Over the last couple of years, I have repurposed a few Raspberry Pi'S sitting around in a corner in my bedroom to act as a Home NAS (network attached storage) and HTPC, running Kodi with its awesome screen reader addon for Linux. However, some months ago I have started to look for a change for a more performant SoC, due to some issues concerning Raspberry Pi (examples are lack of hardware decoders for H.265 and VP8/9, bottleneck in the USB bus and lack of properly gigabit etherned port). Honestly I could live with a raspberry pi for most of my use cases (even if file transfers in the NAS device were quite slow), but I have been tempted for quite some time and I could not resist anymore, so I ended by purchasing the Odroid XU-4.
Odroid XU-4 specs
The Odroid SoC is definitely more expensive than the Raspberry Pi, and sometimes is not available everywhere (I had to purchase mine through amazon US, though hardkernel, the Odroid's makers also sells the board worldwide but at a higher shipping price), but the price increase is very welcome if you compare the general specs.
- Processor: Samsung Exynos5 Octa ARM Cortex™
- A15 Quad 2Ghz
- Cortex™-A7 Quad 1.3GHz
- Memory: 2Gbyte LPDDR3 RAM at 933MHz (14.9GB/s memory bandwidth) PoP stacked
- GPU: Mali-T628 MP6(OpenGL ES 3.0/2.0/1.1 and OpenCL 1.1 Full profile)
- Video Out: Standard Type A HDMI connector
- USB3.0 Host: SuperSpeed USB standard A type connector x 2 port, Max Load: total 2Amp for two USB 3.0 host ports
- USB2.0 Host: High Speed standard A type connector x 1 ports, Max Load: 500mA/port
- Storage (Option): MicroSD Card Slot, eMMC module socket : eMMC 5.0 HS4000 Flash Storage
- Gigabit Ethernet LAN: 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet with RJ-45 Jack ( Auto-MDIX support)
- Power (included): 5V 4A Power
- RTC: Molex 53398-0271 1.25mm pitch Header, Surface Mount, Vertical type (Mate with Molex 51021-0200) (you have to provide the coin backup battery, CR2032 or similar).
- Includes a little fan already mounted and automatically controlled by the operating system based in temperature trip points.
As you can see, besides the obvious interesting features (RAM, gigabit ethernet port and USB 3 ports), the Odroid XU-4 features an octa core processor using the big.little technology. That means it includes 4 big processors, running at 2 GHZ each, and 4 little processors at 1.3 GHZ. This promises better task distribution and energy saving at the same time by mixing both power hungry and energy efficient processors.
Another advantage of this SoC comes in the storage media it supports. You can use a Micro SD card as in other boards, but additionally you could provide it with an eMMC module (you have to buy it separately) if you want higher speed transfers. As boot times are not a problem for my use case, I have decided to use a Class 10 SD card.
Power is also different. This board includes a 5VDC 4A 5.5x2.1 Jack that reminds me to some old phone chargers. As far as I know, this can deliver up to 4A if the device ever needs it (booting can require up to 3A for a little time, later when the kernel starts it will decrease to less tan 1A if the CPU is iddle and the fan is not working). Anyway, the energy this device takes, despite being more than what the Raspberry PI needs, is still a very small amount of energy. Something else very appreciated about power is that the board has a power button, so you can manually turn the system on or off by pressing the button. Though it is suggested to turn off the device from the system and using the button for turning it on.
Last but not least, WiFi is not included in the CPU internal features, but there is an USB module that works well with the board. Same story for Bluetooth. I have purchased the WiFi module just in case I ever will need it, but for now, the device is wired to the router.
Here is where the differences start looking unfavorable for the Odroid if you are newvie or just want something working out of the box. If I can say something about the Raspberry Pi is that you can setup one and start using it, even if you have zero Linux Knowledge. There are dozens of projects featuring interesting tasks for a Raspberry Pi (home asistant, VPN devices, Retro gaming, HTPC'S and so on) so you need to download the right image, write it to the SD card, insert it in the PI and you are ready to go. In some cases you even never will have to use the SSH. I have configured a Retro pie setup for my brother and he has been using it for several months without any SSH need so far. All he has to do is send game roms to the PI, and this can be done via FTP or even samba, which is already configured in the operating system since first start.
In the other side, Odroid has more limited possibilities regarding specific operating systems support, mainly, in my opinion, due to a bigger community present in the Raspberry Pi's side. Firstly, you can install, officially, the following operating systems:
Additionally, third party options include Android 7.0/8.1 (lineage OS), Android TV, Debian, Armbian, Arch Linux, and even some specific operating systems such as open media vault and retro pie (someone from the Odroid community has ported it).
I am not saying that there are less supported packages available for the Odroid's ecosistem, as there is support for Docker, Xen virtualization, KVM, hardware accelerated video decoding built in ffmpeg, more). But I feel in most cases (with some exceptions), community support is fully oriented to thinkerers. This has two benefits, though. You normally build your specific operating system, built for meeting your needs and without software you never use, and you learn how to configure things by yourself. But the learning curve can be intimidating for some people if they are not ready to thinker with the little giant SoC.
The Odroid has arrived yesterday and now it's time to play. I have loaded ubuntu 18.04 LTS in the SD card, and the last night I have configured the system to fit my needs. I will keep a backup of the already configured SD card so I can restore to an updated system after experimenting that, in some cases, will fail miserably. After all, this board has been made for playing with it. When purchasing this board, I have thought in replacing the Raspberry Pi NAS (I have thought in purchasing an USB Mediasonic ProRaid enclosure and configure a Raid 1 setup), but after seeing its performance in some tasks, I think I will start using this device for many more tasks than just a relatively quiet NAS. I have seen some people ends by having a farm of Odroid servers. Perhaps i will end doing that route.