Recently for my storage benchmarking site I had a GitHub issue opened about the Orange Pi Zero 2 not being able to complete the storage benchmark successfully. We were able to get the board going after a lot of troubleshooting but it was pretty difficult to troubleshoot as I had never had one of these boards before.
Until now! I recently received my first and only ever hardware donation to the site from munecito who graciously donated one of these boards to help improve the benchmark (it did not only for SBCs but it now supports PCs as well). Thank you munecito!
I was very interested in how this board compares to the Raspberry Pi experience and ecosystem because we are having a massive Raspberry Pi shortage right now and that is exactly what we are going to do. I also have some general tips for getting the most out of the Orange Pi based on our troubleshooting experience. Let’s proceed!
The Orange Pi Zero 2 is a low-cost board from the Orange Pi line of SBCs. It has both a 512 MB or 1 GB RAM option available. Built-in WiFi with included external antenna. Also includes case and a short USB-c power cable. Seems to be pretty widely available in most countries.
I don’t do the unboxing stuff very often and typically leave that for YouTube. In this case though we are exploring the experience vs. Raspberry Pi so it’s a useful endeavor. Given that let’s do what I assume is the first blog-based unboxing of a hardware product in a written medium that anyone has bothered to do in years!
From that little white box came all of these accessories! It includes a case, the power cable (USB) and the WiFi external antenna.
That’s really generous as unless you buy a vendor bundle with a Pi you usually get nothing (with the exception of the Pi 400 Desktop Kit*).
So far so good. They gave us everything we need to start except the SD card. Now it’s time to take a look at their web site and see what the experience of getting an image looks like!
Orange Pi Images / Web Site
The official web site to download Orange Pi images is here at orangepi.org. It’s remarkably straight forward to use (especially compared to other SBCs) and looks like this:
Other than a really huge amount of empty space around the search box in the middle of the page for no reason I really like it.
I clicked the Orange Pi Zero 2 model specific download page:
This surprised me a little bit. They actually have an Ubuntu image, an Android image and a Debian image all ready to go! They also have the respective source code available for Linux and Android.
I chose the Ubuntu image. There were many versions available which brings us to our most important tip.
Pro Tip: Choose the newest image / kernel
During my testing on GitHub with munecito we discovered that using the older “stable” image he could not successfully complete several tests on my storage benchmark without the Orange Pi completely locking up / crashing.
I recognized these types of lockups / crashes as usually being related to the kernel. I’d seen some of these kernel fixes for Raspberry Pi take *years* to make it through all the necessary checks / processes to make it into to the kernel. Once that happens it then needs to be backported into the specific kernel you are using.
Given how long this process can take for a manufacturer as big as Raspberry Pi I figured for Orange Pi that some of them may never make it into some of those old “stable” backported kernels. We then tried imaging it with a newer 5.X kernel and finally after much frustration he was able to successfully complete the storage benchmark!
The newer kernel had fixed the issues that were causing it to crash. On these smaller board manufacturers it’s definitely best to go with a newer kernel. The older “stable” kernels make sense for well-established boards that are well supported. These boards are new and fixes are being made all the time and you definitely want to have those!
Pro Tip #2: Use a heatsink kit
The Orange Pi boards are known to run hot as is the case with many single board computers. It really goes a long way to get a good heatsink kit that has thermally conductive adhesive (cheap heatsink kits can sometimes have non-conductive adhesive which basically traps the heat and has an opposite effect).
Something like the Geekworm copper heatsink kit (designed to fit many different SBCs including Orange Pi) works wonders:
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.
Imaging was pretty straight forward. You just use a standard imaging tool like Etcher or Win32DiskImager or any of the other many image writing tools.
I actually just used Ubuntu’s built in “Disk Imager” tool to write the image which worked perfectly.
After finishing writing Ubuntu Server with the latest available kernel (5.16.17 at time of writing) I plugged in the Orange Pi. Everything lit up appropriately so I logged into my router to find the assigned IP.
I connected with SSH to that IP and used the username of root and a password of orangepi:
firstname.lastname@example.org's password: ___ ____ _ _____ ____ / _ \| _ \(_) |__ /___ _ __ ___|___ \ | | | | |_) | | / // _ \ '__/ _ \ __) | | |_| | __/| | / /| __/ | | (_) / __/ \___/|_| |_| /____\___|_| \___/_____| Welcome to Orange Pi 3.0.4 Jammy with Linux 5.16.17-sun50iw9 System load: 27% Up time: 8 min Memory usage: 14% of 984M IP: 192.168.50.24 CPU temp: 54°C Usage of /: 3% of 58G [ 11 security updates available, 16 updates total: apt upgrade ] Last check: 2022-07-13 20:40 [ General system configuration (beta): orangepi-config ] New to Orange Pi? Support: http://www.orangepi.org root@orangepizero2:~#
and we’re in, with a cute little ASCII art message of the day greeting! I already had some apt updates available so I started with those first:
apt update && apt dist-upgrade -y
Once the updates completed I wanted to benchmark the Pi Zero 2. I am using an application class (A1) SanDisk Ultra card that I have benchmarked while using the Pi so I know what the score “should” be that we can compare with what the Pi Zero 2 gets for a meaningful comparison.
I ran my Pi Benchmarks storage benchmark with the following command:
sudo curl https://raw.githubusercontent.com/TheRemote/PiBenchmarks/master/Storage.sh | sudo bash
and I ended up with a very nice score of 1,081. You can see this benchmark (#61,129) on Pi Benchmarks here. It looks like this:
This was higher than I was expecting as I knew this was not as powerful of a board as something like the Pi 4. I was only down about 15% from the average for the Pi 4. You can see the -15% vs average in the above screenshot.
When munecito tested his board his was off by 20-25% or so as well so I fared slightly better than him but I think we could say it’s roughly 20% of a performance penalty from something like a Pi 4. It’s certainly a lot more than 20-25% cheaper than a Pi 4 though! You are getting a lot of bang for your buck here.
Pros / Cons
- Armbian support and good up-to-date official images
- Price is extremely attractive for what you get
- Although smaller than most boards it’s not as small as a Pi Zero
- Not the best choice for desktop performance (best for headless use)
The Orange Pi Zero 2 at a price of around ~$35 or so reminds me a lot of the original Raspberry Pi. This is a much more accessible board than the Raspberry Pi today both in availability and price. There are many models of Orange Pi available that are both less powerful and significantly more powerful than the Orange Pi Zero 2.
I hope the Raspberry Pi foundation gets back to their roots a little bit here and offers realistic options at this price point again. They made a decision to support the industrial partners through this shortage above consumers because they acknowledge that people have built their entire business models and livelihoods around the product. The pain for non-industrial users is real though in the mean time and for that reason I wanted to examine some alternatives.
The original intended use for this board by munecito is for a Pi Hole. That is a perfect use case for a board like this. You don’t need to buy a Raspberry Pi for a Pi Hole anymore and you shouldn’t if it is costing you $100+. I would highly recommend it for projects like a PiHole or other low powered servers / services as you will save a fortune getting a board like this and the performance is more than enough for that use case.
Is it as good as the Raspberry Pi? No it’s not as good as the Raspberry Pi. If the Raspberry Pi is 5 stars I would give Orange Pi about 4 stars which is the closest any other manufacturer has come that I’ve tested.
The Orange Pi Zero 2 can actually use a SSD! Check out my Orange Pi Zero 2 SSD Booting Guide
If you want to install Android on your Orange Pi instead of Linux definitely check out my Orange Pi Android Installation Guide
For strategies on dealing with the Pi shortage check out my Raspberry Pi Shortage Survival Guide
For ideas on other SBCs to buy many of them have been tested on Pi Benchmarks and you may get some good ideas there!