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Tiny quad-core Linux SBCs slim down and get an RPi-like carrier

Dec 13, 2017 — by Rick Lehrbaum 2,714 views

FriendlyElec has unveiled COM-like variants of its tiny, low-cost quad-core, Allwinner H3- and H5-based NanoPi Neo and Neo2 SBCs, plus an RPi style carrier.

FriendlyElec’s new $8 “NanoPi Neo Core” and $25 “NanoPi Neo Core2” boards are low-profile variants of the company’s earlier 40 x 40mm NanoPi Neo and NanoPi Neo 2 SBCs, but with their large, topside USB and Ethernet connectors replaced by a third dual-row pin header. As a result, the new boards are more like computer-on-modules (COMs) than single-board computers (SBCs), in that they’re meant to be combined with off-the-shelf or custom carrier boards, such as FriendlyElec’s RPi 3-like Mini Shield (see farther below).

Upper row: NanoPi Neo Core (left) compared to NanoPi Neo;
Lower row: NanoPi Neo Core2 (left) compared to NanoPi Neo2

(click images to enlarge)

The new COM-like “Core” variants have the same 40 x 40mm PCB footprint as the earlier models. However, while the original models implement their I/O and power interfaces using a pair of dual-row headers along with large, standard-sized USB and Ethernet connectors, the Core and Core2 models use a set of three expansion headers for everything, thereby dramatically reducing each board’s vertical profile — and also freeing up space on the top surface of the board.

NanoPi Neo Core (left) and Neo Core2 details
(click images to enlarge)

Each of these new NanoPi Neo Core boards implements all the functional specs of its predecessor, with the Core being built around the 1.2GHz quad-core Cortex-A7 based Allwinner H3 SoC, and the Core 2 using Allwinner’s 64-bit, 1.2GHz quad-core Cortex-A53 based H5. Additionally, both Core models are available with up to 32GB of onboard eMMC flash. But whereas the Neo Core is limited to the same SDRAM options as the Neo (256MB or 512MB), the Neo Core 2 adds a 1GB RAM option on top of the Neo 2’s 512MB limit.

NanoPi Neo Core and Core2 expansion interface pinout
(click image to enlarge)

In lieu of the Neo Core boards’ lack of real-world USB and Ethernet connectors, FriendlyElec has developed a “Mini Shield” carrier board, implemented in a Raspberry Pi 3 compatible form-factor, to simplify developments and projects based on the boards. The combination of a NanoPi Neo Core or Core2 with the Mini Shield “can be well fit into a common RPi 3’s case,” says the company.

NanoPi Neo Core/Core2 Mini Shield with Neo Core 2 and M.2 SSD installed (left) and Mini Shield details
(click images to enlarge)

FriendlyElec lists the following specifications for the NanoPi Neo Core and Core2 boards:

  • Processor:
    • Neo Core — Allwinner H3 (4x Cortex-A7 @ 1.2GHz)
    • Neo Core2 — Allwinner H5 (4x 64-bit Cortex A53 @ 1.2GHz)
  • RAM:
    • Neo Core — 256MB or 512MB DDR3
    • Neo Core2 — 512MB or 1GB DDR3
  • Storage:
    • 8GB/16GB/32GB eMMC (0GB option available on Neo Core)
    • 1x MicroSD Slot
  • Networking:
    • Neo Core — 100Mbit Ethernet
    • Neo Core2 — 10/100/1000Mbit Ethernet
  • USB — 3x USB Host; microUSB OTG + power input
  • Expansion headers — 3x 2.54mm-pitch dual row headers (2x 24-pin; 1x 20-pin) containing GPIO, UART, SPI, I2C, audio in/out, Ethernet, power, etc. (see pinout image above)
  • Other — 2x LEDs for power and system status
  • Power — 5V DC @ 2A
  • Dimensions — 40 x 40mm
  • Operating temperature — -40 to 80°C
  • Operating system — Ubuntu Core; Armbian; U-boot bootloader

Further information


The NanoPi Neo Core, NanoPi Neo Core2, and NanoPi Neo Core/Core2 Mini Shield are currently available, priced at $7.99 (with 256MB RAM), $24.99 (with 1GB RAM and 8GB eMMC), and $10.99, respectively (plus shipping). Further details are available at FriendlyElec’s NanoPi Neo Core, NanoPi Neo Core2, and NanoPi Neo Core/Core2 Mini Shield product pages.

(advertise here)

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2 responses to “Tiny quad-core Linux SBCs slim down and get an RPi-like carrier”

  1. Goblin says:

    The boards seem to be missing any sort of video output pins? Can’t imagine why anyone would want a board without video output and open source drivers like RPi has.

    • Chip says:

      Not every board needs video output, especially in the embedded world where everything that you don’t use costs money, adds weight and complexity; if you need that there are other boards by the same and other manufacturers.
      About the drivers, nearly everything is supported by mainline kernel. Allwinner is a well known GPL violator but luckily the community succeeded in reverse engineering most of what is needed.

      Look at H3 and H5, they’re very mature. I’d dare to say they’re much better supported than any Raspberry PI out there, save of course for the GPU (Blame ARM for this), which is why it is advisable choosing Raspberry PI for accelerated video but one should forget it for every other use.

      For working OS images for the Nano PI you should also ignore the manufacturer provided ones and rather look at Armbian site where you get a huge list of supported boards plus a very active community.

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