Pi-top [3] RK3399 upgrade

@PhiPi I hope you can answer some of my questions regarding the Alta:

  1. can you post pictures of the fitted Alta? Pictures say more than a thousand words.
  2. How did you choose the Alta model? I only found out about them in this post.
  3. Do you think other models would fit, too?
  4. What do you expect in terms of performance improvement over the PI 3?
  5. Can the Alta be powered over GPIO? My Google foo did not come up with anything useful.
  6. If you plan to add Wifi/Bluetooth, which adapter do you recommend?


Photos of Pi-Top [3] with Orange Pi 3B and ASUS Tinker Board v1.02

  1. Broken magnetic retainers for Speaker.


  2. Only one screw holding down the Orange Pi 3B due to eMMC underneath.


  3. Orange Pi version of Raspian OS. If you update or upgrade the OS it will revert to Debian.


  4. Overhead picture of Orange Pi 3B. Not only one screw on OPi 3B secures it as eMMC underneath is bulky - but it works a treat.


  5. Bridge Board attached over the top of the OPi 3B.


  6. View of Orange Pi, bridge board and Cooling Bridge - which seems to function quite well.


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Hello butonic! Thanks for your questions, I will certainly try to answer them for you:

  1. I haven’t yet taken any photos but will post some once I’ve flashed Libre Computer’s firmware upgrade (hopefully later this month) and run a few image tests on the Alta - but I will post this in a separate thread as it’s A311D-based, not RK3399.

  2. For quite a while now I’ve been looking for a way to upgrade the pi-top [3] from the USB2 and 1Gb RAM only RPi3B+ with minimal end user intervention as I believe it’s the best way to prevent the pi-top laptops from becoming e-waste and, knowing that a lot of schools across the World have ordered a lot of these units, I think it would be a great way for students to get a lot more out of these devices in their IT labs.
    As others here have found, there are other boards that appear to have the required layout but when you actually try to fit them, you find it just doesn’t quite line up properly. I follow other websites that often feature news about SBCs so I was already intrigued when an article came up about the more powerful Cottonwood boards from Libre Computer and then once it was announced that the “Alta” and “Solitude” were available, I checked with Libre Computer that it should fit just the same as a RPi3B+ before putting in my order.
    One of the biggest advantages of getting an SBC from Libre Computer is that you are helping to fund their long term support and upstream/mainline-first policies.

  3. I assume you mean other models from Libre Computer? (Since it’s already clear from this and other threads on the pi-top forum that there are other SBCs that do fit). I think their “Le Potato” and “Solitude” boards might and I would have expected the “Renegade” to as well, however user @joeykork mentioned above that it didn’t quite fit correctly.

  4. Bret Weber has done a review, comparing it to the RPi4B+ (https://bret.dk/libre-computer-alta-review-big-cottonwood/) and ShotokuTech is doing a couple of YT videos on it (the first one is here: https://yewtu.be/watch?v=ojFgY-4Aofs - be sure to check out the comments for relevant information as well). It has SPI flash so it would be interesting to see Tow-Boot ported to run on the Alta.
    The A311D already features on a few other manufacturers’ SBCs (Khadas, Radxa, BananaPi…), which means it should be pretty well known in the community. It’s 12nm process vs. the RPi3B+'s 40nm so it should be quite a lot more efficient and it’s up to 2GHz hexacore vs the RPi3B+'s up to 1.4GHz quadcore. Also, the Alta has 4xUSB3.0 vs. the RPi3B+'s 4xUSB2.0 and it has 4Gb RAM vs the latter’s 1Gb RAM. The Alta also has eMMC storage and NPU support.
    So what that all translates to is: the Alta should turn your pi-top [3] into a long term, actually daily-driveable laptop, on which you can properly use general purpose Linux desktop OSes. No more OOM when opening more than 1 tab in Firefox-ESR - heck, you’ll actually be able to use full fat Firefox! Actually able to have more than one program open at a time etc. It should be a massive leap up from the RPi3B+!

  5. On the Libre Computer forum, it states: “The board offers industry-leading 1W idle power consumption and can be flexibly powered by USB Type-C, Power over Ethernet, or 5V header directly” so, unless I’ve got completely confused, I take the “5V header” to mean via the GPIOs?

  6. I would recommend any of the USB Wi-Fi adapters presented here: https://ryf.fsf.org/categories/wireless-adapters and Bluetooth adapter presented here: https://ryf.fsf.org/categories/bluetooth-adapters, however Libre Computer recommends Wi-Fi 6 dongles from Realtek here: https://hub.libre.computer/t/realtek-wifi-drivers/57

You’re welcome! Hope this has helped and if you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

UPDATE to 5) : Bret Weber’s review has a hardware comparison table, in which under “Power Input” it states: “Power via GPIO Header”

UPDATE to 4) : Further benchmarks are available in Bret Weber’s comparison with the RPi5 here: https://bret.dk/raspberry-pi-5-review/ - pretty interesting stuff! Especially if you wanted a solar-battery-powered cryptominer SBC…

@ianken51 Thx for the pictures. You are my personal Hero. Next time my father in law asks me if I could help him connect his weather station to his mobile app I’ll point him to this thread … uh … well, he does not even know what a forum is. So, keep at it! It is so cool to see a 72 year old digging into this! What kind of background do you have that you picked up SBCs?

@PhiP thx for taking the time!

  1. Drop a link to the thread here when you open it. I ordered a few Alta boards but it will be a while until they arrive.

  2. I am in exactly the same spot, but just starting this journey. I love the pi top 3 because you can ‘open it up’ and see what is going on underneath. And even fiddle with electronics. My kids are still too young to go there, but I want them to be able to dig deeper if they want to.

  3. Yeah, Libre Computer. I found their filtering not really helpful. But the Alta seems to be the best fit for my needs anyways.

  4. Yes, more breathing room for CPU and memory. And AFAICT I should upgrade from an SD to eMMC to reduce the storage bottleneck at least a little bit. The review by Bret Weber that you linked was quite helpful, thx.

  5. Ah I had hoped you could already confirm it personally with your setup. I was under the impression that power via GPIO is necessary to use the pi top 3 hub and the connected battery.

  6. I found an ‘Anadol Gold Line WiFi AWL150 Micro’ at Amazon Germany. It uses an rt5370 chipset which is supported OOTB. However, seeing that we could use the internal USB, maybe even a proper antenna would work.

Again, thx to both of you!

No problem!

  1. Sure will. Nice! How many pi-top [3]s have you got? Did you manage to get a bunch of them when they were clearing out stock?

  2. Exactly! No one else has yet come up with a laptop form factor that neatly contains within its body an SBC bay, battery, speaker, breadboard and protoboard that you can use to learn, then write and finally actually field test code! It’s such a neat configuration, I really don’t get why pi-top let it fall by the wayside… I hope your children enjoy learning with it :grinning:

  3. Ah - it’s actually a little clearer if you search “Libre Computer” in DDG and then click on the link that takes you to their products page, then change the filter to “None”: https://libre.computer/products/
    I suppose their “Tritium” model also ought to fit but I don’t really know why one would choose it over the Alta… Glad I was able to bring the Alta to your attention - I hope it works out great for you, your children and your father!

  4. Yeah a v5.1 eMMC should be faster than a microSD but I would still use a microSD for storage or testing a different OS from that stored on the eMMC. You could also use a nano USB flash drive for additional storage (which is why having USB3.0 instead of USB2.0 is so important).
    If you have to choose between two media, where one is faster than the other, I can’t remember whether you’re supposed to have: the OS on the faster one and /home (all your photos, documents etc.) on the slower one, or the other way round?
    Mmm he’s got a huge SBC collection and the first round of benchmarks compared against the RPi4B+ were really helpful but those compared against the RPi5 were even more so!
    Sorry about my link to ShotokuTech’s video; looks like yewtu.be’s down at the moment but you can choose another Invidious instance here: https://redirect.invidious.io/watch?v=ojFgY-4Aofs

  5. Sorry, not yet - but I’ll let you know here when I’ve tried it out (after flashing the firmware upgrade) and in the separate thread I’ll create for it too. It is necessary for connecting the SBC to the hub and for the hub to be able to control the battery, for example.

  6. Right! Yeah I’m thinking the USB2.0 connector on the hub shouldn’t be too much of a bottleneck for these sorts of Wi-Fi USB dongles and you could quite probably install one there with an external antenna.

  1. Three, actually. One for each kid + a spare :wink: The boxes did look refurbished, so yeah.

  2. Currently, they are more interested in Minecraft than anything else, but I want to them to be able to dig deeper if they get interested.

  3. This is what it looks like. Actually, aligns nicely with the Hub:

    The cooler covers the RAM, but only a small part of the A311D chip. Time will tell how it behaves under heat. The cooler that came with it does not fit under the hub. So cooling is one thing to work out.

  4. As you can see in the picture I bought a cheap Bus 001 Device 006: ID 148f:7601 Ralink Technology, Corp. MT7601U Wireless Adapter that fits nicely and works without installing any drivers.

  5. I started a pull request about enabling the I2C_EE_M2 bus which should be what the pi-topHub connects to, right? I’m new to dts overlays, but AFAICT we should be able to put pins 27/28, aka GPIOX_17/18 into I2C mode with this:

    / {
            compatible = "amlogic,aml-a311d-cc";
            fragment@0 {
                    target = <&i2c2>;
                    __overlay__ {
                            status = "okay";

    Unfortunately, the bus comes up empty:

    $ i2cdetect -y 0
          0 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  a  b  c  d  e  f
    00:                         -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    10: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    20: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    30: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    40: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    50: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    60: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    70: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

    The other I2C bus is HDMI:

        $ i2cdetect -y 1
         0  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  a  b  c  d  e  f
    00:                         -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    10: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    20: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    30: 30 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    40: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    50: 50 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    60: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
    70: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --   

    So, I have to assume the overlay is missing something.

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Other problems I have with the AML-A311D-CC:

  1. The screen sometimes flickers hoerizontally. I don’t know yet if that is a problem of the hub, the AML-A311D-CC itself or the pi-top[3] panel. Need to try with an external Monitor.

  2. I could not get any audio out of the jack. I know about https://hub.libre.computer/t/alta-aml-a311d-cc-audio-issues-dummy-output-and-no-sound/3488 but am currently focusing on getting I2C to work so I can read the battery status. It sucks if the laptop just dies on you while working on anything.

And @PhiPi maybe we should not spam this thread with AML-A311D-CC stuff?

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Hello Ian, just wondered whether you’d seen the announcement of the upcoming Allwinner A527-based OrangePi 4A, which looks like it should be form factor compatible with the pi-top [3] ?

The problem with the Orange Pi 3B is the eMMC module that fouls the bottom of the Pi Top [3] case, making installation a bit dodgy. The Orange Pi 4 seems to be similar, so I assume the problem would be similar, if you install an eMMC drive. The other issue is ongoing development and support are simply not as thorough as Raspberry Pi’s. Orange Pi seem to develop good boards, but don’t seem too keen to maintain long-term software development.

Fair enough - the lack of support and upstream/mainline-first policy is what attracted me away from OrangePi/BananaPi/insert-other-fruit/Radxa to Libre Computer in the first place so I can’t say I’m surprised you’ve come to a similar conclusion, particularly since you’ve actually got experience testing hardware from OPi…

Thanks. I’ve placed my old ASUS Tinker Board (2GB RAM) back in the Pi Top [3] and I’m very happy. ASUS haven’t done much development on the software side, but their Linux OS (Tinker OS) is better than OPi’s. So, for the moment that’s where my testing has ended for the moment. I can’t say I’m thrilled that RPi keep messing with the layout with each new model either. It means nobody can develop new equipment and guarantee an upgrade path. This is a rather conceited approach and seems totally unnecessary.

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Nice! Glad the TinkerBoard has been working out for you! Is that the OG or the 2.0?
Couldn’t agree more about RPi…

It’s the original Tinker Board v1.2 (I think) which does the job nicely. Thanks to the UK Tinker Board community who kept up software development. TinkerOS works fine with no problems with WiFi or battery monitoring which was a nice surprise. Really nice layout with really crisp graphics. It can’t compete with newer RPi 5 laptop versions, but it’s way more responsive than Pi-TopOS on the RPi 3B.

I might take off the eMMC module from the OPi 3B and see if it’ll work any better (8GB model) using native OrangePi OS.

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I’ve just checked and there doesn’t seem to be a thread dedicated to the ASUS Tinker Board - might you feel like creating one and describing some of your experiences there?
It looks like the up to 4GB RAM, RK3566-based ASUS Tinker Board 3 and 3S are on their way - I wonder whether they will fit the pi-top.
Same thing for the OrangePi 3B, sounds like it could be interesting if removing the eMMC makes it fit correctly in the pi-top…

My posts would be limited to the OPi3B, Tinker Board 1, and RPi3B as I don’t have funds to buy newer boards to test. Here is Australia our $ is only worth around $0.70 US and postage hurts quite a bit. It’s really RPi OS that makes the Pi-Top[3] any good. Tinker OS and Orange OS just aren’t stable or mature enough for the laptop.

I’d love to see Raspberry Pi introduce a 3B Plus with the same 3B format, but with 2/4GB RAM on deck. Even with the older CPU setup it’d sell like hotcakes. Better yet would be to plonk the RPi4 SOC and RAM onto a RPi3B format.

Actually, a souped up RPi Zero WiFi would also work, because there are several RPi Zero to RPi 3B adapter boards available.

Mostly, 1GB RAM isn’t enough to do very much processing these days. 2-4GB would fill the gap nicely.

I think that with the 4B & 5B they’ve strayed away from the little makers that made them. Ah well. We live in hope.

Cheers, Ian

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Noted! Could be worth getting in touch with Libre Computer to see whether they might donate an Alta to you for dev work? You’d be able to run RPiOS on that…

Does “Selected Value = 4096” for “Total Data FIFO RAM Depth” (pg. 201, row 10) mean that the maximum RAM capacity of the BCM2835 in the RPi3B+ is 4GB?

Yeah though the trouble with the RPi0 clones is that for the most part they don’t actually seem to be the same size :confused: (most are a bit bigger)

I almost completely agree; the 4B initially benefited from a lot of community dev work but it’s when the chip shortages kicked in that the Company and Foundation really changed focus to biz, away from the community and all the other shenanigans (shipping with Microsoft* keys and VSCode rather than VSCodium by default, boasting about engaging former Police on staff payroll etc. …) have probably had an impact on community dev work on the 5B.

*like FGS, Microsoft, seriously?! Embrace, extend, extinguish…