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Raspberry Pi surprises

13 December 2019

As regular readers will probably already know, I picked up one of the new Raspberry Pi 4 single-board computers a week or three ago.

I also have one of the original RPi model A with a whole 256MB of RAM and a RPi 2 with a much more practical 1GB of RAM and quad-core CPU.

The performance jump from the original Pi to the version 2 was quite significant such that my original unit was quickly retired from KODI duties and now sits in a box doing five-eights of bugger-all.

I bought the latest Pi for service as a webserver designed to deliver up videos as an alternative to those hosted by YouTube for my two channels. I've got it set up with a 240GB SSD via a SATA to USB3 converter and it hangs off a port on my router.

By now it should be running a copy of Apache and doing all sorts of clever things in the video/web-serving department... but it's not, and here's why...

The reality is that this thing is almost too good to use as a webserver.

I downloaded and installed the Raspbian Linux distro to have a play and suss out the baseline performance of this Pi.

Like most modern distros, this one comes with quite a few apps, including the now ubiquitous LibreOffice suite, a web-browser and a raft of other fun things, including IDEs and utilities.

Once all configured and set up, I figured I'd have "a bit of a play" with the platform -- and boy, was I surprised, in a good way.

For a system with a smartphone-level CPU and just 4GB of RAM, this thing is suprisingly nimble. The web-browsing, document editing and video-viewing experience is of a level that would make it a quite acceptable desktop or laptop alternative for those on a really tight budget. Yes, there are small pauses as it renders webpages and a larger document in LibreWrite can cause it to pause momentarily during some global operations but it works much, much better than I'd have imagined, given the specifications.

When I made my plans involving the RPi4, I had expected that I'd simply set it up as a device on my network without keyboard or screen and use SSH to log in when necessary from my main workstation. I figured that I'd use the Intel-based box to develop all the code and webpages because it would be faster -- simply transferring those files across to the Pi as/when necessary via FTP or a file-share.

The reality however, is that this little SBC is more than fast enough to act as both the development and implementation platform (for the meantime).

I'm going to use this exercise to have a play (ie: learn) Python and get back up to speed with the latest in web development strategies so confining all this "dicking around" to a standalone system is actually easier. It also means that I can change OSes, environments and a whole lot of other stuff simply by swapping microSD cards, rather than farting around with a configurable boot-loader or whatever.

So far this has all been a very pleasant (and somewhat nostalgic) experience and I'm really enjoying the challenges that it represents to an aging cerebal cortex.

If you're at a loss for a gift idea for yourself this Christmas and you're still interested in cutting a bit of code and playing around with bold new stuff without fear of trashing your main computer... grab an RPi4 and a few microSD cards then go for it. At the very worst you can use it as an emulator for your favourite game console from the 1980s/90s and just have fun.

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