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Video-focused hacker SBC mimics RPi 3 and Odroid-C2

Apr 14, 2017 — by Eric Brown 7,438 views

The $40, open-spec NanoPi K2 is like an Odroid-C2 with WiFi and BT 4.0. It offers a 1.5GHz quad Cortex-A53 Amlogic S905 SoC, 4x USB, GbE, and a 40-pin bus.

Rampant imitation is making it easier to write up these new hacker board releases. Just cut and paste an existing feature table, add and subtract a few features, and you’re done. In the case of the FriendlyElec (FriendlyARM) NanoPi K2, it’s even easier than usual. The board has the same processor, 85 x 56mm footprint, and almost an identical feature set and layout as Hardkernel’s Odroid-C2, which means it is also very similar to the Raspberry Pi 3. The NanoPi K2 and Odroid-C2 even opened with the same $40 price, although the latter now sells for $46.

NanoPi K2, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

FriendlyElec’s first Amlogic-based NanoPi SBC runs Android (and soon, Ubuntu) on the same 64-bit quad-core, Cortex-A53 Amlogic S905 SoC as the Odroid-C2, which came out shortly before the Raspberry Pi 3. The only other similarly open source hacker board we know of with the S905 is the Khadas Vim, which uses the more affordable, slightly scaled back S905X variant. FriendlyElec also offers a smaller, $25, quad -A53 NanoPi A64 based on the Allwinner A64, as well as an even smaller, $15, quad -A53 NanoPi Neo2 that uses the Allwinner H5, among others.

The key difference between the NanoPi K2 and the Odroid-C2 is that like the Raspberry Pi 3, the NanoPi K2 adds WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 so you don’t have to use up a USB port. It also supplies an empty socket for external eMMC flash storage. Like the Odroid-C2, it lets you boot from the microSD slot.


The Odroid-C2, on the other hand, features an ADC interface missing on the NanoPi K2, and adds 7x more GPIO pins to the RPi-like 40-pin connector. Neither company claims Raspberry Pi expansion board compatibility, although many RPi expansion boards work on the Odroid-C2, as well as many other hacker boards with 40-pin interfaces.

NanoPi K2 detail view
(click image to enlarge)

The S905-driven Odroid-C2 is considerably faster than the Raspberry Pi 3, so the same should be true here, as well. FriendlyElec says the S905 can theoretically hit 2.0GHz, but has only been able to achieve 1.5GHz in testing. The S905 ships with a Mali-450 GPU, which is more powerful than the Mali-400 GPUs typical of 32-bit hacker boards.

The Amlogic S905 supports [email protected] decoding and DVFS, and can “play high-definition video steams stably and smoothly,” says FriendlyElec. The NanoPi K2, which ships with an IR receiver and a remote control, is said to be best suited for “advertisement machines, TV boxes, home entertainment appliances, and multimedia devices.”

NanoPi K2 shown with and without its heatsink
(click images to enlarge)

FriendlyElec’s promotion of the NanoPi K2’s mounting holes for a heatsink — also available on the Odroid-C2 and RPi 3 — would suggest it needs one to cool off all that multimedia firepower. No accessories, including eMMC, were listed, however.

There’s no claimed support for the Kodi media framework, which has now been ported to the Odroid-C2 and other C-series boards. Like the Odroid-C2, the earlier Odroid-C1 and C1+ are still the “cloniest” of the RPi-like boards, down to the specifics of port layout. By comparison, most other so-called Raspberry Pi clones, such as the quad- A53 Orange Pi Prime offer different port layouts. There are no true RPi 3 clones, however, as there are no other hacker boards with Broadcom processors.

In a direct comparison with the 1.2GHz Broadcom BCM2837-driven Raspberry Pi 3, the NanoPi K2 is $5 more expensive, but is faster, more open source, and has 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet instead of 10/100Mbps. Additionally offers 2GB instead of 1GB RAM, and features the empty eMMC socket. On the other hand, the RPi 3 gives you MIPI-DSI and CSI-interfaces, even if the latter isn’t easily hackable for adding non-standard cameras, and there’s a standard audio jack.

The RPi 3 also provides a greater assurance of add-on board compatibility, and there are far more Linux distributions tailored for the world’s best-selling community-backed SBC (even if Android is still not available). By comparison, there’s currently only an Android 5.1 image for the NanoPi K2, with Ubuntu promised at some point in the future. Hardkernel similarly offers only Android and Ubuntu images, although it points to a variety of other unofficial installs from Debian Jessie to Arch Linux.

Specifications listed for the NanoPi K2 include:

  • Processor — Amlogic S905 (4x 64-bit Cortex-A53 cores @ 1.5GHz) with Mali-450 MP2 GPU
  • Memory:
    • 2GB DDR3 RAM
    • MicroSD slot (bootable)
    • Empty eMMC socket
  • Wireless — 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 (via Ampak AP6212); porcelain antenna with IPX
  • Networking — Gigabit Ethernet port
  • Other I/O:
    • 4x USB 2.0 host ports
    • Micro-USB 2.0 device/OTG port with power support
    • Full-sized HDMI 2.0 out Type-A port ([email protected] video and audio)
    • 40-pin GPIO expansion connector (I2C, ADC, GPIO, UART, PWM, SPDIF, CVBS)
    • Serial debug port
    • I2S audio connector
  • Other features — LEDs; IR receiver; “user” power key; remote control; mounting holes for heatsink
  • Power — 5V2A DC input
  • Dimensions — 85 x 56mm
    li>Operating system — Android 5.1 image; Ubuntu in development

Further information

The NanoPi K2 is now available for $40 plus shipping. More information may be found at FriendlyElec’s NanoPi K2 shopping and wiki pages.

(advertise here)

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8 responses to “Video-focused hacker SBC mimics RPi 3 and Odroid-C2”

  1. mikeschinkel says:

    Why-oh-why can’t some of these board vendors focus on offering a decent option for SSD, such as support for mSATA? So many of these me-too boards are just splitting the same market and not really addressing underserved market segments… :-(

    • twodogs says:

      Amen brother. Storage is killing me. The C2’s are nice with the eMMC, but that’s not big enough. I went with an XU4 since it at least had USB3. But you can’t get an armv8 SBC with USB3, let alone something useful.

  2. chip says:

    Apparently there’s no mention of CEC support, which sucks badly for a board advertised as video oriented.
    If ARM released full documentation for the Mali GPU the problem would be solved in weeks, but sadly ARM refuses to support the community so that we’re screwed.
    Ironically, the Raspberry PI 3 which is vastly inferior to this and other boards in every other aspect, including CPU (not GPU) openness, does indeed support the standard perfectly so that it makes a better solution with respect to video playing.

    • Cotsy says:

      It does have an IR receiver and remote though. Not as convenient as using your existing dTV remote, but still functional.

  3. usb3missing says:

    to compete with rpi, some company should add obvious features missing from rpi. usb3 and sata for instance.

    • Mike Schinkel (@mikeschinkel) says:


    • chip says:

      Have no idea why, but a board like this one packed with multiple SATA ports, or a fast one compatible with port replicators, would be a killer product. They don’t seem to realize that the only alternatives are NAS boxes all costing well over €100 for the cheapest 2 bay ones. They could keep it cheap by removing video and most gpio connectors, which have little use in a NAS box, save for the minimum necessary to talk for example to a UPS.

    • Bushmills says:

      Using a whole zoo of ARM SBCs, I’m also hard pressed to find the perfect combination of USB3, Gigabit ethernet, SATA, > 1 GB RAM and CPU power. Boards seem to always lack or fall short in least one of those, so I settle for a combination with boards combining their individual advantages, especially for the (native) SATA requirement.
      Currently I’m looking forward for the 2 GB RAM version of espressobin being released, but meanwhile, I settled for a slightly different approach: The former SATA providing Banana Pi 1 (Gigabit ethernet and native SATA, while cheap, but only providing 1 GByte of RAM with slow CPU) which mastered the “storage subsystem”, has been removed now, I also replaced the WLAN router against a Linksys WRT1200AC (there’s a faster WRT1900AC). This router supplies Gigabit Ethernet, USB3 and native SATA too, With an SSD attached, hdparm (under openwrt) measures > 400 MByte/sec of buffered disk reads, and non-IO cached reads about 650 MByte/sec. This network shared drive provides now disk io to the SBCs over Gigabit LAN, at a rather acceptable speed. Software seems to indicate that two SATA ports are supported, but I haven’t opened the router yet to see whether the SSD could be installed internally, and leave the external E-SATA connector free for an additional device. Consequently, by reducing pressure on SBC feature set becomes the choice wider. Odroid XU4 and C2 are still ranking very high on my list of preferred boards – i think I’ll skip the K2, it’s too similar to the C2

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