Testing the Odroid-U3 single-board computer

Linux on the Odroid

At publication, the Linux distributions offered by Hardkernel for download were Xubuntu  13.10 and Ubuntu 14.04  [10]. To install, you should unpack the downloaded img.xz archive and flash the resulting IMG file onto the memory card with dd or the Win32 Disk Imager. The Linux firmware also needs a memory card with at least an 8GB capacity. The Arch Linux ARM project also offers an Arch Linux Image for the Odroid  [11]. However, you cannot start the X server because of missing graphics drivers.

On the first start, the Odroid Configuration Tool will greet you (Figure 7). You should expand the storage capacity of the system to the entire SD card with Expand Filesystem. If needed, you can use Advanced Options to change the computer name and activate the integrated SSH server when starting. With Configure HDMI, you can adjust the resolution. Similarly, with Configure Graphical, you can deactivate the start of the graphical user interface to optimize the usage of the Linux Odroid as a mini-server.

Figure 7: Adapt the most important hardware configuration options with the Odroid Configuration Tool.

It is very important that you not ignore the first menu item; otherwise, you invariably run out of storage when installing additional packages, and Linux will no longer permit you to log on to the desktop. You can still call the Odroid Configuration Tool later, if necessary, with

sudo odroid-config

while the system is running.

Once the configuration tool closes, the system restarts and boots into the graphical Xfce desktop. At this point, you can install additional software from the well-supplied Ubuntu software center or directly from the terminal by issuing

sudo apt-get install <package-name>

The language for the interface can be set under Settings Manager | Language Support. When you do this, the system will pull additional packages from the Internet. It is also possible to adjust the graphical environment according to your wishes.

The speed of the Xubuntu Odroid is usually more than sufficient for Internet surfing or editing Office documents. However, for satisfactory read and write throughput, you should install the system on a fast eMMC storage card, because even the use of a class 10 micro SD card significantly reduces desktop performance, especially during write operations.

The Xubuntu system installed on top of the Odroid is not really suitable for running graphics-intensive applications such as games. Consider, for example, the game Extreme Tux Racer, which can be installed via the package manager.

Although the game is easy to start, the maximum frame rate is insufficient for fluid animations. On the other hand, multimedia applications like XBMC do not demand too much of the Xubuntu Odroid. From the outset, the media center runs much more smoothly on the Odroid than on a Raspberry  Pi.

Odroid as an XBMC Media Center

If you intend to use the Odroid as a replacement for a Raspberry  Pi outfitted with an XBMC distribution such as OpenELEC or Raspbmc, then you should install suitably specialized firmware made available by the quite active Odroid community.

For example, in the Odroid forum you can find an Ubuntu  14.04 system with XBMC pre-installed  [12] as well as an XBMC image  [13] based on Ubuntu  13.10. The latter allows you to use the TV remote to control the media center via HDMI CEC, similar to Raspbian or OpenELEC for the Raspberry Pi.

In my opinion, you can find the best XBMC distribution for the Odroid from the German Odroid importer Max2Play. It has an image for Odroid  [14] that orients itself to the XBMC image described above from the Odroid forum, but it is augmented with a current XBMC  13.1 "Gotham," as well as a Squeezebox server (Figure 8).

Figure 8: The Max2Play Image for the Odroid contains a Squeezebox server and XBMC  13.1.

The kernel was also furnished with the CEC patch, so the media center, provided you have a suitable TV, can be controlled with the TV remote (but see the box "Beware of Incompatible Cables").

Beware of Incompatible Cables

Although the transmission of control signals performed according to the consumer electronics control (CEC) protocol, which officially became part of the HDMI specification as of version HDMI  1.2a, purchase of an HDMI 1.4-certified cable does not guarantee that the control signals are indeed transmitted. This hard-won insight cost me several hours of frustrating fiddling and tinkering. Therefore, you should pay careful attention to the manufacturer's assurance of CEC conformity when you purchase a cable.

When compared with XBMC on the Raspberry  Pi, the XBMC Odroid offers a number of advantages. The user interface works much more fluidly thanks to the greater computing power of the Odroid. Therefore, XBMC can display skins more elaborate than the standard Confluence theme rapidly. An important disadvantage exists, however, with respect to sound output.

The Odroid currently processes only stereo and cannot handle 5.1 or even 7.1 multichannel sound output. With the optional USB-SPDIF module  [15], it would be possible to send multichannel sound to an AV receiver through S/PDIF Coaxial or TOSLINK outputs.

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