How to install Armbian on Orange Pi without screen or keyboard with FTDI cable

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In the previous tutorial, we saw that it is very simple to install Raspbian on a Raspberry Pi (or RPi Zero W) without the need for a keyboard and a screen. You may have wondered what well serve this small three-pin connector on the card. Well, it’s a connector that makes it possible to establish a serial link. In this tutorial, we’ll see how to use it to install Armbian. This method works on all Orange Pi models but also on all Linux distributions. For this tutorial, we will install Armbian on an Orange Pi Lite. You will need a serial to USB converter (also known as a FTDI cable), some Dupont jumper, a Windows PC, and Putty software (or equivalent on MacOS or Linux). You can also use a Mac or Linux PC without any additional software with the screen command.

Necessary material

Recover Armbian image for your Orange Pi

Start by retrieving the Armbian image that matches your model. For Orange Pi Lite for example, the server version of the desktop is sufficient. It will be possible to add an XFCE graphical desktop later by following this tutorial.

armbian orange pi lite

Unpack the 7Z archive. On macOS you can use The Unarchiver. On Windows, you can use 7-Zip.

Preparing the SD card with Etcher

Download and install the resin.io Etcher software that is right for your operating system (macOS, Windows, Linux) here. Insert the minimum 8GB SD card (preferably class 10) into the drive. Start Etcher. Press Select image and specify the path to the ZIP file you just downloaded. The SD card is automatically selected by Etcher. If not, specify the path by clicking Select Drive. Start installing the files on the SD card by pressing Flash! At the end of the installation, the SD card is automatically ejected from the player.

etcher armbian install serial without keyboard screen

Wire the serial connection

Using Dupont jumpers, wire the serial link like this.

Warning. Reverse RX and TX to work

USB-to-serial (FTDI) Color

(standard)

Orange Pi
RXI Orange TX
TXO Yellow RX
GND Black GND

Some cables do not have a cue. You can use the official FTDI chip site to find the location that matches your converter.

orange pi serial interface ftdi usb converter pinout

Invert the RX / TX cables on the FTDI converter side.

armbian orangepi opi ftdi converter wire

Finally, plug the USB-to-serial converter into the USB port of your computer

Start serial communication with Putty

Open Microsoft PowerShell and run the mode command to list all Serial devices connected to the PC. Here, the FTDI converter is connected to COM11.

power shell mode find port com

Download and install Putty by going to the official project site. There is also a version that does not require any installation (alternative). Start Putty and check the option serie. In the Serial line field, enter the COM port (here COM11). Specify a speed of 115200 baud in the Speed field. Finally click Open.

putty connect orange pi port com serial

Putty now listens to messages from the OPI.

On macOS, Linux or a Raspberry Pi!

Open the Terminal and run the ls /dev/tty*  command to find the FDTI converter. On my Mac, it can be found on /dev/tty.usbserial-A1048DR2

We will use the screen command which will allow us to communicate with the Orange Pi via the serial port as with Putty under Windows. It simply passes two parameters:

  • The name of the device you want to connect to. here /dev/tty.usbserial-A1048DR2
  • speed: 11500 baud

Which give

To stop screen, use the combination CTRL + A.

Startup Orange Pi

Insert the SD card into the drive and turn on the OPI using the start button on the side of the card.

orange pi serial interface ftdi usb converter power button

A few seconds after the start, the first messages appear in the Putty window. On macOS or Linux, you will get exactly the same thing.

armbian install serial startup

Diagnostic

When the Orange Pi is turned on, nothing appears in the Putty or Screen window. Here are the main causes of malfunction:

  • Check that the wiring is correct. RX and TX must be crossed.
  • Verify that the driver for the USB-to-serial FTDI converter is installed correctly. On Windows, open the Control Panel and then Device Manager. If macOS or Linux, run the ls / dev / tty * command to verify that it is present
  • Change USB port (yes, it can help)
  • Disconnect the HDMI video output
  • Disconnect and reset the OPI
  • Use comments to indicate another solution: idea:

Identifying and creating the user account

At the end of the startup, Armbian suggests you to identify yourself. Identify yourself with the root user and the default password 1234. Armbian suggests that you immediately change the default password.

  1. Enter the current password: 1234
  2. Enter your new password. At least 8 characters and composed of numbers and letters. Ideally at least one special character
  3. Enter the password again to confirm it

Then, Armbian asks you to create a user account that is better to use on a daily basis for security

  1. Enter the username
  2. Enter the password
  3. Validate the password by entering it a second time
  4. Finally, indicate some optional information

armbian create user account

Finally, Armbian proposes to modify the display resolution using the h3disp tool. Accept, especially if you plug the Orange Pi into a computer monitor.

 armbian change h3disp change video settings

Here are all the resolutions supported by the card

The desired format is indicated to the command. Either in the explicit format, for example -m 1280×1024, or by the number – m 33. If you are using an HDMI to DVI converter, you must specify it with the -d parameter, for example

After updating the system with the apt-get upgrade command, the display is likely to be reset. It will be necessary to re-run the command h3disp with the -d option to return to normal. To do this, go through an SSH connection from another computer or smartphone

Configuring WiFi with armbian-config

Armbian now comes with a configuration tool similar to raspi-config on Raspbian for the Raspberry Pi called armbian-config (discussed in detail in this article). Launch the tool then go to the WiFi option. Select the network and enter the password. Your Orange Pi is connected to the network!

armbian-config change wifi settings

Configure the keyboard in your language

To change the keyboard, you must be logged in as root. If this is not the case, run

Now run the following command.

If you do not find your keyboard type in the list, choose Generic 105-Key

armbian clavier francais

Choose your keyboard and restart with the sudo reboot command to activate the changes.

 

All the steps in this tutorial may seem long and tedious but it is not. It is actually very simple. When you install Armbian with this method you will have a hard time doing it differently. Here is the proof by the image!

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