Monday, June 11, 2012

Test: Raspberry Pi Model B

The Raspberry Pi is not the first miniature computer - plug computers, these computers so small they fit in the space of an outlet, are now common. But this machine the size of a credit card is distinguished by its openness, modern hardware platform, its connectivity and above all ... the price! For less than € 40, that can be done with a Raspberry Pi? Some answers in our test.

The Raspberry Pi is built around Broadcom BCM2835 SoC: it therefore has a 700 MHz ARM11 processor, a graphics chip VideoCore IV, and 256 MB of RAM. This data sheet recalls the machinery of the late 1990s, the performance also: the recommended installation of Debian, with LXDE desktop environment, however slight, is particularly slow. Most tests show raw scores from 10 to 100 times lower than a MacBook Air, and start the browser Midori may take longer than 10 seconds.

When you're used to the fluidity and speed of mobile devices with SSD or IOS, this return to a more rudimentary computer is violent. But let's face it: with visible welding seams, storage on SD card, its pins and ports, the Raspberry Pi is not designed for a workstation used conventionally. This is a development platform, a machine hacks, and why not, a tool that teaching. Rest for some markets and in some environments; the Raspberry Pi can be used as cheap small computer: the Model B, with its two USB ports and HDMI port can be connected to most screens as well as a keyboard and mouse. It can be used with many GNU / Linux distributions, including Debian and ArchLinux most prudent for the more experienced: that which can make a good introduction into the world of education, or the relative lightness of the material can be offset by a large distribution optimization and ... masked by the absence of habits.

The development server to the personal Dropbox

But this is not necessarily the area in which the Raspberry Pi excels: delete the GUI, and you're with a miniature server, extremely efficient (3.5 W), powerful enough for most small common tests, and cheap enough to not appear as oversized - and multiply Raspberry Pi configurations with different. The Raspberry Pi can be used as development platform: it supports many languages, including some of the most popular (Python, Perl , Ruby, Java, Lua, etc..). One of the most popular uses is probably to install a web server (Apache, Nginx, Node.js, etc..), A database server (MySQL, etc..) And support language of a "web" (PHP, Python, etc..), and use the Raspberry Pi as a small web server on which to develop applications.

Some are also currently testing the Raspberry Pi as self-hosting solution. Our own tests show that with a standard LAMP distribution (Debian, Apache, MySQL, PHP 5.4.3), the Raspberry Pi may well hold the load if it is to host a personal page, or a small family site a wiki. Uses a simulation shows nevertheless that in case of heavy load, lack of RAM (only 256 MB) will be a problem long before the processor or your connexion.On can nevertheless imagine using the Raspberry Pi as a personal server: if you are handy and that your needs are limited, it will be a cheaper solution than a Mac and less greedy than an old PC out of the attic. We had no trouble using it as a mail server, contacts and calendars, or indeed to make a personal Dropbox - it is in this case your connection will be the first to accuse the coup. The software is fully satisfied of Owncloud Raspberry Pi, and greatly facilitates the establishment of such a solution. Add a cron to schedule backups to external drives, and you have a small personal server for less than two hours and forty euros configuration and test. 

Beyond these uses "Utilities", the Raspberry Pi may prove to be particularly useful in the lounge. We must admit that it is difficult to play a video on it if we use a standard distribution with a graphical interface: when the processor is permanently saturated, despite the excellent small graphics chip. But the distribution OpenELEC, highly optimized, solves this problem: it is entirely devoted to the display of XBMC, this solution media-center cross-platform.

Then we have had no trouble playing video, including HD 1080p quality - it must be said that the Rasperry Pi has a video decoder chip. Better to store video on an external drive connected via USB or a network volume: they will be available sooner than if they are stored on the SD card we tested Raspberry Pi control OpenELEC with a wireless keyboard connected using a dongle, but many users have apparently he had no trouble making it work with a remote control and dongle for use natural. For little more than your ADSL box do is not far from your TV, you can easily connect to the network Raspberry Pi and hide behind the screen with his external drive. All will be efficient and quiet, for a hundred dollars - the equivalent Apple TV is certainly infinitely more elegant, but it is also less flexible. For a few dollars more, you can make a cardboard box, or even order a plastic.

And more ...

These three uses are only a few possible uses: some people talk about home automation, we began to test the integration of NFC, and others are already thinking out their soldering iron to include Raspberry Pi in more projects complex.

Let's be frank: if you are not techie, the Raspberry Pi is not for you - put the 40 € in a nice protection for your iPhone. If, against you're not afraid of the command line, it will be a fantastic tool to lose many, many, many times, and enormously fun along the way.

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