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NanoPi M3 Review: Raspberry Pi 3 Alternative

Product Introduction

FriendlyARM NanoPi M3 is a Single Board Computer (SBC), smaller then the Raspberry Pi 2 and Ardunio boards , that uses a Samsung Octa-Core Cortex-A53 S5P6818 SoC. with a dynamic frequency scaling from 400MHz up to 1.4GHz. It has Gbps Ethernet port, built-in WiFi and Bluetooth support. It’s AXP228 PMU (power management unit) support power off, sleep and wake up functions. In addition, the NanoPi M3 has a Micro USB port for power supply and on-board porcelain antenna. The Board integrates various ports and interfaces, such as DVP Camera/LVDS/HDMI/LCD interfaces, Ethernet, I2S, 3.5 mm audio jack, four USB v 2.0 ports.

NanoPi_M3

NanoPi M3 | Back View

NanoPi_M3_Back

NanoPi M3 Specifications:

  • SoC: Samsung S5P6818 Octa- Core Cortex-A53, 400 MHz – 1.4 G Hz
  • Power Management Unit: AXP228 PMU, it supports software power-off and wake-up.
  • USB Host: 4 x USB 2.0 Host, two type A ports and two 2.54 mm pitch pin-headers
  • Other features – Power and reset buttons; power and status LEDs
  • System Memory: 1GB 32 bit DDR3 RAM
  • Ethernet: Gbit Ethernet (RTL8211E)
  • Storage: 1 x Micro SD Card Socket (up to 64GB)
  • WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth: 4.0 dual mode
  • Antenna: Porcelain Antenna IPX Interface
  • Audio: 3.5 mm audio jack / via HDMI
  • I2S: 7pin, 2.54 mm pitch pin- header
  • Micro USB: 1 x Micro USB 2.0 Client, Type A
  • LCD Interface: 0.5 mm pitch 45 pin FPC seat, full color RGB 8-8-8
  • HDMI: 1.4A Type A, 1080P
  • LVDS: 20 pin 2.00 mm pitch pin- header
  • DVP Camera: 0.5 mm pitch 24 pin FPC seat
  • GPIO: 2.54 mm pitch, Raspberry Pi compatible GPIO 40 pin- header.
  • Other Interfaces: UART, SPI, I2C, PWM etc.
  • Serial Debug Port: 2.54 mm pitch 4pin- header
  • User Key: K1 ( power), Reset
  • LED: 1 x power LED and 1 x status LED
  • RTC Battery: RTC Battery Seat
  • Heat Sink: 1 x Heat Sink (Optional).
  • Dimension: 64 mm x 60 mm
  • Power Supply: DC 5V/2A
  • Operating systems: Debian Linux and Android with Uboot images available; also supports Ubuntu, Ubuntu Mate, Kali, and Deepin.

 

NanoPi M3 Review Focus:

  1. Product Introduction
  2. Specifications
  3. Product Package
  4. Optional Accessories
  5. Hardware platform
  6. Power usage
  7. CPU Temperature
  8. Software
  9. Video Review
  10. Final Words
  11. Pros / Cons

      NanoPi M3 Package

NanoPi-M3-Package

Optional Accessories

FirendlyARM offers few optional accessories for their NanoPi M3 that are not included in default package that only contains the development board. There is an option to order a nice 3D Printed Housing (Case) that comes with all necessary screw and spacers for PCB Assembly, or alternatively use the cad files containing stl files for self production ( Download Link ). Another item that is high recommended is the CPU heat sink unit that comes with two sets of Thermal Adhesive Pad. Again, it’s a fast solution if you don’t have extra time to DIY (Do it yourself).

NanoPi M3’s 3D Printed Housing

NanoPi M3 Front View NanoPi M3 Front View NanoPi M3 ARM Development Board Case With Screws

Hardware Platform

The NanoPi M3 Hardware is powered with a 64 bit Samsung S5P6818 Octa-Core Cortex-A53 Processor running at clock speeds between 400 MHz – 1.4G Hz (Peak Speed) along with a Mali 400MP GPU, that’s more than enough for playing video at resolutions of 1080P.

On the backside you will find a pair of USB v 2.0 ports, plus additional external interface (On board), HDMI 1.4A, 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN, Power and the Reset buttons. According to product main specifications the power required for the operating the board is 5V-2A. FriendlyARM Company recommends purchasing using their power adapter for max stability (Note: at additional cost). That said, the board comes with AXP228 PMU advanced power unit which supports software power-off, sleep and wake-up functions, which makes this board very power sufficient. I didn’t find a Microphone or eMMC Flash memory that can achieve higher read/write speeds vs. loading system files directly from a Micro SD Card. For users that still prefer the  eMMC option I personally recommend checking the more advanced NanoPC-T3 model that sales at retail price of $60.

NanoPi M3 Board

NanoPi M3 Board TOP View NanoPi M3 64-bit ARM Development Board NanoPi M3 Board Bottom View NanoPi M3 Board Right View NanoPi M3 Board Back View NanoPi M3 Board Right View NanoPi M3 Front View

NanoPi M3 Board Layout

  1. 40 Pin Header GPIO
  2. LVDS
  3. 1GB RAM
  4. SP6818 CPU &  Mali 400MP GPU.
  5. LCD Interface.
  6. Reset
  7. HDMI Interface
  8. USB Host x2 (On board Interface)
  9. RLT8211
  10. 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet
  11. I2S
  12. USB Host x2
  13. 3.5 mm audio jack
  14. Power
  15. IPX Antenna
  16. WiFi &  BT
  17. AXP228
  18. Micro SD Card Socket
  19. Micro USB

NanoPi-M3-ARM-Development-Board-Layout

Power usage

To power the NanoPi M3 board you will need to use a USB type Adapter, and a USB-Micro Cable connected to the board OTG port. As mentioned previously the NanoPi M3 uses 5V – 2A (Max). In my test using a voltage meter USB key nominal voltage range (maximum values) where 5.5V – 0.22A (Normal Operating mode without load).

 

CPU Temperature

Because the processor tends to heat much, It’s highly recommended buying a good heat sink made from copper or aluminum. For my tests I used a 14 mm x 14 mm x 7 mm Aluminum Heat sink that came with two Thermal Compound Adhesive Pads, also provided by FirendlyARM.

NanoPi-M3-Heat-Sink

NanoPi M3 | Testing CPU Temperature

NanoPi-M3-ARM-Board-Test

Measured Temperatures (Without heat sink, Open Case):

  • Test Tool: Thermometer
  • Normal operation mode (Low CPU Load) : 50C – 63C .

 

Measured Temperatures (With heat sink, Open Case):

  • Test Tool: Thermometer
  • 38C – 41C (Low CPU Load).

 

Software

Current system images available for the NanoPi M3 are pretty limited. Among them you will find the most popular ones such as Debian Linux, Android 5.1, Ubuntu, Ubuntu Mate, Kali, Debian, Deepin and I expect FriendlyARM will develop and provide more extensive  OS images support.

 

 

Loading System Images

To burn an image file containing operating system files you will need a formatted Class 10 Micro SD Card in size of 4GB and higher according to image size. Flashing the SD Card under Windows environment is done with “Win32 Disk Image” Software. If your or using Linux you can use popular tools such as “ImageWriter” or do it without a GUI command line in Linux mode.

Flashing SD Card With Win32 Disk Image

NanoPi-M3-Win32-Disk-Imager

NanoPi M3 Hands-on Review

Final words

Overall the NanoPi M3 is a good development board with a high performance Octa-Core processor. What was missing for me as an end user is more operating systems image support, something FriendlyArm should improve and invest more resources. That said, If you are looking to buy a low budget board for $35,  then this product could be a good pick.

 

Pros

  • High Performance Hardware (Octa-Core Processor).
  • High Quality.
  • Cost Effective.

 

Cons

  • No eMMC Chip.
  • Limited Software Support.

 

Company Links:

 

friendlyarm_contact

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