Review of Station M1: a perfect home server!


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Station M1 is based on a firefly board quite similar to roc-rk3328-cc. However, the M1 has a different layout with all ports on the left or on the right, and it is enclosed in a metal case used also as a heat sink. The device tree is also different (rk3328-roc-pc instead of rk3328-roc-cc) and by default a smooth android 10 system is installed on emmc. Additionally, the powering of this board is ensured by a 5V USB-C port instead of a micro-usb for the roc-cc. You can find official pictures and specifications here.

 

My M1 has 2GB ram and 16GB emmc but variants with 4GB ram and more emmc storage can be bought. Currently, an armbian CSC image can be downloaded (bullseye or focal) or built using armbian buiding system.

I tried several images and all boots fine with almost everything working out of the box for a server use case. Here is the log of armbianmonitor with a buster build from the end of january 2021 with kernel 5.10.9: http://ix.io/2Nol

 

Idle the temperature goes under 40°C in a room where the temperature is about 21°C and the metal case is not warm. Running sbc-bench in this context produces these results: http://ix.io/2NoL

The temperature never goes over 61°C without any throttling. Compared to some other rk3328 SBCs, the M1 is cooler and this is mainly due to its metal case.

 

After general configuration with armbian-config, installing openmediavault and docker were as easy as possible, since they are also available through armbian-config in the softy menu.

After connecting an usb3 drive, I got an efficient nas system for a personal use. It can also be considered as a home-server while running several additional services thanks to docker (home-assistant, zigbee2mqtt, pyload, etc.). With this use case, the 4 A53 cores and 2 GB of ram are more than enough and all is running smoothly.

 

I also use other similar arm boards and here is my comparison:

- an amlogic S912 TV box with 3GB ram and GBit ethernet using armbianTV: 2GB is enough in my case and rk3328 is better supported than s912. Moreover, s912 is not officially supported by armbian, and latest armbianTV images are not compatible. The USB3 port on M1 is also a great improvement over USB2 for s912. TV boxes may also have unrecognized wifi chips whereas M1 has working wifi (and bluetooth ? not tested).

- Librecomputer lafrite 1GB: it is officially supported by armbian and it works well. Its main drawbacks compared to M1 is only 1GB, USB2 and only 100MBits ethernet, but it is much cheaper.

- Pine64 Pineh64 model B: IMO it is the real competitor to the M1. It has similar features with USB3 and GBE. It is officially supported by armbian and it has a more powerful SoC (Allwinner H6: 1.8Ghz 4xA53 with mali 720 gpu). However, this board is much warmer than M1 since in the same room its temperature is greater than 60°C while idle and throttling may occur on moderate to heavy loads. For moderate use case M1 is enough.

 

What to expect in the future:

- We can hope that this SBC becomes quickly officially supported, since the CSC release is already very mature (in my opinion).

- The main element that can be missing with mainline kernel for some use cases is the GPU (for desktop use) and VPU, but they are available on 4.4 kernel.

 

Another review of the M1 (using also armbian): https://www.thanassis.space/stationm1.html

Official forum: https://www.stationpc.com/forum-60-1.html

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