Raspberry Pi 2 model B. There must be a model A as well, which is thinner and does not have a network port. But we can’t find anyone selling it.
But what about the old faithful Raspberry Pi? You know, the circuit board computer that doesn’t cost more than a few hundred bucks and with which only your own imagination sets the limits to how it can be used. It has also been in the news this spring, firstly thanks to a new version, the Raspberry Pi 2, which with a new processor is almost four times faster than its predecessor. It has received a quad-core Cortex A7 processor at 900 MHz where the predecessor had a core at 700 MHz, with 1 GB of memory against previous models’ 256 or 512 MB.
Windows 10? In some ways…
Second, because news started to emerge that it would be able to run Windows 10, and would also get it for free. Now it turned out to apply to the Windows 10 kernel without its own interface, something that developers can use to write Raspberry Pi programs with, and therefore nothing that us mere mortals enjoy.
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With Linux, you can actually get it right now, and that too for free. Could it just be another option for those who want a simple and super cheap surfing computer? And is it something that someone who lacks heavy computer knowledge and Linux skills can do? We decided to test just that.
With everything in place and all the cables connected, the Raspberry Pi runs into the famous hedgehog syndrome. A lot stands out, and suddenly it doesn’t feel so small and pretty anymore.
The first thing to remember is that the price you pay for the computer, around SEK 400 for the latest model, is not the end of the bill. To use it, you must also have a micro sd card, where everything – operating system, programs, files – should fit.
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You need at least 4 GB, but we would recommend 8 GB. In other words, there will be a couple of hundred more. And you’ll need a computer case for your Pi too, it costs about a hundred more. And if you don’t have a free mobile charger (Raspberry Pi uses micro-usb for power.) you have to get one too.
Easy as pie
That everything comes in a kit is not a major problem. We mounted the circuit board in our simple little box in fifteen seconds. It took longer to break into the plastic packaging for the memory card. Now we have a blank computer and need an operating system.
There is a very simple and user-friendly software package that you can download for free called NOOBS. It comes in a zip file, and all we need to do is unzip it and copy over the files to the sd card. Anyone who doesn’t want to do that can actually buy an SD card with NOOBS preloaded.
Raspbian. Easy to install, and works, but only barely.
Then we insert the sd card into the Raspberry Pi, connect the mouse, keyboard and screen (via hdmi) and turn on the computer by pushing in the power cord. The Raspberry Pi has no on/off button, but is simply controlled by the power supply. Suddenly, we get a nice and simple menu where we can choose from several different operating systems to install.
At the time of writing, however, most are only compatible with old Raspberry Pi. The one we want here is Raspbian, which is a Raspberry Pi-adapted variant of the Debian Linux distribution. We simply click on it and select Install. Then the installer ticks on for a few minutes and does the rest. It’s even easier than booting up a Windows computer for the first time.
Tough, cramped and limited
The end result is still… not exactly convincing. The experience is similar to how it felt to run Windows in the 90s. There are long waiting times to start programs, move windows or even click buttons in dialog boxes. The system never manages to identify our monitor and understand that it is in the resolution 1920 x 1080, but we get a compressed desktop of 1824 x 924 pixels. We don’t expect much from a 400-krona computer, but a minimum requirement should be that the display port, which is an hdmi, can handle common screen resolutions, such as 1080p.
With a little Linux knowledge and patience, it is also possible to run the popular Ubuntu on the Raspberry Pi. Here there is access to more useful programs, for example the photo editor Gimp, but we get the same screen problem, and the system is just as easy to use.
After googling the problem for a couple of hours and trying three different suggestions for solutions that didn’t work, we gave up. We also have no support for any printers, and a couple of the computer mice we plug in don’t work at all, even though they work fine in a Windows notebook, an Android tablet, and an Ubuntu PC.
However, Raspbian gives us a familiar and beautiful desktop and a handful of programs pre-installed, including an email client, notepad and a web browser. Then there is a program store where more programs can be downloaded. The selection is anything but large, but as long as we have a good browser, a media player and an office suite, we’re not going to complain. And on that point, Raspbian delivers.
We can download and install Libre Office, a very capable free software package that is compatible with MS Office. And the browser does its job dutifully, even if some novelties can cause problems, such as the fact that some web pages require plug-ins. But that’s basically it.
So this is the test of the Raspberry Pi 2 as a desktop computer to surf, e-mail and work on, in competition with budget PCs, tablets and Compute Stick. Written by and for those who have no idea about the hardware and the ecosystem, and just want a super cheap computer that works.
Raspberry Pi is great fun in other contexts, but as a desktop computer it is still not enough, despite a substantial performance boost. The potential is there, and maybe there could be even more optimized Linux distributions for it in the future, or if Microsoft allows it a real Windows port, but right now you save very little money and get a clearly inferior result compared to if you for example buys a Compute Stick with Windows for SEK 1,500. It’s twice as expensive, but four times as good.
Facts: Raspberry Pi 2 model B
Manufacturer: Raspberry Pi, www.raspberrypi.org
System circuit: Broadcom BCM2836.
Processor: Cortex-A7, 0.9 GHz quad core.
Graphics: Broadcom Videocore IV.
Memory: 1GB RAM.
Storage: Micro sd card slot.
Connections: 4 pcs usb 2, lan, hdmi, audio out.
Operating system: None (tested with Raspbian, installed with NOOBS)
Award: 400 kroner.
Easy to get started
Great opportunities for the technically minded
Not fast enough for the desktop
Problems with external hardware
Requires additional equipment