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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Mon, 15 Oct 2012

Raspberry Pi single-board $35 computer's RAM doubles from 256 to 512 MB

The all-the-rage Raspberry Pi single-board, ARM-based computer is a great device for embedded uses -- I'm eager to turn one into a print server -- but isn't well-appointed as a desktop substitute.

News that its memory is doubling to 512 MB (H-Online, RaspberryPi.org) and that all boards are being assembled in the U.K. instead of China while the price is sticking at is welcome.

It's still a great embedded platform. It's a nice platform to teach programming, though I can't see how it beats a 10-year-old retired business PC that's been donated to an educational institution.

And it's a cool geek project. Even as a desktop. But 512 MB of RAM is still "ouch, it hurts" territory for most desktop uses. You can totally run Xfce (or LXDE, Fvwm, Fluxbox, Openbox, E17, JWM, IceWM, etc.), but once you start up a modern browser, it all goes to hell. You'll be swapping to disk like mad. And since your disk is most likely an SD flash memory card, that hurts even more.

There's got to be a happy medium: An ARM machine that doesn't cost an arm (lower case) and a leg that connects to a "real" disk drive or other form of permanent storage, includes at least 1 GB of RAM if not 2 to 4 and allows connection of a real (read: not using HDMI) monitor. Or a laptop with same. That's not tied to a single OS (read: Windows 8 or Apple iOS).

The other thing that bothers me about the Raspberry Pi. It doesn't really cost . Don't get me wrong, for the board is a great price. But you're in for keyboard, monitor (must accept HDMI), case (the cheap ones are crap, the good ones are expensive), power supply, various and sundry cables, SD memory cards ... you're at before you know it.

Again, for embedded use, the Pi's ARM-delivered low power consumption is compelling: I don't want my print server to cost me a month in electricity. But as a desktop substitute, ARM in general and Raspberry Pi in particular has a long way to go.