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Quick Pinebook Preview / Review



Yesterday my 14" Pinebook arrived so I thought I'll collect some already available information. A lot of work still has to be done to get a decent laptop experience with this hardware so this is neither a review nor a stupid Un-Review but just a preview instead.


To get the idea about dimensions I added a 13" and a 15" laptop to the picture. Pinebook is wedge-shaped and thickness matches both the 2011 15" MacBook Pro and the 13" from 2015:




Display size closely matches the 13" MacBook Pro (but of course pixel density / resolution don't match as well as quality: TN vs. IPS and coating -- it should be obvious if you've the 'you get what you pay for' principle in mind but I'm sure we'll see reviews somewhere else where people are comparing Pinebook with Chrome/MacBooks and think they would get the same display quality for a fraction of costs)


Last hardware detail: heat dissipation. I've been curious how well the Pinebook's thermal design is and it looks pretty good. This is the moronic sysbench pseudo benchmark calculating prime numbers endlessly and the Pinebook sitting on a pillow to prevent airflow below the case bottom. Throttling settings are rather conservative with 65°C defined as first trip point and only after a couple of minutes the internal A64 SoC temperature reached this value and slight throttling occured (1.15 GHz down to 1.1 GHz, that's a 'difference' you won't be able to notice). So it seems the combination of a thermal pad with a large metal plate inside the case is rather sufficient:




What you see here is a graph drawn by RPi-Monitor, one of my favourite tools to get a clue what's going on with ARM devices (since it's not a heavy monitoring tool that changes the way the OS behaves but it's pretty lightweight sp you can run it in the background and let it monitor/record stuff like cpufreq scaling, consumption and so on).


Pinebook currently ships with a rather clean Ubuntu Xenial on the eMMC with Mate desktop environment based on latest BSP u-boot and kernel. To get RPi-Monitor installed on this Ubuntu @pfeerickprovides a script (please follow progress over there). When I played around with Wi-Fi I noticed that Wi-Fi powermanagement seems to be enabled (makes working via SSH close to impossible) and that MAC address changes on every reboot. To disable Wi-Fi powermanagement I simply used the Armbian way:

root@pinebook:~# cat /etc/NetworkManager/dispatcher.d/99disable-power-management
case "$2" in
up) /sbin/iwconfig $1 power off || true ;;
down) /sbin/iwconfig $1 power on || true ;;

Unless Wi-Fi driver gets a fix to use a MAC address based on the SoC's individual so called SID one way to assign a fixed MAC address for the Wi-Fi is to add a wifi.cloned-mac-address property to all NetworkManager profiles after establishing a Wi-Fi connection first:

nmcli con show | grep wlan | while read ; do set ${REPLY}; nmcli con modify "$1" wifi.cloned-mac-address $(cat /sys/class/net/$4/address); done

(I'm pretty sure some masochistic people prefer fiddling around in /etc/network/interfaces instead so if you're not using your laptop as a laptop being carried around and seeing a lot of Wi-Fis you can also use the usual tweaks for the interfaces file. Please also note that using a random MAC address can be considered a privacy feature on laptops since it makes tracking of you in public environments harder).


While watching the Pinebook's charging/discharging behaviour I noticed that consumption drawn from wall while charging oscillates between 9W and 15W while being used and display active so it's really great that Pine Inc fixed Pine64's design flaw N° 1: Pinebook is NOT equipped with shitty Micro USB for DC-IN leading to all sorts of trouble but just like SoPine baseboard now uses a 3.5mm/1.35mm barrel jack combined with a 5V/3A PSU (for other hardware details please refer to linux-sunxi wiki page).


Battery status (health, capacity, voltage and so on) is already available through sysfs but some values are wrong or need calibration. This needs to be fixed with further upgrades. Also interesting: charging seems to be under control of the ARISC core inside A64 SoC and works together with Pinebook's AXP803 PMIC (powermanagement IC) even when there's no OS running. This will be somewhat challenging to implement later with mainline I would believe...


I'll stop here for now since Pinebook is still stuff for developers and not end users. Just some resources for interested parties:

  • https://github.com/ayufan-pine64/boot-tools (Kamil implemented an u-boot based approach to flash directly to eMMC and there you find the necessary BLOBs to convert other BSP based Pine64 images for Pinebook since different DRAM and other settings require different SPL+u-boot)
  • https://github.com/ayufan-pine64/linux-pine64 (based on longsleep's BSP kernel but with more fixes currently for Pinebook)
  • $mainline resources (I lost track where to find most recent stuff but will add this later)


Wrt Armbian running on Pinebook we could now simply exchange u-boot+SPL+DT of our Xenial Desktop image... but I hope we won't do that but wait until dust has settled while helping with development efforts in the meantime. In other words: no Armbian on Pinebook (right) now :) 

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Some more infos around the 11 inch model (should be back in production, display sourcing problem is solved,  but afaik DRAM prices are too high to start production...) and a new variant will be released at FOSDEM as far as I understand Tl Lim...

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4 hours ago, Xalius said:

Some more infos around the 11 inch model (should be back in production, display sourcing problem is solved,  but afaik DRAM prices are too high to start production...) and a new variant will be released at FOSDEM as far as I understand Tl Lim...

Maybe they could introduce 1G model for entry price or remove eMMC to keep the price down.

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Outside of the PineBook and the RPi based items...


ChromeOS - Samsung Chromebook Plus (1st gen) and Acer R13 (CB5-312T-K5X4) support Crostini (Linux KVM as guest OS running Debian) and Android's Google Play Store... both of these are ARM based, and there are other ARM chromebooks that might also be useful...

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@hojnikb I put a Libre Computer Le Potato in a Pi-Top v2 laptop running Armbian and it works pretty good.  I had to modify the special bridge heatsink combo by removing the heatsink meant for a Raspberry Pi and just using the Libre stock heatsink for the Le Potato only problem is no eMMC yet.  This setup stayed full clock speed for hours running stress -c 4 so cooling looks good.


I'm also trying a similar stunt with a Tinkerboard S but cooling is still an issue with it throttling clock speed after about 10 minutes.


Armbian doesn't seem to like the V1 hubs in the CEED or V1 laptop

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On 6/6/2017 at 7:10 PM, zador.blood.stained said:

Regarding backlight control issues:

Jun 06 15:41:31 pinebook pkexec[3562]: zador: Error executing command as another user: Not authorized [USER=root] [TTY=unknown] [CWD=/] [COMMAND=/usr/sbin/xfpm-power-backlight-helper --set-brightness 51]


Yesterday I compiled Armbian_5.97_Pinebook-a64_Debian_buster_dev_5.3.0-rc8_desktop for my non-Pro Pinebook.

While booting the screen was very dim :(

So I searched on the net for a command and came to the one you had in your error-message above ;)


But the value 51 for brightness was too high to be set.

I did read out the actual dim value as 2:

#read-out display brightness
pkexec /usr/sbin/xfpm-power-backlight-helper --get-brightness

and I did set (via /etc/rc.local) a for-me-default value of 8:

#set display brightness
pkexec /usr/sbin/xfpm-power-backlight-helper --set-brightness 8

A value of 10 was to bright for me :)



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