Orange Pi 3 LTS SBC Review

Orange Pi 3 LTS Single Board Computer Review
Orange Pi 3 LTS Single Board Computer Review

The Orange Pi 5 is on the horizon with my order scheduled to arrive around the end of the first week of December. I’ll definitely be covering it as soon as I can get my hands on it. So why would I cover anything to do with the Orange Pi 3 with the Orange Pi 5 launch being weeks away?

The Orange Pi 3 LTS is not a new board but it is an interesting board because it is a long term support variant expected to be produced and supported for much longer than the average board. It is already quite cheap at <~$50 or so at time of writing (which is a great price in this market to begin with) but I expect it to drop more into the $35-$40ish range once the Orange Pi 5 has been out for a little bit.

Many Pi alternatives often have very short lifespans in terms of both production and support as most of you who have tried them over the years or more recently will know. Having these long term support assurances can give you a lot of confidence if you are considering boards for a product/project/use case that you expect to stay in place for a long time and want to know there will be secure working updated images available for it.

Let’s see what it can do!

Hardware Used

Orange Pi 3 LTS - Top View
Orange Pi 3 LTS

The Orange Pi 3 LTS is a long term support board with a quad-core 1.8GHz Cortex-A53 CPU and 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM

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Geekworm Copper Heatsink Set
Geekworm Copper Heatsink Set

The Geekworm copper heatsink set is designed to fit many different single board computers. It uses thermal conductive adhesive which many “cheap” heatsink kits for SBCs don’t have. Eliminates hotspots and reduces throttling. Can be further enhanced by powered cooling over the heatsinks.

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Specifications

  • Allwinner H6 64bit
    • CPU: Quad-core Cortex™-A53 1.8 GHz
  • • High-performance multi-core GPU Mali T720
    • OpenGL ES 3.1/3.0/2.0/1.1
    • Microsoft DirectX 11 FL9_3
    • ASTC (Adaptive Scalable Texture Compression)
    • Floating point operation >70 GFLOPS
  • Built-in 8GB eMMC Flash
  • 2GB LPDDR3 RAM
  • WiFi + Bluetooth 5.0
    • AW859A
  • 10M/100M/1000M Ethernet
  • 2x USB 2.0 + 1x USB 3.0

Includes one heat sink for the main CPU as well as the external WiFi antenna.

Build Quality

The revision of the board I received was V1.4. Almost all the components are located on the top of the board.

Top view:

Orange Pi 3 LTS - Top View
Orange Pi 3 LTS – Top View

It has a neat little Orange Pi 3 LTS logo and design in the center of the board. The 8GB eMMC chip is in the bottom left of the picture here. You can see the “H6” on the CPU (the rightmost chip).

Here is the bottom view:

Orange Pi 3 LTS - Bottom View
Orange Pi 3 LTS – Bottom View

As you can see there is nothing on the bottom of the board except for the micro SD slot. I consider this a positive as it’s usually difficult to access components/connectors on the bottom of the board especially when used with a case.

You can see all the visible circuit traces and labels. It’s very easy to read them.

Images Available

The official Orange Pi 3 LTS download page is here.

The official images include:

  • Ubuntu Jammy – Desktop and Server
  • Debian Bullseye – Desktop and Server
  • Android 9
  • Source code for all of the above

This is a respectable selection of up to date images and is kind of a relief after some of the other boards I’ve reviewed recently.

Testing Ubuntu Desktop Image

I chose the Ubuntu Desktop image to test and benchmark for this review. Installing it to the built-in eMMC was a breeze in contrast to the Banana Pi P2 which I reviewed yesterday.

You simply install the image to a SD card. Once you log in you can install to the eMMC with the command:

sudo nand-sata-install

This “just worked”. I let the prompt finish and then it prompted me to power off the device. I removed the SD card and then power cycled the device (although I could have hit the PWR button which is included on the device).

The desktop performed very well and feels nice and snappy. Here’s a look:

Orange Pi 3 LTS Ubuntu Desktop Screenshot
Orange Pi 3 LTS Ubuntu Desktop Screenshot

This installation is running purely off the eMMC and I had removed the SD card at this point. I then upgraded the board with:

sudo apt update && sudo apt full-upgrade -y

Now it’s time to benchmark the performance of the eMMC!

eMMC Performance Benchmark

You can verify the performance of your drive on Pi Benchmarks using the following command:

sudo curl https://raw.githubusercontent.com/TheRemote/PiBenchmarks/master/Storage.sh | sudo bash

Here are the results for the eMMC:

     Category                  Test                      Result     
HDParm                    Disk Read                 116.45 MB/s              
HDParm                    Cached Disk Read          119.31 MB/s              
DD                        Disk Write                52.8 MB/s                
FIO                       4k random read            5597 IOPS (22388 KB/s)   
FIO                       4k random write           3362 IOPS (13451 KB/s)   
IOZone                    4k read                   22615 KB/s               
IOZone                    4k write                  13600 KB/s               
IOZone                    4k random read            22266 KB/s               
IOZone                    4k random write           13518 KB/s               

                          Score: 3,705                                        

The Orange Pi 3 LTS eMMC benchmark can be viewed here on Pi Benchmarks

Very nice! The eMMC scored roughly 3-4 times faster than even a great SD card. It’s also built right into the board and included for free.

Combined with the fact that it was actually incredibly easy to install Linux on the eMMC then I can safely say that any of you that buy this board will be able to achieve the same performance I have here without having to spend a dime (other than getting the board itself) or do any complicated configuration.

Pros / Cons

Pros

  • Long term support (LTS)
  • Almost identical hardware/capabilities to a Pi 4
  • Up to date Ubuntu / Debian / Android images available

Cons

  • Price is only $20 or so below a Orange Pi 4 or 5 which is substantially more powerful

Conclusion

I definitely see why Orange Pi chose to make this model one of their LTS models. The Orange Pi 3 LTS is basically a 2GB Pi 4. It has a quad-core 1.8GHz Cortex-A53 CPU that is very similar in power to the Pi 4. This is a logical product offering for their lineup. Is it a great option to get a Pi alternative for $50? Absolutely!

It’s very nice that you don’t need a SD card with this board. It’s not just great because you save money. The eMMC has much higher performance than a SD card setup as well as I showed in the benchmarking section. All you need is the board! It was also very easy to image the eMMC on this board which very good news since the difficulty of doing that across various single board computers can range from super easy to extremely difficult / nearly impossible.

The only problem with paying $50 for it is that I only paid around $70 for my Orange Pi 5 pre-order and it has twice as many CPU cores / a NVMe slot / much more. For me it’s hard to want to not just upgrade to a Orange Pi 4 or a Orange Pi 5. This product launched with a price of $35 and I think that’s a lot more appropriate of a price for the board. It’s slightly higher than normal due to market conditions but I definitely do expect this to come back in line with the launch price.

I also imagine that the release of the Orange Pi 5 will drop the price of this board a little bit which is why I wanted to cover it. It basically is a 2 GB Pi 4. That is how I would sum up this board. Can you get a 2GB Pi 4 for $50? Probably not in this market but this board is widely available at that price today and should continue to be for a while yet.

Overall I would recommend this board especially if you can get it around the launch price of $35. Definitely stay tuned for my Orange Pi 5 review as well around the second week of December or so!

Other Resources

I’ve also reviewed the Orange Pi Zero 2 here which is a great choice

It’s getting hard to find but the Orange Pi i96 is about as cheap as it gets and I have released an updated image for it

You can see the rest of my single board computer reviews here.

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