NanoPi NEO Plus2 packs power into cookie-sized IoT device

By | August 1, 2017

If you’ve taken some time to get to know the Raspberry Pi, the all-in-one computer that’s only slightly larger than a deck of cards, you’re sure to like its tiny cousin, the NanoPi NEO Plus2 — especially if you’re deploying IoT devices.

The NanoPi is less than half the size of the Raspberry Pi 3, but bests it in outright power and network performance. The NanoPi NEO Plus2 comes with gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000M Ethernet based on RTL8211E-VB-CG), 1Gb of RAM, on-board 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and 8Gb of eMMC storage (not including the MicroSD card).

Both the RPi and the NanoPi come with Quad Core 64-bit ARM processors, and headers the allow for a wide variety of add-ons.

Unlike the Raspberry Pi, though, The NanoPi does not come with standard video and audio ports. The RPi has a full-sized HDMI port so you can connect it to a monitor with a standard cable. With the NanoPi, you have to run headless or attach a small video board. And where the RPi has four USB ports, the NanoPi has just two.

Perhaps the most unique difference between the two, though, is the NanoPi’s onboard storage. At 8Gb, it’s plenty big enough to hold the UbuntuCore operating system, essentially a headless version of Ubuntu. That means you can either boot the NanoPi off a MicroSD card or write the OS to the eMMC once and boot from there. Look, ma! No MicroSD needed!

I ran the NanoPi NEO Plus2 in headless mode, which is far less friendly than booting and setting up an RPi. Yet the Raspberry Pi is designed as more of an introductory Linux device that’s easy to set up and use. It can truly replace a desktop computer and at $35 makes a great option for classrooms. That’s part of the reason 10 million of them have sold.

The NanoPi, which can be had for a mere $25, is intended for the slightly more initiated — and those with specific applications in mind. I set it up on a gigabit network and used it to stream live video, but it could easily be set up as an iperf node for network testing or run a full LAMP web application. I installed Webmin, which provided a nice way to manage the device, confirm iptables firewall rules and the like.

To test the NanoPi, I attached it to my network, booted it from the MicroSD and then checked my router (and did an arp-scan) to determine the device’s DHCP-assigned IP address. Once I had that, I could shell in and manage it like any other remote Linux host. Reboots of the base install took just seconds, so fast, in fact, that I made myself run uptime to make sure I’d really rebooted!

These are great little devices and part of a family of low-cost, yet robust, IoT computers offered by the folks at NanoPi. They’re definitely worth a look.