Want to run Android apps on your TV but don’t want to wait for the official Android TV launch? No problem — Chinese companies have been offering pocket-sized sticks with HDMI ports and ARM processors that lets you run Android on a TV for the past few years.

But for just about as long as these Android sticks have been available, folks have been figuring out how to run Ubuntu or other desktop Linux distributions on them — turning these little devices into cheap, low-power desktop computers.

Some of the most popular models feature Rockchip RK3188 quad-core processor and price tags ranging from about $50 to $100. Up until now it’s taken a bit of elbow grease to load Linux on these systems — but Ian Morrison has just made things a lot simpler.

mk802 iv with Linux

If you have a supported device all you have to do is download a disk image, plug a microSD card into your Windows PC and use the Win32 Disk Imager app to load the software onto the SD card.

Once that’s done, stick the microSD card into your ARM mini PC, turn on the power, and you should boot into Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Linux. Since the operating system is loading from the removable disk you won’t be writing anything to internal storage — that means you can power down the device, take out the microSD card and the next time you turn the machine on it’ll boot into Android again.

If you’re using a Linux desktop to prepare the card, you can use dd to load the disk image instead of Win32 Disk Imager.

At this point disk images are available for the Rikomagic MK802 IV, Tronsmart T428, MK809 III, CX919 II, PQ Labs A350-SSD, Minix Neo X7, and Radxa Rock.

You can find more details in Morrison’s post on Google+.

While there are a handful of ARM-based mini PCs that come with Linux pre-installed, it’s generally a lot cheaper to buy an Android model and load Linux yourself. Amazon has a number of RK3188-based models for prices as low as $52, although not all will work with Morrison’s disk images.

via CNX Software

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11 replies on “Now it’s easier to boot Linux on an RK3188 Mini PC (with a microSD card)”

  1. Do any of these compatible Android PC sticks have working wifi? I had an MK802 III but terrible antenna design rendered the wifi completely unusable and I had to return it. I would very much like to give it another shot with another stick, but only if the most crucial feature actually works.

  2. There is a dual-boot on some rk3188 devices, you don’t need to take out SD card. And it’s not easier, most *.img for radxa works same way. What that guy did? Nothing new here… And for linux you can write it with dd if=ubuntu.img of=/dev/sdb bs=4M; sync

    1. In the past dual boot has meant choosing either an ‘Android’ kernel (i.e. a kernel compiled to specifically run Android) or a ‘Linux’ kernel (i.e. one compiled to specifically run Linux such as Ubuntu desktop with Unity) where both kernels are installed on internal memory (NAND).

      This new approach allows the booting of the ‘Linux’ kernel from the SD card meaning it will not affect the installed software and (more significantly) there is no pre-requisite for a specific stock or custom ROM to be pre-installed. As everything needed to boot is taken from the SD card it will also work if the NAND is empty or the device is ‘bricked’.

      It is easier in that the image only has to be written to an SD card (either using Windows or Linux) which can then be used immediately in the MiniPC rather than requiring the need to install drivers on Windows and connect the MiniPC to the Windows or Linux PC to update the firmware.

  3. It would be interesting if someone figured out how to do this with RK3188 based tablets like the Sero 8.

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