Up close with the Banana Pi

Getting Started

Because of the different processor on the Banana Pi, it is not possible to use the standard Raspbian operating system image from the Raspberry Pi Foundation to boot up. That means you need a different SD card for the Banana Pi and Raspberry Pi.

I tried the Banana Pi initially using an official Raspberry Pi 8GB SD card preinstalled with NOOBS just as an initial test. As expected, nothing at all happened. An SD card loaded with the most up-to-date version of the default Raspbian operating system also suffered the same fate.

To download the Raspbian image that has been customized for use on the Banana Pi you need to visit the Downloads page on the LeMaker website [7] and download the latest Raspbian image (at time of writing the latest is v2.0 – with the release date of May 27, 2014). When I tried to download, a number of the download links on the website did not work, but after trying a few, I was successful. The downloaded file was 1.2GB in size in a .tgz format.

Using 7-zip on my Windows 7 laptop, I had to extract the .tgz file to a .tar file and then extract the .tar file again, finally ending up with a .img file. You should end up with a file called Raspbian_For_BananaPi_v2_0.img (or similar). You need to write this image file to the SD card. The image file is 3.70GB, so it should fit onto most 4GB SD cards; however, some 4GB SD cards may fall a little below 4GB in usable space once they are formatted, so I used an 8GB card just to be on the safe side.

The process for writing the image to the SD card is exactly the same as for the Raspberry Pi [8] . I was using Windows and therefore used Win32DiskImager to load the image onto the SD card. (Win32DiskImager is included on the DVD accompanying this issue.) The imaging took about 10 minutes and worked the first time.

Load the SD card into the Banana Pi and connect it to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and then power it up with your microB USB power supply or phone charger. The boot process takes about the same amount of time as it takes on the Raspberry Pi; however the system boots directly into the graphical Raspbian desktop (LXDE), rather than staying at the command line.

The desktop is exactly the same as in the standard Raspbian, except the Raspberry Pi logo is replaced with a Banana Pi logo. The preinstalled software is all the same, and most of it appears to work well. A few programs might not work out of the box on the Banana Pi without fixing or, in the case of Wolfram Mathematic, purchasing a license. (Wolfram is only offered free on the Raspberry Pi, and it is clever enough to know you aren't using one.)

The Banana Pi team has even left some of the original Raspbian README files on the SD card image that reference the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the Raspberry Pi itself. In fact, the Banana Pi modified version of Raspbian still has the raspi-config file, which includes options (such as, overclock and camera activation) that were actually designed for the BCM2835 chip in the Raspberry Pi and therefore probably won't work on the Banana Pi.

One word of advice – if you want support for the Banana Pi or the Banana Pi version of Raspbian, it is probably not the best idea to seek out advice on the Raspberry Pi forums; Banana Pi does have a dedicated forum of their own, which you will find at the LeMaker site [9].


The Banana Pi is also capable of running Android. The Android version provided for download with the Banana Pi is 4.2.2 "Jelly Bean." The Android image for the Banana Pi is available from the Downloads section on the LeMaker website. The current version is v2.0 with a release date of May 25, 2014. The download is again a .tgz file and is 264MB in size, which ultimately ends up as a 455MB .img file once you fully extract it (which, again, required two extractions using 7-zip on Windows).

The process for loading the Banana Pi Android image onto your SD card is slightly different and currently is only possible using Windows and a tool called PhoenixCard v3.10. PhoenixCard is a closed source tool from Allwinner (makers of the A20 processor in the Banana Pi) that allows you to convert an Android image into a bootable self-installing SD card. Again, you can download this tool from the Downloads section on the LeMaker website (same link as above) or obtain it directly from a Dropbox address [10].

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