This part of Spheniscus.ch is about installing Linux on single board computers. Installing on ...

Linux on the Raspberry Pi 3 /1

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The Pi 3 runs a Cortex A53 at 1.2 GHz. It's a quad processor, it's an ARM processor (which means it's not Intel compatible). It's the cheapest of the three boards. However, it does not come with a power supply, so you have to find one adapted (the board uses a micro-USB plug, but requires enough power. My PSU is from Stontronics and outputs 5.1V at 2.5 A). The main memory is limited (1GB).

The Cortex processor is not very powerful, but then it satisfies itself with passive cooling, so the Pi is perfectly silent. Onboard you get UDB, HDMI, sound, Wired networking and Wifi. This makes the Pi 3 the only board to bring WiFi in the bargain (but read further, it's not that simple).

Several Linux distribution run on the Pi, but as it does not boot like a PC, you need to burn the image to a memory card. I've tried Raspbian, but in the end I chose Q4OS which runs very well and brings Trinity desktop, which happens to be my desktop of choice and Q4OS being Debian based contains many tools I wanted to use.

The Pi 3 has onboard Wifi... but it does not manage to sync over ntp. As there is no RTC, this means your time is wrong, at least on boot. Searching on Internet I found a workaround:

add: /sbin/iptables -t mangle -I POSTROUTING 1 -o wlan0 -p udp --dport 123 -j TOS --set-tos 0x00 to /etc/rc.local, before the exit 0 line

I installed wicd, removed network manager and replaced ntp with openntpd – seems to work.
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Verdict

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I still have some problems with the system apparently connecting with DHCP although setup for fixed IP. Auto login does not work, at least with GUI – not sure if this is a Debian bug or login comes too early, before the system is completely loaded.

The Raspberry Pi 3 “model B” can be used for a mail and music machine, with limited ability to surf the Web. Speed is acceptable with a light GUI. Sound is OK, not great but OK (but only YOU can decide if YOU find it OK...).
The computer makes no noise, it's the least power hungry of the bunch (It's supposed to suck 2.4 W when running. With an SDD external drive, HDMI to VGA adapter, It really sucks from 4.3 W to 7.2 W. I can connect a SSD to have more space.
Network connectivity is good (wired). WiFi is bad out of the box. The use of a micro-SD card is interesting, as it makes backups very easy: I simply slip the memory card in the card reader of my main machine and dd a copy.

Q4OS Orion is a good Linux system, but as with all ARM builds, you are missing many packages that have not been ported. This creates frequent frustrations.

Total costs were under $100, including the HDMI to VGA adapter, power supply and a 32 GB memory card, a little more if you count the SSD.

In the end I don't really use the machine because Internet access is not good, so I rather start the main machine to have Internet and mail side by side. But the machine might be useful as local server one day.
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Linux on an Odroid Xu-4

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I found the Odroid when I was not satisfied with the Pi, especially the sound (it got a lot better with Q4OS).

The Odroid's 2GHz octocore Exynos processor (an ARM processor too) is more powerful than the Pi. It has more memory than the PI (2GB). It's also more expensive and warmer – which means it requires active cooling

There is neither wifi nor audio onboard. Audio was solved with a USB audio card. My kit provided a case and a power supply, however. You may use EMMC but I used a micro-USB card.

The installed fan is noisy, ot terribly loud but the high pitched sound is terribly uncomfortable as soon as the processor gets warm.
I replaced this fan with a silent “Noctua” 40x40 fan (!! buy the 5V version, not the 12V !!), however this requires handwork, adaptation and probably voids the warranty.

There is no Q4OS for Odroid, so I have to run openSUSE tumbleweed. This stuff makes the Odroid rather sluggish.

Music works mostly. HDMI to VGA does not work as well as on the Raspberry Pi. I tried to run Android also but it was terribly slow, to the point of being unusable. The Odroid uses roughly twice more power than the PI 3.

Verdict: I've given up using the Odroid.

Total cost was about $120 (board, case, sound card), plus fan ($16) and memory card (roughly 1.5 time more expensive that the Pi)
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Linux on an Up Board /1

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The UP-GWS01.w/4G is in another category – although basically it retains the same sort of size and basic features. It runs an Intel Atom (a rather recent “cherry Trail” version, which can be a source for trouble).

It costs $200 for board and case. There is neither Wifi nor audio onboard, but a 32GB EEMC and 4GB RAM. There is no PSU either, but the Odroid's qualifies. Audio and wifi can be provided through USB dongles for a few $).

The board uses passive cooling (so no noise). With it's processor and memory, it can run Linux, Android (I did not try) and even Windows 10 (which I am not going to try).
The EEMC is onboard, so you can't just swap a card for another. There is no micro SD slot, but you could use a card with an USB adapter.

The board comes with Ubilinux (based on Debian Jessie, which means you have access to any package just like on a desktop. Although the machine is not for heavy use, this means I can install Trinity, kmail, audacious and Vivaldi, and there is enough horsepower to use the machine for basic tasks, including wordprocessing (although LibreOffice may not be the best choice).

Ubilinux was not really convincing – some really bad artifacts corrupted the screen and even the fonts every time I tried to start the mail program.

So I decided to try other distributions – I thought it would be easy, the UP beeing an Intel board. I was wrong.

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Linux on an Up Board /2

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The UP board does not boot from an external CD, so you have to boot from USB.

Creating a bootable USB stick is one thing, finding a stick that is “seen” by the UP board is another. I found out that Kingston sticks worked well. Q4OS 1.8 booted but Q4OS does not see the EEMC card! OpenSUSE Leap 42.2 installed well. The system runs fine, I have installed Trinity, kmail and audacious run perfectly. However I also got artifacts.

Some search put me on the track of a problem with the integrated video card of the “Cherry trail” processor. In the end, I found out that you should modify /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d (50-monitor.conf and 50-screen.conf to tweak resolution) and add a file 20-intel.conf in /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d:



Section "Device"
Identifier "Intel Graphics"
Driver "intel"
Option "AccelMethod" "uxa"
EndSection

Save and reboot – the artifacts are gone!

Verdict: VLC runs well, and watching videos is perfectly possible. Internet access with Vivaldi is a bit slow, surprisingly LibreOffice runs quite well.

The UP board is a little more gready than the Pi, but less than the Odroid.

If your goal is not to get a machine “as cheap as possible”, but rather to get a machine that uses less energy while being able to let you do basic everyday tasks, I vote for an Intel board.

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