The ODROID XU4 is one of the few octo-core SBCs, that’s been around for a while now, but how good is it?
The ODROID XU4 first hit the shelves in May 2015, and it’s only seen a couple of minor HW changes since. So, the design is pretty decent and a large fan-base has developed behind it.
I ordered the XU4Q, which is exactly the same as the XU4, but with a fan-less heat-sink and, of course, a slower CPU clock.
So, what does this little baby give us? Starting from the right and working clock-wise:
- RTC battery header
- Console UART
- Dual USB3.0 ports
- Power button
- 30pin GPIO header with the usual compliment of GPIOs
- An additional 12pin GPIO header, the GPIOs on this board have issues, which we’ll see later
- eMMC or SD boot selector
- HDMI capable of 1080p @ 60FPS
- Micro SD slot
- Status and power LEDs
- 5v/4A DC jack
- USB2.0 port
- PWM controlled FAN
- and GbE
- We have an RTL8153, which is a USB 3.0 to GbE bridge (U14)
- USB ESD protection IC (U13)
- a USB hub using the GL3521 (U10)
- 512Kbit SPI NOR flash (U11)
- A nice juicy PMIC, (S2MPS11B2).
- and the octo-core Samsung Exynos using the big.LITTLE architecture with 4 cores running at 2GHz and the other 4 at 1.4GHz.
- Then there’s HDMI ESD protection
- power good signal circuitry
- and current limit switches for the USB ports.
- eMMC module header
- and a bunch of passives and protection ICs.
The amount of vias on this board is crazy. To reduce EMI emissions, they’ve placed a ground plane on the top and bottom layers.
The ground plane is one of the most important layers and this type of setup avoids ground loops being formed, which is a way of saying that two points on a PCB should be at zero volts, but they’re not. One may be at a slightly higher potential than the other, therefore causing current to flow in directions you don’t want it to.
So, all in all, this is a pretty well designed board, with lots of ESD protection, adequate grounding, and a crazy amount of control over voltage levels.
In terms of size, it’s roughly that of the Raspberry Pi. Just slightly bigger.
For my tests I used the best Linux distro for this SBC, which is Armbian.
So far the board looks pretty good. However, when we get on to GPIO testing, things change slightly.
Secondly, the GPIOs use a 1.8v logic level. So, you’re going to have to use logic level converters. This isn’t quite straightforward as a lot of logic level converter ICs have trouble with fast signals, such as SPI.
If you want to be able to hack around with the GPIOs on this board, then I suggest also buying the Shifter Shield PCB from HardKernel. As this not only provides logic level converters, but pushes out a standard 40pin GPIO header.
We also have I2C and SPI available. Since I didn’t order the Shifter Shield I had to wire up my own logic level converter.
I used an MCP9808 temperature sensor to test out I2C and just used a handy heat source to change the temperature. Yup, everything just works.
Moving on to the Phoronix tests.
I initially installed the armsoc exynos graphics driver from the Ubuntu repos, but I soon discovered this wasn’t the best idea.
On the x11 performance tests, I was initially getting between 1/20th and 1/40th the performance of the TinkerBoard, which is not really what it should be doing.
Doing some Googling around, apparently this is a common error.
So, after running tests over 4 days, what results did I see?
Moving on to some computation benchmarks. I saw the XU4 to scream ahead of everything else, due mainly to it’s 8 cores.
Moving on to compression and encryption benchmarks, it was just nudging the UDOO X86 in the Bork benchmark, but lagging behind in the parallel BZIP2 benchmark, which was pretty surprising.
So, once again a bit of a mixed bag.
When it came to compiling, the XU4 came out on top once again, due to it’s 8 cores.
The Go benchmark was, at least, screaming ahead of the Rock64 and PHP was leaving everyone else in the dust.
Moving on to power consumption.
Overall the temperatures were pretty stable with some tests, like the SmallPT, OpenCL and kernel compilation raising the core temperature to the max.
So, what do I think of the ODROID XU4?
If you compare it to other 8core SBCs, it definitely comes out on top. It is one of the more mature SBCs out there, able to run mainline Linux kernel.
Documentation and support is very well entrenched with a big fan base behind it, so if you get stuck, there will be people to help you.
I was surprised at how well the CPU kept it’s temperature under control given that on other SBCs some of the tests I did, made the CPU throttle.
However, there’s a couple of downsides to this board.
The binary blobs that are required for graphics, but that can be said for a lot of other SBCs as well.
There’s also the logic level issue and networking isn’t that good compared to other SBCs with GbE.
Also, the lack of WiFi, might turn some people off.
However, if you want a decent 8core SBC that performs well with a bucket load of support, then get an XU4.
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