Sunday, July 10, 2016

PINE64 Affordable Single Board Computer - First Impressions

I Purchased the PINE64, single board computer from a recent Kickstarter campaign. If you have never heard of it, here's the link to PINE64. I read about this project earlier in the year and it sounded interesting. I've now had mine several weeks and I have spent a lot more time with it than I expected. Some full days actually.
PINE64 Pricing From the Kickstarter Project

A little about my background. I started my computer career as a COBOL programmer in 1980 but prior to that I bought a Commodore Vic 20. The first $300.00 computer you didn't have to assemble yourself. It was basically a computer inside a keyboard that required a TV as a display and a tape recorder to store programs. After I took that as far as I could, I bought a $5,000 IBM XT with 10MB hard drive and 512k ram. It cost more than my car. But it came with a programming language called BASIC and I spent untold hours writing programs.

Since then I've tested and implemented all sorts of Mainframe, PC, peripheral equipment, datacom, networking, wireless, and mobile computing. I get a certain joy out of learning new systems and conquering new challenges. 

If you have been following my blog you are probably thinking "Hey - I thought you retired!" True but it's hot right now in Florida, rains every day, and I'm in that little area where the algae bloom has made national news so I have some time to kill in the AC. Also, considering all the equipment I've seen over the years - this little board is amazing. I've seen very mixed reviews though. If your first introduction to computing was an iPhone, well then the PINE64 possibly won't impress you that much. If you burned out a soldering iron during your career, this board will simply blow you away. 

I opted for the $89 package. If I did it again I may have not gone with the LCD but I did enjoy the challenge of getting it to work. Based on many comments I saw out there, very few people know how to research but sure know how to complain. It took me less than 20 minutes to know what my problem was. I made a few simple videos to help out anyone willing to suffer through them but they may save you a bit of time deciding if this device is for you. 

One thing I learned in my career - there is always someone smarter than you who already has the answer. In the old days it was face to face, user groups, long distance phone calls, message boards on dial in modems, software on floppies sent through the mail. 99% of the time you are looking for answers, 1% of the time you have them and are only too happy to share. Now days, 5 minutes on the internet and done. 

In a nutshell, I really like the PINE64. I've have zero problems other than a few unexpected reboots after I've loaded new applications. I had the screen shimmer once. My unit came with Android but I tested Ubuntu and Remix OS as well.  I'm more comfortable with Remix OS but I think it needs refining. It was the glitchiest. On my board - the most powerful option you can buy for now, I found Ubuntu the slowest but not by much. The Android was the clear winner for me. I had no problem downloading apps and both the HDMI and LCD versions worked with no hangups. From reading others complaints, the biggest culprit seemed to be random power supplies. Always match the power supply exactly to the specs of the machine. Computing 101 and often ignored when equipment gets moved and people just stick in what fits. Yes - I managed a Helpdesk too. If you have the time, check out my videos. I'm going the spend the next couple of weeks writing my own apps. If it goes badly or gets too frustrating, I can always go back to retiring. 

If you are just starting to look into a computer career or maybe as an Android App builder - you may want to invest. If this little board frustrates you, computing might not a good fit. I personally think this is the beginning of a total revolution in the industry and I wanted to be part of it. Just like when I was a user of Delphi and ARPNET thinking the internet might be big one day if there was only some content worth viewing. Or when the only use for Wifi was to move files between laptops faster than the optical port and thinking if only there was way to connect to the network with no wires. I have been fortunate to have worked in an industry that has made epic changes during my time. I've not coded in a very long while but I bought this device to see if I can write even one app for it. My goal is to transfer it to the PINE64 on a USB and run it. If you have already, feel free to comment.