Raspberry Pi as a Desktop Computer
In honor of the Raspberry Pi 4 launch, last week the Tom’s Hardware Community Team held a 48 hour AMA session with Raspberry Pi founder and CEO, Eben Upton. Eben and his team at Raspberry Pi spearheaded the push into affordable single board computing, and in a large part responsible for the product category’s explosive growth over the past few years. We received a large number of helpful questions and informative answers. In fact the organization has been referencing our AMA as the single source for Raspberry Pi 4 FAQs. We wanted to pass on this useful information to our readers who may have missed our live AMA.
Before we begin, the Community Team wanted to give a quick shout out and thank you to Eben for participating in this very special launch week AMA.
Eben Upton, Founder and CEO of Raspberry Pi
Eben Upton created the Raspberry Pi single board computer to help children learn about computer programming and inspire a new generation of engineering talent. He takes direct inspiration from Acorn’s BBC Micro computer, which helped students and hobbyists learn about computers in the 1980s.
Q: I just got a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ and it is awesome. I set it up to function as a weather station. While I love the 3, I want to know if it's worth getting a 4, seeing it’s so soon after I got my 3 B+?
A: I think it depends on what you want to do. For physical computing applications like weather stations the earlier products are quite sufficient. Buy a 4 if you want/need the high-performance CPUs, faster USB and dual-4k support.
Q: A lot of YouTube Creators use Raspberry Pi in a great many of their projects to do the most outstanding and unusual things imaginable. Do you have any plans to setup an outreach program to work with creators and/or highlight their projects?
A: That's an interesting idea. We have ad hoc relationships with some creators, but nothing you'd characterize as a "program". Did you have any particular people in mind?
Q: Will the Raspberry Pi 4 support the full desktop version of Windows 10?
A: I'd love to see this. I'm sure someone will find a way to get something working (as they did with 3 B+), but a "proper" implementation with e.g. DirectX acceleration would require extensive work from the Microsoft side.
Q: I was thinking of setting up one of these with my kid as a project. I want to build a fully functional PC for him to use long term, like a desktop PC that can run Windows and be used for school. Can the Pi 4 deliver the necessary power for that?
A: Yes, it is suitable for use as a general-purpose desktop PC. The caveat is that it runs Linux, not Windows; a lot of schools seem to be using GSuite now, which runs well on Raspberry Pi 4 under Chromium, so this may not be an issue.
Q: Target in the US has been selling the Raspberry Pi 3 for a while now. Are more Raspberry Pi products (like different models and accessories) coming to Target and other big box retail stores in the US?
A: I don't have any info here I'm afraid, as this isn't a direct engagement, but rather is run by (I think) Canakit, one of our Approved Resellers. Having said that, getting product into bricks-and-mortar retail is a priority for us, and the work Target have been doing in the maker space is very impressive, so I'm hopeful we'll see growth here.
Q: Some consumers primarily purchase and use the Raspberry Pi as a lightweight PC for media consumption and web browsing. Is improving this use case important to the development team? Does your team want to enlarge the user base by attracting users who are not interested in using the Raspberry Pi for projects, and only in the market for a simple, affordable PC?
A: This is incredibly important to us: in fact it's the primary goal with Raspberry Pi 4. Getting a cheap, usable PC, pre-loaded with programming tools into everyone's (and particularly children's) hands is one of the ways we want to accomplish our charitable mission.
Q: Does video playback on YouTube at 1080p, 60fps work well?
A: That's at the edge of our capabilities right now, but we're doing a lot of work to optimise the performance and power consumption of HTML video playback.
Q: Is an 64-bit version of Raspbian in development? Some applications benefit a lot from ARMv8 / 64-bit (NEON) optimizations.
A: So 64-bit Raspbian would actually just be AArch64 Debian. It is probably feasible to build a work-alike version of our standard release against the AArch64 repos (we already do this for PCs and Macs with the i386 repos), but we're currently unpersuaded that there's a benefit.
Much more likely is that we move in due course to a 64-bit kernel with the 32-bit Raspbian userland on top of it. There's work to be done, but this would bring some performance improvements in some areas by reducing page-table maintenance cost versus our current 32-bit LPAE kernel.
Q: Will we see an official port of Android/Android TV to Raspberry Pi in the near future?
A: Not from us, but I believe the move to the V3D Mesa driver, KMS, and ARM-side control of the HEVC decoder, makes a high-performance community port much more viable.
Q: How much further does Raspberry Pi 4 bring us closer to a standalone Virtual Reality headset free of cables tethering the user to a fixed position? Have you seen much demand for a marked boost in graphics processing power?
A: You could certainly build something like this with a Raspberry Pi 4, depending on how much graphical fidelity you were looking for. Interestingly, we haven't seen a lot of explicit demand from the community for more OpenGL throughput: requests for upgrades to CPU, IO and video decode were much more common. The uplift we get from VideoCore VI does help with Chromium rendering and desktop composition.
Q: Will there be any planned official kits for UMPC or mini laptop powered by this new board? There are already quite a number of DIYs and third party kits around for the previous boards.
A: We don't have plans to do anything official, but as you say there's a lot of third-party activity in this area.