Banana Pi

First of all, Banana Pi is not one SOC - it is a family of SOC which are not all compatible and boards using them.

The older ones are very well supported with the only downside being a very archaic kernel - 3.4. That is quite a common situation in Arm land. For example the Samsung Arm Chromebooks using the Exynos SOC used 3.4 until 2016. Only in 2016 Google finally managed to upgrade them to a new bleeding edge kernel (or maybe not - 3.8). All of the old Bananas use Mediatek A20 which has been manufactured in ridiculous quantities going into anything and everything from cheap tablets, through entertainment systems and into industrial control and automation. While not particularly fast it is generally comparable to the Raspberry Pi up to model B+. Bananas also offer a similar GPIO interface, similar (albeit incompatible) camera interface and similar (again incompatible) display interface. This is where the similarities with the Raspberry end.

The big difference between the RaspberryPi and the early Bananas is the IO. The early Bananas - Banana Pi, M, Pro, R1 all have proper on-SOC Gigabit Ethernet. It is FAST and not in any way dependent on the USB. They also have proper Wi-Fi chipsets. The downside is that they need custom drivers to run it as an AP. Upside - the Wi-Fi actually works as an AP provided the station limit in the hardware is acceptable (it is only 8 for the ap6210 used in the Banana Pro). While it is not anywhere near modern Atheros/Qualcom or Broadcom home router chipsets, it can do the job of being an AP in a "jack of all trades" scenario. As an icing on the cake they also have a proper SATA interface capable of 60Mbytes/s+ throughput (unfortunately without support for multiport/port replicators).

Compared to these the newer boards (M2, M2+, M3) are actually a downgrade - they no longer have a rock stable kernel (they use newer A31, etc SOCs) and some of the peripherals now hang of the USB bus.

Open Source Nature of The Beast

It is not any more or less Open Source than the Pi. While the amount of binary firmware is less, the amount of hacking and dependency on kernels heavily modified by LeMaker and MediaTek is an issue. It is more of a problem with the new chipsets though. The old ones are reasonably stable and have a reasonably well supported 4.x kernel in the main Linux kernel tree.

Banana Projects

I went Bananas after the RaspberryPi thermals, reliability and performance drove me nuts. I never regretted going Bananas. Going Bananas is nice. Tasty. Significantly less frustrating than picking Raspberries and biting on yet another Stink Bug in them.

Backup To The Shed (my "offsite").

This is the only R1 I am presently using. It is running a 500G encrypted SATA LVM volume which requires manual (so you can enter the password) initialization and is after that exported via NFS. This way, if it is stolen it is of no value to anyone not in possession of the passphrase.

The resulting NFS exports provide the disk space for a virtual amanda tape library where my backups go. It can be considered offsite (for a given value of offsite - it is in an outbuilding with a permanent power feed and Gigabit Ethernet 20m from my house). It also runs a Wi-Fi AP servicing the back of the garden, controls a couple of CCTV cameras using motion and the embedded switch services my workshop. I intend to hook some of the GPIO lines to do some useful stuff like control the lights in the garden and on/off the heating in my workshop so I can turn it on an hour or two before going there in winter.

Banana Pi R1

Most importantly it just works (TM) - something the RaspberryPi never managed to do.

The only mod I needed to do was to drill some extra holes into the top and bottom of the case to improve the convection to keep the disk temperature within happy (for a 2.5 inch unit) limits. It worked fine even without that despite being bolted to the southern wall of my workshop.

While there is foil and 7.5 cm of mineral wool under the cladding, it can still get fairly warm in mid-summer. That does not seem to phase the Banana while the Razzie bolted in the same location was dying on a daily basis.

Writeups (per component):

Travel/Outbuilding Microserver

The older Pro and R1 models are perfect for this purpose - Wi-Fi works, SATA works, Gigabit Ethernet Works and you even get a consumer IR as a part of the deal to control some of its functionality. I have cloned a small firewall + squid + AP + media setup in several instances to serve my car (the one I use for long distance travel), my summer house as well as spare(s) for a travel AP.

TODO: writeup

Future Projects

Thin Client

The Banana looks like a much better candidate for this than the Raspberry. The video subsystem has better X support, the latency is lower. It is difficult to say why without looking at the proprietary chip internals, but the difference is so big that it can be observed "visually". It also has a Gigabit Ethernet interface which makes a hell of a difference when running X Windows. There will be a point when I will need to get an Xterm working in my workshop so I can see the designs and layout of what I working on. For now, the system earmarked for this is a Banana - I have done the testing and it won over the Raspberry hands down.

-- AntonIvanov - 04 Mar 2017
Topic revision: r4 - 10 Apr 2017, AntonIvanov

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