Testing the Odroid-U3 single-board computer

Lead Image © Sergey Konyakin, 123RF.com

Power Droid

Even with a little bit of Android in Odroid, the small computer works equally well with Linux. In this article, we examine the aspiring quad-core SBC and introduce the most important firmware packages.

The Raspberry  Pi offers considerable performance given its compact size and minimal power consumption. However, it is not sufficient for many applications. The Odroid-U3  [1] is the size of a credit card and is produced by Hardkernel, a South Korean manufacturer. It exceeds by far the computing power of the Rasp Pi and is therefore a great alternative for tasks that require higher performance.

Like the Samsung Galaxy Note  II Android cellphone and the Samsung Galaxy Camera  2, the Odroid-U3 has a Exynos 4412 SoC with an integrated Cortex A9 CPU. The 1.7GHz quad-core CPU gives the computer more computational power than many of the standard PCs you will see sitting under a desk (Table 1). As a result, the Odroid-U3 really shines when compared with the far less well equipped Raspberry  Pi (Figure 1).

Table 1

Odroid-U3 Technical Data


Exynos4412 Prime, Cortex-A9, quad-core, 1.7GHz


ARM Mali-400 MP4, 533MHz




10/100Mbps LAN (WiFi optional)


Micro SD, eMMC

Output ports

3 USB 3.0, micro USB, micro HDMI, RJ-45


I/O ports (I2C, GPIO, SPI), UART

Power supply

5V, 2A


US$ 65 (without power supply)

Figure 1: The Raspberry  Pi and the Odroid U3 boards are similar in size.


As with the Rasp  Pi, several accessories are now on the market for the Odroid [2], including a power supply, case, I/O shield, USB UART module kit, RTC backup battery with a 3V 220mAh Li ion battery, a prototype board, and a 9-inch 1280x800 HDMI display or a 2.2-inch TFT LCD. Hardkernel sells firmware based on Android  4.x or the latest version of Xubuntu pre-installed on 8, 16, and 64GB eMMC modules for US$  25.00 to US$  79.00 (Figure 2). More economical alternatives are using the pre-loaded micro SD for US$  13 with the latest version of Xubuntu or loading the firmware onto a class 10 micro SD memory card with at least 8GB.

Figure 2: The micro SD card and the eMMC storage module are found on the underside of the Odroid.

Odroid and Android

Hardkernel is working hard to advance the development of Android for the Odroid. Instead of an official Android image, the downloads are titled "Beta" and even "Alpha." However, in their forum, the developers announce a new version of the Android firmware every three to four weeks  [3]. At publication, the most recent edition of the firmware was based on Android  4.4.4.

To install Android  4.4.4 on an SD or eMMC memory card, two steps are necessary. First, you should download the entire ROM of version Alpha  3.4 and load it onto the Odroid storage medium. Second, you should update it to the most recent version. The Odroid will not lose any data or settings in the process. As is customary with other Android ROMs, like CyanogenMod, you keep your Android Odroid up to date while the system is running (see the "Restarting Odroid" box).

Restarting Odroid

During my tests, the Odroid firmware displayed one or more hangups, which were mostly attributable to experimentation with the software. However, a restart will most often not follow simply by disconnecting the computer from a power supply. The 5V supply voltage that comes from Pin  18 or  19 of the HDMI cable prevents the Odroid from starting after unplugging the power supply and then plugging it back in. Therefore, it is necessary to disconnect the power and HDMI cables completely from the Odroid for a short period of time to force a restart.

The download area of the Hardkernel homepage is somewhat cryptic. Instead of displaying a download button for the Android 4.4.4 Alpha firmware, for example, the page [4] only shows a button for the text file Download_URL.txt. The link  [5] for the ROM is found inside the file. The archive available for download, sd_self_installer.img.zip, or alternatively emmc_self_installer.img.zip, only contains a common image file instead of an installation routine.

As is customary with the Raspberry  Pi, you can load the image onto a memory card using the Linux  [6] dd command or by using the Win32 Disk Imager  [7] [8]. The card should have at least an 8GB capacity; otherwise, you will not have enough memory for later updates. Hardkernel recommends that you overwrite the card with all zeroes before flashing the firmware (Listing  1).

Listing 1

Flashing the Firmware

# dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/<sdx> bs=4M && sync
# dd if=sd_self_installer.img of=/dev/<sdx> bs=4M && sync

The first start of the Android Odroid takes several minutes. The blinking blue LED located next to the power plug signifies that the Odroid is busy installing the system. You will not see anything on a display screen connected via HDMI while this is going on.

The Android desktop (Figure 3) appears automatically as soon as the internal installation routine finishes. If you see a blank, green surface instead, you should unplug the HDMI cable and wait a few seconds before plugging it back in. A USB mouse and keyboard work best for controlling the Android Odroid.

Figure 3: The Android firmware interface is no different from that of an Android tablet.

After successfully starting Android on the Odroid, you can use the ODROID Update app (Figure 4) to install the current firmware version. The tool requires root rights. To update, you should use Get the latest version to find out whether a newer version of the firmware is available (Figure 5). If so, you should download it with Download, check it with Validate file to see whether it was downloaded correctly, unpack it with Extract and then perform the installation with Restart for update. Among others, you will find an option for changing the clock speed of the CPU and adjusting the screen resolution in the ODROID Utility app (see Figure 6).

Figure 4: You have to install the Google framework together with the Play store and Gmail.
Figure 5: Keep the Android system installed on your Odroid current with the Odroid updater.
Figure 6: Adjust the screen resolution and configure the mouse with the Odroid utility app.

Because of licensing issues, Handkernel refrains from integrating the Google framework, including Google Play and Google Services, directly into the firmware. These services have been prepared by the Odroid community and made available in Odroid forums  [9].

The Odroid does not have a recovery image; therefore, you should set up the Installer app as an APK file and use it to start the installation of Google apps. Once this is complete, you will be able to use Google Play, Gmail, Maps, and all the other Google applications.

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