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Hands-on with the quad-core Cortex-A9 Roseapple Pi hacker SBC

Sep 21, 2016 — by Rob Reilly — 4138 views

Guest columnist Rob Reilly checks out the Roseapple Pi, an 85 x 56mm Raspberry Pi imitator based on a quad-core Cortex-A9 Actions Semi S500 SoC.


Hands-on with the quad-core Cortex-A9 Roseapple Pi hacker SBC
by Rob Reilly

I use Raspberry Pi boards for several real-world jobs. My “STEAMpunk Conference Personality Identification Device” (aka: conference badge) uses a Pi to show an mp4 promotional video on its tiny 1.8-inch color TFT display while “orbing” its blue LED “ozone tube”, for added attention grabbing. Oh, it also includes my stage name “DR TORQ”, in big, bold antique-looking letters.

STEAMpunk-style conference badge
(click image to enlarge)

Another place the Pi shows up is in my conference presentation machines. For the last few years, I’ve dispensed with using my antique duo-core Asus notebook for managing my slides when giving a conference tech talk. With a Pi, you just load your LibreOffice Impress slides onto the SD card, plug in the HDMI cord and a keyboard, then proceed to step through the presentation, as always.

The Roseapple Pi
(click image to enlarge)

Recently, a Roseapple Pi came my way, and I thought I’d give it a go as a slide machine. I like to review hardware in hands-on situations readers might find in their day-to-day activities. Gives it a little more personal take than always discussing tech and processor specs.

What’s a Roseapple Pi?

The Roseapple Pi is similar to other current Raspberry Pi clones, and is based on the same Actions Semi Bubblegum-S500 reference design used on the LemonPi.

Roseapple Pi details
(click image to enlarge)

Features include:

  • Quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 (32-bit)
  • 2GB DDR3 RAM
  • Up to 4GB eMMC 4.5
  • HDMI 1.4
  • On-board audio
  • MIPI-CSI-2
  • One USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports
  • 40-pin Raspberry Pi style GPIO adapter
  • 10/100 Ethernet port
  • micro-SD port

I received the Roseapple Pi with a version of Android on an 8GB micro-SD card. Android works fine on my Samsung Galaxy 5 Active super-phone. I’m not a huge fan of it on my SBC devices, preferring to run some version of Linux. So, after playing around with Android for a half hour, I went ahead and burned the Roseapple Pi website’s latest ARM version of Debian (8.1 dated 11/30/2015), onto the SD card.

Hooking it up to the big screen

I hooked the tiny Linux machine up to my living-room big screen via an HDMI cable, plugged in a wireless Logitech keyboard/mouse, added an EdiMax USB WiFi adapter, and applied power from a 2-Amp cell phone charger.

Using the Roseapple Pi with my big screen
(click image to enlarge)

After a quick reboot, the familiar LXDE session came up on the desktop, and off we went with Linux. WiFi came up and I was immediately able to connect to my home LAN without issue. Installations sure have come a long way, since the days of locating and loading odd drivers and hacking config files.

Roseapple Pi’s LXDE desktop
(click image to enlarge)

Naturally, it’s also best if you do the usual apt-update and apt-upgrade cycle to get the latest available OS and application software updates. The upgrade will take about an hour, with a decent Internet connection.

I also typically use the cpufreq commands to change the clock speed of the processor on my Linux machines. The Roseapple Pi defaults to 200 MHz and can be bumped up to 1.2 GHz on all 4 cores. It makes a noticeable difference in performance on many applications. You’ll need to download the latest cpufreq command-line applications from Debian, because they weren’t included in the Roseapple Debian 8.1 build.

Roseapple Pi closeup showing CPU heatsink
(click image to enlarge)

The Roseapple Pi’s ARM SoC has a little heat sink attached, although after running for a couple of days lightly loaded, it was never too hot to touch, even at the maximum clock speed.

Using the Roseapple Pi as a presentation machine

Next, I loaded a 3.4MB LibreOffice Impress file onto the micro-SD card from my Asus notebook. It’s easy to copy files over to the card, using one of those little micro-to-normal card adapters, and that’s my method of choice when I don’t have a network connection or ssh/rcp isn’t running on the machine yet.

The Roseapple Pi compared to my Asus notebook
(click image to enlarge)

LibreOffice took about 30 seconds to start on the RoseApple Pi and it took another 10-20 seconds to load the slide file. The file had about 15 slides, 10 of which are full-screen pictures. The others were just text.

After loading, I switched over to slide-show mode. All the slides were clear and colorful, as I expected. This particular file had compressed graphics files, so buffering when changing slides, was minimal. Using compressing graphics for LO Impress slides is the key to no-lag slide navigation.

For a lightweight desktop with everyday LibreOffice-type duties, the Roseapple Pi fills the bill well.

What’s next

The Roseapple Pi seems to be a fairly solid package. Their site has the basics, if you’d like to load Linux. I’m going to see if I can get the GPIO working, so I can use my “wired” slide clicker and Python program, possibly for a future story. The Python GPIO libraries are all over the map, for the various Pi clones, so getting a script working can be a challenge.


Rob “drtorq” Reilly is an independent consultant, writer, and speaker specializing in physical computing, hardware hacking, Linux/Free/Open Source hardware/software, tech media, and the DIY/Maker movement. He provides a variety of engineering, business, and special project services to individual clients and companies, has written hundreds of feature-length articles for top-tier tech media, and has presented tech talks at OSCON and other industry venues. You can find him on the web at


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4 responses to “Hands-on with the quad-core Cortex-A9 Roseapple Pi hacker SBC”

  1. HackerBoards says:

    Thanks for catching that error!

  2. John Morris says:

    As usual for these toys, the only important bit of information is missing. Ya gotta go to the vendor site, get their full specs and Google the GPU to find “PowerVR is a popular 3D Graphic engine found in phones, netbooks, and laptops, for which we currently have no free software driver capable of doing 3D graphics acceleration.” Ok if you have a headless use for it, this one does have USB3 support and all, but otherwise pass on it.

    • Brainiac says:

      Ah yes, PowerVR is absolute crap. Don’t buy it unless you run it headless. Not much hope for ever receiving decent drivers.

  3. Marcin Juszkiewicz says:

    Note also total lack of work on mainline kernel support from SoC vendor. All you get is one ugly repo with all changes done in one commit.

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