Raspberry PI Development

The Rise of Raspberry Pi: Final Desktop Replacement?

12/06/20 8 min. read

It’s been 8 years since Raspberry Pi was launched, the motto of a 25$ computer. Now Raspberry is no longer a baby in computing environment.

Contents of this post:

A bit of history 👣

I first heard of it nearly 1 year before its release, that was June/2011, and I subscribed to the mailing list because that seemed sooooo god! Not by power but for the possibilities.

Then it was “released” on 29th of February of 2012 and I was added to the waiting list.

On May my order was processed with a 3 week delivery date and finally got it by June. After that I have to say I’ve not been the most remarkable make, albeit I got Kafka running in one, have a mini arcade machine and the latest an always-on Lomo-like camera.

Later on 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 newer and more powerful Raspberry where released. Powerful, how much? Not very.

The first raspberry of 2012 go the power of an iPhone 1st generation that was released on 2007, nearly 5 years earlier. And the processor had ARM11 cores, behind the Cortex-A9 line drawn by the –now defunct- ability to use Flash. But that was one of the baselines of Rapsberry: make it cheap and open, so everyone can use it. I remember that the original idea was to make a school project board.

Raspberry Pi 4: feel the power of RAM 👨‍💻

Raspberry Pi 4 was to me a surprise. After the inclusion of Raspberry Pi 3 with a quad-core A53 processor (64 bits) and the previous addition of multiple USB ports it seemed to me that Raspberry was put to sleep until a big change for some time.

So it came with 2GB and 4GB options, dual microHDMI, USB-3 ports and USB-C power. And a quad core A72 processor! What a surprise.

And now the 8GB version.

To me the idea behind Raspbery Pi 4 was the desktop enthusiast. Wide range of ports, dual HDMI, fast USB, all those clues sent me the idea: build a workstation with the raspberry!

RAM memory

But there were some disappointments 🤨

The first one was the bug in USB-C power. It meant that some intelligent chargers wouldn’t recognize Raspberry Pi 4 as a demanding appliance and it simply won’t work. It was a minor bug as the official charger worked but it was a hardware bug, so it needed a board revision.

Then the lack of USB boot options. The microSD card was still needed for booting and that mainly meant slower operation times. That was available form a series of previous boards but not for the 4.

And 2020 fixed everything 🙌

Eventually, if you do not count COVID-19

It started with newer batches of the board without the USB-C problem so the “portable” part of Raspberry Pi was recovered, albeit the 5V/3A power requirement was a bit high nowadays that is not even falling in the “fast charging” area of most smartphone makers.

Then, a new camera!

When I started the project of making an always on camera I started the research for Raspberry Pi cameras. What a comedown, the options of direct connection cameras was sluggish. Finally I opted for 10MP black and white camera that required a shield for USB external connection.

But Raspberry is trying hard to fix it with the new 12.3MPx Sony sensor. And not a low quality one, the one with 1.55μm x 1.55μm pixel size and interchangeable lenses!

Finally the two desktop drivers 💻

The last two bits I felt there were needed for building a desktop Raspberry Pi system have been solved.

USB boot is in beta stage, but working, so you can get the rid of microSD and use an USB3 SDD to boot the raspberry. I do not know if the boot itself will be faster but if the USB3 port behaves the use of the system will be improved by the size and speed of the drive.

And finally a proper amount of memory, the 8GB RAM version has come!

The earlier up to 4GB versions were nice, for a few things, but when dealing with a desktop use more RAM means more fluid. If I have a look to my system right now I have the usual applications: email, messaging, terminal, office and lots of chrome tabs. I’m using about 8GB of RAM right now but I know I can fit into 8GB without many problems, at least if I’m not in developer mode.

My own Raspberry Pi 4 Desktop setup. Is it worth it? ⌨️

I’m asking myself the same question. I’ve visited a couple of dealers and I’ve found that in Spain I can get the Raspberry Pi 4 along with heatsink, fan, case, two micro-HDMI cables, power and a nice keyboard and mouse pack for a bit over 110€. I’ll have to throw in one USB3-SSD I already have, but a new one is worth about 100€. So 210€ / 110€ with reuse. It seems very reasonable to me so I’m ordering one and I’ll let you know any deal breakers I find.

This is my own Raspberry Desktop:

Raspberry Pi Desktop setup
Raspberry Pi 4 Desktop setup: Ethernet, USB-C connector, HDMI-VGA adapter y external SSD.

But still one disappointment 🎧

Previously we said that nearly all the flaws were solved in the last hardware and software review. But there is still one painful bit: the audio.

It is not that the audio is not good enough, the audio output it is just audio without any aspiration but there is no input audio. You read it correctly. The jack in the Raspberry Pi 4 has no input, it is a TRS mini-jack not the TTRS we expected to plug mic-enabled headphones.

So, how do I chat? Videoconference? The answer is: use an external device. Either a USB audio interface of Bluetooth headphones. I tried that last one without any success but I have to say that the headphones were probably the problem. I’ll keep you updated.

Wish list for Christmas… 🎁

Even RPi4 8GB is very nice, what improvements we would ask for?

From a functional point of view what I miss more is the storage interfacing. It would be nice at least one (or two) SATA connectors, mSATA or M.2. But I know it is difficult, any of those solutions would require another chip in the board and we’ll probably would face the problem of open source drivers. Anyway it is a nice dream :-p

From a pure hardware enthusiast RPi 4 chipset it is still build on a 28nm process, that is a very old technology (nowadays Intel is using 10nm, AMD and Samsung 7nm and I think 5nm is coming very soon, even this year).

The inherent problem with 28nm building process is not just size but heat. And heat prevents the chip running faster. 1.5GHz is not bad but it is not event on par with the 2.5Ghz of the Kirin 955 running inside Huawei P9, a 2015 phone, and that was build on 16nm.

I understand that 28nm is cheap, the main reason for the success of all the Raspberry Pi models, but bumping up a bit the Ghz can make this last Raspberry Pi even powerful! Or give some room for overclocking.

And the TTRS mini-jack input 😉 

Final Words 🎤

Be warned that the 8GB of RAM is a fully working version but the current default operating system recently christened as Raspberry Pi OS is still a 32 bit OS. This means that any single running process is still limited to 3GB, but all of them can sum up to 8GB (without counting swapping). 64 bit Raspberry Pi OS is under development or you can choose Ubuntu or Gentoo.

Just remember: Raspberry was created for fun, so play and let us know.

Raspberry Pi

Bonus Track 🏆

The new Raspberry Pi OS update:

The 64 bit beta version:

Juan Tavira

Juan Tavira

Santander Global Tech

Specialist, architect and interdisciplinary geek passionate about all kinds of innovations. This is easy to say for oneself, but when my computing colleagues, my geek friends and even my wife say so, then it must be true somehow ;-). I also like to build violins as a hobby. I see code

 

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