Pine A64+ review

Product: Pine A64+ 2GB Model
Release Date: March, 2016
Vendor: Pine A64




Review by Neil

This is not the type of review I normally do, but I’m a massive geek and I do love my gadgets!
Most people have heard of the Raspberry Pi, a tiny computer that can run Linux and was designed to be as cheap as possible to get schoolkids into programming. The Pine A64 is a similar computer, but a little bigger physically and with a plethora of connectivity options.

For the tech geeks, the specs are as follows.

* 64-bit, quad core 1.2ghz ARM A53 CPU
* Dual Core Mali400 GPU
* 512MB, 1GB or 2GB RAM (not expandable. You order the variant you want)
* 10/100 (512MB version) or 10/100/1000 ethernet (1GB/2GB version)
* MicroSD Port for installing your O/S (256GB max)
* Two USB2.0 ports
* HDMI out capiable of supporting 4k resolution.
* Combined Headphone/Mic jack (same as the type used on phones)
* Raspberry Pi Connectivity Bus
* Euler Bus
* IR Port
* WiFi/Bluetooth Port
* LCD Connector
* 5v Battery Connector
* MicroUSB Power Input (Power supply must be 5v DC, 2.5 amps)

For the non-geeks, it’s roughly equivalent to a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 in terms of power… and also in terms of physical size.

So, what can you do with it?
At the moment, not that much. You can run it as a headless server, and apparently a few people have been using for just that purpose. The most common options will be to run Debian/Ubuntu Linux and use it as a mini PC for office applications and web browsing. You can also use it in this form as a basic media player, but the hardware acceleration isn’t working quite right. It’d work nicely as a jukebox though!

The other use is to install Android 5 on it.
With this, it will happily run KODI or VLC and play pretty much any media file you throw at it. A much better option if you want a media center! This little device had a successful Kickstarter campaign, and I backed for the 2GB model. Right now, I have mine running with a 64GB SD Card, Ubuntu Linux and plugged into the old Motorola Lapdock that I had sitting around. Sadly, the lapdock doesn’t provide the Pine A64 with the required amount of power, but the screen, keyboard, trackpad and USB2.0 hub all work great. The Pine A64 was even able to recognise my FAT32 formatted USB sticks, so I can see me using this as a general office and music machine for quite a while.

Unfortunately, I did have a few problems getting the device working. Despite having multiple MicroUSB power supplies around the house, none of them gave it the required power. As such, I had to order a Raspberry Pi 3 power supply off Amazon. After I got that, I hooked it up to my BenQ gaming monitor, and it wouldn’t display a signal. However it worked fine on my Sony TV. So this little bugger is VERY picky about what devices it will actually work with. Once Linux was properly installed and booted up, it then worked fine with my Lapdock using the aforementioned external power supply.

There also isn’t much of a manual to work from, or even much support. Development is still on-going regarding getting applications working on the Pine A64, and the GPU Linux drivers have only recently been released at the time of writing. So there is still a lot of work to be done. Please be aware of these various issues if you are considering buying one.

On the good side, the 1GB version of the board (which is the one I recommend you buy over the 512MB version) runs about £20 shipped. That is for JUST the board. You will also need a microSD card for your O/S (8GB seems to be the minimum), power supply, keyboard, mouse and either the WiFi add-on card or a WiFi dongle if you intend to use it wireless. This makes it around the same price as a Raspberry Pi if my math is correct.

So… verdict? Would I recommend this? If you love tinkering, including the frustration that comes with it and the feeling of joy when you finally get the little fucker working… yes. I totally recommend it. However, if you’re looking for something a bit easier to set up, then I recommend you look at the Raspberry Pi 2 or 3 instead since there’s a ton of documentation and a LOT of support out there.

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