11, 2016: While waiting for the aerials – and in another blog, TKaiser of Armbian just happened to mention they have a utility to copy an SD setup to eMMC. It is part of the standard installation and is:
So I ran it in a terminal and after a while – it told me to reboot without the SD. I did that and LO – not only a working AIR but a much faster AIR. I took the SD, inserted it into the other board, booted up – repeated the operation – and lO – TWO working AIRS– a quick change of name of one of them and Bob’s your uncle! Well impressed!
Update Dec 20, 2016: Here's a thing. After not using the Neo for a little while, last night I decided to do an apt-get update/upgrade. The update failed due to inability to contact some sources. I tried 3 or 4 times - no joy. I decided that either the WIFI was in trouble or a source was offline and to leave it until this morning. I got up this morning and the update was fine.. but when it came to the upgrade, I got a message to say the disk was full. 8GB of eMMC - i was sure I'd only used half of that. Anyway I went off searching - and discovered several large LOG files - deleted the larger onces and now all is well - I've recovered over 2GB of log space. Hmm.