What is the Inovato Quadra?


According to the website:

"Not just a raw board, Quadra is a complete modern Linux computer that can be used as a server or light-use desktop. It includes the case, heatsink, power adapter and HDMI cable. Just plug into a TV or monitor and a keyboard/mouse. No SD card needed as the OS (Debian Bullseye 64-bit) is pre-flashed in internal memory. A great option instead of Raspberry Pi when you don't need the 40-pin I/O header or want something more affordable that doesn't require assembly."


The Quadra is basically a rebranded Android TV box that has been flashed to run an ARM port of Debian Linux, Armbian. If you're familiar with the Raspberry Pi brand of single board computers then this device would fall between the 3B+ and the 4 specification wise. Considering that the Raspberry Pi's have been harder to find the past several years and their prices have been inflated, the Quadra is a fantastic alternative. An additional plus is that the Quadra comes pre-built with a case, power cord, HDMI cable, and internal memory. The Pi doesn't come with any of these features unless you purchase them in addition to the Pi and put it together yourself.


Inovato even goes as far as to provide links on their site where you can purchase your own known compatible Android TV boxes that you can flash the Quadra image onto. This is great for those who are unable to purchase a Quadra in their area or for when the official Quadra's are in short supply. One of the compatible Android TV boxes is the T95m. My own home lab includes a T95m running the Quadra firmware as well as an Inovato Quadra proper. The Quadra features a customized XFCE Desktop Environment that includes an impressive array of software for only having 16GB of internal storage. I would recommend using either a USB 3.0 flash drive or POWERED external hard drive for storing media on one of these devices.


For convenience sake I tend to run my Quadra's headless sitting on a shelf out of my way. I use them to share media and host services on my local network and over Tailscale(more on that later). They're much cheaper to leave running all the time than a traditional PC or server. Before I decided to run my Quadra's headless I would leave them on my desk for a week or two to try using them as a daily use desktop PC. For the most part the Quadra gets by just fine as far as functionality goes. I can play music, browse files, write office documents, and other common tasks with ease. It can browse the web with Firefox, but this is where you will start to see the Quadra's limitations begin to show. I wouldn't recommend streaming HD videos or opening several tabs in Firefox at once or the Quadra can start to heat up and begin running out of memory. The Quadra has 2GB of RAM. Its OS takes about 700MB of RAM, Firefox takes about 400MB of RAM, and every tab consumes another 200 - 300 MB of RAM. A normal person may have accepted these limits and moved on, but I had other plans.


I decided to try lightening the GUI. I began by finding more lightweight software options. The Quadra features a surprisingly decent app store called Pi-Apps that included the lightweight Chrome based browser, Min. Min was noticeably easier on memory than Firefox. I also decided to look into some more lightweight desktop environment alternatives, I landed on JWM. I installed JWM and then removed the default XFCE desktop environment. Then I had to learn how to set up the desktop background, login screen, and add programs to the menu system manually. It was time consuming, but ultimately I found it to be a very enjoyable, rewarding, and educational experience. As a result of my experimentation I had gotten the Quadra's base OS memory usage down from 700MB with XFCE to around 400MB after switching to JWM.

All in all I think the Inovato Quadra is a fantastic product offered at a great price that is definitely worth the cost. It is a great tinkerer device, low cost home server, affordable starter computer for your children, and introduction to Linux. Inovato offers a practical solution to the Raspberry Pi supply chain shortage, repurpose cheap Android TV's into makeshift Raspberry Pi's. That's what Linux and open-source is all about and I love to see it!


Quadra Specifications

OS: Armbian 22.08 Bullseye w/ Linux 5.15.59-sunxi64

Processor: Allwinner H6 quad-core A53 ARM v8 64-bit SoC, 1.7ghz

Memory: 2GB DRAM, 16GB eMMC (ROM)

Ethernet: 100Mbit

WiFi: 2.4 Ghz 802.11n

Micro SD Slot: 1, can be used for storage, or the backup and recovery of the ROM

USB: 2 total (1x3.0, 1x2.0)

Bluetooth: No

HDMI: 1 x standard HDMI, cable included. 1080p res for desktop. Video typical 360p.

Power: 5v 2a USA power adapter included

Size (with enclosure)

92mm x 92mm x 22mm tall

3.62" x 3.62" x 0.86"

Heatsink: Included

Enclosure: Included

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