[Experiment] Using an Odroid N2 as my desktop

I have been thinking of doing this for a while, so now I thought I would throw myself into it.

The idea is to use an ARM board, like the Odroid N2, as a substitute for my quite beafy and powerhungry desktop PC, for a while.

So I loaded up Manjaro ARM (via the installer) on an eMMC module and started setting it up for my every day needs.

I installed the regular linux kernel instead of linux-vim since I won’t be using the onboard sound card anyway. And I also installed other stuff I use, like manjaro-arm-tools, git, element, mumble, bitwarden, rss-guard, nextcloud-client and a few other minor things for my every day work.

And I must say. Overall, I’m pretty happy about it. But it does have it’s share of Pro’s and Con’s. So let me list them out for you.

Con’s:

  • No GPU Acceleration. This is suppose to be incmoing in kernel 5.10 however, but the lack of hardware acceleration means that some apps, like Element, are very slow.
  • Bitwarden won’t load properly. This could be because of the lack of hardware acceleration. I don’t know. But the app starts and then just displays the loading spinner for hours, until I kill it. Anyone else have this issue with the Bitwarden desktop client on ARM?
  • Root filesystem size. The largest unused eMMC module I had laying around, was a 16 GB one. Just installing my system and apps, plus syncing my Nextcloud folder takes almost all that, so I’m down to like 2.5 GB space left on my root drive. So it’s unlikely that I will use that setup to create and upload Manjaro ARM images. Or even build large packages.

Pro’s:

  • It’s quiet! Holy moly, the sound difference between my desktop being powered on and this board is noticable. The Odroid N2 I have, does have a fan on the case, but I have not had any reason to actually connect it yet, since I haven’t been able to push it above 60 degrees celcius yet.
  • Light power consumption. While my desktop when running would be using about 350-400 Watts, this little device has a max power consumption rating of about 6 Watts. Yes. 6 Watts.
  • Platform connection. Working on the same platform you develop for is always gonna be a Pro. It’s easy for me to check if a change I made, would build, install and work, since I can do it all locally and natively.
  • Size. The little board is sitting on my desk. Right beside my monitor. My desktop PC is standing on the floor underneath my desk, and the top if its case is almost touching the buttom of the desk. I could in theory ducktape this board to the back of my monitor and it would look like an All-In-One PC.

I’ve been running it like this for a couple of days now. Yesterday I turned off my desktop completely and will now see how long I can live without turning it back on.
I still have my x86 based laptop, to handle the things that take up lots of storage space, like creating Manjaro ARM images, but the plan is to use the Odroid as much as I can, and of course test out kernel 5.10 a soon as it hits RC stages.

So if I can get myself a 64+ GB eMMC module and the 5.10 drivers have proper Panfrost support for the GPU in the Odroid, I think I’m all set.

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I don’t have an Odroid N2 but I have done similarly with my RPi. I am very much enjoying this “minimal computing” experience, so much so, that I even bought a PinePhone. It is basically the PC revolution all over again, Intel/AMD boxes are the new “big iron”.

After a couple of days use, I am now going to try something else.

Instead of the Odroid N2, which has the flaws I mentioned in the OP, I will try the Rock Pi 4B instead.
It has several advantages over the Odroid N2 and only one disadvantage.

Advantages:

  • Has Wifi/Bluetooth module built into the board.
  • Has GPU acceleration.
  • Is even smaller.
  • Has better mainline kernel and uboot support.

Disadvantages:

  • While the Odroid is 2x A53 and 4x A72 cores, the Rock Pi 4 is the other way around with 2x A72 and 4x53 cores.

Gonna set it up tonight and see how I feel about it afterwards, compared to the Odroid N2.

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2 x A73

I was watching explainingcomputers yesterday that’s why I know.

Are you going to test both the mainline and RPi kernels?

Ah, I see where you got confused.
I am talking about the Rock Pi 4B from Radxa. Not the Raspberry Pi 4. :slight_smile:

Okay. I couple of notes on my quick Rock Pi 4 test.

  • It gets hot. Like 65 degrees idle and pushing 75-80 when working, which makes it throttle. :frowning:
    In comparison, the Odroid is going steady at 28-32 degrees while idle and I can’t make it break 60 on full load.
  • The GPU Acceleration is nice, but it did not make a difference in Element (like I hoped it would).

So I am now back on the Odroid. :wink:

Using the Rock Pi 4 at work, and Element is smooth as butter there.
Will have to test it again, when I get back home, where it’s a different monitor setup.

Otherwise the Odroid N2 is doing good. Been using it for 1½ week now and I have started modifying my workflow slightly to be more “restrained”, so I don’t get into the bottlenecks of the N2 to often.

Judging by the plots on the Odroid website, I think the N2+ needs the fan more than the N2 does.

I think things are just starting to get interesting for ARM as a potential desktop replacement. For me, almost all the boxes I need to be ticked are ticked, just not by any one device. The Raspberry Pi4 has the minimum amount of RAM I could get away with for my work (8GB), the Odroid N2(+) or Khadas VIM3 have my preferred CPU topology, and on a 12nm process, the Raspberry Pi4 & Rock Pi 4C have dual video outputs, The Khadas VIM3 & Rock Pi 4C have out of the box support for M.2 PCIe SSDs, the Rock Pi 4C has DDR4 3200 RAM. If I could get all this or better in one device, I would feel no sense of compromise.

Would be good to draw up a spec table for all the boards currently supported by Manjaro ARM.

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I agree. There are a lot of good boards out there. But at this time, not 1 board that has all the good stuff.

Maybe the next generation of Rockchips will be a better fit.

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I know lots of these boards are catering for the hobbyist market, but I’d happily pay £200+ for a board with all the above features.

The RK3588 looks interesting. 8nm fabrication process, dual monitor support, big.LITTLE topology the ‘good’ way around. No word on M.2 support or RAM amount/speed yet though:

Two weeks in

Okay guys.
Here we are. 2 weeks into this little experiment. So a little update on how it’s going.

So far, I have only booted into my desktop PC once, in the last 2 weeks. And that was to test if a Manjaro ISO was working, not even to my “real” install.

All the previous pro’s and con’s still hold water.

  • I haven’t gotten a bigget eMMC module yet (but it’s in the mail).
  • I succesfully got Panfrost to work, but only on wayland session, where it’s buggy as hell. Not usable.
  • I have now tested on 1080p monitors as well. Makes no difference in the laggyness I experience in Element. So not certain what’s wrong there, since I had almost as much lag when using the Rock Pi 4 on 1440p monitor.

Kind of thinking that a RockPro64 with the metal casing, would be better performance wise, since it has Panfrost, USB-C and pretty much all the other benefits the Odroid has.

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I think a RockPro64 + the PCIe expansion board for an NVMe SSD might be the sweet spot for now. You’d lose a bit of processing power, but the SSD might make up for it.

Yeah. The raw CPU performance loss is that great, compared to the gain of an nvme SSD over PCIe. :stuck_out_tongue:

Update time!

I just uploaded a new mesa-git package to unstable branch. And this is huge!
Because this update actually enabled Panfrost support on the G31/G52 boards. This includes my Odroid N2.

So I now have GPU acceleration on my Odroid, which has made Element really smooth. So that issue is no longer present.
Plasma however does not really support it yet. Meaning it crashes Kwin/Plasma on login if I enable 3d acceleration in Plasma. But if I use software rendering in Plasma, the apps still seem to be using panfrost, which is great. :slight_smile:

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Hehe, I wonder how Wayfire or Sway will work :slight_smile: At least if the stability problems are in Kwin for now

Pretty sure atleast Sway works just fine. But I’m not a tilingWM guy, so I won’t be able to test for you. :stuck_out_tongue:

Oh, I’m perfectly happy with my stacking Wayfire thank you very much :stuck_out_tongue: I was thinking if it worked well for me (after some setup) it could work well for you too.

Here are my settings:

I should get a list of the packages I’m using. It’s the kb shortcuts that will need refinement the most (I’ve stuck with the pre-super key fix setup for far too long…)

Note:
I’ve installed Wayfire over Plasma on my PBP

I will look more into Wayfire, when they get to a more “stable” release.

If you have any suggestions to our Wayfire edition, please let me know. I haven’t tested it in a while. :wink: