NanoPi2: Any advantage over the real Pi? // Review

Unboxing FriendlyARM’s NanoPi2.
It’s smaller than the Raspberry Pi, but what advantages are there over the real Pi?
Is it good for the Maker?
Can it support a desktop for those wanting a tiny mobile computer?
Find out in this MickMake review.

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If you have any questions or comments feel free to ask on Facebook or YouTube.


Unboxing

The NanoPi2 is made by a company called FriendlyARM. This SBC has been around for a while now, but I wanted to see how it stacks up against other SBCs.

The NanoPi comes in several flavours, but during this review FriendlyARM decided to take the NanoPi2 off the list of available products on their website.

OK. So, the NanoPi2 and NanoPi2 Fire are essentially the same with the NanoPi2 having:

  • An extra SD slot
  • No GbE ethernet
  • BLE and Wi Fi module
  • Less serial ports

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The NanoPi2 is bigger than the CHIP, a little smaller than the Raspberry Pi, and almost half the size of the NanoPC-T3.

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So what features does the NanoPi2 have? Starting from the top left and working clockwise.
– HDMI 1.4 at 1080p60
– USB 2.0
– Reset button
– TTL UART for console
– RGB LCD header
– LED indicators for WiFi/BLE
– and power.
– User programmable button
– Wireless antenna connector
– Onboard antenna
– DVP camera interface
– MicroUSB power
– and a Raspberry Pi compliant header… sort of.
– The board runs a Samsung S5P4418 @ 1.4GHz and loaded with 1G DDR3 RAM.
On the backside this SBC is unique in that it has two SD slots.
– one for booting
– whilst the other, well just because.


Case issues

I also ordered a 3D printed case for the NanoPi2, which is… well… everything you can expect from a 3D printed case. However, it does give you clear access to all te ports without issue.

Be careful when you screw it up, because you’re just screwing metal into soft plastic. Overtighten and they’ll just pop out.

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Whilst on the topic of cases. During my testing I was trying out various Pi hats and discovered that the slot the put in for the GPIO header was just too small. So the only solution was to remove the cover.

Pi hats fit well, but due to the size of the smaller NanoPi2 it might be a bit awkward.

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Support

Now moving on to support. This is something that FriendlyARM isn’t quite so good at.To get a better idea of what issues you will see with FriendlyARM support you’ll have to check out my video.

To save you all the hassle of finding the elusive O/S boot image. Head on over to the “Getting Started” section of FriendlyARM’s wiki. I suspect that they did listen to my advice in my NanoPC-T3 video review and updated their wiki page to make it clearer.


Booting

Once you have downloaded the the O/S of your choice, (I started off with Linux first). The NanoPi2 supports deepin, Kali, RemixOS, Ubuntu, Android, and Debian.

Burn to at least a 4G SD card.

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Chuck it into the end slot, add keyboard and mouse, and HDMI and finally the juice.

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Once powered on you should be greeted with a Linux desktop in around 40 seconds.

The first order of business is to connect to your WiFi access point. Which is trivial enough using the wpagui tool. Once set it’ll reconnect when you reboot next time.


Basic tests

Since people will want to use it as a desktop; I first did some basic tests.

Web browsing was a less than pleasant experience mainly due to the fact that this is an ARM7 based SBC and there’s less software around for it.

I updated my Debian sources list to pull down Chromium and see how that went. It worked better than the stock Iceweasel browser, but still a lacks a lot of software support such as embedded flash support.

What about video?

Oh good grief. It’s hopeless. Taking into account you only have 1G RAM and an ARM7 MCU it’s pretty clear that you can’t really use it as a desktop.

The second SD card slot tests were fine. I chucked in a 2G SD card in and it was discovered and the O/S was able to mount it up without issue.

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Maker tests

How does it go as a Maker board?

My simple LED test worked as well as my handy dandy MAX7219 SPI based LED multiplexor.

So did my I2C based MCP9808 temperature sensor.

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Everything all worked as expected. No surprises… Well except for the fact that the MCP9808 didn’t appear at all on any of the I2C busses. Strange.

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GPIO numbering

Now while we’re looking at raw GPIO access. I have to point out the differences between the NanoPi2 and Raspberry Pi GPIO. The Raspberry Pi GPIO pins all come from one chip, whereas the NanoPi2 GPIOs come from a variety of chips.

The NanoPi2 has 6 GPIO chips, but only 20 GPIO header pins. Each chip is mapped into GPIO space in sequence.

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For example GPIOA starts at 0 all the way up to 31, GPIOB from 32 onwards and so forth.

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I wrote a quick perl script to highlight the GPIO pin mappings. This will work on any SBC that runs Linux. You can pick it up from my GitHub page.


Android testing

So next on to Android testing. I loaded up the image, plugged it in, turned it on and waited… and waited… and waited… I was just about to turn it off when it finally came up.

The Android O/S was really quite sluggish, but everything is there.

FriendlyARM have also provided an application called iTest which allows you to test out the GPIO pins from Android. Nice.

I tested out several benchmarking tools: Antutu, GFXbench, Geekbench, and 3Dmark.

They all reported a very similar result. Which was: “Don’t bother running this as a series desktop or games machine.” All results were uploaded onto all the relevant sites.

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Antutu performance was to be expected. Hopeless. However, I didn’t expect there to be retro acoustic modem sounds coming from the HDMI audio. Brings back memories. Reminds me of the time I used to pretend to be a modem and make letters appear on the screen.

YouTube didn’t have an issue, but if you look closely you’ll see that the resolution has been dropped dramatically to keep the video smooth.

360 video was abysmal. Forget it. It’s far too jerky.

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Summary

There are a number of issues with the NanoPi2 that I’ve listed here.

The lack of proper injection molded case is a problem and there’s only one option available.

  • 3D printed case is dodgey. Metal screws can’t really screw into plastic too well.
  • Also not enough gap provided for GPIO header hats to fit in.

Support is questionable and dropping products means that supprot will soon vanish.

  • Multiple websites just confuses everyone.
  • You can no longer buy the NanoPi2. How long will support last?

Linux is overall stable, but don’t think of it as a desktop. It’s not!

  • Iceweasel locks up due to gstreamer.
  • Video playback is terrible under Linux.
  • Sometimes hangs on shutdown.

Graphics is hopeless, but you get what you pay for.

The Raspberry Pi compatible header is nice, but not fully compatible in software. You also only have a DVP camera interface which is very different to the standard CSI MIPI interface.

  • i2cdetect doesn’t see any i2c devices.
  • GPIO pin numbering isn’t fully Raspberry Pi compatible.
  • Lack of MIPI-CSI interface.

So what do I think of the NanoPi2? Well frankly the only advantage it has over the Pi3 is a second SD card slot, additional serial ports and a slightly smaller footprint.

There are only a few issues with it, but everything works as advertised.

So, I gave this a 4.0 out of 5.


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  • bitbank

    Tried the NanoPi2 since it’s on “sale” from the ARMWorks distributor for $15 shipped. Seems legit until you start seeing odd errors when doing compiles or normal Linux things. The board is flaky and appears to have bad RAM. I intended to use it for a gaming project with a SPI LCD display. The max SPI speed I could get is around 10Mhz (RPI0 can do 32Mhz). So now it goes in the desk drawer of shame to live out the rest of its days with the dust bunnies.

    • Yup, I’ve had mixed feedback on the FriendlyARM and Orange Pi boards. The production QA doesn’t seem to be that good on these boards.
      I have yet to come across a bad batch. I’ve bought a fair amount, but I’ve also been given a lot as well.

    • MickMake

      Yup, I’ve had mixed feedback on the FriendlyARM and Orange Pi boards.
      The production QA doesn’t seem to be that good on these boards.

      I have yet to come across a bad batch. I’ve bought a fair amount, but I’ve also been given a lot as well.