Pine 64; much 'better' than rpi3 - a viable desktop replacement running Mate?

Hello Everyone!

[TL;DR] The Pine 64 offers much better performance than RPI2/3 in nearly every desktop-application imaginable. Its much snappier in Mate and browsing the internet makes for a good experience. 360p video playback in-browser works good. As of today, the board experiences crashes, slowdowns and intermittent screen flickering.

Once every now and then a question gets asked whether a RPI 2/3 could make a viable (backup/secondary) desktop computer. And the short answer to this question is almost always 'no'. So I thought I would write this post and share some of my thoughts about a competing microcomputer - the Pine64 - which I have just received in the mail the other day (and installed Mate !). Before I start, I feel that a huge shoutout to Longsleep over at the Pine 64 forum is in order - as its his Image (BSP Kernel) I am running.

Now, how does Mate fare on Pine64? - you will be happy to hear that its running really well actually!
I am not going to provide any benchmarks here (they are available readily online) and instead want to focus on describing how it actually feels to work an entire day on this board as if it was a stationary PC.
I must say that the board - equipped with 2gb ram and 1000 Ethernet port - is very very snappy. It is noticeably faster than RPI3 and handles most work-related every-day tasks with ease. Editing documents in LibreOffice, checking and responding to emails (Thunderbird), reading PDFs, creating and copying documents (to servers), editing google docs, etc - its all a breeze. Multi-tasking is also a much better experience than on the RPI3. In this respect the Pine 64 running Mate feels just like you would on a regular x86 PC.

The Mate desktop is very snappy even with Marco enabled. The board boots into Mate in less than 20s (super quick!) and all UI elements are supper responsive right off the bat. One thing that I noticed is that the Mate Welcome did not stutter the way it does on the RPI2/3 and all the animations played perfectly. Compositing works just fine and everything else works and looks just perfect. There is no delay between pressing a button or tab and seeing the subsequent action happen on the screen. In idle the board reports Mate using just ~ 400 mb Ram and under load, with numerous windows open, that number has never exceeded 800mb Ram.

The real test for these little boards is, however, internet browsing and playing imbedded videos. Using a browser on the RPI 2 was a complete chore and while RPI3 yielded a tangible improvement over the last gen board, it too feels very sluggish. Not to mention that watching youtube on RPI boards is a very poor experience. So how does the Pine 64 stack up? I wouldn't call browsing the web a breeze but it is still (at least) twice as fast as on the RPI3. Pages load very quickly even on ad-heavy websites; I was surprised to see that gizmodo loaded in no more than 3 seconds from entering the URL including all ads. Scrolling up and down is also really nice and snappy - BBC website (my benchmark for scrolling) is perfectly 'scrollable' (I made a new word!). That said, the browser 'locks up' sometimes on ad-heavy websites and there is some stutter when scrolling. Where the Pine 64 really shines is video playback. In short, you can play 360p youtube videos in a browser (which load very quickly) without a problem; 480p works OK but not as fluid; 720p is a slide-show. The difference, once again, is that even 720p videos load very quickly unlike the RPI3.

So whats not so great ? A few things. For one, for the life of me I couldn't get HW accelerated video working [edit: apparently it is possible to get HW acceleration - will report back when and if I get it working]. Secondly, I don't know why but the only browser that works is Midori - Firefox just crashes and Chromium doesn't even start. Some applications will also crash spontaneously for no apparent reason - even if the board just sits there and does nothing. Then there are a bunch of quirks that I am sure will be ironed out with time - these include: intermittent screen flickering (occurring during heavy load), crashes (encountered 2 complete crashes during 12 hrs of use) and slowdowns. The latter is a bit of a head-scratcher; sometimes the board just slows down, for a lack of a better word, for a min or two and then everything just returns to normal.

So what do I call it ? Does Pine 64 make a viable Mate-based desktop replacement for light-weight use ? Not yet, but I can see the potential of this hardware running the Mate desktop. With the crashes, freezes and slowdowns resolved this could make for a computer that my mother could use on a daily basis to write an email to a friend, watch something (in 360p) on youtube and browse the internet.

Hope you enjoyed this :slight_smile: Feel free to ask anything !




@Lukasz_Erecinski, This is great! As soon as my 2GB Pine 64 board arrives I’ll give this a try.

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You won’t be disappointed. I have managed to solve the screen flickering (better power supply) and freezes (better SD card). There are, however, still many problems. After a few more days of testing I have the following to report (in no particular order): the welcome boutique doesn’t work(offers no download suggestions); advanced mate menu doesn’t work; I had no luck with getting USB wifi working; USB Bluetooth sort-of works but crashes constantly; packages missing; HDMI->DVI makes black appear as pink/ purple; sound over jack-out crashes the system; sound out over HDMI suffers from weird stutter/ slow-down; other misc. minor crashes and problems. I am sure that someone with more know-how could solve some of these easily - but I also know that some problems (such as HDMI->DVI pink hue) are unsolvable by a layman like me. On a positive note, it’s easy to resize the partition and install mate with the included .sh :slight_smile: For now tho, the experience (not performance) is considerably better on RPI3

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The “average” computer user should not be discouraged from using an RPi3 with uMate for a day to day desktop. I’ve been doing it for a couple of weeks now and the only problems I have seen so far are that it doesn’t seem to like USB 3 memory sticks and for some strange reason, guvcview with a USB camera is slower than an RPi2 running Raspbian. Routine browsing in Firefox is no different from faster equipment, at least on my barely broadband satellite ISP. I normally run flashblock due to data caps so that I don’t see that problem. It does seem to lag a bit on doing software updates and on upgrades after the download phase. I have a VESA mount coming this week so I will strap it on the back of my 22" monitor and with the wireless keyboard, my desktop is really nice and free of wires. Idling power consumption with the monitor off is about 3.5 watts. I should add that I have a USB connected 30G SSD handling the root directory chores. If you primarily use your computer for browsing, email and occasional office chores, it is quite adequate. BTW, no heatsinks or fans and it runs at about 56 C with Firefox up

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Having an SSD will make the setup AMAZING. I speak only form experience, but back in October when Ubuntu Mate for the RPi was officially released I was using an SD card, and although it worked ok, it was still kind of slow, and took a while to open programs, freeezes etc.
During holiday season I got a Samsung EVO 120GB SSD, and I put the root partition in it and added a 2GB linux-swap partition. I have not looked back since.
Everything is much snappier, I use this setup as my university laptop, and it works great. The most straining day-to-day test I did was open like 10 tabs in chromium one of which was google docs, and about 4 or 5 papers in the native pdf viewer. It handled it great, At one point I was using above 2GB of ram+swap, yet the computer remained useful :)!

  • Posted from RPi2.

Also you will probably get even better results using a Pi3.

thanks, I have one in my garage, due to disappointing mate experience with RP2, I am still skeptical, but your experience is very helpful, we are getting there and I look forward to getting all problems ironed out so I can use my Pine 64-2G!!, thanks for your input.

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Could you explain a little bit more about how you got Mate to actually boot from the ext drive on the RPI2/3? Is it really as simple as moving the root partition over to the disk ? I would love to give it a go seeing as I’ve got an ext drive that only causes problems on my main computer and so I have no real application for it …

Sure thing.
Actually a user posted the same tutorial I followed back in December, I built up on his post by adding how to put a SWAP partition as well, which makes the Pi able to open several chromium tabs, a bunch of documents, etc. Without worrying about freezes caused by running out of RAM.

So the way I understand the boot process is that there are two disks a root partition and a boot partition. The Pi 2 needs the boot partition to be on an SD card (apparently the Pi 3 doesn’t but they need something that hasn’t been developed to make it work).

The boot partition if I’m not mistaken runs the kernel, and then mounts the root partition, the root partition can therefore be anywhere you point your cmdline.txt to (inside /boot/cmdline.txt). So… you can therefore offset your root fs to a different drive on USB. Even an SSD is a great improvement over the crappy IO of an SD card, plus you get to not worry about random corruptions of SD card.

You get this improvement because in my experience the SD cards I use get to tops 11-13MB/s write speed… whereas the SSD gets to 30MB/s, which is much better, despite the fact that we can’t take full advantage of the max speed on the SSD due to USB2.0 port (hopefully the next Pi has a better IO…).

Anyway, if you are interested here’s the post I was talking about, the adafruit script works well for mate too.

In conclusion, it is almost as simple as copying the root partition to an ext drive. Just make sure that the drive is mounted during boot and also point your cmdline.txt to that drive so that it mounts that root fs instead of the default one on SD card. And then you are done :slight_smile:


Great stuff! I will give it a go next week. Would you say it would be a good idea to use an old class 4 card for this then (seeing as its only needed for the boot partition) and keep the class 10 for other projects ?


Yes! After you do this, the boot partition is only used during the booting sequence, and once the root fs is mounted, I don’t think it’s accessed any more.
Thus it basically becomes a read only fs, unless you update your kernel and kernel modules.
So definitely use a class 4 for this :slight_smile:

@Lukasz_Erecinski, my Pine64 has now arrived.

Is this the image you used to install Ubuntu?:

How did you go about installing the MATE desktop?

I tried Ubuntu Mate on my RPI 3 and indeed, it runs smoothly, although sometimes with freezes or sudden slowness.
I read about using a USB stick. If I understand well, it should be USB 2 (3 gives troubles). I copy the files from my installed SD-card to that stick and then edit the config file on the boot SD card. All that, I understand.

What I don’t understand: how to easily “resize” the images. In the new Ubuntu MATE, you can resize your boot-drive automatically. But how does this work with the USB stick?

And what about that 2GB swap memory? How do I install/make that?

(If I understand well, it’s no use buying a >16GB SD card, since you only use that to boot?)

Any easy guides for this things? Since I’m really new to Linux and terminal-stuff…

To resize the partition you just need to use gparted.

sudo apt-get install gparted

Then run sudo gparted, and resize the partition, make sure you do it before you boot on the USB stick, because otherwise you can’t umount while running.
and make sure you leave the 2GB space for the swap partition. Once you created the swap partition, you can use this solution to use it on boot:

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One problem. It uses the awful (really darn awful) Allwinner chips. Allwinner are also GPL breachers, give almost zero support and you’re forced to use an old kernel. You won’t get 4.4 on these.

Any computer which is ‘better’ than an rpi3 would not have such chips from such manufacturers.

GPL Violations:

This means the Pine 64 is also in-breach of the GPL for distributing GPL breaches in the allwinner chips. Anyone promoting such hardware aren’t friends of GPL (and thus GNU/Linux).

I got my Pine 64 today, after a RIDICULOUS wait time. I got the wifi modlue, but I also have hooked it up to Ethernet. I’m sorry dude, but the machine it a dog. It is so slow that I could walk my data from my house to a given location. Sometimes it goes into an unresponsive mode. Rebooting does NOT fix this problem and it is a recognized problem amongst the Pine64 forum users. Rasberry Pi may be slow on internet speeds, but it runs rings around the Pine64.

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