Raspberry Pi review

Gareth Halfacree finds out whether the £29 credit-card sized board with a 700MHz CPU and 256MB RAM can be used as an everyday PC.

Having examined the potential business benefits of the Raspberry Pi, we see if the tiny little board is capable of being used as a general-purpose computing machine.

The Raspberry Pi Model B comes with a Broadcom BCM2835 system-on-chip processor running at 700MHz and a VideoCore IV GPU running at 250MHz. A single 256MB module of Hynix LPDDR memory running at 400MHz provides RAM for the CPU and GPU, with the typical split leaving around 186MB of memory available for the user.

To get a feel for how the Pi performs as an actual PC, rather than as a development board, we installed the Debian Linux distribution with the lightweight LXDE desktop environment. Debian boots into a text-based terminal in just 13 seconds from a cold start, using a Transcend Class 10 SD card.

From here, it takes approximately eight seconds to load the LXDE desktop - at which point the system is ready for use. Loading the Midori web browser from the desktop takes around six seconds, plus a further eight seconds to load the IT Pro homepage.

Raspberry Pi - IT Pro webpage

It is possible to browse the web with the Pi, but Adobe Flash is not supported at this time

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If you're not impressed by a 12 second load time for a lightweight web browser, you should remember this is being performed by a device running on a 5V 1A power supply and taking up no more room than a short stack of business cards.

Once loaded, the lack of hardware accelerated video starts to bite. Scrolling on complex pages is painful, taking a good couple of seconds to get started and then skipping down the page in an extremely jerky fashion. Once hardware accelerated drivers are bundled with the distribution, we expect this to improve dramatically.

Loading resource hungry programs such as the The Gimp picture editor, really stretches the Pi's CPU. The first load took 87 seconds and subsequent loads, which skipped the 'querying plug-ins' step - took an average of 43 seconds. Not too shabby, but a far cry from the sub-ten seconds the same program takes to load on a desktop machine.

Raspberry Pi running Gimp

The Pi isn't ideal for running resource hungry programs, but it wasn't designed to do so

It's when loading The Gimp and other more complex programs, you realise why the various Linux distributions for the Pi have a CPU monitor somewhere on the taskbar. Without a graph showing the CPU maxing out, it's all too easy to wonder if the delay is because you didn't double-click fast enough or whether the system has hung altogether.

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In short: we found the Pi it perfectly possible to use the Raspberry Pi as a day-to-day machine, so long as you're fairly patient.

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