Review of the Orange Pi Zero Plus2 - incredibly tiny but uncertain of its usability

By: (plus.google.com) +David Herron; Date: Sun Nov 05 2017 18:56:40 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)

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The OrangePi series of computers look like a credible alternative to the Raspberry Pi. As cool as the Raspberry Pi is, it has a significant flaw in that you're running off an SD card. While an SD card is cool for prototype-projects, it's not suitable for things that will run for a long time sinde SD cards are simply not that reliable. The Orange Pi boards are similar in nature to the Raspberry Pi, but come with an eMMC storage unit built-in that's far more reliable (and faster) than an SD card.

For this project we'll go through the set-up of an Orange Pi Zero Plus2. This is an incredibly inexpensive board positioned similarly to the Raspberry Pi Zero. The board itself is $19.95, and gives you a 1.2 GHz CPU with 512 MB memory, an 8GB eMMC, built-in WiFi, HDMI, USB, etc. A few more dollars gives you a case, and an addon board containing two USB's.

The boards are incredibly tiny. The front side has the CPU and other stuff, including the HDMI, pin headers, and the power socket.
The back side has the microSD card slot, and a couple more chips.
Because the base board did not include a USB socket, I thought it a good idea to get this expansion board. It fits onto the pin headers, and provides two USB2 ports.
It's a tight fit getting these boards into the case. You install the USB board first. The screws are wood screws, meaning that they form their own screw threads in the plastic. Therefore if you follow this route, of using this board and this case, consider that you'll install these boards ONCE and then never remove them.
The logic board goes in second. It's tricky getting the pin header to line up with the slots on the USB board -- because you can't see what you're doing, and the fit is tight. Once you have it lined up, slide it into place.
Once the logic board is in place, attach the bottom cover. They did not supply enough screws to go into all the holes.
Here's the finished installation

The impression once it's together is this computer is so incredibly tiny, it can't possibly have the computing capability it's claimed to have. That it does is a combination of trimming the feature-set beyond belief, and simply the power of miniaturization and an ingeniously small package.

To get this running, connect the HDMI port to an HDMI display, connect a mouse/keyboard to the USB ports, and then connect a USB Micro-B cable to the power port.

This computer is powered over a normal USB Micro-B port that's in wide use. You may already have such a cable, but they're easy enough to find.

The completed computer, connected and ready to go

I simply connected mine to a powered USB hub. It could be powered off a USB charger, or any other device meant to supply power over USB.

Once you have it powered, it boots up into an Android system. That's in Chinese. That's not very useful to me since I do not know a lick of Chinese. I hunted around the menus looking for something to switch the language. No luck.

Since I bought this to run a Linux system, that's depressing. I'd gotten all built up with excitement to explore what such a tiny computer could do, only to get an Android system hobbled by a foreign language.

What you do next is go here: (www.orangepi.org) http://www.orangepi.org/downloadresources/

The Orange Pi team provides pre-built OS images for Ubuntu, Debian, Raspbian, ArchLinux, Android, and so forth. Also make sure to download the user manual. And carefully read the section headers to make sure you download the OS image for the correct board.

If you simply flash an operating system image to an SD card, the Orange Pi will boot off the SD card. That's an easy way to try out different operating systems on the machine before committing to burning an OS to the eMMC. How do you flash an OS image to an SD card?

The OS download will be in a file name like ubuntu_xenial_zeroplus2_H5_V0_2.rar or Raspbian_desktop_lxde_For_zeroplus2_H5_V0_1.img.xz

Going by the file name, they're building OS images for each individual board type they sell. This is the Zero Plus 2, remember, with the H5 CPU.

If you received a RAR file, use a RAR-extraction program to do the extraction. That will leave you with a .img.xz file. If, like me, you don't know what an .img.xz file is because you're accustomed to .gz files produced by gzip, don't worry.

Get Etcher -- (etcher.io) https://etcher.io/ -- Etcher is an excellent program that really simplifies the process of burning an SD card with an OS image. Etcher knows how to deal with .img.xz and will do the right thing.

Once you've done that, stick the SD card into the slot, boot the system, and you'll be in the OS. The user name is root and password is orangepi.

So far I've tried Debian and Raspbian images with these results:

  • Debian worked rather well, but the web browsers were giving very strange errors. The default web browser simply failed to work. So I installed Firefox-ESR and then IceWeasel-ESR. Both of those worked, but for example claimed that Google was mis-configured and had a bad Certificate and I shouldn't trust that garbage website. Somehow I don't think the problem is Google, but something to do with the OS.
  • Raspbian simply would not boot.

The manual claims there's a couple shell scripts in the built images that you use to write the OS to the eMMC. I haven't tried to do so as yet, because of the depressing results with the OS images.

Bottom line is that -- it's an incredible bargain of a computer. But as is so often the case for incredible bargains, the result is depressing. I have an incredibly cute looking computer that cannot be used because the operating systems are nonfunctioning. Bah.

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