How to run Ubuntu Linux on the MK802 $74 PC-on-a-stick

MK802The MK802 is a tiny PC that looks like a USB thumb drive. While it ships with Google Android 4.0, it’s actually pretty easy to convince it to run an alternate operating system. In fact, if you have a properly prepared microSD card, all you need to do is insert the memory card, turn on the MK802, and it will boot Ubuntu 10.04 Linux.

Update: You can also run Ubuntu 12.04, Puppy Linux, or other operating systems on the MK802. 

Ubuntu boots very quickly on the little computer, although performance is a little on the slow side. That’s not surprising, given the MK802′s relatively anemic hardware. It has a 1.5 GHz Allwinner A10 ARM Cortex-A8 processor and 4GB of storage — pretty much what you’d expect from a 2010-era smartphone.

While the MK802 won’t win any speed awards, it’s pretty impressive that this $74 computer can run a full desktop-style operating system at all. While it takes a kind of long time to launch some apps such as OpenOffice.org and Firefox, they all work pretty well once they’re up and running.

How to install Ubuntu 10.04 on a microSD card

The easiest way to install Ubuntu Linux is to grab a disk image prepared for the Mele A1000, another inexpensive device with an Allwinner A10 processor, and then write it to a 4GB or larger microSD card.

Here’s how to do that. These instructions will assume you’re working with a Windows PC, but the steps should be similar if you’re using a Mac or Linux computer.

1. Download the mele-ubuntu-lucid.img.lzma disk image from the links at rhombus-tech.net or Linux Questions.

2. Extract the mele-ubuntu-lucid.img file to a folder on your computer. You can use 7-zip or another utility to do this.

3. Insert a 4GB or larger microSD card into your computer.

4. Download and unzip Win32 Disk Imager to your PC.

5. Run Win32DiskImager.exe.

6. Choose the drive letter for your microSD card in the “Device” area and choose the mele-ubuntu-lucid.img file for your “image file.”

7. Click “Write.”

Win32 Disk Imager

After a few minutes the process will complete and your microSD card should be prepared with Ubuntu 10.04.

If you’re using Mac or Linux, you can find instructions for writing a disk image to an SD card at NookDevs. Note that the site recommends using an app called WinImage.exe for Windows — but I had no success with that method and found that Win 32 Disk Imager worked better.

How to run Ubuntu 10.04 on the MK802

Now that your microSD card is prepared, you can insert it into the TF card slot on the MK802. TF is just another name for microSD.

Ubuntu 10.04 on the MK802

Theoretically all you have to now is connect a display, power source, mouse, and keyboard and you should be good to go.

But the first time I tried this, my MK802 booted into Android instead of Ubuntu. I ejected the microSD card, inserted it again, unplugged the power and plugged it back in and second time was a charm — Ubuntu loaded a few moments later.

There are few more things you need to know though:

Logging in

When you hit the login screen you have two options for logging in:

  • username: root / password: ubuntu
  • username: ubuntu / password: ubuntu

Enabling WiFi

WiFi will not work out of the box. But it’s very easy to enable. Just login as root, open a terminal window, and enter the command “depmod -a” (without quotes) and hit enter. When that’s complete, use the Ubuntu system menu to restart the computer.

The MK802 simply freezes every time I try to actually shut down Ubuntu (or Android, for that matter), but the restart option seems to work just fine. Once you’ve restarted the operating system WiFi should work.

What’s next?

We’re still in the early days of MK802 hacking. Ubuntu 10.04, for instance, is about two years old at this point. It should be interesting to see if people can get newer versions of Ubuntu or other Linux-based operating systems to run on the hardware.

Light-weight Linux distributions that work well with smaller amounts of RAM such as Bodhi Linux or Puppy Linux could also be interesting.

The MK802 with Ubuntu also ran into some display issues — the edges of the operating system didn’t fit on my 1920 x 1080 pixel display. That’s because the MK802 seems to only want to output at a 720p resolution (whether running Android or Ubuntu). Theoretically it should be capable of higher resolutions, but it might take a little work to enable them.

Update: There’s a way to enable 1080p HD output.

  • John Morris

    Looks like your display is thinking the gadget is a video device instead of a PC and is enabling overscan. Look in the settings on the display and try to disable that. On my LG TV for example, I have to use the format button and pick “Just Scan” instead of 4:3, 16:9 or even “auto” as all of the others overscan. Changing the input label to PC silently switches that HDMI input from Studio (16-248) to Full (0-255) color range as well. But there seems to be a different method (or worse, none) for every brand/model of display out there. You just have to play around and hope your vendor actually gives you those features.

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Yeah, it’s probably a monitor issue — I’ve tried every setting I can think of, and none of them seem to work with an HDMI input on my display. I have far more options available when using a VGA or HDMI input.

      Maybe I’ll look for an HDMI to VGA adapter and see if that does anything…

      • Rachel F

        Any monitor with HDMI input should let you disable overscan when using HDMI. It will probably be listed as Scan Mode, HDMI Mode or PC/AV Mode on the monitor’s OSD.

  • http://profiles.google.com/merlino37 m w

    thanks for the update….

  • http://ARMdevices.net/ Charbax

    Do you mean Ubuntu 12.04?

    • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

      Nope.

      • http://ARMdevices.net/ Charbax

        Strange, why boot a 2-year-old version of Ubuntu when also the last couple of versions of Ubuntu really have been optimized for ARM?

      • http://www.liliputing.com/ Brad Linder

        Because that’s what’s available at the moment. I’m sure we’ll see more development in the future, but at the time people started hacking the Mele A1000 Ubuntu 10.04 was the latest LTS version of the operating system.

      • Mathew

        Can anyone compile a new version now?
        Ive downloaded and installed 1st time!
        So very happy but unable to properly make use as no user apart from root can get an IP over wifi and root doesnt want to load programs such as VLC so Im stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  • Oval_Elephant

    I sell the 1GB and 512MB. Not added on my site yet but if you’d like to get one or many email me at admin@ovalelephant.com. Can FedEx in 3-5 days extra cost. Standard shipping 5-12 days in U.S. Units are $74 for 1GB RAM and $69 for 512 plus shipping. I have them in stock now.

  • ALWAYZBLESS
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jean-Luc-Aufranc/100000690503162 Jean-Luc Aufranc

    Ubuntu 12.04 is not difficult to install either, or Debian for that matter.
    The performance is highly dependent on the SD card performance. Alternatively your could boot from SD and run the system on a USB thumbdrive, the system should be much faster.

  • PO

    Great video!

    What happens if you plug this into a computer that’s already running, but use another monitor? Does it die, or does it function just the same as it would normally? I’m curious… Can you run sudo fdisk -l and see if it can see the hard drives listed?

  • JumborgAce

    Thanks for the write up. This looks like a great item for experimenting. Are you able to do any experiments with flash video? I’d like to use it to watch Star Wars Clones or The Daily Show from the web(trying to cut cable) so I’m curious if they would run. Thanks!

  • artinvent

    I have to wonder if something like this is ever going to be usable with any full Linux desktop people would actually want to run. And I can’t really see wanting to run Android on it either. The most I could see is this as a headless ultra low power draw Linux server running a CLI. Actually that would be pretty cool, but a bit of a niche market.

    The real interesting times will be when the hardware gets a little better and the full Ubuntu ARM port is mature, and fully matched to some of this hardware. If this kind of thing shipped a fairly responsive Ubuntu 12.04 on it and ran 1080p video fast enough for a movie, and was around $100? I think they would fly off the shelves.

  • Y S

    any success to port xbmc on it?

  • Razvan Dragomirescu

    A word of warning: the image _does not_ fit on a 4GB card (I guess because 4GB cards really have 4 billion bytes instead of 4 * 1024 * 1024 * 1024 bytes. So you would need a card that is larger than 4GB. Just found this out the hard way (guess which size I bought :) ).

  • http://www.facebook.com/dickhfchan Dick Chan

    I had a discussion with Ubuntu team in Taipei Computex about the possibility of MK802 running Ubuntu. They told me that they are waiting for X11 driver for Ubuntu from the chip makers.

    Later I got a chance to talk to Mark Shuttleworth about this. He told me that they will have Ubuntu build which runs with X11 Android driver in 7 months.

    Feel very excited about this.

    • Gavin

      Its been 7 months … any news?

    • bluelightzero

      same here, I want to run ubuntu on hp touchpad

  • Oval_Elephant

    I have the MK802 in 512MB ($68USD) & 1GB ($74USD) DDR3 RAM. Our website has been updated. Here is a link:
    http://www.ovalelephant.com/p-2059-mk802-mini-pc-android-linux–1gb-ram

    We also have the Lenovo wireless keyboard/mouse and microSD if needed.
    International shipping.

  • http://twitter.com/l3ny l3ny

    Can you load
    Ubuntu on the http://goo.gl/sSYWA pocket tv. please we realy like to know this. since it’s also got a micro SD
    +l3ny

  • marc

    Could you install a RDP deb and create a video of the performance?

  • http://www.facebook.com/orankaplan Oran Kaplan

    hi brad, you think that this hardware will be able to run windows 8 rt?

  • Oval_Elephant

    I have the MK802 in 512MB ($68USD) & 1GB ($72.50USD) DDR3 RAM. Here is a link:

    http://www.ovalelephant.com/p-2059-mk802-mini-pc-android-linux–1gb-ram

    We also have the Lenovo wireless keyboard/mouse and microSD if needed.

    International shipping.

  • Razvan Dragomirescu

    BTW, has anyone managed to make it work in something other than 720p on the HDMI output? I have a picoprojector that doesn’t support HD resolutions (it’s a ShowWX+ HDMI) so I would like to tell the MK802 to use 480p. I’ve tried to use bin2fex to recover the FEX file, I edited it to change the resolution, used the Windows script.exe tool to recreate the bin file, but it no longer boots.
    I suspect there is something wrong with the fex2bin or bin2fex parts, even if I take the output of bin2fex (with no changes!) and run it through script.exe (used as fex2bin), the board no longer boots up.
    If anyone has a working setup for editing BIN/FEX files, could you try to create an evb.bin that tells the MK802 to use 480p and post a link somewhere?
    Thanks!

  • Michael Alexander

    Hey guys, one of the MK802 stores Miniand has successfully built Ubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu and Kubuntu 12.04 images and has them for download on their site.

    They have information about it in their forums: https://www.miniand.com/forums/forums/2/topics/1

  • feyawang
  • feyawang
  • Richard

    I’ve just ordered one.
    I’m wondering if it will run any of the Raspberry Pi distros (which will allow a more head-to-head comparison).

  • Nicolas

    How about with linux server? as a home webserver?

  • raj

    I bought one of these, a newer version with 1.5 GHz processor and 1 GB RAM. Really cool thingy.

    I tried the ubuntu 10.04 following the instructions on this page and also tried the 12.04 version using miniand instructions. However, on miniand version Internet browsing didn’t work and the whole environment was extremely slow in the response. 10.04 using this sites download of image gives a much better user experience as it is more responsive as well as Inet browsing works…

    However, I have a question to the audience. I cannot get USB serial devices (USB GPS) show up as /dev/ttyUSB0 (or /dev/ttyS0 or anything similar either). I can find the device using lsusb (prolific serial port).

    Anyone who knows how to get this working on the MK802 using ubuntu 10.04?

  • Oval_Elephant

    We have a new device named the “Oval Elephant” that has the same AllWinner A10 Chip with 1GB DDR3 RAM as the MK802 but it has the correct powerchip (AXP209 needed for proper power to the A10) along with HDMI ESD protection (the MK802 doesn’t have any) which can cause an HDMI ort to short out. We are US based and have stock now! Come visit us at http://www.ovalelephant.com/p-2062-mini-pc-android-linux-linaro-a10-chip-1gb-ddr3-ram

  • Melow

    I installed it on the black edition and figured out, it use only 512 MB. Not 1 GB of this stick. How can I fix it?

  • mandm

    hi thanks for the great article, it helps a lot.. do you know if we can install wifi server on this ubuntu mini-pc so others can connect to it wirelessly?

    • Tessa

      AFAIK, you can run pretty much any Linux box in USB host mode.

  • jinx

    can it boot from a standard size sd card connected to the usb host? or a usb jump drive connected to the usb host?

  • BILLY KRYSTAL

    if this device boots off sdcard couldnt we boot another version of android but from sdcard like with the nook color and we could probably create a partition on sdcard and use it for swap

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=559287853 朱建新

    What password of “Ubuntu System User”?

    • Crymsonfyre

      I too am trying to figure out the password

  • Sanket

    Hi i followed the instruction and successfully tested on Measy U1A. It worked very well,now i planned to revert it to android and formatted the sdcard to boot it from android but it doest displays any thing on TV. If i remove the memory card and power on the dongle it boots from android. Tried inserting a new memory card but it dosent boot at all if sd card is inserted before powering the dongle. If the card is removed and powerd the dongle it boots through android. Can any one help? is there a stock firmware for Measy U1A? please help. As i have to boot the dongle first without memory card and then insert the card every time or else it dosent boots

  • http://www.facebook.com/la.kueva.online Daniel Silver

    Excelent!!! this may work 24/7/365 or just 12 hours or so? i mean, just turned on, without nothing.-

  • MrJ0mmy

    you got ripped off if you payed $74 i got mine free shipping for like $34 free shipping

    http://www.aliexpress.com/item/Bluetooth-Handset-for-Smartphone-Mobile-Phone-Tablet/676270921.html

  • 125

    mine said mode not supported……

  • Madson Braz

    I can not get the wifi to work. Already ran the command “depmod-a” and nothing. Does my MK802 is not compatible with Linux Ubuntu.

    The model of my MK802 is this: http://www.yihaotech.com.cn/product/636208086-218371253/2012_Best_Android_TV_box_Mk802II_Anroid_4_0_Allwinner_A10_1G_RAM_4G_ROM_HDMI.html

  • Mladen stanušič

    whether it be to work on a13 tablet

  • kasperkp

    how can i use my apple keyborad on it?

  • Jim Harishis

    this run and mk808?

  • Jim Harishis

    hello this work mk808?