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Raspberry Pi clone beefs up CPU, adds SATA

Apr 22, 2014  |  Eric Brown

A $49 community-backed “Banana Pi” SBC is a Raspberry Pi lookalike, but uses a faster, dual-core Allwinner A20 SoC and adds SATA and several other features.

Shenzhen China based Lemaker.org has launched its Banana Pi single board computer for $49 plus shipping at Ali Express. The Banana Pi is aimed at Raspberry Pi users who want a more powerful processor without abandoning the comfort and convenience of a familiar board design. First noticed by CNXSoft, the board has dimensions, port positions, and 24-pin header layout similar to the Raspberry Pi, and supports the same add-on modules, says Lemaker.org.



Banana Pi front (left) and back
(click images to enlarge)

The Banana Pi may be a near clone of the $35 Raspberry Pi Model B, but it’s equipped with a much faster processor and adds features like SATA support. The dual-core, Cortex-A7-based Allwinner A20 system-on-chip, presumably clocked to the usual 1GHz, is a significant upgrade from Raspberry Pi’s 700MHz, ARM11-based Broadcom BCM2835 processor. It also offers a Mali-400 GPU, which is somewhat more powerful than the Raspberry Pi’s VideoCore IV GPU.

The A20 SoC has been seen on a number of hacker boards including the Olimex A20-OLinuXino-Micro, the Anichips PhoenixA20, and Cubiboard’s Cubitruck. While all of these boards have been inspired by the Raspberry Pi, none have aimed to duplicate the Pi design to the extent that Lemaker.org has with the Banana Pi.



Banana Pi (left) compared to Raspberry Pi Model B
(click images to enlarge)

At 92 x 60mm, the Banana Pi is slightly larger than the 85 x 56mm Raspberry Pi, and adds features not available on the Pi. It doubles the RAM to 1GB and upgrades to gigabit Ethernet instead of Fast Ethernet. The Banana Pi also adds a SATA port and a micro-USB OTG port in addition to the micro-USB power and dual USB 2.0 host ports. Other features not found on the Raspberry Pi include an IR receiver, three control buttons, an on-board microphone, and according to the Banana Pi site, but not the feature list, a TTL interface.


Banana Pi front (left) and back port detail
(click images to enlarge)

Display interfaces are similar, with HDMI and Composite A/V ports, as well as an LVDS LCD interface (apparently labeled “DSI”). However, the Banana Pi is claimed to support up to a higher 2160-pixel resolution on capacitive touchscreens. A CSI camera interface and audio jack are also supplied.


Comparison of Banana Pi (left) and Raspberry Pi connections
(click images to enlarge)

The Banana Pi has been established as a community backed, open source project although full hardware specs have yet to be posted. (A GPIO settings chart appears at Ali Express, though not at BananaPi.org.) Linux images are said to be available for Sunxi Debian, Ubuntu, Raspbian, Cubieboard, and XBMC, as well as Android 4.4.

CNXSoft questions whether the software port of RasPi modules is quite as seamless as Lemaker.org suggests. The story also points out the misspellings and broken links on the BananaPi.org website, and notes the fact that it displays a photo of a board without the SD slot. However, the Lemaker.org and Ali Express photos appear to be up to date, and the information more clearly presented. (And to be fair, if you’re judging a board by its presentation, we’ve seen a lot worse.)

Specifications listed for the Banana Pi include:

  • Processor — AllWinner A20 (2x Cortex-A7 @ 1GHz); ARM Mali-400 GPU
  • RAM — 1GB DDR3 (shared with GPU)
  • Storage — SD slot (up to 64GB); SATA port (up to 2TB)
  • Wireless — Optional USB WiFi dongle
  • Networking — gigabit Ethernet port
  • Multimedia I/O:
    • HDMI out
    • Composite A/V out
    • LVDS LCD interface
    • CSI camera input
    • 3.5mm audio jack
    • On-board microphone
  • USB ports:
    • Dual USB2.0 type A
    • Micro-USB OTG (supports power)
    • Micro-USB (only for DC-in power)
  • Expansion header — 2x 13-pin connectors containing: GPIO, UART, I2C, SPI (2x chip selects), CANbus, ADC, PWM, +3.3V, +5V, ground
  • Other features:
    • Reset, power, and optional UBoot buttons
    • Power, LAN, and user LEDs
    • IR for remote
  • Power — 5V via micro-USB (DC-In only) and/or micro-USB OTG
  • Weight — 48 g
  • Dimensions — 92 x 60mm
  • Operating system — Linux (Sunxi Debian, Ubuntu, Raspbian, Cubieboard, XBMC); Android 4.4 and older versions; Firefox OS and Scratch support under development

Zao Intelligent Desk

Like the Raspberry Pi foundation, Lemaker.org has an educational focus. The organization participated in the 2014 Elementary and Secondary School STEAM Forum and the second Scratch Teaching and Observation Activity held in Changzhou, China. STEAM is a variation on STEM, adding art to the mix of disciplines. Lemaker.org is also working to support the open source Scratch development environment for K9-K16 students.

The Banana Pi is also being integrated into a Zao Pl mini-PC and Zao Intelligent Desk, both available from Jinlu Electronics. The open source products are aimed at the educational market.

 
Further information

The Banana Pi is available for as low as $49 (plus $27 for shipping to the U.S.) at Ali Express. More information may be found at BananaPi.org, and even more can be found at the more reliable Lemaker.org as well as Ali Express.
 

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PLEASE COMMENT BELOW

12 Responses to “Raspberry Pi clone beefs up CPU, adds SATA”

  1. Chris Sparks says:

    This is an improvement but there needs to be more RAM.

  2. foxhollow says:

    I do not trust this board. I have used many of the ‘linux’ compatible ARM boards only to find the O/S is *work in progress* and never released. Until I see evidence that the operating systems clearly mentioned accurately support the hardware, I will take a wait and see approach.

    I have too many orphaned by the manufacturer boards on my shelf now. Some are 2 years old and still have ‘please come back later’ on the website download page.

    • Robert Wood says:

      Since it is based on the same A20 SOC as the Cubieboard 2 (and several other projects), there is an active community around the OS. I bought the original Cubieboard about a year ago and at that time there were several builds available (I ran a debian-based distro on it until I got sidetracked on other stuff and haven’t returned to it yet). Since all of the peripherals are integrated in the A20, support should be pretty good. I’ve seen Fedora20 as a native Cubie install as well.

      I don’t think the support is integrated in the main line kernel, so long-term is questionable, but it will probably be tracked for the near future.

      Take a look at cubieboard.org to get an idea of what the current status is.

    • RCprogrammer says:

      I actually bought one of these Banana-Pi boards and now regret it due to the attitude of the developers at lemaker.org to continually deprive the user base with functional source code because it is “under development”. What’s infuriating is that they have released images that have been functional for 2 versions now. To not supply code that allows basic networking functionality is deplorable. The code they do provide has dead portions and when built, ethernet is barely functional or sporadic unless you set it to 10Mbps. They don’t seem to have the concept of open source down and I wonder if they are committing some type of GPL violation. I definitely cannot recommend this board and would warn buyers to look through the forums of boards they are considering to purchase before doing so. My 2 cents.

      • RCprogrammer says:

        They had somebody complain about copyright violations on one of the forum posts (regarding installing Debian Wheezy) so now, they’re blocking the viewing all forum posts in some places (I don’t know what criteria they use). Anyway I can’t browse the forum anymore to find information to build the kernel for this board So much for “open”.

      • RCprogrammer says:

        Lemaker has released the source code for the kernel after so many requests. After building it, ethernet is now functional. Don’t know if it’s the same as what was in the images but works for me.

  3. Tim Michals says:

    Wonder if the Pi CCD camera and NIR CCD camera work with this board?

    • playaspec says:

      From what I read on the manufacturer’s site, the answer is no. The Pi’s cameras are not compatible. Their connector appears to follow a standard though, so cameras may be available form a third party.

  4. PePa says:

    This sounds great. I’d really like a case for this that has space for a 3.5″ harddrive, and there’s my portable home server!

    • Jim says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Using an old laptop for an XBMC media server currently. Want something more perm. Since this board has SATA and optional wifi it’s perfect for me to 3d print a case to hold the board & 2 drives in RAID and hide it away.

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