Plug: I’ve got these preconfigured boxes for sale here for $49.99: Wire-Pod Plug-n-Play Server
Like many other developers I have been wanting to by a Raspberry Pi 4. Demand for the Single Board Computer (SBC) has skyrocketed and I have had to look for alternatives to meet my demands.
I knew most cheap Android TV boxes has Arm or Rock chips in them so I wondered if there was a way to install Linux on them, specifically Debian based distro. That was when I discovered the T95 mini and Armbian.
What is the T95 mini
The T95 mini is an Allwinner H6 Quadcore cortex-A53 powered android TV box that was released sometime in 2019. It comes with 2GB of memory, 16GB emmc storage / 16GB ROM storage, 2.4GHz WIFI and 10/100M Ethernet. It had all the checks I needed for my use case which was to install Wire-Pod server on it.
What is Armbian?
Lightweight Linux optimized for custom ARM / RISC-V or Intel hardware
Comes with powerful ZSH or standard BASH shell.
The organization was developed to port Debian based distro to popular SBC devices running some variant of Arm or Rock chips e.g. Orange Pi, Jetson Nano, Banana Pi, Raspberry Pi, etc.
I was pleased to find they had ported linux to some TV boxes and the T95 mini was one of them…or so I thought.
Trial By Fire
There are so many guides on setting the T95mini with armbian, but the last image that was produced was from 2021. Another issue with TV boxes is the manufacturers change the internal components while still calling the device the same; so one device might have 16GB of emmc storage, while another has 16GB of ROM, or the wifi chip used could be a completely different one – so drivers compiled in the Kernel of the image might not work with one you buy online.
I faced this predicament as I was trying to get the latest image up and running on my box, but I kept finding outdated or wrong information online. The armbian community has done their best to keep up, but because of the uncertainty with components in TV boxes, they are not deemed as not officially supported.
I finally found a 2021 image and burned it to an SD card, and was able to boot into armbian on the box….yay!!! Armbian also has a utility that lets you transfer the image from your SD card to your emmc storage so you can boot from there instead. But the image I found did not allow this and I kept getting errors or it did nothing…booo!
A much older image from 2020 did, but I wanted something newer so I kept looking for a solution to my problem.
As someone who does not give up easily I kept seaching, that’s when I came upon the Quadro by innovato
Which is a T95 mini, that has Debian bullseye installed on it – based off the same 2021 image I found. Looking at the forum I found a post that specifically talks about building Armbian from source
So I followed the steps and was able to build a bootable image…Yay!
SD Cards Suck!…Kinda.
So the image I had was bootable, but could I flash it to my emmc storage…wait, do I have emmc storage (take box apart)…phew!
Thankfully the one I had came with emmc
Remember how I said the boxes might look the same, but the insides different? Here is one from a user on the armbian forums that has a 16 GB ROM chip instead
So I tried the utility again and this time it detected my emmc storage and I was able to flash the Armbian image to it…yay!!!
You might ask why is this important, well I have dealt with many damaged SD cards with raspberry pi’s. The SD card just does not like being written to 24/7 over long periods of time and in some cases reputable cards last longer but the speed advantage and knowing it wont pop out by accident with an emmc is something I was looking for.
After a couple configuration updates – blocking kernel updates, time zones, etc. I was finally ready to try to install wire-pod. This was the easiest part of the journey as setting it up was fairly straight forward and I had my server up and running. I connected my two bots to it and they both are identified and use the service with no issues 😀
Just follow the install steps from the wiki: here
After going through all this I decided I might offer these boxes up for sale and pre-configure them for the less savvy among us. It is much cheaper to get these boxes over seas, but you run the risk of getting one that will not work with the available images, or might have different storage in it. Thankfully I was able to find a supplier that guarantees emmc storage in the ones I get – so I got 10 as a trial run, and if the demand is there I will get more and reduce the price of the ones I have for sale.
You can reach me via the contact form