The Raspberri Pi $35 computer started shipping this weekend and the first customers are starting to receive the little computer boards. Meanwhile the folks at bit-tech have already put the Raspberry Pi through the paces to see just what you can do with an inexpensive low power computer that you can fit in the palm of your hand.
Here’s the short version: The Raspberry Pi is a much better computer than you’d probably expect from a $35 device. That’s not surprising, since the Rasberry Pi foundation is a non-profit and the product is being sold at or near cost.
But the Raspberry Pi is hardly a replacement for a full-blown desktop PC and probably isn’t even going to be as powerful as most modern smartphones.
The Raspberry Pi Model B has a 700 MHz Broadcom BCM2835 ARM11 processor, a 250MHz graphics processor, 256MB of RAM, and an SD card slot for storage. It has 2 USB ports, Ethernet, HDMI, and audio jacks.
The device is aimed at students and hobbyists rather than the general public. It can’t run Windows, since Windows 7 doesn’t support ARM-based chips and the version of Windows 8 that will run on ARM won’t be available unless it comes pre-loaded on a tablet, PC, or other device.
What you can do with the Raspberry Pi is install a range of different Linux-based operating systems such as Debian or Fedora. The good news is that bit-tech found that a range of apps such as the Midori web browser or GIMP image editor were able to run.
The bad news is that they run slowly. It took 87 seconds in their test just to load GIMP.
Since the Raspberry Pi’ s Broadcom processor was designed for set-top-boxes, it prioritizes graphics performance over general CPU power and theoretically supports OpenGL 3D graphics and 1080p HD video playback. But since the Raspberry Pi is such a new product, there aren’t many apps that take advantage of those capabilities yet. Most of the software available for the little computer can’t yet support hardware graphics acceleration, which is part of the reason the system will feel a little sluggish if you try to use it as a desktop replacement.
Still, for those looking for an inexpensive computer platform for the classroom setting or a cheap computer for development purposes, it sounds like you could to a lot worse. Just make sure not to expect to replace your Alienware gaming rig with a Pi anytime soon.
It should also be interested to see how the platform develops as more and more people get their hands on Raspberry Pi units and start developing software for the platform which could make it more useful for folks that don’t know how to write code and aren’t particularly interested.