back to article Raspberry Pi head honcho Eben Upton talks thermals, stores and who's buying the kit

The Register popped into the Raspberry Pi Foundation's retail outlet in Cambridge to chat with founder Eben Upton about power, sales and occupying the family television. It is less than eight years since the first Pi fell into the hands of excited users. Sales of the diminutive computer, produced by a Sony facility in Wales, …

  1. Jay 2
    Pint

    Yay for the Pi!

    Handy little thing. I run the RasPi Thin Client Project on mine http://rpitc.blogspot.com/. Good for using VM Horizon and Citirx for remote access. One day I should do some more useful things like Pi-hole or Picade!

  2. DougS Silver badge

    "Availability of several products pushed out to 2026"

    Surely a typo? Can't imagine anyone waiting 7 years for delivery unless they've ordered a nuclear sub!

    1. Patrick Moody

      Re: "Availability of several products pushed out to 2026"

      Perhaps they meant that the products were guaranteed to remain available (not to be discontinued) until at least 2026.

    2. Diogenes Silver badge

      Re: "Availability of several products pushed out to 2026"

      Can't imagine anyone waiting 7 years for delivery unless they've ordered a nuclear sub!

      Our idiot former PM signed a contract with the CESM for as yet undersigned diesel subs based on their nuclear version. Class leader of the NBN Pyne Attack class, HMAS Attack should hit the water in 12 or so years and her 11 sisters will be delivered over a period of 30 years after that.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: "Availability of several products pushed out to 2026"

        To be fair, if you actually end up with any working submarines in 30 years, that's still a step up on many other military procurement projects around the world.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: "Availability of several products pushed out to 2026"

          "To be fair, if you actually end up with any working submarines in 30 years, that's still a step up on many other military procurement projects around the world."

          If not, they may eventually be referred to as the Nimrod class.

  3. overunder Bronze badge

    Not to be mean but,

    I don't think the article stated anything. Seriously i'm not trying to be rude, it's just every questioned asked seemed to be answered with a probably not. I started to get interested in what China was doing with them, but I guess that's another story.

    In later news, Pi 4 still exists.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Not to be mean but,

      Precisely.

      My question really is: When can I buy a Pi4 with compliant USB-C (I'm surprised they're even allowed to use the name if their POWER profile - of all things - is misrepresenting itself as a set of headphones, which is what the problem is)? I don't mind a fixed 4 or a 5, but every hardware issue of the Pi has had some unfixable problem or other that needs a board revision - even down to PoE hats which are literally just a PoE chip and a transformer coil.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Not to be mean but,

        I think the USB-C works with everything but the Apple power supply. I've not heard of anyone having a problem with it apart from that.

        1. Tom 38 Silver badge

          Re: Not to be mean but,

          It won't work with properly compliant cables and chargers that provide dual cc-line. The way the Pi is wired, it advertises itself as an audio device, and so chargers/cables that detect how a device is advertised will not send power to it. Cheaper cables don't detect, and always send the power.

          Ward's original blog post describing the issue explains it better, I'm probably misdescribing something.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: Not to be mean but,

            They got a small error on the USB c but you’d need to be wanting to stir it in order for it to be a problem. Pi is all about low cost, and their own cheap PSU will power it, as will any number of cheap ones.

            It’s sttil a fabulous device with a fabulous world wide community, solid OS and doesn’t cost much, I can’t hold the odd minor oversight against them. Especially when their approach is to hold their hands up and get on with putting it right.

            It’s not like they burst into flames on aircraft.

            1. Richard 12 Silver badge
              Unhappy

              Re: Not to be mean but,

              I don't really think it's "minor".

              It has a relatively cheap workaround, but it's a straightforward failure to comply with the standard that very simple early testing (or design review) should have found long before shipping - it's not like E-marked cables are rare or hard to find, and powering a Pi from a PC is a reasonably common use case.

              The idea that it (and the thermals!) weren't noticed is what's worrying. Shipping with an errata note would have been just fine.

            2. Lee D Silver badge

              Re: Not to be mean but,

              That's fine if you plug a Pi into an official supply in your house.

              For *anything* more useful, that USB-C needs to be compliant or you need to dig out the soldering iron. USB-C is the choice of power-banks now. If you buy cheap ones of those, they will work but you risk the cheap-battery. If you buy proper ones, they won't necessarily work.

              It's not a small thing. USB-C is my next upgrade for everything I do - USB-C power banks, charging cables (from a centralised power source, not the official RPi thing that takes up a whole power socket to power one cable for one device and doesn't even have an in-line switch), car interface, etc.

              I'm literally holding off on the Pi4 because of that. I'm not shoving amps into a device that can't properly advertise itself as high-power compatible and, like I say, I'm surprised they're even allowed to say USB-C if they're not compliant.

              If you just run a Pi as a toy, you're not affected. If you want to use it in a project, as a replacement for an existing project, in anything other than your home, etc. then it's a problem.

              For reference - I want a leisure battery in my car that power a USB-C power bank with multiple outputs, which will cover all my devices and keep the Pi running 24/7 between engine startups. I can't. And I'm not going to shove either a dumb high-power DC supply, or a unit that can't run from an intelligent one, into a car and leave it unattended.

              P.S. I was a RPi 1 beta tester, helping resolve the SD/USB/Ethernet issues with Broadcom. I work in schools and was trying to champion their inclusion into schools while helping them break into the market (they do a piss-poor job of that, BTW, and always have mainly because they think they can just throw a Pi at a teacher and get better grades, they don't understand education AT ALL). I have multiple Pi's in work and at home doing actual, real jobs.

              Now consider - a school like mine - with USB-C charging banks for tablets, which are highly compliant and managed because they are charging things, in schools, with potentially damaged cables, etc. and you want to have every Pi plug in with either only the official supply and take up a socket, or in a way that it literally won't power up in the class.

        2. Aitor 1 Silver badge

          Re: Not to be mean but,

          Most of my chargers don´t power it, and the rest are crap.. that leaves me with only the official one to power it!

  4. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Watch you back Eben.

    My Pi4x4 is more than good enough for a desktop. In the PiTop its is more than good enough for a laptop*. A Pi4X4 compute engine will be fantastic in a tablet.

    Unless a massive leap in AI makes these things redundant then Pi5X16 for $50 will be a drop in replacement in a lot of devices!

    *7hrs usage is pretty good. The keyboard needs sorting but as a demo machine it points to a different future than most manufacturers want.

    1. Dr. G. Freeman

      Re: Watch you back Eben.

      I use a Pi3 as my day to day desktop at work for the last couple of years. No complaints from me, but the others in the lab moan as its not microsoft and so are confused by it.

  5. mark l 2 Silver badge

    "Can it run internet explorer?"

    Who has asked that question in the last 5 years? Other than some legacy intranet site that a few business might use no one is interested in Internet Explorer an more, not even Microsoft.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "It is less than eight years since the first Pi fell into the hands of excited users"

      ...

      "... back when the original Pi launched, ... Can you run Internet Explorer?"

    2. Anonymous Tribble

      "Who has asked that question in the last 5 years?"

      Someone did ask this question on the Raspberry Pi forums yesterday.

  6. DCFusor Silver badge

    Odd horsepower

    Got one of the first ones, 4gb, had to wait. I got one of those kits with the joke-size heatsinks, and wound up putting a Noctua fan on the box, and now it stays in the low 40's. Now, I'm a fan of pies, and use a few around the homestead. Most have a webserver (NGINX), MySQL or MariaDB, the camera, some perl CGIs to show me logged data...and are loafing as is (I think one is even still a pi 2). Like they work really hard for half a second once a minute unless I'm streaming the camera...

    Now this thing comes along, and it's roughly as quick as say, my old Lenovo Core2 duo laptop. Which isn't super, but is way not-shabby (added SSD).

    It's usable as a desktop. Arduino IDE is on the slow side, and won't support ESP32's here, but it's slow on my 7th gen i5 too...

    So, I'm struggling with a use-case for it, other than a bench toy. It's not going to make linux controller stuff hard realtime - that's linux' fault, it's a pre-emptive opsys, so I use slaved arduinos for things like that (for example, ECM for a backup generator). I don't need another low grade desktop.

    I'll be interested to see what people use these for that you couldn't do with one of the earlier ones (using less power). I tried really hard to make this run out of 4gb and it took chromium with many tabs open, all the above background stuff, and finally, Arduino pushed it into swap. Linux is efficient!

    I wonder if Eben is going to be right in the end - he predicted 2gb was going to be "the one".

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Odd horsepower

      The extra 4GB is a tenner more than 2 so unless you are cash strapped then get 4GB to deal with whatever future need might grow into that RAM.

      1. Joe W Silver badge

        Re: Odd horsepower

        Depends. When you are buying bulk it matters ( likely). When buying only one you are of course right.

    2. ilmari

      Re: Odd horsepower

      Linux or not, the overall pattern with hardware seems to be that the faster the CPU, the higher the latencies on I/O, making any "realtime" or bitbanging code slower or impossible.

  7. YARR

    TBH I'm amazed there aren't knock-off Pi-es out there. Is there anything proprietary or custom to them?

    They are verging on being usable low-end computers now. Perhaps an official PiBook (in the vein of the OLPC XO netbooks) might be in the offing?

    1. Glen 1 Bronze badge
      Holmes

      Like a PiTop? (The link is to v3 with ~7 hours battery life, there is a v4 in the pipeline)

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Like a PiTop? (The link is to v3 with ~7 hours battery life, there is a v4 in the pipeline)

        PiTop V4 is already here. It's a little box with a built in battery, small screen and connectors.

        Not doing a laptop style Pi-top 4 was disappointing because a laptop format device is kind of tricky to knock up yourself, but anyone can do a little recatangle box.

        If there is a proper aptop on the way then I'm interested, but they will need to improve the keyboard. Im yping on a pi-top. Can you tel?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re: PiTop

        Ah yes, the PiTop. A UK company (according to the address at the bottom of the page) with prices without VAT and in USD.

        Really?

        Would I get a double dose of exchange rate costs if I ordered one?

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: re: PiTop

          Ah yes, the PiTop. A UK company (according to the address at the bottom of the page) with prices without VAT and in USD.

          Really?

          Raspberry Pi - the $35 computer.

          https://www.raspberrypi.org/products/raspberry-pi-4-model-b/

          Components are sourced in $ so they price it in $, otherwise the exchange rate would mess with it.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: re: PiTop

            The complaint was about the people who make a laptop enclosure for the pi, not the foundation themselves. It's a reasonable complaint, as if you are buying in a currency, they often will at least tell you the cost in that currency. The places that sell the pi give the purchase price in the local currency, after all. As for this company, they have a .com address rather than a .co.uk one, but they have a London address. I'd expect them to have a currency selector on their store, but evidently not.

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: re: PiTop

              The places that sell the pi give the purchase price in the local currency

              If you buy your pi-top from CPC or RS or any other UK retailer then you get the price in local currency.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      "TBH I'm amazed there aren't knock-off Pi-es out there. Is there anything proprietary or custom to them?"

      There are plenty of similar products. Many of them are so obviously meant to be like the raspberry pi that they've called themselves "[insert other name of fruit] pi". Some actually have better specs than the raspberry pi. However, they are less popular for many reasons. One reason is that they don't have as much community support, sometimes supporting fewer operating systems or working in an incompatible way. Another reason is that, while they often support similar hardware modifications, they aren't directly compatible with the ones designed for the raspberry pi. A third reason is that these usually don't have a guarantee of continued manufacture or software support, something all pi models have received since they first came out. But if you're looking for other versions, you'll find them thick on the ground.

      "They are verging on being usable low-end computers now."

      They passed this point for many users quite a while ago. It depends what you're doing on them, but for traditional office tasks, the version 3 was quite capable of the load. If you need a lot of memory, nothing before the pi 4 gave you more than a gigabyte, but plenty of use cases didn't need that. It won't replace the full desktop for the people who need that amount of performance, but it could probably replace many an old one.

      "Perhaps an official PiBook (in the vein of the OLPC XO netbooks) might be in the offing?"

      The PiTop people did make one of these. I'm hoping some other people will also do so, as I found their one somewhat overpriced and underwhelming. Unfortunately, for the price of their enclosure, you can get a comparable laptop with better battery life, builtin storage, and a slightly faster processor. I'm hoping that people will start to realize the potential of using the pi as the computer for various form factors.

      1. YARR

        Downvoters - I wasn't advocating knock-offs, just surprised there are none. I though the hardware was all off-the-shelf parts, so in theory anyone could make their own Pi board that's 100% compatible? Wouldn't compatible ARM devices be a good thing?

        I hadn't heard of the Pi-Top, I was thinking of something netbook sized but Raspbian compatible.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          The SOC is normally slightly varied for each customer, which is one of the reasons that it isn't totally open source.- The binary blob sets a bunch of options that control what otherwise identical silicon does.

          But the big difficulty of making your own is that Broadcom won't talk to you unless you are already buying a million units a month

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          It's not exactly easy to make a completely compatible board. The major problem is the SOC. While it's as open as such parts tend to be (now, that took a while to come to pass), you can't exactly go out and buy one. You could probably go out and get a couple million, but that carries a few financial problems. The rest of the parts are very standard. While you could probably make a board with exactly the same shape but a different processor, there's no guarantee that it will work well with existing raspberry pi disk images. Unfortunately, ARM chips can be like that. Furthermore, when other companies try to copy the pi, they want to distinguish themselves from the pi to get customers. Since the pi already has a pretty narrow profit margin, it's hard to compete with it on price. People can, however, compete on specs. For a while, lots of people complained that the pi didn't have gigabit ethernet. Plenty still complain that it doesn't have a SATA connector on the board. Still others had a massive problem with the single gigabyte of memory on previous iterations. In each case, some place tried to make money by making a similar product with those features, usually at a price point at about 1.5 times that of the raspberry pi. I don't know how successful they were, but plenty of those boards are out there.

    3. timrowledge

      Seriously? Never seen mention of the (probably) dozens of knock-offs? Pineapple Pi, Roseapple Pi, Banana Pi.... a long list of terrible attempts at puns. One or two have even been reasonable hardware but have ever had decent support.

  8. ColonelDare
    Pint

    Re Hogging the Television

    "....hearing stories of younger users hogging the family television with their latest and greatest software creations."

    Lovely to hear, but I reduce such problems by running a Pi 4x4 behind both of our TV's (kitchen and lounge) and politely moving aside when live TV is in demand and just quietly carry on doing what I was doing by VNCing into the Pi from my Chromebook.

    Super flexible, maintains domestic harmony and leaves my desktop PC quietly gathering dust [quiet as it's mostly 'off' these days].

    And, btw, running the /root partition from a USB3 240GB SSD makes it even more able to sideline my PC ;-)

    Cheers Eben...

  9. Mikel

    Thermals

    I got one of those fan heatsinks. It's wraparound and nearly a case in itself. It works fine.

    My problem with these handy little inexpensive education computers is that now I have thousands of things I want to do with them and can't advance them all at once. Been wanting a home OScope my whole life and now that I have that nothing short of an electronic makerspace will do.

    There are worse problems to have.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Thermals

      The Fan Shim fits in the official case and only spins when required. Works well.

      The FLircTV case is a metal housing that meets the SOC with a thermal connection and acts as a heatsink, also works well. I'm evaluating both.

      1. Olivier2553 Silver badge

        Re: Thermals

        I am using something like this:

        https://www.ebay.com/itm/Black-Aluminum-Radiator-Protection-Case-For-Raspberry-Pi-4B-Metal-Cooling-Shell/173994358212?hash=item2882df35c4:m:m7eZF5l8zbBXnvDa393rj1w

        It works fine, but I only got it last Monday. Future will tell. I replaced the stock fans with some branded ones, silent type and software control to modulate the speed.

        I started gathering data this morning only. right now, it is sitting idled at home, no air conditioning...

      2. Martin Rowan

        Re: Thermals

        The FanShim in the official case just about works, but there isn't sufficient airflow really. I just did some testing of a bunch of different cases under varying amounts of load. Might (or might not) be of interest to some here: https://www.martinrowan.co.uk/2019/09/raspberry-pi-4-cases-temperature-and-cpu-throttling-under-load/

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Thermals

          Some careful drilling helps.

  10. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    How sucessful have they been ?

    At what they were intended for - are kids really using them like we used our Speccy/CBM64/BBC Micro (rich kids)

    How many kids have them? How many schools have them, and are they letting kids play with them - or are they used to make a powerpoint but using chromium and Office365 instead of windows ?

    1. davidp231

      Re: How sucessful have they been ?

      Not even that... the schools went with the BBC Micro-bit.

      1. Is It Me Bronze badge

        Re: How sucessful have they been ?

        Having worked in schools (Primarys mostly) until a couple of years ago they used the Pis in after school code clubs, but the majority of schools seemed to have them

  11. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Linux

    TV via wifi and other ramblings

    When I'm not using my DVB-T dongle* for software defined radio I can plug it into a headless Pi3 running TVheadend**. With the Pi connected to my router I can watch TV over wifi. I don't own a normal TV so it's laptops all the way.

    Another Pi is running Pi-Hole and will never be switched off :) I'll buy a Pi4 when I think of a use for one. Any ideas?

    TVheadend can also be used as a tuner for Kodi but I have not tried it. Might be a good project for people with kids.

    See here: https://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=91716&pid=699753&highlight=tvheadend

    *Nooelec Nesdr (cheaper dongles are available)

    ** http://techinfoguy.com/tvheadend-4-x-on-raspberry-pi/#comment-5

  12. ItsMeDammit
    Black Helicopters

    Limited availability of the Pi Zero (W)

    Any news on when the man in the street can buy more than one Pi Zero at a time without either placing multiple orders for single parts or commit to buying in the hundreds ?

    I recently had to place 3 separate orders with one supplier just to get 3 Pi Zero W's and the combined carriage cost more than another unit. The original argument of making sure that everyone who wants one gets one must be outdated by now so I assume it's an economics thing. I would happily pay a fair price for each one on those rare occasions where I suddenly wanted a few more if they're being shifted at such a low mark-up that the suppliers don't want to be fiddling with them otherwise.

    Note: In case anyone is interested, 1 went into an existing domestic Pi-Hole application to provide some cheap and absolutely silent redundancy and the other 2 went into Retroflag GPi Gameboy style cases so my partner and I can re-live our gaming youth on the go. I have used zeros on more demanding applications than that before now but they were nowhere near as much fun or as immediately rewarding, but just as hard to get hold of in twos and threes.

  13. Luiz Abdala
    Pint

    The best use of Raspberries is..

    ...Arcade emulators and console emulators.

    Some guys here are building "arcade tables", the best way to describe them, with 2 sets of arcade buttons and joysticks, an HDMI cable, and of course a power supply. Over 10.000 titles, from Atari 2600 to SNK arcades and every console in between. The size of a skateboard, with ample room to shove everything in its "thicc" body.

    I'm not judging legality here, but oh boy is that thing lots of fun. Customizable as a PC, portable as a console, and with arcade-like, industrial-grade buttons!

    Sure there are better things to do on these things, but as for leisure time, there it is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The best use of Raspberries is..

      I'm feeling a bit lazy, so would you mind pointing towards examples of such products?

    2. davidp231

      Re: The best use of Raspberries is..

      With a funky adapter and the right software on the SD card, one can use a Pi as a multi-target co-processor for a Beeb as well. And said co-pro targets are switchable via software as well.

  14. Starace Silver badge
    Alert

    Wattage limit

    What exactly is the issue here? It's not like upping the supply voltage is complicated, just hop to using USB-PD and cap performance based on the available power.

    Might need to actually spend some time on finally sorting out the thermals though.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Wattage limit

      They want to maintain the ability to run in power-restricted environments. Maybe it's also a principle thing as well. But imagine trying to run a raspberry pi powered robot off a USBPD cable rather than a mobile phone power bank. While not that many people use their pi for that, you'll see lots of plans and pictures in raspberry pi media, and it wouldn't be so impressive if it were handicapped by a wall connection. I would also say that a raspberry pi's utility to me has often been its ability to run with relatively little power; if I'm running something nonstop or off something with limited power availability, the pi is my go to solution.

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