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LemmeFatale
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Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to differ.

Tue Oct 08, 2013 3:15 pm

I have often seen it implied (or even outright stated) that the Raspberry Pi isn't really all that usable as a computer in the "desktop PC" sense, so I decided to put those claims to the test by swapping out my usual netbook (the year-old model of the Asus 1225B, on which I run Xubuntu) for my Raspberry Pi Model B (512MB) Motorola Lapdock setup, which runs Raspbian.

Software-wise, I've set this RPi up to use the same things that I use daily on the 1225B - I ditched LXDE in favour of Xfce, installed Iceweasel (which, for those unaware, is essentially Firefox with a different name on it), and then added two out of my three usual browser add-ons - Adblock Plus and NoScript. The only difference in what I'm using on the Raspberry Pi is the lack of Flashblock, which isn't necessary on the RPi, since Adobe Flash doesn't exist for ARMv6.

Speed-wise, the Asus 1225B has a 1.6GHz AMD CPU, whilst my Raspberry Pi is slightly overclocked to 800MHz.

I've now been using this setup every day for about three weeks, and am writing and posting this on it, and I have the following observations to share. Note that I'm not speaking of benchmarks or other such figures - just day-to-day usage, doing what I usually do.

1: It's not that slow. Perhaps my requirements for a computer are (much?) more modest than some (please bear in mind that I used a Commodore 64 as my only computer from 1989 until 1996), but for what I do on a computer or netbook (which for the most part consists of reading web-pages, and reading and writing plain-text files), there is so little difference between the RPi and the 1225B as to be imperceptible to me. It's not quite as nippy as some ARMv7 hardware (often set to the same speed or less) that I also use, but it's not too far off. I can really only say that Iceweasel is a little slower to start on the RPi (I haven't yet applied any tweaks that might speed up its start-up, but it is fine once running, and performs little differently to Firefox on the Asus 1225B), and some heavier web-pages (for example, Gmail's non-HTML version) can take some time to load and be a bit sluggish, but the latter strikes me as more a problem of poor coding of web-pages than something I can honestly fault a roughly-£25-ish computer for. I typically have anything between two and twenty-five tabs open at a time in Iceweasel, and the Raspberry Pi is fine with this (and I've even done some Christmas shopping on it). I've been surprised by how nicely Libre Office runs, too - it doesn't really seem to be too different to any other machine that I've used it on, even when starting up. I would say, though, that it may not be suitable for dealing with the rather large scanned images that I sometimes work with in pursuit of my other, non-computing hobby (sewing), as I think that I might need a little bit more RAM for that!

2: There are less distractions from actually getting stuff done. The lack of Flash, in particular, does not strike me as a problem, especially since it means that I have one less browser add-on to run in order to block it except where I want it to be, and I know that there are ways to get around YouTube's use of it, for the occasions when I need to view something there on this machine (though I haven't yet sorted all of that out on here yet).

3: It runs much cooler, and I don't need to charge the Lapdock multiple times in a day. The Asus 1225B, by comparison, makes some pretty lofty battery-life claims that I've never found it to live up to, which makes it a bit impractical.

4: It enforces good backup habits from the start. I've never had any issues with SD Card corruptions or problems, but the fact that it's possible has encouraged me to take proper care of backing things up, which I have occasionally been a bit of a slacker about on other machines. I like the fact that this can be done very simply with an RPi alone using standard Linux commands, as long as you have a second SD Card to run the OS from when backing up your main card, and somewhere to store the backup (I know that there are other methods, but I like the fact that this one is simple and will work without requiring access to any other computers).

5: This last one is perhaps a bit subjective, but I've found that it's actually more fun to use. Perhaps it's an innate trait of the Raspberry Pi and Raspbian, or perhaps it's just me, but it seems to outright invite tweaking, tinkering, and messing with software so that it works better for you - it's a bit of a contrast to other modern desktop Linux distributions for heavier hardware, which tend to spoil you a bit, and don't really give you much, if any, incentive to change things up. By contrast, the first thing that I did on this machine was to set up my own user account (with the same permissions and group as "pi" had), ditch the default desktop environment, and then install and set up my preferred one to my liking, and I learned things along the way, because (in spite of using Linux exclusively since 2008) I've never done any of these things before due to the aforementioned spoiling.

I don't actually see any reason to go back to using the Asus machine at this point, as I find it hugely frustrating to deal with it and its excessive power-hunger (not to mention, I'm actually in the process of switching over to ARM for all of my computing requirements right now). I will probably add an in-line USB battery-pack to the Lapdock sometime soon, so as to counteract the way that it cuts the RPi's power briefly when the lid is shut, as the ability to just close the machine and go is about the only thing that I actually miss a bit (I don't even miss battery status updates, because the Lapdock itself will notify you with a big, obvious red battery-symbol LED when it needs charging).

If this was the only computer that I had access to, and it was my intent to use it for standard useful computery things such as written work, research, and so on (as opposed to frivolities like heavy Facebook games and whatnot), I could actually get on with it just fine (indeed, for my day-to-day use, I already do). I'd also like to add that kudos are in order to the Raspberry Pi Foundation for making a machine this capable available at the price that it's sold for - I'm sure that as awareness continues to rise, it will become a real game-changer for the many who cannot afford an overpriced x86-based personal computer (in my view, synthetic benchmarks and claims from techno-centric folks that it's not usable mean nothing in the face of this - being able to get a useful machine that handles internet access nicely for this price is simply world-changing).

Has anyone else tried using a Raspberry Pi in this capacity? How have you gotten on?
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pjc123
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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Tue Oct 08, 2013 4:10 pm

I would never even attempt to compare the pi to a desktop computer. It is so slow that I would wind up smashing it with a hammer if I had to use it every day, even for the most basic tasks. Even my ancient XP computer blows it away, never mind my fairly modern desktop with a quad 2.8 GHz hyper-threaded cpu, 8 Gigs of memory, etc. But that is not why I bought it......it is for electronic tinkering, and for that it is perfect.
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tvjon
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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Tue Oct 08, 2013 4:16 pm

LemmeFatale wrote:I.......
Has anyone else tried using a Raspberry Pi in this capacity? How have you gotten on?
Yes, with similar observations & conclusions. Eventually we'll have no mains electricity connection at all, so will rely entirely (rather than partially, as at present) on solar energy, & maybe wind, hence power consumption is critical. I haven't had time to read the "when's the next Pi.." threads, but all we'd like is a lower power consumption one :)

I use luakit for web browsing, as it's the best (for me) that I've tried on RPi. I only need ascii text now so haven't used the Office app. I've ordered goods via the web on the RPi, used DVD drives etc.. Unlike you I'm a Linux novice, & it's interesting to see the effort that's gone into improving Linux for this particular ARM device. RPi is an excellent platform on which to learn about Linux, with forum contributions from some very experienced people.

A friend has the same lapdock as you & it seems very good. I use a 23" 1920*1080 monitor with this RPi which consumes only 17 watts.

I wanted to see how viable it would be for folks out in the sticks where resources are scarce. It's a very good platform. I even get a respectable FPS conversion using "HandbrakeCLI" :)

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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Tue Oct 08, 2013 4:48 pm

Eventually we'll have no mains electricity connection at all, so will rely entirely (rather than partially, as at present) on solar energy, & maybe wind, hence power consumption is critical.
OT/ThreadDrift: Is that "we" as in you and your family? If so, I'd like to hear about your setup...

Or is it "we" as in society in general?

(Just curious...)

Back on topic, and to the OP: I think you have a leg up on this because you've been using Linux as a desktop OS for quite some time already. For those of us who have Windows apps upon which we depend, the switchover isn't so painless. But still, kudos to you!
And some folks need to stop being fanboys and see the forest behind the trees.

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DavidS
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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Tue Oct 08, 2013 5:32 pm

Well to throw in my two cents:

Yes i have been using my RPi as my main computer for everything as to day to day use is concerned, and a lot more, for a year. I find it a nice transition. Comparing it to a desktop machine it is a joy, though two seperate comparisons are needed:

1. Compared to the RiscPC (My previous main system) [the RISC OS side]:
It is 5 times faster than the RiscPC with a 200MHz SA110 CPU, and it has twice as much RAM, the RAM is faster. Through the GPIO header many more peripherials are supported.

The RISC OS version is great (now that most of the major bugs have been resolved), and almost every Application that I use runs with out any trouble, and the few that do not run in emulation with no problem.

Many of the development programs work better on the RPi verses the RiscPC. As examples:
  • 1. Schemedit.

    2. BSpice is actually fast enough to deal with large projects in a usable time frame.

    3. The Norcroft C and related tools can compile the entire RISC OS ROM + Boot Sequence + all of my Applications in under half an hour.

    4. !gcc is actually usable (all be it slow). On the RiscPC it was unusably slow.

    5. The BBC Basic Assembler supports the ARMv5, ARMv6, ARMv7, instructions including VFP.

    6. !ExtASM: I had never even tried this one before moving to the RPi.

    7. Charm, another one that I started with on the RPi, and it is greate.
2. Compared to My core2Duo 2.4GHz with 4GB RAM [The Linux side]:
I only recently began running Linux on the RPi, though this retired my PC.

Iceweasle runs just as well on the RPi as on the Core2Duo. The Linux implementation in Raspbian is a lot cleaner than that of the intel targeted Debian.

AND most important: Electric VLSI (C version) runs at least as well on the RPi as on the Core2Duo.
As well as the fact that the Java version of Electric VLSI actually runs on the RPi (never could get to work on Debian).

I do not do any significant Software development in Linux so I can not comment on the compilers, assemblers.
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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Tue Oct 08, 2013 5:37 pm

pjc123 wrote:I would never even attempt to compare the pi to a desktop computer. It is so slow that I would wind up smashing it with a hammer if I had to use it every day, even for the most basic tasks. Even my ancient XP computer blows it away, never mind my fairly modern desktop with a quad 2.8 GHz hyper-threaded cpu, 8 Gigs of memory, etc. But that is not why I bought it......it is for electronic tinkering, and for that it is perfect.
Except the OP just did, and found the comparison acceptable....

Going to be interesting to see how htings pan out when Wayland comes out. With the CPU free to just do important stuff rather than Windows management, the Pi should become much better at general desktop tasks.
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Heater
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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Tue Oct 08, 2013 7:29 pm

I can be logged into my Pi and working all day long quite happily. Command line only over ssh. I'm sure if I hooked up a screen, keyboard and mouse I would be quite happy using it directly.

However some typical usage of a computer for me is compiling new and interesting programs. A recent example is propgcc, a cross-compiler for the Propeller MCU from Parallax Inc. Rebuilding propgcc on the Pi takes about 21 hours where as on a modern PC or Mac it can be done in 15 minutes.

As such the Pi is never going to be a desktop replacement. But then I don't expect it to be. It is what it is, a really small, really cheap, computer about 100 times slower than a PC.

Having said that, I will continue leaving my Pi to rebuild propgcc all day, as new versions come out, because I think it would be cool to be able to program your Propeller from your Pi.

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LemmeFatale
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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Tue Oct 08, 2013 8:00 pm

Thanks for all of the interesting replies, guys. I wasn't sure whether to bother with posting my observations about this or not, but now I'm glad that I did!
jamesh wrote:Going to be interesting to see how htings pan out when Wayland comes out. With the CPU free to just do important stuff rather than Windows management, the Pi should become much better at general desktop tasks.
I'm really looking forward to that. In my view, it's already pretty capable at that (*especially* considering the price), and Wayland ought to make it even more so.
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simplesi
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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Tue Oct 08, 2013 8:38 pm

My two cents - the RPi is a very nice learning tool, as a Scratch learning environment (my particular area of use) it used to be too slow for kids to do anything other than small scripts but recently had a major speed increase in that area

it runs Scratch progs about 2-3 times slower than the 1.6GHz XP netbooks I use in my schools.

As a computer to browse the web - you'd need very tinted glasses to say the performance of Midori was anything close to acceptable - If Iceweasel was that much better - wouldn't it be included by default in Raspbian?

This is comparing it to pretty much the slowest possible MS Windows environment around.

Compared to your muti-core modern machines - you just wouldn't even start to compare it for desktop use as the gap is so large :)

But it runs Minecraft in ways not possible on other machines and you can turn it from media player to mobile robot in 10 minutes :)

Speed isn't everything :)

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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Tue Oct 08, 2013 10:13 pm

Well... I wouldn't class a netbook as a "desktop replacement", either.

However, it pretty much depends on (a) what you're used to using, and (b) how heavy your desktop demands are. That said, the observations are interesting and I can see why the Pi can be considered to be a reasonable netbook replacement.

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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Tue Oct 08, 2013 10:32 pm

I've been using it as desktop replacement from the get-go. Midori is certainly preferable to the alternative. Mind you, this is because YouTube decided to force feed autoplay their videos. In a forum where multiple youtube videos are posted, not only it was confusing, it drained my monthly bandwidth allowance in about 2.5 hours. That's what multiple HD youtube videos did to me.

So, I've been using Midori ever since. No problem at all. My cpu very rarely went to 100% anyway. Calibre, webcam, and printing webpage managed to do it. But for most activities, it certainly posed no problem.

Then again, I have abandoned my Win98 box almost immediately. For really heavy-duty stuff, like Google+, either I use my smartphone, or Surface tablet (Win 8). But those are rare. I haven't touched my surface in months, where as raspberry pi is used daily, to surf, to write, to work on various projects.
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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Wed Oct 09, 2013 12:38 am

Usable but more frustrating than my main desktop computer. Many things are snappy enough but some are not. Geany do not keep up with the cursor because of slow page scrolling. Wayland could make things better. Midori is also sluggish when compared to Opera on my desktop machine. I have the 256MB Model B and the amount of memory will also become a bottleneck very easily. It's usable if I'm in 'holiday mode' with no hurry to get anything done. Otherwise, it's bad for my blood pressure...

tvjon
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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Wed Oct 09, 2013 9:25 am

Joe Schmoe wrote:
Eventually we'll have no mains electricity connection at all, so will rely entirely (rather than partially, as at present) on solar energy, & maybe wind, hence power consumption is critical.
OT/ThreadDrift: Is that "we" as in you and your family?

Correct.

If so, I'd like to hear about your setup...
....
(Just curious...)

As am I :)

As it's OT, I'll send you a brief PM later. I doubt it'll be that interesting yet, but we'll see.

Back on topic, and to the OP: I think you have a leg up on this because you've been using Linux as a desktop OS for quite some time already. For those of us who have Windows apps upon which we depend, the switchover isn't so painless. But still, kudos to you!
I've used mac os as a desktop, since 1988. Just occasionally used ms win. Whilst I was doing my tests, the mac was switched off. I did borrow my wife's macbook though whilst "Handbrake" was compiling :)

I use RPi's for several things though. It was just interest & curiosity that prompted me to do the "desktop" test.

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DavidS
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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Wed Oct 09, 2013 6:57 pm

tvjon wrote:I've used mac os as a desktop, since 1988. Just occasionally used ms win.
Now that always makes me smile :) .

I also use Macintosh computers from time to time. Unfortunately so many have abondoned there Mac for a newer Apple UEFI Intel PC and abondoned Mac OS for Apples OS X.

So My hat is off to you for continuing to use a Macintosh so long after the last Macintosh was made.

And some think that I am crazy for using a cooperative Multitasking OS (RISC OS) as my primary OS.

:) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

Thank you. I dneeded some good news today.
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LemmeFatale
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Re: Not usable in the "desktop computer" sense? I beg to dif

Thu Oct 10, 2013 2:08 pm

tvjon wrote:As it's OT, I'll send you a brief PM later. I doubt it'll be that interesting yet, but we'll see.
I'd say that your setup is on-topic, myself. I'd love to hear more about it, too!
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