June 1, 2017

Nanopi Neo

Here you have a little $8 board that will run linux (or whatever else you might care to run).

Nanopi Neo2

These are available for $15. The extra $7 gets you an H5 chip in lieu of the H3. So you get a quad 64 bit ARM (Arm Cortex-A53 cores), gigabit ethernet, and 512M of ram. You probably want to also add the $3 for a heat sink.

Nanopi M3

There are a whole herd of NanoPi boards now. The M3 uses an 8 core Cortex-A53 SoC, namely the Samsung S5P6818. This board has 1G of DRAM and gigabit ethernet via an RTL8211E chip. Cores can be run at 400 to 1400 Mhz.

An update circa 2021

Back to the original Neo

Actually you will spend $5 shipping (reduces to $4 if you buy two). You get an Allwinner H3 chip (with quad core ARM) along with 256M of ram and a 10/100 ethernet. Kick in an extra $2 and get 512M of ram. Add another $3 to get a heat sink. And you will get nowhere without a micro-SD card, so add $8 for one of those, so all told a working 512M unit with heat sink will run you $25. Don't forget you will also need a power supply and some kind of USB to serial gadet.

I ordered two with 512M and heat sink on 6/1/2017. The order was $17 each, adding in the shipping. I will tell you more when they arrive. They arrived 6/13/2017 and look just fine.

I was deep into Orange Pi boards with the H3 chip when I heard about these and had to get two. Here is a quick rundown of what is on the board:

Getting started

This is all about hooking up a console, power, and popping in an SD card with something interesting on it. It looks like the console is at 3.3 volt levels (indeed it is), but nobody so far has just come out and said so (I guess this is taken for granted these days). The signals come straight and unbuffered from the H3 chip, so they must be 3.3 volt. They are. They are in order: Ground, 5 volts, Tx, Rx.

The schematic indicates that the Pwr LED is red and is connected to GPIO-L10, however my unit lights up faintly green when powered up and attempts to blink this LED have no effect.

The status LED is blue (says the schematic) and is connected to GPIO-A10. It is indeed bright blue, and can be controlled via GPIO-A10, just as the schematic indicates.

All indications are that the unit expects to receive 5 volt power via the micro USB, but the startup notes declare that 5 volts at 2 amps "is a must", so it isn't going to do to just plug it into any old USB port (limited to 0.5 amps).

What I did is to connect 5 volt power to pins on the IO headers. This works, but I see odd behavior when I have a USB to serial gadget attached. The USB to serial device partially powers the NanoPi in an unstable way via the Rx and Tx signals when regular 5 volt power is off.


The board has 3 rows of 12 pins, for 36 total. This ignores the 4 pins for the uart and 5 pins for "audio". No HDMI video (thank goodness).

It looks like there are any number of handy places to connect 5 volt power and ground on these headers in lieu of bringing it in through the USB connector.

Have any comments? Questions? Drop me a line!

Tom's electronics pages / tom@mmto.org