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.

Raspberry Pi

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.

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9 replies on “Raspberry Pi $35 PC reviewed, doesn’t disappoint”

  1. I’m struggling to find a reason why the Pi isn’t a replacement for desktop PC’s. I mean, for most IT tasks it works perfectly, especially from a command line interface. Unless I was doing graphics, video editing or gaming, then it’s just fine.

  2. The raspberry pi needs at least 1.5 GHZ and 1 GB RAM and flash memory to qualify as a standard computer that can maybe run windows 7

  3. Power is all relative.  The Raspberry Pi has more than enough power for its intended purpose, which is to teach programming.  As for using it as a general desktop system….  It has a lot more power than some desktop computers I’ve had in years gone by.  On the flip side, there are a lot of things I do with my computer today that I wouldn’t have even contemplated back then.  It all depends on your needs and perspective.

    I do think that there’s great potential with Linux to trim the fat, optimize for the Pi, and squeeze every ounce of performance out of this little gadget — but that process will take time and a lot of work.

  4. I expect the Rasberry Pi to do X forwarding via ssh well, as my Nokia n800 did that fairly well. Now the question is how far can the Rasberry Pi increase the resolution for decent X forwarding.

  5. It’s problems are the fact it is seriously lacking in the RAM dept and the fact it is designed more as a GPU with a CPU as a co-processor.  And the GPU where all the power resides is a closed blob.

    1. “serioulsy lacking in the RAM dept” sounds to me like someone too used to Windows-Bloat or fat desktop managers like KDE/Gnome.

      I’ve used x86 lightweight Distros in recent years with fully functioning desktop managers, browsers, messengers, media players, word processors, that took LESS than 64 megs of storage and less than 100 MB Ram after fully booting to desktop.

      Hell, 10 Years ago 256MB Ram were standard on the desktop, and typical computer use cases are the same now as they were back then.

      1.  True but the average requirements have gone up from ten years ago, with 512MB often considered the minimum now, and the point to many for running a desktop OS is a desktop OS experience, which includes being able to run any modern desktop program or at least the most common ones. 

        If the options are too limited then we might as well just use a mobile OS, which even then is starting to need more than 512MB of RAM to run properly these days.

        Such considerations happens with every new device as people consider what the limits are and whether they can live with them or not.

        Mind, a lot of people are interested in the Raspberry Pi simply as a cheap computer and unfortunately that can easily set expectations too high.

  6. i think a closer look at all the existing small linux distros will give a good answer to what’s possible and reasonable to run on these tiny guys. 

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