Dylan Burger, Canada
My transition to Linux has triggered a bit of a hardware buying spree in me over the past few months. It hasn’t been anything crazy (no matter how much I want a Thelio Mega); aside from a work laptop I actually haven’t spent more than $300 USD on any individual item. Nevertheless, what I lack in high end purchases I have more than made up for in volume. Over the past year, along with dozens of peripherals, I have added a raspberry pi 3b+, 4, and Zero W, a Pinephone and Pinebook Pro, and my latest purchase, an Odyssey Blue J4105 from Seeed Studios.
The systems from the Pi foundation and Pine64 have hundreds of unboxings, user guides, tutorials and overviews available from the community and I don’t see the need to add another detailed review to what is already out there. When it comes to the Odyssey Blue system however, I find that there are considerably fewer sources of information. As I’ve had my Odyssey now for about two months and have a good variety of systems to compare to I think that its probably worth taking stock of my experience.
The Odyssey Blue J4105 is a single board computer that has several unique features that differentiate it from the Raspberry Pi and similar SBCs. The major distinguishing feature is that the J4105 is x86-based rather than ARM. It is powered by a quad-core Intel Celeron J4105 processor (1.5-2.5 GHz) that significantly outperforms my Pis and opens up a plethora of software options not otherwise available. Like a Raspberry Pi and other SBCs the Odyssey has the classic 40-pin GPIO, but it expands on this with an onboard Arduino controller with its own 28 pin breakout (I must confess i have not used either of these as yet). Finally, the board has a host of storage options available (eMMC, SD card drive, and two M.2 slots- one B-key and one M-key, and a Sata III data connector) and a SIM card slot. All-in-all the Odyssey board tries really hard to be a “Super Pi”.
Specs at a glance:
The Odyssey X86J4105 is available in a number of configurations either as a solitary single board or shipped in a blue computer case with removable acrylic cover. The case is quite slick and I highly recommend it. Side note: The case is actually available separately and is said to be compatible with Raspberry Pi and Jetson Nano boards as well.
The system can be purchased with one of two storage configurations: a 64 GB eMMC or with a 128 GB M.2 SATA SSD. Note that the eMMC slot does not have an easy snap connector (i.e. Pine64 boards) so if you purchase the 128 GB M.2 version then adding an eMMC will require soldering.
The Odyssey boards ship with Windows 10 (unactivated or activated for a premium). Sadly there are no Linux options at ship, but I was able to load Mint, Lubuntu, and Debian without issue.
How do I use the system:
So the appeal of this system to me was its flexibility and portability. Primarily, this is being used as a media centre where it replaces a Raspberry Pi. The benefit of the Odyssey is the ability to have a large amount of storage contained within the single system. I currently have the 128 GB M.2 SATA, 1 TB NVME, and 128 GB microSD card all connected to a single system with no OTGs, external cables etc… To me this has tremendous benefit because it allows me to reduce the clutter around our entertainment unit considerably.
Because of the multiple storage options I have taken the opportunity to set up a dual-boot arrangement with Windows booting off the 128 GB drive and 1 TB running Linux Mint 20.1. Unfortunately the microSD card is not bootable, otherwise I might have set it up to boot a third distro. One mistake that I made in purchasing was not getting the system with the eMMC installed. Unfortunately installing an eMMC myself is beyond my present ability so I am missing out on another possible storage option. The eMMC is also bootable if you select that option.
Extending from the primary use, my family also attaches a web cam frequently to have family calls where we can sit on the couch and converse with grandparents or cousins on the television. This use is by no means unique to the Odyssey system but the dual booting option does ensure that we can use whatever platform we want.
Finally, we are also in the process of adapting this to be our primary retro gaming platform. We are replacing an old Pi3B+ that I had been running for several years. Initially this was with Batocera running off a USB stick but we recently switched to the Ubuntu version of Retropie to free up another port. From what I can tell I can emulate up to N64 and PS1 without issue- I haven’t tried anything more advanced yet.
The main strengths of this system are the flexibility and the power. I said in my opening that it was trying to be a “super pi” and I have to say that it largely achieves that goal. The system is considerably faster than my Pi4 or my Pinebook Pro. In fact, in a pinch I believe that I could use it as a daily driver. The increased speed coupled with the X86 architecture really opens up new uses for the system- which is actually quite crazy when you think of what Raspberry Pis can already do. In addition, despite being something of a niche product I was surprised by the level of compatibility. I have tried 4 distributions at this point (plus Windows 10) and not had any issue whatsoever.
For me the biggest benefit is the on-board storage. The Odyssey replaced two Raspberry Pi’s, and an OTG with three external hard disks. As this setup was in my living room the new purchase has left me with a very happy wife. On-board storage is something that people have long been clamouring for on the Pi and it really is a game-changer. I’d be utterly shocked if the next version of the Raspberry Pi did not have some form of storage beyond the microSD option. While not really my area of interest/expertise, I think that the on-board Arduino controller and Raspberry Pi GPIOs will be of interest to the tinkerer’s.
As you’ve probably guessed I don’t have many complaints about the system. The main issue with respect to the system is the limited documentation which does make any changes a challenge. It even took me some time to figure out how to enter the BIOS. I should note that the manufacturer does make a clear effort to provide information. It is just unfortunate that outside of this documentation there is little out there. Hopefully over time this will change.
The other minor issue I would say is that my fan seems a little “trigger happy”. I have yet to have the system heat up meaningfully but the fan still seems to engage fairly regularly. That said this is something that can be adjusted in the BIOS and I just haven’t gotten around to playing with the settings (for now I’d rather have the system cooled excessively rather than not cooled adequately).
Any single board computer will inevitably end up being compared to the Raspberry Pi. In most cases you can identify one or two aspects that are advantageous: perhaps it is slightly faster, or perhaps it has an eMMC chip. The Odyssey J4105 system seems to try and improve on the Pi everywhere all at once. And I have to say that they’ve done a pretty good job of doing just that. The true test will be longevity and power usage because out of the box the Odyssey board serves a very useful purpose for me. It improves upon some of the minor frustrations I have had with other options (clutter, software compatability…). I would definitely not hesitate to purchase the system again.