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*

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.

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

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.

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

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

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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