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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.

Hardware

Connectors are found on every edge of the board. Input comes in the form of a microUSB power socket and two USB 2.0 ports and output with HDMI, 3.5mm audio and RCA composite video all present and correct. For those looking to use the board in an embedded environment, there's also a Display Serial Interconnect (DSI) connector for flat-panel displays and - exclusive to the Model B - a MIPI camera connector.

Key specifications

Chipset: Broadcom BCM2835 SoC with 700MHz clock speed

RAM: 256MB

Storage: SD card

Connections: 2x USB ports, 1x Ethernet port, 1x HDMI, 1x Audio jack

The Model B comes equipped with a single RJ45 Ethernet jack, providing 10/100M connectivity as standard. It's this jack, which led to one of the production delays. The board was designed to expect a 'MagJack', which contains integrated signal-conditioning magnetics. Unfortunately, the overseas manufacturing house accidentally soldered plain jacks without integrated magnetics, meaning the signal received is of too poor a quality. A quick de-solder and replacement later, and we have a fully-working Pi.

Raspberry Pi - ethernet

The Model B includes on-board 10/100MB Ethernet, but lacks native wireless capabilities

The on-board Ethernet port is the stand-out feature of the Model B and something most users will find a necessary addition to the device. It's possible to add networking to the Model A with the use of a cheap USB to Ethernet adapter, but performance won't be great - and it takes up the only available USB port on the device.

Speed demons will be disappointed with the Ethernet port as it is a mere 10/100M. In reality, it's fast enough. Having installed the miniDLNA media streaming software, we were able to turn the Pi into a NAS and stream 1080p HD content to a PlayStation 3 without a single glitch or hiccough.

The nature of the system-on-chip at the heart of the Pi does, however, introduce a potential bottleneck. Should the Pi be working heavily on one of its USB ports - which, unfortunately, share a single USB 2.0 connection to the system bus and use a power-hungry on-board USB hub to split it into two physical ports - there is the potential for the network performance to suffer.

We didn't have any bottlenecks during testing. Any bottleneck present in the system was far more likely to come from the 700MHz ARM11 CPU, rather than the connection between the network port and the system bus. For those looking at the Pi as a potential low-power NAS server, it's still something to consider when sizing up the competition.

The Pi doesn't have any on-board wireless capabilities, but it is compatible with USB-connected Wi-Fi dongles. Taking a cheap Z-Link 802.11b/g USB dongle, we were able to connect the Pi to a WPA-protected wireless network. Wireless performance through the dongle was similar to mobile devices on the saturated network.

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