Every so often we find something that lets imaginations run wild. Many times those are higher-end or specialty systems. In the case of the ODROID-H2+, this is a 6x 2.5GbE package that is closer to a Raspberry Pi than it is a mainstream PC or embedded system. While the ODROID-H2+ sporting dual 2.5GbE and the Intel Atom Gemini Lake Refresh CPU has been out for a few months, the new H2 Net Card and an updated BIOS mean we can get six 2.5GbE ports in this small system. In our review, we are going to take a look at the system, with a special focus on compatibility because that is a big story here.
ODROID-H2+ with H2 Net Card Hardware Overview
As a quick note here, we have a video version if you prefer to listen to thoughts around the platform. We suggest opening this on YouTube for a better viewing experience while you scroll through this review.
The ODROID-H2+ is a small system at only 110mm x 110mm x 47mm in size. Underneath the large heatsink, we get an Intel Celeron J4115 processor which is a 4-core Gemini Lake refresh SKU that has a mere 10W TDP. As a result, we get four low power Atom cores that support virtualization extensions such as VT-x and VT-d. These also sport an integrated GPU with an Intel UHD Graphics 600 GPU. We will quickly note that at around $119 for the base CPU and motherboard assembly we are not getting the latest generation Intel Tremont Architecture, but that still is a trade-off one makes at this end of the spectrum.
Where this gets extremely exciting is in the rear I/O. The ODROID-H2 based on the earlier J4105 had dual 1GbE NICs. The ODROID-H2+ in contrast is updated in that it has dual 2.5GbE Realtek RTL8125B NICs. That means we have 5Gbps of networking on this $119 assembly. For a bit of comparison, the Syba Dual 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet Adapter we reviewed over a year ago retails for $43-45 with dual RTL8125 NICs. That effectively means the rest of the board is only around a $76 premium over that NIC solution.
The rest of the standard I/O includes dual USB 3.0 (Gen1), Gen 2.0, two audio ports with a S/PDIF output, and a 14V-20V DC power input (5.5mm outer/ 2.1mm inner diameter plug and 15V is the standard PSU.) We also get a DisplayPort 1.2 and a HDMI 2.0 port. Each supports 4k60 displays and one can run them concurrently for dual video output.
The big feature of why this platform went from a curiosity to something we wanted to feature was the NIC situation. While standard we get 2x 2.5GbE RTL8125B ports, there is a new H2 Net Card option that is $47. This H2 Net card adds 4x 2.5GbE ports to the solution underneath the main I/O. In this review, we are going to spend a lot of focus on that feature because it is one of the biggest differentiators in the small board space.
On the bottom edge of the platform we get an eMMC slot. Here we have an optional 64GB eMMC module installed. These are very useful if you have an embedded OS. One can boot off of the eMMC module and then still have access to the two SATA ports and M.2 slot on the rear of the unit. We will cover the M.2 slot when we flip the board over.
A nice feature is that we get two onboard SATA ports. There are also two (JST-XH?) 4-pin power connectors. Getting the standard power plus SATA cables for this board cost $3 each for the set so for $6 you have the cables necessary to connect two HDDs or SSDs. This is one of the items we recommend getting because if you use the feature later, it will cost more in shipping than getting the cables with your initial purchase. It would have been nice if there was a larger standard PC power connector on board, but we understand space limitations.
On the board, there are physical power and reset switches along with a 24-pin I/O block. The physical switches are quite useful, but if this is in an enclosure, you will likely want to add an external power button on the I/O pins. Next to these are power LEDs which are also useful since as standard this is a passively cooled system which means when the unit is in operation there is no moving fan as a visual indicator.
On the fan subject, we get a 4-pin fan header, but it is not a standard header we see on most motherboards today. The 92mm fan is a $4 upgrade. Many using this system especially if they are not using the GPU features and plan to have lower CPU utilization, will not need a fan. This is another low-cost upgrade with a slightly harder to source connector so we would suggest getting this along with the SATA power cables even if you may not need it. It is reasonably priced and would also cost more to ship. We will note that some cases like the ODROID H2 Type-1 and Type-5 cases come with a fan so if you purchase an ODROID-H2 case, it is worth double-checking so you do not purchase an extra.
Again, we had the unit running for two days with Proxmox VE and a few low CPU utilization VMs and had no issue running passively.
Underneath the board, we get some extremely important features. There are two DDR4 SODIMM slots for DDR4-2400 memory. This is a low power 4-core Atom processor, so going extreme on the memory side is probably unwarranted. Still, we tried 2x 4GB, 2x 8GB, and 2x16GB configurations with success. 32GB with a Celeron J4115 seems like a lot, but it is possible.
The other main feature here is the M.2 slot. This M.2 slot is a PCIe Gen2 x4. That means that we are limited on bandwidth due to the platform limitation, but it is still nice to have that extra connectivity. As standard, this M.2 slot is designed to accept x4 devices such as NVMe SSDs. When it comes to the H2 Net Card, the quad 2.5GBE NIC solution slots into a custom PCB in the M.2 slot.
Getting this card to work is not as simple as plugging it in. The card itself runs as four x1 PCIe devices. As a result, we need to flash the BIOS to reconfigure the 1×4 slot into 4×1’s.
That is not a difficult process, but it is not as simple as flipping a PCIe bifurcation switch in the BIOS.
Overall, we wanted dual-NIC x86 offerings as we have gotten into our Project TinyMiniMicro series. The original H2 was good, but was not enough of an upgrade to make us switch. The H2+ was more interesting with dual 2.5GbE. The H2+ with the 4x 2.5GbE net card effectively makes something unique. As one may imagine, with 2.5GbE becoming more popular in this hardware cycle, the STH labs need 2.5GbE client nodes so we have been working on a few configurations.
One major area that we did not like (at all) is the case situation. Many of the cases out there for this are inexpensive, made from acrylic, and are a big step down from the Project TinyMiniMicro cases. Pictured is the H2 Type-5 case (plastic shipping film left on.) On one hand, we understand how awesome these inexpensive “maker” cases are. On the other hand, it feels like an enormous downgrade over the $200 Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n-IoT we tested. 3D printing a case may help, but there is a very large delta in chassis quality which limits how widely these can be deployed.
Overall, we could say the board is $119 or $166 with the H2 Net Card. Realistically, one needs a DC power adapter, RAM, storage, and likely will add $10 for cables and a fan per machine. That puts the 6x 2.5GbE solution into the $200-300 range fairly quickly. For compute, there is little question the 1L Project TinyMiniMicro nodes are significantly faster/ better, but for low-cost 2.5GbE connectivity, the ODROID-H2+ has a niche.
The next part of the story is how these devices operate. We are next going to discuss OS installation and performance.