Orange Pi i96 Getting Started Guide

Orange Pi i96
Orange Pi i96

Recently I reviewed the Orange Pi Zero 2 and thought it was a fantastic board. I really like the amount of polish that the Orange Pi line of products have as it is the closest I have seen to anything approaching a Raspberry Pi experience. We also benchmarked the Orange Pi Zero 2 and determined it’s a very capable board.

I recently got a Orange Pi i96 (thanks munecito!) and this board is very exciting because it was purchased on sale for ~$10! That is insanely cheap. The reason it’s so cheap is because it’s a headless board that doesn’t contain any display-out ports.

If you are going to be using the board headless anyway (I use most of my SBCs headlessly) you may be able to save a fortune with this board. Let’s get started!

Hardware Used

Orange Pi i96
Orange Pi i96

The Orange Pi i96 is a low-cost board from the Orange Pi line of SBCs. It uses the RDA8810 SoC and has 256MB LPDDR2 SDRAM. It’s well suited for headless tasks and is astonishingly cheap.

Links: Amazon.com*, AliExpress.com*, Amazon.ca*, Amazon.co.uk*, Amazon.de*, Amazon.es*, Amazon.fr*, Amazon.it*, Amazon.sg*

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.

Links: Amazon.com*, Amazon.ca*, Amazon.co.jp*, Amazon.co.uk*, Amazon.de*, Amazon.es*, Amazon.fr*, Amazon.it*

Getting Started

First head to the official Orange Pi downloads page:

Orange Pi - Official Downloads Page
Orange Pi – Official Downloads Page

Now select the Orange Pi i96 from the list. I will be using Ubuntu Linux for this guide but you may use Armbian as well.

If you are wanting to try Android I highly recommend seeing my Orange Pi Android Installation Guide as the installation process is different than Linux.

EDIT: I now recommend using my fixed Orange Pi i96 image as it will fix your USB port to be able to operate at full speed and give you a much newer OS of Debian Bullseye.

Writing the Image

The images are typically distributed as a .tar.gz file. The name of the Ubuntu image tar.gz file at time of writing was OrangePi_i96_ubuntu_xenial_server_linux3.10.62_v0.0.4.tar.gz.

We will need to extract this file. If you are using Windows then grab 7-zip to be able to extract a .tar.gz file.

Inside this file will be a .img file. Since I downloaded the Ubuntu image the name of my file was OrangePi_i96_ubuntu_xenial_server_linux3.10.62_v0.0.4.img. This is the image that we are going to write to our SD card.

There are several choices to write the image to your SD card. If you are on Windows I recommend Win32DiskImager. Etcher is also available for Windows/Linux/Mac OS X.

Write the image to the SD card using your preferred software.

First Startup

Before starting up you should make sure that the Orange Pi’s switches are in these positions (indicating to boot from SD card):

Orange Pi - SD Startup Position
Orange Pi – SD Startup Position
Orange Pi - SD Startup Position
Orange Pi – SD Startup Position

We’re ready to put the SD card into the Orange Pi i96. But how are we going to connect to the device? There’s no network port and the device isn’t configured to connect to our WiFi yet.

Connection Option #1

If you happen to have a USB to Ethernet adapter that is the easiest way to connect to the device for initial configuration:

USB to Ethernet Adapter
USB to Ethernet Adapter

Connection Option #2

The Orange Pi is configured to connect to a pre-set wireless point with the SSID of orangepi and a password of orangepi.

Most phones these days have an option to set up a wireless hotspot. If your phone allows it then one way to do your initial connection to the Orange Pi i96 is to set up a hotspot with the SSID of orangepi and a password of orangepi. If you set up a point with these credentials the Orange Pi will connect to it and you can access it over SSH via your phone. There are many apps for both Android and iOS that allow you to make SSH connections and any of these will do.

Once you know the IP of the Orange Pi you can connect to it using the username orangepi and the password orangepi or:

ssh orangepi@192.168.X.X

Connection Option #3

If you have a TTL to USB serial debug adapter you can use that as well. See the OrangePi instructions for that method.

Initial Configuration

orangepi-config Utility

Once you’ve connected it’s time to do some basic configuration. We will use the tool orangepi-config:

sudo orangepi-config

You may now set the WiFi settings, etc. The orangepi-config is just like raspi-config if you’ve ever used that on a Raspberry Pi.

Don’t reboot before doing the next section.

Fix Second Startup (Debian / Ubuntu)

You will notice if you reboot the device it will often not come up the second startup. This is especially likely if you performed a sudo apt dist-upgrade.

To prevent this I recommend removing the alsautils package. This will impact sound functionality on the board but as I was not using it and intended to use this more as a headless board this was fine for me.

sudo apt purge alsa-utils

If you need to have the sound working on the board there is an alternate solution available here.

This is not necessary in my Legendary image as it has kernel fixes for these issues (highly recommended)

Set Timezone

Replace my timezone with yours in the following commands:

rm /etc/localtime
ln -s /usr/share/zoneinfo/America/Denver /etc/localtime

Setup Locales

Setting the locales isn’t in orangepi-config (such as it is in raspi-config) but here’s a quick way to set them:

sudo apt install locales -y
sudo dpkg-reconfigure locales

Setup Wireless CRDA Regulatory Domain

For the wireless to function very well at all you need to set the wireless regulatory domain.

If you are not using my image then you will first need to install the crda package with:

sudo apt install crda -y

Now we can set the regulatory domain by editing the following file:

sudo nano /etc/default/crda

At the bottom of the file there is this line:

REGDOMAIN=

Put the 2 letter country code for your country. Mine is “US”. Once finished press Ctrl+X then Y to save the file.

Optional – Upgrade Debian OS to Buster/Bullseye

Note that this will not upgrade the kernel. You can upgrade everything else though including all the way up to Bullseye. You should do this one release at a time and start with “Stretch” and then do “Bullseye” afterward.

If you are using the Debian installation you can upgrade to Buster by editing your /etc/apt/sources.list file.

Change all instances of “stretch” in the file to “buster” and then do the following:

sudo apt update && sudo apt dist-upgrade -y

Once this has completed reboot the system (make sure you’ve done my fix second reboot section first by purging alsa-utils). Verify you are on Buster with

cat /etc/os-release

for example:

root@orangepii96:/# cat /etc/os-release
PRETTY_NAME="Debian GNU/Linux 10 (buster)"
NAME="Debian GNU/Linux"
VERSION_ID="10"
VERSION="10 (buster)"
VERSION_CODENAME=buster
ID=debian
HOME_URL="https://www.debian.org/"
SUPPORT_URL="https://www.debian.org/support"
BUG_REPORT_URL="https://bugs.debian.org/"

Now you can upgrade to Bullseye. It’s almost the same as upgrading from Stretch to Buster but there has been a change in the security updates server format. Here is a working “Bullseye” apt sources file for the Debian Orange Pi i96 image:

root@orangepii96:/# cat /etc/apt/sources.list
deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian bullseye main contrib non-free
#deb-src http://ftp2.cn.debian.org/debian bullseye main contrib non-free
deb http://ftp.debian.org/debian bullseye-updates main contrib non-free
#deb-src http://ftp2.cn.debian.org/debian bullseye-updates main contrib non-free

deb http://security.debian.org/ bullseye-security main contrib non-free
#deb-src http://security.debian.org/ bullseye-security main contrib non-free

Once you’ve changed the files do a sudo apt update and make sure you don’t see any errors. If everything looks okay start the Bullseye upgrade with:

sudo apt full-upgrade -y

After a reboot you should be on Bullseye! We can verify this with cat /etc/os-release:

orangepi@orangepii96:~$ cat /etc/os-release
PRETTY_NAME="Debian GNU/Linux 11 (bullseye)"
NAME="Debian GNU/Linux"
VERSION_ID="11"
VERSION="11 (bullseye)"
VERSION_CODENAME=bullseye
ID=debian
HOME_URL="https://www.debian.org/"
SUPPORT_URL="https://www.debian.org/support"
BUG_REPORT_URL="https://bugs.debian.org/"
orangepi@orangepii96:~$ uname -a 
Linux orangepii96 3.10.62-rel5.0.2+ #4 PREEMPT Wed Mar 18 18:49:25 CST 2020 armv7l GNU/Linux

Notice that the kernel has not changed at all (as cautioned at the beginning of the section) but everything else on the system will be Bullseye!

Performance Benchmarking

I benchmarked the board using a SanDisk Extreme SD card on my Pi Benchmarks web site. This gives us comparable results between boards and there are over 30,000 benchmarks submitted for various boards / storage devices.

I had a total score of 497. This was below average or off from an average Raspberry Pi setup by about 47%.

To be clear the storage performance on the board is relatively low compared to the Orange Pi Zero 2 or a Raspberry Pi (Zero or 4). That is to be expected for a price of around ~$7-$10.

I’m not sure I would say this is a disappointing result though. We are talking about a board that is a single digit number of dollars. For the price point that is fantastic performance! In fact for the price point it’s a wonder that it works at all.

Conclusion

It’s a great board. At a price point of $7-$10 it reminds me of the really, really old Raspberry Pi Zero days where you could actually get a Raspberry Pi for around that price point.

The Zero 2 is a significantly more powerful board. It benchmarked much higher than the i96 but it also costs significantly more. If you need more power that board will be a better choice. If you’ve never had an Orange Pi before I would recommend the Zero 2 first as this board is quite a bit trickier and has more outdated software available for it.

The version of Ubuntu on this board is also quite old (Ubuntu 16.04 / Xenial) compared to the Orange Pi Zero 2 which is actually running a modern 5.X kernel whereas this one is a 3.X kernel. Make sure that is not going to be a problem or you will want to step up to a higher Orange Pi. The i96 is definitely meant for simple services / projects that don’t need a lot of power. It’s perfect for those.

If you need a headless board then the Orange Pi i96 may very well fit the bill for you, the price is certainly right! Don’t skip the heatsinks though. It got very warm during testing (warm enough to freeze once during consecutive benchmarks) and Orange Pis are known to get quite hot!

Other Resources

I highly recommend using the Legendary i96 Debian Bullseye image available here

Don’t miss my Orange Pi Zero 2 Review / Tips / Guide for another great board (with display connections)

I’ve also reviewed the Orange Pi 3 LTS which is roughly equivalent in power to a 2GB Pi 4

If you’re trying to set up Android definitely see my Orange Pi Android Installation Guide

For the fastest storage options check out my Linux storage benchmarking script

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Rozi
Rozi
4 days ago

hi James, thanks for all the effort you’ve made to build the image for this board.
just wondering if there’s a possibility to use this i96 with a uvc webcam?

thanks again

Achim
Achim
5 days ago

SPI on GPIO Pins for External Device

Hi all experts,
after reading several comments I’m still uncertain about the result: Did somebody succeed in enabling the SPI2 on GPIO pins to be useful for an external device?
What is needed to be done?
(I understood that overlay technology, like used in RasPi, is not working with the old 3.10 kernel. But recompiling the kernel or a module with some different configuration or even patches could be the solution)

Thanks
Achim

Steve Hanov
Steve Hanov
21 days ago

You should have your legendary image as the first thing under “Getting started.” I was going to use the original one, thinking it would be better supported and tested, but I hadn’t realized the work you put in. It really isn’t emphasized enough.

munecito
munecito
21 days ago

James. I can’t believe the amount of interaction they the i96 is getting. Wow!

Zhenya
Zhenya
23 days ago

Faced to an issue with the Legendary i96 Debian Bullseye image: managed to flash sd card in balenaEtcher and connect the subj via TTL in picocom sign appears: orangepii96 login: and regardless what I type in (root, orangepi, whatsoever) I recieve: Debian GNU/Linux 11 orangepii96 ttyS0
What do I do wrong?
Thank you!

Zhenya
Zhenya
22 days ago

James, thanks for the prompt reply! Every time I enter user name -> Debian GNU/Linux 11 orangepii96 ttyS0 appears
yes I run 115200, will try on 921600 and come back!

Zhenya
Zhenya
22 days ago
Reply to  Zhenya

tried 921600 – same problem
then installed all over again on another sd card, and succeed logged in at 115200!

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