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Banan Pi Pro – Review

What happens when you take the popular Raspberry Pi (RPi) microcomputer and hand it over to a Chinese company? You get an even more powerful and feature packed microcomputer with a similar name, the Banana Pi Pro. I guess “Blueberry” must have been taken already. The Banana Pi Pro is slightly larger than the RPi but it sure has more items added on. This board is a super-sized microcomputer if you look at the specs alone.

The processor is an Allwinner A20 ARM Cortex 7 that uses a quad core system on a chip design (SoC) which is nearly identical to the RPi. The same goes for the operating speed of 1GHz and 1 gig of onboard DDR3 SDRAM. You’ll find the identical 40 pin GPIO header and microSD slot underneath as the RPi, along with full HDMI and microUSB power connection. That is where the similarities stop.

Lemaker, backers of the Banana Pi Pro, threw in some great additions that make up for the $10 higher price tag. The Banana has an infrared receiver built onto the board. The Ethernet port is a 10/100/1000 gigabit interface where the RPi is 10/100 megabit. There is an SATA connection for your portable hard drives, which makes up for only having two USB ports compared to RPi’s four USB ports. I found the SATA connection to be quite fast on a 2 terabyte Samsung drive I had.

The Banana has three reset/reboot buttons located across the board so you can selectively reset certain parts of the system without restarting the whole board. Somebody decided to add a microphone to this board knowing that I’m a great singer in the shower. My singing makes my dog howl in pain but the microphone makes me sound even better during playback with the 3.5mm AV out jack. The Banana even comes with WiFi enabled so there is no need to plug in a separate USB WiFi. The range is pretty good or as good as my iPad is, I should say. The WiFi chip also comes with a really cool antenna so I can broadcast my vocals across the neighborhood.

I’m keeping all the shoes my neighbors throw at me as I sing.

The SATA connection can accommodate up to 4 terabytes of my karaoke songs on a drive so all my hard work on yodeling will pay off someday. For some odd reason, the microSD card won’t take a chip larger than 64 gig but that isn’t a big deal because the Banana Pi Pro can boot up a large assortment of operating systems, including Android, Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, Arch, openSUSE and even Raspbian. Lemaker created their own OS version called Bananian.

Many microcomputers have adopted the 40 pin GPIO connectors and the Banana Pi Pro is no different. I found my Sain Smart 3.5” TFT screen fit on the new board and worked perfectly after I updated the frame buffer interface and configured the GPIO to match the Banana Pi. My 7” HDMI display also worked well too, after I swapped out one cheap HDMI cable for a better cable. The Banana, like real fruit can come in bunches; they are stackable. You can even stack the RPi on top of the Banana Pi. The GPIOs are slightly different but that can be corrected on either Pi for wire configuration (remapping pins).

Lemaker is working hard to build up a library of software to support the Banana Pi Pro. You can still run Python, Scratch, Java and other programming languages right out of the box. All the big chips are on the bottom of the board while the topside looks almost naked except for the perimeter connections. There are two microUSB ports. One for OTG and one for power. You don’t want to confuse the two but since I did, nothing seemed to happen except it didn’t power up. The display interface is opposite compared to the RPi when looking for the camera connection. The connections are switched just to keep things interesting.

If you are looking for an alternative to the Raspberry Pi that has lot of additional accessories, like built in WiFi, IR, SATA and Gigabit Ethernet, then the Banana Pi Pro is your choice. The cost difference more than makes up for the extra features and slightly larger size.

Bob Monroe


Source: BSD Mag Vol 09 No 07

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