Setting up a ROCKPro64 (powerful single-card computer)

A few months ago, I ordered ROCKPro64. If you are familiar with the Raspberry Pi, then it is a bit of the same… an inexpensive computer that comes in the form of a single card. The ROCKPro64 differs from the Raspberry Pi in that it is much closer in power to a normal PC. You make a decent laptop out of it. It has enough memory to do useful work and a decent 6-core processor  (dual ARM Cortex A72 and quad ARM Cortex A53). I bought the following components:

  • ROCKPro64 4GB Single Board Computer ($80)
  • ROCKPro64 aluminium casing ($15) 
  • 64GB eMMC module ($35)
  • USB adapter for the eMMC Module ($5)
  • ROCKPro64 power supply ($13)

I also had an ethernet cable at home. I connected the ethernet cable to my iMac, which is connected to the Internet via Wifi, and I configured macOS to enable Internet sharing via the (previously unused) ethernet port. You can probably connect the ROCKPro64 to the Internet by wifi, but I always prefer the reliability of ethernet cables. So I connected the ROCKPro64 to the Internet via this ethernet  cable. I did not plug anything else into it.

I wanted to install Linux on the ROCKPro64. At first, I went to Ubuntu, grabbed a release there, but it was a bad idea. It does not work. I finally figured out that you have to download Linux releases tailored to the hardware. So I got the latest version of Debian for the ROCKPro64 for GitHub. I prefer Ubuntu, but debian is good too. Maybe importantly, I used a release that was specific to the ROCKPro64 (with rockpro64 in the name).

You then need to get the operating system on the eMMC module. The eMMC module is a bit like an SD card, but you can’t plug it into you computer. However, you can plug it in the USB adapter you just bought. I did so.

In theory, you could run the ROCKPro64 out of an SD card. I do not like to work with SD cards: they are slow and unreliable. I am hoping to get better performance and durability out of the eMMC module.

I downloaded a piece of software called “etcher“. After launching it, it asked which image I wanted to use, I selected the Linux image file I had downloaded (exact name: stretch-minimal-rockpro64-0.7.9-1067-arm64.img.xz). Then it asked for the destination drive, so I plug in my USB adapter. I ignored macOS warnings about the content being unreadable and I just hit the “flash” button in etcher. I waited about five minutes.

When etcher told me everything was fine, removed the eMMC module and put it on the ROCKPro64 (there is a dedicated area on the board). I then plugin my power cord to the ROCKPro64. The network adapter lights turned on and after a short time a white LED light near the reset button came on.

I went on my iMac and in a terminal window, I typed “arp -a”. There was the following line among others:

? ( at 5a:59:0:de:6b:4e on bridge100 ifscope [bridge]

The password and identifiers are rock64, so I used ssh to connect to board:

$ ssh [email protected]
[email protected]’s password:
_ __ _ _
_ __ ___ ___| | ___ __ _ __ ___ / /_ | || |
| ‘__/ _ \ / __| |/ / ‘_ \| ‘__/ _ \| ‘_ \| || |_
| | | (_) | (__| <| |_) | | | (_) | (_) |__ _|
|_| \___/ \___|_|\_\ .__/|_| \___/ \___/ |_|
Linux rockpro64 4.4.132-1075-rockchip-ayufan-ga83beded8524 #1 SMP Thu Jul 26 08:22:22 UTC 2018 aarch64

The programs included with the Debian GNU/Linux system are free software;
the exact distribution terms for each program are described in the
individual files in /usr/share/doc/*/copyright.

Debian GNU/Linux comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY, to the extent
permitted by applicable law.
[email protected]:~$

After playing with the machine a bit, I wanted to shut it down. I think you want to type “systemctl poweroff”.

Notice how I am not connecting a mouse, a monitor or a keyboard to it. For what I want to do with it, I do not need any of that.

I find it inconvenient to remember the IP address of the machine. To be able to log in as “ssh [email protected]”, just type the following:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install avahi-daemon avahi-dnsconfd avahi-discover avahi-utils libnss-mdns
sudo service avahi-daemon start

Throw in the ‘ssh-copy-id’ command and you can log in without typing a password.

The modern way to run software on Linux is to use containers (e.g., docker). You can almost follow line-by-line instructions found online with the caveat that whenever they write “amd64”, your need to substitute “arm64”. Also I find it handy to add myself to the ‘docker’ group to avoid having to run docker as root:

sudo usermod -a -G docker myusername

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

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