Sinovoip’s $48, open-spec “Banana Pi M2 Ultra” SBC updates the M2 with native SATA support and 2GB RAM, plus a new quad core Cortex-A7 Allwinner R40 SoC.
Sinovoip’s Banana Pi project has launched the Banana Pi M2 Ultra on Aliexpress for $48, only $4 more than the Banana Pi M2 SBC, which similarly has a 92 x 60mm footprint and a Raspberry Pi compatible expansion connector. Like the M2 and the smaller, less feature rich, $37 Banana Pi M2+, the M2 Ultra is open source and community backed, and runs Linux or Android on a quad-core Cortex-A7 Allwinner SoC. Yet, the M2 Ultra runs on a new Allwinner R40 (see farther below), which like the Allwinner H3 found on the M2+, is paired with a Mali-400 MP2 GPU rather than the PowerVR SGX544MP2 found on the original M2 board’s Allwinner A31.
Sinovoip Banana Pi M2 Ultra, front and back
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The Allwinner R40’s key advantage over the H3 and A31 is the addition of native SATA support. This benefit is extended to the Banana Pi M2 Ultra board, which unlike the M2 model, also offers 8GB of eMMC storage, with options ranging up to 64GB.
Banana Pi M2 Ultra, angled view
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The M2 Ultra provides twice the RAM of the M2, at 2GB DDR3, and makes Bluetooth 4.0 standard rather than optional. The M2 Ultra sacrifices one of the M2’s four USB 2.0 host ports, but that would be the port you would otherwise be using for slow USB-based SATA access.
Banana Pi M2 Ultra front and back details
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According to a story in CNXSoft that alerted us to the M2 Ultra’s arrival, it remains to be seen if the Allwinner R40’s SATA implementation is much of an improvement over the relatively slow (36MB/s) SATA disk-write performance of the Allwinner A20, which it nominally replaces. Still, this is clearly a major upgrade over USB-based SATA.
Otherwise the M2 Ultra appears to be almost identical to the M2, with features like microSD, WiFi, GbE, HDMI, MIPI-DSI, and an audio jack. Like other Banana Pi models, including the octa-core Cortex-A7 Banana Pi M3, you get a 40-pin expansion interface compatible with Raspberry Pi add-ons.
Specifications listed for the Banana Pi M2 Ultra include:
- Processor — Allwinner R40 (4x Cortex-A7); ARM Mali-400 MP2 GPU @ 500MHz
- RAM — 2GB DDR3 733MHz (shared with GPU)
- MicroSD slot
- 8GB eMMC, expandable to 16/32/64GB
- SATA interface
- Wireless — 802.11b/g/n WiFi (AP 6212); Bluetooth 4.0
- Networking — Gigabit Ethernet port
- Multimedia I/O:
- HDMI 1.4 out with audio, TV out
- 4-lane MIPI-DSI out for connection to suitable LCDs
- 3.5mm audio jack
- Other I/O
- 3x USB 2.0 host ports
- Micro-USB 2.0 OTG port
- Debug UART
- 40-pin, RPi-compatible expansion header with GPIO, UART, I2C, SPI, PWM, I2S, etc.
- Other features — LEDs; IR receiver; reset, power. U-Boot buttons;
- Power — 5V DC port; 3.7V lithium battery support
- Weight — 45 g
- Dimensions — 92 x 60mm
- Operating system — Debian, Ubuntu, Raspbian Linux; Android
Like the Allwinner A31 and H3, the Allwinner R40 SoC is 40nm fabricated, up from 55nm on the dual-core Allwinner A20 that it nominally replaces. No clock rate is listed for the R40, which is one of a new line of R-Series models that includes the Cortex-A8 based Allwinner R8 found on Next Thing’s Chip SBC. The R8 was recently deployed in SiP format as a GR8 SoC on the new Chip Pro COM.
Allwinner R40 block diagram
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The other two R-Series models include a similarly quad-core Cortex-A7 R16 aimed at IoT. The R16, which similarly offers a Mali-400 MP2 GPU, lacks some R40 features such as SATA and HDMI. There’s also a octa-core -A7 R58 SoC aimed at 2-in-1 devices. The R58 lacks SATA, and offers the faster, but even more opaque PowerVR SGX544 GPU with higher 2048 x 1536 resolution.
In July, Sinovoip delivered its first 64-bit Banana Pi with a Banana Pi BPI-M64 featuring an Allwinner A64 with four Cortex-A53 cores. However, the SBC has yet to be priced, let alone reach market.
Perhaps Sinovoip is adding extra care to its software support after some prior complaints over software support. Then again, rival Shenzhen Xunlong’s Orange Pi and other community backed projects built around Allwinner projects have seen somewhat similar complaints, as revealed in the comment section of our recent coverage of the 64-bit, Allwinner H5 based Orange Pi PC 2.
The problems ultimately come back to Allwinner and its poor open source support. The grassroots Armbian project has made life easier for open source developers using Allwinner chips, but other SoC platforms offer fewer headaches for open source developers, if not always at the same irresistible price.
Allwinner has shown signs of improvement, for example, hosting an open source, Linux-based Tina-IoT OS distribution for IoT, which is optimized for all the R-Series SoCs. Tina does not appear to be ready for prime time in the near future, however, and it won’t cover GPU-driven applications. Sinovoip currently has an empty Github page for Tina. Then again, the Android page was similarly unpopulated at publication time, although there are images for Linux 3.10 plus busybox, Debian 8, Ubuntu 16.04 Xenial minimal, and Ubuntu-MATE 16.04.