Asus Tinker Board

Asus Tinker Board Review: First Impressions

Initial Configuration

Before using the machine, it’s worth refreshing the package list. Enter the following command at a shell:

sudo apt-get update

Next, upgrade the installed packages with the command:

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

This found 121 packages to upgrade and 2 new packages. If you’re interested in the default package set, I took a snapshot with the command:

dpkg --list

Both package lists are available to view at the end of this article.

uname is a handy tool to elicit system information. Entering the command:

uname -a

outputs the text “Linux linaro-alip 4.4.16-00097-gc9727d4-dirty #23 SMP Fri Jan 13 12:29:56 CST 2017 armv7l GNU/Linux”

A little explanation. The Tinker Board is running the Linux kernel 4.4.16. ALIP is a small distribution used for bringing up ARM boards. ARMv7 means the processor runs the 32-bit instruction set.

Desktop & Applications

TinkerOS Desktop

Asus uses their own operating system (TinkerOS) for the Tinker Board which is based on the Debian distribution. It’s certainly very snappy to boot to a graphical desktop. The screenshot above is the first thing you’ll see on startup. It’s the LXDE desktop.

There are only a few graphical applications pre-installed with TinkerOS. But there is Chromium (my favourite web browser), PCManFM (a lightweight file manager), and Vim, a venerable text editor. Other applications installed are 3 terminal emulators, LXMusic (a simple music player), and an image viewer.

I’d prefer to see a configuration utility on startup making it easy for beginners to configure the system and install package sets for different projects/purposes. For example, the machine defaults to a US keyboard layout which is easy to correct if you are familiar with Linux. But let’s make things simple for everyone.

Below are screenshots of three applications. First, we have Chromium. This reports as version 52.0.2743.116 built on 8.5, running on Debian 8.7.

Chromium

Chromium feels decidedly nimble both starting up and in operation. Surfing the net on the Tinker is the best I’ve experienced on an affordable SBC. I actually wrote most of this review on the Tinker Board in Chromium. Editing the article on WordPress felt as responsive as an Intel Core i5 desktop computer.

However, streaming HD video over the BBC iPlayer service in Chromium is ruined by lots of tearing. Bear in mind that I’ve seen more powerful machines suffer this issue. Frankly, software decoding doesn’t cut the mustard. The standard repositories include Kodi 16.1. Kodi is an excellent open source home theatre software. I watched some HD BBC steams using the iplayer add-on with Kodi. Video playback wasn’t perfect as there is still some tearing. Overall, video playback with software decoding isn’t as good as I’d like. Hopefully, playback will be vastly improved with the release of the Rockchip Player, with its hardware decoding. Audio streaming over Bluetooth to a Cambridge Audio Minx Go wireless speaker is impressive.

PCManFMPCManFM is a lightweight file manager. Developed since 2009, it’s a mature application. It performed well in operation.

htop

htop is a handy utility, showing the quad-core processor in action, the running processes, and the load average. Notice the system has no swap file created by default. But 2GB of RAM should suffice for most purposes.

Benchmark taster

I’ll be running detailed benchmarks in a later article. For now, I’ll take the opportunity to run a simple CPU benchmark with sysbench, a modular, cross-platform and multi-threaded benchmark tool for evaluating operating system parameters. This system tool is installed with the command:

sudo apt install sysbench

One of the tests sysbench performs is the calculation of prime numbers. This puts the processor under load with the caveat it only tests a limited set of its capabilities. The benchmark is run here using a single thread to calculate the first 15,000 prime numbers. For now, I simply wish to get a flavour of the Tinker Board running single-threaded applications.

sysbench --test=cpu --cpu-max-prime=15000 run

The Tinker Board took 194 seconds to complete the task. To put the result into context, the same benchmark is run on the Raspberry Pi 2 and Pi 3, an Asus laptop (ZenBook UX305), and a Core i5 desktop computer. The plot below illustrates the Tinker Board is about 60% faster than the Pi 3 for this benchmark.

sysbench

sysbench can also test file I/O performance. With the Tinker Board’s SDIO 3.0 interface, I anticipate significantly faster read and write speeds to the Micro SD card. But I’ll save this for the benchmark article.

Without any formal testing, it’s clear the wireless performance is superior to the Pi 3. It’s likely the improvement lies with the Tinker’s integrated shield controller.

SBC’s often suffer from the software not making full use of the hardware. Multimedia enthusiasts will look forward to the release of the Rockchip video player.

Conclusion

With a great design and an impressive specification, the Tinker Board is a remarkable SBC. It’s more expensive than a Raspberry Pi 3, but the improved performance and extra RAM opens the device up to a wider range of projects. The board is not just for IoT enthusiasts, hobbyists, and PC DIY enthusiasts. It’s more than capable as a desktop replacement. It therefore has a huge market to tap into. Whether it displaces the Pi 3 depends on the support it receives from the open source community, and the commitment from Asus to fully exploit the power of this ultra-small form factor board.

Packages

As promised, here are the package lists showing the software installed before and after updating.

PackageList-Original
PackageList-AfterUpdate

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16 Comments

  • M says:

    Nice review! Though for the life of me I cannot understand the availability of this thing, seems like there are no details on official release dates in any regions and no real date of when the hardware decoding media player will be out.

  • […] There’s a new release of TinkerOS available to download on Asus’s website. TinkerOS is a Linux distribution for the Asus Tinker Board based on Debian. Not heard of the Asus Tinker Board? Read our two page review. […]

  • I just received mine today, and it has me wondering… how difficult would it be to compile a build of Android for the Tinker Board? Is there already a build that would work as is? I read on another site (can’t recall which one) that a board called the “Miqi” was basically identical. It’s curious to me if anyone has tried any of these images? I suppose really, I would only need an android image made to be run from SD-card, and if it doesn’t work, just power off, wipe the SD, and reimage with something else.

    Only thing is, I’ve never tried that.

    I have 1 RPi3 and 2 RPi2 boards at home, and have worked with those extensively –currently 1 is a Retropie system, 1 is running OpenELEC 7.0.3, and the 3rd (RPi3) is running Raspbian in a custom build that I worked up in-house for my own use. I’ve done tons of Linux imaging, but the only android imaging I’ve done with SBCs or STBs is the build used for Minix X7 boxes, outside of firmware for smartphones and tablets.. and I’ve never really understood the storage arrangement with the latter… its always struck me as odd how the partitions are broken up and stored across the system. I suppose I need a mapping for that part, or at least a really good bit of documentation on it.

    But anyways, I’d really like to try either installing or building-then-installing an Android image for the Tinker Board. I think it’d be blazing fast. Does anyone have any advice that might help to get me started with this?

    (Many thanks in advance!)

  • […] There’s a new release of TinkerOS available to download on Asus’s website. TinkerOS is a Linux distribution for the Asus Tinker Board based on Debian. Not heard of the Asus Tinker Board? Read our two page review. […]

  • andy says:

    Thanks for putting this review together – very useful. Couple of questions: can we plug Raspberry Pi hats into the Tinker Board GPIO (ideally without destroying the board)? Also, the board looks identical in layout to the RPi, but does it fit into an RPi case?

    Thanks again.

    • Steve Emms says:

      Thanks! The Tinker Board fits fine into my RPI case, as the review explained, but I cannot possibly test with all cases. Asus’s website goes into detail about the GPIO pinout.

  • kyle C says:

    Aside from TinkerOS, are there any OTHER options for the OS at this time? From everything that Ive read, this is a bad investment from the KODI/HTPC point of view as RockChip doesn’t appear to work well with Kodi…again, FROM WHAT I’VE READ. I don’t have a ton of experience, but how limited are the OS distributions for this SOC?

  • Zoltán Rakottyai says:

    Really enjoyed your review! You mentioned that bluetooth audio streaming work impressive and I’m really curious about yout setup to manage it. If you could tell some details about it please ( like TinkersOs version, libraries etc.)

  • […] the time of this review of the Tinker Board, an Android image wasn’t available. Instead, the review was carried out using an initial […]

  • justniz says:

    I was very excited when I heard about this board but if the only option to get 4k H.264/H..265 video playback is to use their proprietary rockchip player then that right there is a purchase-stopper for me.
    I’d need to be able to use MythTV frontend or VLC.

    • Steve Emms says:

      Since the review was written (on pre-release hardware/software), Asus has been updating the TinkerOS distribution. The later versions come with Chromium with hardware acceleration and H.264 request for video playback as opposed to VP8 or VP9.

  • pavol says:

    I have installed tinker OS 1.8
    It does not look like other connected devices and PCs on the network.
    Submissions are not transferable

  • Ryno P Brand says:

    The board does everything it say but I an struggling to get open cv python to work on it. .would love to know if anyone else has had better luck?

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