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As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less and less interested in owning the fastest desktop PC in the world. Instead, I’m way more interested in having the quietest PC. This isn’t as easy as you’d think because I’ve also become dependent on having dual 4K monitors on my desk. I haven’t found any inexpensive PCs that can drive dual 4K monitors unless I install a separate graphics card. Doing so works fine but it’s not quiet. I can definitely hear the fans from the PC and the graphics card.
In the past, Raspberry PIs were mainly used for special purposes, such as micro-controllers, monitors, robots, and the like. They weren’t designed to be desktop computers. But now, RP4s with 8GB RAM, USB 3 ports, 2 4K HDMI video ports, and 4 CPU cores at least at first glance look like contenders. I decided to take the plunge, and bought an RP4 8GB.
A number of people have created YouTube videos or blog pages summarizing their experiences in trying to use a Raspberry Pi 4 (RP4) as a replacement for traditional desktop PCs. In general they say that a RP4 is infuriatingly close to being a replacement, but that it has a ways to go. I agree with this, and I thought I’d post my reasons for thinking so.
None of what I say below is original. It’s all been said before. It’s also important to keep in mind that most of these issues only matter when using an RP4 as a desktop replacement. While other uses, and users, of RP4s would benefit if these issues were resolved, they’re not showstoppers. Also, I don’t want to sound unappreciative. The RP4 is an amazing computer for an amazing price.
Here are the major issues I’ve found:
I’m lucky to have a 1Gbs internet connection at home. This isn’t just the theoretical top speed of my connection. With my regular Windows PC, when going to https://fast.com
I regularly see 1Gbs download speed. However, if I move the cable from my PC to my RP4 I “only” get 150Mbs. This is nothing to be ashamed about, but it’s still just 15% of what I get with my regular PC. I did some tests (see viewtopic.php?f=63&t=280994
for the details) and found that ~85% of the network performance is lost when using https on my RP4. As I said in my posting, if I run the iperf3 network testing program between the RP4 and another PC on my 1Gbs local network, I see ~900Mbs. This shows that the ethernet adapter on the RP4 is not the cause of the slow down. My current hypothesis is that the RP4 doesn’t have the necessary hardware instructions to run TLS/HTTPS at full wire speed. For a desktop PC this is a big deal.
Unoptimized Graphics Stack
On my Windows desktop PC I spend (waste?) an amazing amount of time watching YouTube and streaming video services (e.g. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu). Poor graphics performance is one of the recurring themes I see in many of the RP4-as-desktop-replacement videos and postings. This is in spite of the presence of a GPU in a RP4 . I’m not well informed enough to know what the problem is, but it’s clear that the whole graphics stack needs to be optimized and tuned for RP4s. It should be easy for Raspberry Pi OS and every other OS distribution to come with the proper drivers in place so that end-users don’t have to make configuration changes.
32-bit vs. 64-bit Architecture
For traditional RP4 uses, the need for single processes greater than the 3GB limit imposed by the 32-bit architecture was uncommon enough so that moving to the 64-bit architecture wasn’t a big deal. It’s still not crystal clear how necessary processes larger than 3GB are on a desktop replacement. However, given that a desktop replacement needs all the performance it can get, a 64-bit architecture can make a real difference. I know that 64-bit Raspberry Pi OS is in beta mode but I’m hoping that the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and other OS developers, give equal priority to the 32-bit and 64-bit architectures.
MicroSD vs. USB
Relying on a MicroSD card for anything other than booting is asking for trouble. They weren’t designed to be a general purpose I/O device. The fact that they work as well as they do on an RP4 is a miracle. I know that Raspberry Pi OS and the RP4 firmware have recently been updated to allow booting from a USB device. This was great news, but, as of today, only the 32-bit version of Raspberry Pi OS supports this. USB booting should be standard on all RP4 OSs.
Digital Rights Management
This is another area where I’m not well informed. But, I believe that currently the only Web browser on a RP4 that can display Netflix video is Chromium, and even then you have to manually add various libraries and be running 32-bit Raspberry Pi OS. I’m not sure what can be done about this, but anyone thinking of using an RP4 as a desktop should expect some rough sailing here.
For me, these issues I’ve described above are too great to make me want to keep my RP4 so I’ve decided to sell it. Instead, I’m buying a Hardkernel ODROID-H2+ . This is a single board computer with a 4 core Intel Celeron, 2 memory slots supporting up to 32GB, and a NVMe slot. Sure, it’s about twice as expensive as a RP4 but I’m not expecting to have to make as many compromises.
I welcome corrections and comments.