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HummingBoard, Banana Pi take on the Raspberry Pi

HummingBoard, Banana Pi take on the Raspberry Pi

The Banana Pi pictured, and HummingBoard SBCs offer pin-compatibility with Raspberry Pi accessories but significantly improved features and performance.

The success of the Raspberry Pi project has kick-started interest in low-cost Linux-powered single-board computers, but it has been surprisingly free of clone designs - until now.

Unlike rival development platforms such as the Olimex OLinuXino family or the popular Arduino microcontroller, the Raspberry Pi is not open hardware. Its design is locked-down and proprietary, and its principle components - namely the Broadcom BCM2835 system-on-chip (SoC) processor - not available in small quantities or without signing restrictive non-disclosure agreements. This may have contributed to a lack of compatible clones appearing on the market since its launch more than two years ago - until now, with two companies announcing Pi-compatible creations featuring considerably improved specifications: the HummingBoard and the Banana Pi.

First, the HummingBoard. Created by Solid-Run, the company behind the ultra-compact CuBox product line, the HummingBoard boasts the same features, design and layout as the Raspberry Pi - right down to the 26-pin general-purpose input-output (GPIO) header at the top-left of the board, which is pin-compatible with existing Pi accessories. Unlike the underpowered single-core 700MHz ARMv6 processor of the Pi, the HummingBoard boasts a quad-core 1GHz Freescale i.MX6 chip, 2GB of RAM - four times that of the Pi - and integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Additional enhancements over the Pi include an upgrade to gigabit Ethernet, an on-board real-time clock module, and an infra-red receiver.

The Banana Pi goes a step further. Created by OSSUG Company, The Banana Pi again duplicates the layout and footprint of the Raspberry Pi and includes both the 26-pin GPIO header and the smaller P5 header of its established rival. Although its 1GB of RAM and dual-core AllWinner A20 processor can't match the performance of the HummingBoard, the Banana Pi boasts an on-board SATA connector with 5V power output for mass storage. The board also includes gigabit Ethernet, an infra-red receiver, three on-board buttons and, interestingly, a microphone.

Thus far, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has been slow to offer an upgraded version of its award-winning single-board computer. The initial Raspberry Pi Model B was succeeded by a Revision 2 design which added the P5 connector and doubled the memory to 512MB but retained the slow single-core ARMv6 processor, while the Model A is a cut-down version which drops to a single USB port and loses the Ethernet networking chip. Its most recent product, the Compute Module, still uses the outdated BCM2835 chip - leaving the market open for Pi-compatible devices like the Banana Pi and HummingBoard that can offer buyers higher performance and more features.

Pricing for the HummingBoard has yet to be confirmed, with the Banana Pi available on import from Chinese resellers for $59 (around £35, a mere £7 more than a Raspberry Pi Model B.)

21 Comments

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Xlog 23rd April 2014, 12:55 Quote
While humming board looks interesting, banana pi looks like typical Chinese clone (or more like a hoax or a joke maybe?) - single page site with no usable info, with references to non-existent wiki.
Also A20 SOC doesn't support CSI or DSI interfaces, so what exactly are those flatflex connectors for? If it doesn't accept RPI addons & accessories - why bother with that form-factor at all?

As for price, rpi cost £28 with VAT, bpi - $59 without, so the difference will be a bit bigger than £7.
Unicorn 23rd April 2014, 13:37 Quote
Meh, a dual core RPi will come along and blow them out of the water. Nothing else is going to have the support and learning resources of the Raspberry Pi Foundation which has been years in the making.
K.I.T.T. 24th April 2014, 09:38 Quote
I do believe the HummingBoard also has m-SATA and m-PCIE on it's underside as well although i've not seen a picture of the underside of the board.

http://imx.solid-run.com/wiki/index.php?title=HummingBoard_Hardware
Gareth Halfacree 24th April 2014, 09:41 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xlog
While humming board looks interesting, banana pi looks like typical Chinese clone (or more like a hoax or a joke maybe?) - single page site with no usable info, with references to non-existent wiki.
The website's broken - or not finished yet - I'll grant you, but I'm pretty certain it's no hoax: mine's on the way from China as I write this.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xlog
Also A20 SOC doesn't support CSI or DSI interfaces, so what exactly are those flatflex connectors for?
Where are you getting that from? The A20 has two CSI channels as well as LVDS display support.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xlog
If it doesn't accept RPI addons & accessories - why bother with that form-factor at all?
Because it does accept Raspberry Pi add-ons and accessories? The GPIO header is pin-for-pin compatible with the Pi. At least, it's supposed to be - I'll know more when mine arrives.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xlog
As for price, rpi cost £28 with VAT, bpi - $59 without, so the difference will be a bit bigger than £7.
I'll give you that one - assuming it gets hit by Customs. Will be interesting to see what the price is when it hits the UK proper; I know CPC are investigating stocking the thing.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Unicorn
Meh, a dual core RPi will come along and blow them out of the water.
Don't hold your breath for that.
Quote:
Originally Posted by K.I.T.T.
I do believe the HummingBoard also has m-SATA and m-PCIE on it's underside as well although i've not seen a picture of the underside of the board.
Interesting, I hadn't seen that - although why are those two entries in the feature list italicised, when nothing else is? Hmm. I've got a mate who's been testing a pair of HummingBoards for the last six months - I'll drop him an email, see if he can confirm or deny their presence. If they've managed to cram both on board, then that's a pretty stunning bit of engineering...
K.I.T.T. 24th April 2014, 09:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Interesting, I hadn't seen that - although why are those two entries in the feature list italicised, when nothing else is? Hmm. I've got a mate who's been testing a pair of HummingBoards for the last six months - I'll drop him an email, see if he can confirm or deny their presence. If they've managed to cram both on board, then that's a pretty stunning bit of engineering...

Yeah, that's why I'd like to see the underside. One thought I did have was maybe it means anything in the slots doesn't fit within the footprint of the board because most things m-SATA would do a good job of taking up all the space.

I guess the other possibility is a flat flex connector to go to m-SATA and M-PCIE breakout boards that host the full connector and have the mechanical mounting points too.
Gareth Halfacree 24th April 2014, 09:59 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by K.I.T.T.
Yeah, that's why I'd like to see the underside. One thought I did have was maybe it means anything in the slots doesn't fit within the footprint of the board because most things m-SATA would do a good job of taking up all the space.
Spoken to my mate: the samples he's got don't have mSATA or PCIe anywhere on 'em, broken out or otherwise. Now, his samples are from the very first production run six months ago, so it's possible that things have changed since - but he also says Solid-Run hasn't mentioned such a change any time in the last couple of months. I'm wondering if the italics mean that the SoC supports 'em but they're not broken out - a sort of "would be nice to have if we can engineer it into a future revision" of sorts? Looking at the i.MX 6 block diagram, both SATA and PCIe are supported but only on "selected product lines"...

EDIT: Seriously, how did I miss this whackin' gert explanation at the top of the feature list? "Italic lines below are features not populated in the first batch for developers." Guess that explains it!
K.I.T.T. 24th April 2014, 10:14 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree

EDIT: Seriously, how did I miss this whackin' gert explanation at the top of the feature list? "Italic lines below are features not populated in the first batch for developers." Guess that explains it!

Oh derp, don't worry. I'd completely missed that little bit too. Still, it'll be interesting to see how they do go about getting them on there because the form factor doesn't leave a whole lot of room.

What's your mate been up to with them?
Xlog 24th April 2014, 10:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
The A20 has two CSI channels as well as LVDS display support.Because it does accept Raspberry Pi add-ons and accessories? The GPIO header is pin-for-pin compatible with the Pi. At least, it's supposed to be - I'll know more when mine arrives.

http://linux-sunxi.org/A20
http://dl.linux-sunxi.org/A20/A20%20Brief%202013-04-07.pdf
http://dl.linux-sunxi.org/A20/A20%20User%20Manual%202013-03-22.pdf

I was not aware that LVDS can work as/emulate DSI. If it can - I stand corrected.

As for camera - A20 has parallel camera bus, and while its named CSI in UM, I cant find where it says that it can work in serial mode or that it support differential pairs.

Of course they could also be converting Serial-to-Parallel streams in FPGA (misteriuous chip at the right side of SOC, probably for hdmi or sata), but until I see a schematic, I'll remain sceptical.

While GPIO's are probably compatible, mounting holes are not, so bigger boards that need extra support (to be fair, all boards that are big enough to go over that hole should have it) will need some sort of adapter. Its a small thing, but its still a thing.

[edit while writing this]
And it seems they fixed their site, sort of (cant understand how I got to it from http://bananapi.org/ in the first place): http://www.lemaker.org/
From, I guess, official forum:
Quote:
Not support RPI camera board at present. we are developing Bpi camera board.
Gareth Halfacree 24th April 2014, 10:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xlog
I was not aware that LVDS can work as/emulate DSI. If it can - I stand corrected.
Should be possible with an interposer chip, although I have no idea if this is what they're doing; the website is absolutely atrocious. I'll know more when (if) my board arrives.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xlog
And it seems they fixed their site. From official forum: [no support for RPi Camera Module]
I'm not surprised. As far as I'm aware, the RPi Camera Module only works on the RPi; it's tied heavily into the BCM2835's VideoCore-IV processor. At least, I've not heard of anyone managing to get it running on any other CSI-enabled board.
Quote:
Originally Posted by K.I.T.T.
What's your mate been up to with them?
Trialling 'em for import; he runs a low-power PC retail specialist and is a reseller for Solid-Run stuff among others. He's also said he's going to pop one of his samples in the post for me to have a play with, so yay!
Xlog 24th April 2014, 13:28 Quote
bpi pinout: http://forum.lemaker.org/viewthread.php?tid=30&extra=page%3D1
1) No DSI
2) No mipi compliant CSI. I still can't understand why its called CSI in A20 docmentation. Probably the meaning of it was lost in translation ,
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
I'm not surprised. As far as I'm aware, the RPi Camera Module only works on the RPi; it's tied heavily into the BCM2835's VideoCore-IV processor. At least, I've not heard of anyone managing to get it running on any other CSI-enabled board.

People have successfully used OV5647 camera (same as in rpi camera module) with other soc, its not like this camera was made only for broadcom soc.
Gareth Halfacree 24th April 2014, 13:42 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xlog
bpi pinout: http://forum.lemaker.org/viewthread.php?tid=30&extra=page%3D1 1) No DSI
Now I'm *really* confused, 'cos the very first post on that page says "CON2 is a DSI display connector."
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xlog
2) No mipi compliant CSI. I still can't understand why its called CSI in A20 docmentation. Probably the meaning of it was lost in translation ,
The joy of Chinese SoCs!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Xlog
People have successfully used OV5647 camera (same as in rpi camera module) with other soc, its not like this camera was made only for broadcom soc.
Don't look at me, I've never tried a non-official camera with the Pi, nor the official Pi camera on another board. All's I know is that a journey to the tenth page of a Google search found absolutely no reference to anyone having got it working on anything but a Pi. (Mind you, that could be 'cos nobody's tried, but given I literally wrote the book on the Pi you'd think I'd have heard something to the contrary.)

Incidentally, despite the Pi's CSI connector being allegedly fully MIPI-compliant, no other CSI camera beyond the official Raspberry Pi Camera Board will work. As I said: the Camera Board is heavily tied into the VideoCore-IV processor, which remains locked down and proprietary. To get a camera to work over the CSI port, you need to write drivers that run on the VideoCore-IV; trouble is, Broadcom hasn't released the information required to write said drivers. So, I'm not seeing much difference betwix the Banana and Raspberry here: while both have what they claim is a CSI port, neither will really drive anything except their respective dedicated camera modules.

EDIT: As an aside, I'm actually testing out a Freescale i.MX 6 quad-core board right now: the TBS Matrix. Quick performance comparison to a Pi: compressing a 100MB file of randomness took 1m54.8s on a Raspberry Pi, and only 54.6s on the Matrix. Switching to the multi-threaded pigz boosted that to 14.4s. So, you can expect the HummingBoard to be around twice as fast as the Pi for single-threaded software, and eight times as fast for multi-threaded software. Not too shabby!
Unicorn 24th April 2014, 14:08 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Don't hold your breath for that.


I'm not, being perfectly happy with the versions that I have at the moment. But it will come, eventually.
Gareth Halfacree 28th April 2014, 11:57 Quote
So, I've got a prototype HummingBoard. It's a six-month old design, back from when it was known as the Carrier-One or C1. Unlike the final design, it has a single-core iMX.6 Solo and just 512MB of RAM - but still manages to trounce the Pi in performance, running through my compression test in around a third the time(!)



Sure enough, the P1 header is present and correct. The board size, however, doesn't match the Pi - it's wider. As a result, it doesn't fit in any of the Pi cases I've got lying around. Whether that's something that's been resolved in a subsequent board respin I don't know.



(Apologies for the blurry shot - I'm trying to do this in a rush, 'cos I'm supposed to be doing something I'm actually getting paid for!)

The underside shows a bunch of unpopulated surface-mount solder pads. I'm guessing these are where the PCIe and SATA connections will go on the finished board. Also, you can see the micro-SD slot - a better choice, I reckon, than the full-size SD card slot of the Pi.
jrs77 28th April 2014, 13:01 Quote
I'd like to see one of these little boards, that you can strap directly onto a 2.5" SSD, i.e. boards that have a 15-pin AIO connector on the back of the board. This would make for an awesome little design imho.

And for people like me, who don't want to fiddle around they could make a board without GPIO and all that, but only with Ethernet, USB, HDMI and the SD-port.

Combine the two ideas and make a board with the 15-pin SATA-connector for the 2.5" SSD on the back and only Ethernet, USB, HDMI and the mSD ports, and we'd have a perfect low-cost HTPC with "integrated" mass-storage the size of a pack of cigarettes.
Gareth Halfacree 2nd May 2014, 17:49 Quote
Right, I now have a Banana Pi. So clearly it *does* exist.



GPIO is currently shafted in software, with an updated image promised soon. Boots Raspbian fine, but I've got it running Linaro for performance reasons. Speaking of which: yes, it's considerably faster than a Raspberry Pi. I can get 140Mb/s over its Ethernet port without trouble, and 13MB/s file transfers via SSH if I use 128-bit RC4. That compares to the Pi's ~3.5MB/s throughput.

The board is physically larger than a Pi, which is a pain, and the GPIO header has been shifted towards the composite jack to make room for a mounting hole - which means that larger piggyback-board add-ons won't fit properly. Stupid decision, that. There are also considerable changes since the prototype board pictures that are doing the rounds: aside from PCB colour, note the straight rather than right-angle SATA connector and the shifted IrDA receiver.
Nexxo 5th May 2014, 22:11 Quote
How does the Raspberry Pi stand up as a TV recorder/streamer? Can it handle up to three 1080p video streams at the same time, or would one of these be a better candidate?
Yadda 5th May 2014, 22:13 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nexxo
How does the Raspberry Pi stand up as a TV recorder/streamer? Can it handle up to three 1080p video streams?

If you mean in the same way as FTTC is "up to 72Mb" then yes, definitely. :D
El_panda 20th May 2014, 11:29 Quote
A Banana board is currently tested by the free developpers of HWL. We'll see what it reallly is.

http://hardware-libre.fr/2014/05/banana-pi-unboxing-first-impressions/
El_panda 11th June 2014, 23:53 Quote
Now there is a complete Benchmark with performance comparison with Rasberry Pi :
http://hardware-libre.fr/2014/06/raspberry-vs-banana-hardware-duel/

Seems powerful. not a bad clone, but not a Raspberry Pi !
glnds 25th July 2014, 15:06 Quote
I ran a benchmark comparison between the Raspberry and Banana Pi. You can find the results here: http://gleenders.blogspot.be/2014/07/banana-pi-benchmarks-banana-pi-vs.html
glnds 8th August 2014, 18:54 Quote
HummingBoard Benchmarks: I just added the HummingBoard to the comparison. You can find the results here: http://gleenders.blogspot.be/2014/08/hummingboard-benchmarks-raspberry-pi-vs.html
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