With this post, I am passing on some knowledge I gained with an Orange Pi PC that I received as a present. When I could manage to find some spare time, I experimented, researched, and eventually set up my Pi board. If you are thinking of buying an Orange Pi, I believe that you can enjoy it and I do recommend it. By sharing my experience and offering some guidance, perhaps it will possible for you to have a quicker and more enjoyable experience in getting your Orange Pi set up the way you want it.
Background on the Orange Pi vs. Raspberry Pi
The Orange Pi is similar to, and marketed against, the Raspberry Pi. While the manufacturer touts it as being “compatible” with the Raspberry Pi as the boards are physically quite similar and they do have the same 40 pin connector, but the compatibility is a very disputable claim given the state of software support and some software that may not run on the Orange Pi. A significant difference between the two Pis is the overall consumer experience, as the Raspberry Pi is known for excellent software support with its Raspbian operating system and due to a strong, active, support community. The Orange Pi on the other hand typically requires far more familiarity with Linux. Another very noticeable difference between the two Pis is the price point – the Raspberry Pi 3 is around $35 whereas many of the Orange Pi boards are below $20, such as the $15 Orange Pi PC that I received. The specs on the Orange Pi boards are typically better or at least competitive to the Raspberry Pi boards, but often cheaper.
Why Choose an Orange Pi over Raspberry Pi?
I came to the decision to try out an Orange Pi due to several considerations:
- The boards are just plain cheap. I was able to get my Orange Pi, a case, a heat sink, and power supply for about the same cost as a Raspberry Pi 3 board with nothing else.
- Based on what I’ve read, the Orange Pi PC has specs and performance that overall puts in a place somewhere between the Raspberry Pi 2 and 3, and that works fine for my purposes.
- The Raspberry Pi is great, and I don’t mean to disparage it in any way, but I do get a little tired of seeing that name over and over again across the Internet. There are a lot of other great Pi Boards out there. Why limit myself to only understanding the Raspberry Pi?
- Finally, I am pretty comfortable with Linux. A little bit of hacking and experimentation doesn’t bother me when it comes to Linux. If I start off with a Pi that is a little harder at first and requires more work to get going, then I figure that I’ll learn more and be overall more capable as a result.
Setting Up the Orange Pi
I began my research on how to this before the thing even arrived in the mail. My research and experimentation continued after the thing arrived. I am glad that I started off researching what to do prior to the Pi’s arrival, because there is no one single guide out there. Most of all though, I am glad to have learned about to two key pieces of software that were hugely beneficial and made the process easy:
- There is a Linux distribution called Armbian that is built specifically for all the various ARM based Pi boards, including the Orange Pi boards. The support for my Orange Pi PC is quite good.
- Blogger Peter Scargill has put together and shared an amazing shell script that automates the installation and configuration of various software needed to get your Pi actually usable for your projects. The menu of software in the script is oriented towards home automation and Internet of Things (IOT) projects. Scargill’s script worked flawlessly on my Orange Pi PC. Some of the relevant Linux software that can be installed from the script is covered in the table below.
|Mosquitto||MQTT messaging software (for your Internet of Things projects)|
|Apache with PHP, SQLite, and phpLiteAdmin||The Apache web server with PHP, supporting SQLite database, and the phpLiteAdmin database management utility.|
|Screen||A utility for your Linux terminal.|
|phpSysInfo||A a simple web application that shows various system information.|
|Node-RED||A powerful tool for “wiring the Internet of Things”, with a graphical tool for designing interactions.|
|generich3/GPIO||A command line utility for configuring and managing GPIO pins derived from WiringPi.|
|Webmin||A web application for remotely managing a Linux system.|
|MPG123||An MPEG audio player and decoder.|
|OPI-Monitor||This is RPi-Monitor that is patched to work with the Orange Pi.|
|Update NPM?||This step lets you update the NodeJS Package Manager.|
|cu||A command line utility that lets you ‘call up’ another system and do file transfers.|
Armbian Install/Set Up
Stick the microSD card into the Pi, hook up HDMI, keyboard/mouse, networking, and power.
Turn on the Orange Pi. It will boot up and present you with a log in prompt. Armbian will set up your SD card an reboot the system. At the log in, the initial log in/password for Armbian will be root and 1234.
When you are prompted to add a user, create the user “pi”. You may accept the default values for things like full name, or enter them if you like. When prompted with “Is the above information correct?”, enter “Y”.
Next, you are presented with the question to check the display? I recommend answering “Y” and making note of the supported resolutions and any commands it provides for adjusting your display.
You should now be logged in as root and presented with the terminal. Ensure that your Ethernet cable is connected and update the system using the following commands:
apt-get update apt-get upgrade
When asked “do you want to continue?”, answer with a “Y”. The system will download and install updates, and that takes some time. Once that is completed, reboot with the system with the following command:
The system comes back up, and if you are using the desktop version of Armbian it will log in user pi and preset the desktop.
Scripted Software Installs
The following instructions assume that you are logged in as user pi. Please note that this script is update frequently by Scragill and others, so you may need to double check the instructions below are referencing the latest “snippet” on Scragill’s Bitbucket site; if not, then adjust the installation process accordingly.
Open a terminal and run the following command to download the latest and greatest version of Scargill’s script:
git clone https://bitbucket.org/snippets/scargill/94yxL/raspbian-debian-ubuntu-menu-script
Now, change directory to “raspbian-debian-ubuntu-menu-script”, change the name of file snippet.txt to pi_setup.sh, and make the file executable:
cd raspbian-debian-ubuntu-menu-script mv snippet.txt pi_setup.sh chmod +x pi_setup.sh
Now, you are ready to kick off Scargill’s script! Run the following command:
You will presented with a graphical interface with a menu of software to install, with a number selected for you by default.
Select the software that you wish to install, avoiding any software that is clearly not Orange Pi related (such as software for the Odroid). Press OK, and proceed to answer any questions that the script prompts you answer during the installation process. It will definitely take some time to complete the software installation. If you want to add an “index/link page and little css” and I recommend that you do.
If the script does not guide you to reboot the Pi, then you should so do so with the following command:
And now your Orange Pi should be all set up!
Testing It Out
Open Terminal, and check out the GPIO utility with the following command:
Your result should like this:
Open a web browser on your other computer and navigate to http://orangepipc (your hostname will be different if it is not an Orange Pi PC). If you can’t reach it from a Linux computer, try adding “.local” (e.g. http://orangepipc.local). Otherwise, input your Pi board’s local IP address into the browser. You should get a nice landing page with links to your install web applications.
I noticed that the command dpkg-reconfigure is missing. To correct this, run the following command:
sudo apt-get install –reinstall dpkg
Get Your Orange Pi
You can the get an Orange Pi PC like mine on Amazon (affiliate link): Orange Pi PC Single Board Computer Quad Core ARM Cortex-A7 1GB DDR3 4K Decode
You can also get it on the Orange Pi store on AliExpress (affiliate link).
Enjoy your Pi Board!