Running Debian on a $5 Single Board Computer – The Lichee Nano Pi


The Modern Single Board Computer such as the infamous Raspberry Pi are designed to run full fledged desktop operating systems, consume a tiny amount of power and be affordable for just about anyone.

What happens if the typical SBC is scaled down tenfold? What would someone do with such a device?

The Lichee Nano Pi is exactly this, the entire Computer is the size of an SD card, runs Linux and has 20 GPIO pins including SPI, TWI and UART.

Many would recognise this device as a micro controller along the lines of an Arduino Nano or RPI Pico although this is absolutely not the case. With 32MB of DDR SDRAM, 16MB SPI Flash and a 900MHz Arm 926EJS CPU its actually a very small computer!

Out of the box the Lichee Nano Pi supports the following Operating Systems:

  • BSP Linux 3.10.
  • Mainline Linux 4.10.
  • RT-Thread

Common Linux distributions are few and far between however community members have worked on various ports. Buildroot makes it simple to create a bootable install for either the built-in SPI flash or SD card.

Unfortunately Armbian have not released their distro for the Lichee Nano Pi. However I spent some time over the Xmas period to create a Debian port.

Running Debian on the Lichee Nano Pi

Debian on the Lichee nano Pi

Debian runs almost flawlessly! Consuming just 7MB of RAM at idle there are plenty of resources free, the 900MHz ARM 926EJS CPU performs perfectly fine and networking is handled via a USB OTG Ethernet Adaptor – Whilst the SPIO Wifi module would work in Debian you do loose access to the Micro SD card slot and sadly a Debian install will not fit on the 16MB SPI flash.

You can find out how I created a Debian install over at my blog.
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