Adventures with CubieBoard

Oh boy, what a day.  Where to begin?  Well, how’s about the beginning?  I suppose that’s the usual order of things.

I’d been looking at the various CubieBoards that are available for a little while now, and have had my heart set on a CubieTruck (it satisfies a few hardware needs for something I want to do that I don’t think the Pi will be able to handle without a USB hub, a few extra gadgets & gizmos, a handful of extra USB batteries and a lot of faffing around).

Other than the one specific example mentioned above, the Pi can handle pretty much everything I would need such a device for, but there I was on Boxing Day, minding my own business, when I see an original CubieBoard (the CubieTruck is version 3 of the CubieBoard) for sale on eBay at an absolute steal of a price (even less than the cost of a Raspberry Pi, so how could I not?).

Click here to see the different versions of the CubieBoard

It arrived this morning.  The latest version of the Android image available from the CubieBoard website was already preinstalled on the NAND, and so I had a bit of a play.

Within 5 minutes of initially powering it up, I’d decided that Android just has to go.  Time to install Linux.

Now, full in the knowledge that I was going to be installing Linux on this thing, I decided to check out the other Android images on the CubieBoard website first, just to have a play.

Half an hour later, I still didn’t like it, especially with a keyboard & mouse (although it is quite an interesting Android experience).  Let’s just say, it has its issues, and leave it at that.

So, I grab the Lubuntu Desktop image, install it (again, this was just for playing around with, as I don’t really want to use it as a desktop computer – I was just curious).  It boots up, I can login, I discover the IP address, SSH over the network, and it works wonderfully (except for the fact that I can’t disable overscan for the HDMI output – and even though it’s just a case of editing a couple of config files, I’m in a lazy mood today).

After half an hour or so, I get bored and attempt to install the Lubuntu Server image.

Problem after problem after problem, which I think ultimately boils down to a couple of iffy USB cables (and Microsoft).

Half the time, Windows7 wouldn’t recognise that I’d plugged in a device, or I’d plugged in a device it didn’t recognise (regardless of whether I was holding down the FEL button or not), and most of the rest of the time, PhoenixSuit either wouldn’t recognise the device, or would claim to begin the Firmware update process (even if Windows did), and then it would just sit there doing nothing.

Anyway, after about 5 or 6 hours I finally have a working Lubunti Server installed on my CubieBoard’s NAND flash and booting up just fine.

Now, I’m in two minds whether to sit and wait for couple of days until a MicroSD card shows up in the mail, so I can more easily back up and restore the NAND in the case of screwups, or just go ahead and start installing and reconfiguring stuff hoping that I don’t mess it up (which is likely, to be fair) causing me to have to attempt the horrible PhoenixSuit process all over again.

I know what you’re thinking “Why don’t you just put Linux on an SD card and boot from that?  It’ll be much easier!”

Well, yes, there’s that, but I don’t want to.  It has 4GB internal flash memory, from which it can boot with or without an SD card being installed, so why would I not want to utilise that?

My plan is to have it boot from the NAND flash, with a 32GB MicroSD card installed for use as storage.  I can already tell that even the most basic original CubieBoard, with its 1Ghz processor and 1GB DDR3 is far faster than the Raspberry Pi, so it will replace the Pi on my network as a web development server.

The plan for Raspberry Pis is that they will become XBMC machines on each TV in the house (all on the same WiFi network so they can all access the same content) – at least for now.

But for the moment, what to do with the CubieBoard?  Keep at it, or wait for the MicroSD?

Sod it, where’s the fun in playing safe?