The Banana Pi - First Impressions
They say duplication is the sincerest form of flattery, substitute the word of your choice for 'duplication'.
The Banana Pi is made in China and bears an uncanny resemblance to the Raspberry Pi.
Not just the name, the board is fractionally larger, some of the features on the board are similarly placed:
- 26-pin GPIO
- 3.5mm analogue audio jack
- RCA composite video jack
- SD card slot
There are things the RPI does not have:
- Power button
- uBoot button
- USB-otg port (otg = on-the-go, a bi-directional USB port)
- SATA connector
The processor is a dual-core running slightly faster than the Raspberry Pi, although to be fair, of course, the RPI can be over-clocked.
The Banana Pi has twice the RAM and a dual-core processor.
The SoC is the ARM Allwinner A20.
Getting my Hands on a Banana Pi
My first Banana dropped through the letterbox a couple of days ago.
Thanks to some kind soul on the Raspberry Pi Facebook group who described the connectors on the edges of the board I narrowly avoided plugging the power supply into the USB-otg port. The power micro-USB is on the underside of the board between the SATA power and data connectors which are on the upper side of the board.
Can't really say much about it because I can't actually see the build quality, but it feels nice. The PCB is fractionally thinner than the RPI.
I had an initial struggle to find a download link for any images.
The downloads page of lemaker.org has a two row table on it which appears to be upside-down and it has links to Google-drive, two different public DropBox links, a MS One-Drive link, and something I didn't initially find, an FTP link.
Both of the DB links are duff because they have suspended the account because of excessive traffic.
This is the FTP download link:
When I found the FTP page I grabbed images for:
- Arch Linux
I downloaded and extracted all of these images to my Debian desktop machine and tried to write and boot them in succession.
The first I tried was Arch, on the assumption that would not have a desktop installed.
After writing the card I looked at it on my Debian machine with parted and it appeared to have two partitions. As with the Raspberry Pi there is a small FAT16 partition and a bigger ext4 partition.
The FAT partition contained the same files as the Raspberry Pi:
And some others I can't remember.
In addition it contained:
It appears uEnv.txt is equivalent to the Raspberry Pi cmdline.txt file, and uImage is, of course, the kernel.
So oddly it has the files for the RPI and it's own in the FAT partition.
Then I tried Bananian, and this appears to be Debian Wheazy for ARM.
Similar story with the FAT partition.
It is a very minimal installation which has little more than the Linux Standard Base (LSB) packages. I like this because I like to have control.
Sound and Stuff
I found a review from April this year that said the sound driver snd-bcm2835 was not available. At the name snd-bcm2835 my heart sank because I expected the BPI to have the same stuttering text-to-speech problems as the RPI.
Not expecting much I did, as root:
apt-get install alsa-base alsa-utils
Looking through /lib/modules/... blah blah I found a driver called:
And I got pink noise!
Next I did:
apt-get install espeakup update-rc.d espeakup defaults modprobe speakup_soft
And speakup burst into life with no stuttering!
The online community and code-base for the Banana Pi is not yet very mature, and because the origin of the beast is China, a lot of what's out there is in Chinese.
But it is growing. And after all, it took the RPI a while to take off and go ballistic.
At the moment I would say the Banana Pi is not for the faint-hearted or the total newbie, although, a lot of newbie questions are generic and don't have machine-specific answers.
Australian community page with forums:
The worst thing about the Banana Pi is, when writing emails about it, and these show-notes, typing the word 'banana' and knowing when to stop!