Orphan Single-Board Computers

A little side-excursion on hardware infrastructure.

pi_kube is a product of my fascination with Raspberry Pi and other single-board computers. The Raspberry Pi part is pretty much standard stuff in the IT-oriented parts of the maker universe. Other SBCs, though, are interesting both in terms of their technical capabilities and the ecosystems and communities they spawn. My home network includes two of these.

The first non-RPi hardware I acquired was a Rock PI 4B. Getting the device configured and running was a bit of a challenge; it doesn’t use either Raspberry Pi OS images or (AFAIK) standard arm64 boot images. I was only able to get it working with the purpose-built images that Radxa has on their website. Since I wanted to use it as a server rather than as a desktop or media center, I chose the Ubuntu “server” image, which as it turns out is a very minimal distribution indeed. It took quite a bit of wrangling to get it working consistently. Most of the problems I had were with the network configuration, which was in a confused state. I ended up disabling netplan and NetworkManager, and got it to work with a fixed address. I had high hopes of using the Rock PI as a NAS for the kubernetes cluster, but that’s a still-evolving project. Sourcing add-on boards and components for the board means ordering them from China, and with the current trade and travel restrictions and lockdowns due to the pandemic, I’m still about 35 days out from receiving what’s needed to attach an NVME SSD to the system. So more will come on this one.

My second foray into the SBC wilderness was to acquire an Atomic PI board. This is a full Intel CPU system, so it works with any amd64 OS you can get onto it. I’ve had less time to play with it, but it seems like a fairly capable system. It will handle the USB-Sata case from Amazon Basics that my RPi systems can’t drive (due to power limits, I suspect). With only a single USB port, getting it wired up to everything you want might be a challenge; fortunately, that’s an easy-to-solve issue. I was able to get the standard Ubuntu 19.10 distribution images to boot off an SSD, and then installed the server onto a USB drive. The BIOS on this system can be a little confusing, and I wasn’t able to install anything to the EMMC onboard, but I’ve got a functional mini-server running on it. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with this system, but it’s fanless and thus quiet; it might make a good media center, or perhaps a backup for Kepler, my main development system, which runs Ubuntu 19 on an old Mac Mini that’s been tricked out with extra RAM and an SSD. The Atomic Pi has 2gb onboard, so it might not be the best desktop system, but it seems fast enough as a server.

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