By now if you read this blog regularly you’ll have heard me rant on about the FriendlyArm boards – mainly because they are inexpensive and actually do work well as Pi alternatives – you’ll also note that I don’t blindly praise them – I’ve still not managed to get the T3 to run a 32gig SD of Android – and it’s an old Android to boot… but generally – I like their stuff.
SO it will come as no surprise then that I’m interested in the new NEO. And why would that be? Because it is SMALL and CHEAP. It has no WIFI or Bluetooth but it has hardwired Ethernet – just the job them for a NODE-RED central controller perhaps?
So there’s a reason it is cheap – there are two versions, 256k RAM and 512K RAM – I would not personally give time to the former – but the latter would, you would think, run Node-Red, SQLITE and Mosquito without issue… So the extra RAM puts the board at $9.99 plus whatever postage you get stuck with in your country… cheap by any standard…
But – looking at the spec – it seems that right now the main option is for Ubuntu – I don’t know about you but when something says “An open source tiny PI” on the front of the box, you might expect it to be somewhat compatible with THE PI.. and that means Debian for me – and no doubt for most people familiar with the Pi.
Processor is an Allwinner H3 quad core like the Orange Pi so it is reasonable to assume that there will be alternative software. It looks like there are 3 UARTS so I’m hoping two will be accessible.
There is one USB, a microSD slot, a micro USB OTG port and 2 USBs via headers. The expansion port claims the usual, I2c, SPI etc but of course that will only happen if the software will support it. Size is 40mm by 40mm – which makes it kind of smaller than a Pi Zero.
Of course setup could be a problem with this board as it has no SCREEN!!! So – off I went to get ARMBIAN – and sure enough there is one version there for this particular board!
I flashed a 16GB SD with the Armbian code using Win32DiskManager, plugged in the Ethernet and power. A dim green light came on. After a few seconds it brightened up. And then maybe 30 seconds after that a blue light started flashing regularly along with the green – a sure sign SOMETHING was happening.
Next stop Advanced IP scanner. Sure enough there was a board in my address range – sitting at 192.168.1.26 – I used the login credentials root and 1234 and – no file list – it HAD logged in but nothing. I tried the latest beta of Armbian and – same thing – I’ve written off to the Armbian guys in case anyone has any ideas.
FriendlyArm sent a copy of Ubuntu which I’ve no interest in but thought I’d better try to ensure the board was ok. Sure enough it works but the instructions on the box are the wrong way around. The blue LED flashes constantly – the green LED stays on – according to their info – it should be the other way around. Also to resize the SD they offer a Linux solution – assuming everyone has a Linux computer spare – or a simple SUDO fs_resize. That at first didn’t work until I realised that firstly the sudo command was not there and secondly I didn’t need it as I was root !!!
So all of that worked well – but I know for a fact my script won’t work on Ubuntu so I need to hang fire until I can get a working Debian – – I REALLY think this board needs a heatsink which was not supplied. I wonder why it is that Raspberry Pi manage to run without one and these H3 boards end up running hot enough to cook eggs – there ARE H3 boards which are faster than the Pi but I don’t think this is one of them. However the fact that it is so SMALL and inexpensive, I’ll come back to this once I get some answers and let’s see if it will load up my usual range of software.