Raspberry Pi 400 review – the sub-$100 desktop PC you didn’t know you needed | GeekComparison

Late Friday afternoon I received an exciting text message notification – my test sample of the new Raspberry Pi 400 had arrived. I learned about the new Pi model last week during an interview with Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton and Canonical Desktop Engineering Director Martin Wimpress about Ubuntu 20.10’s recently improved desktop support for the Pi hardware family.

Basically, the Pi 400 is a slightly faster version of the 4GiB Pi 4 that comes pre-assembled in a small, wedge-shaped chassis with an integrated keyboard. Aimed directly at desktop replacement use, the new model can be purchased solo for $70 or as a full kit (as seen above) for $100.

The new form factor – which has apparently been in the works since the release of the official Raspberry Pi keyboard – addresses and enthusiastically supports the Pi 4’s growing use case as a replacement or alternative to the traditional desktop PC. Upton told Ars that the Pi 400 is about 20 percent faster than the Pi 4; it has mostly the same components under the hood, but on a different laid out board, and the BCM2711 CPU is slightly higher clocked than the BCM2711 in the Pi 4.

Unpacked and plugged in, the Pi 400 is functional but not particularly pretty. On the plus side, the integrated keyboard means there are fewer cables to deal with. Unfortunately, the remaining cables will growl unusually fast and look a bit wild. They’re both stiffer and shorter than I’d like in an ideal world, making it hard to impossible to end up with a setup that doesn’t look like a rat’s nest. The red cable for the mouse clashes quite violently with the off-white cables for USB-C power and micro HDMI output, which is of no help.

That said, it’s important to remember that the entire kit costs $100. Within the confines of the Pi 400’s very generous price point, it’s not really fair to complain too loudly about a few aesthetic blunders here and there! Consumers with a few extra bucks to spend might want to consider replacing the Pi 400’s mouse with something more functional… and a full keyboard might not be a bad idea while you’re at it.

The integrated keyboard is functional but noticeably narrower than a standard keyboard. I’m generally not sensitive to keyboard layout variations due to a long career with other people’s computers in large numbers, but I was plagued by constant typos the entire time I tested the Pi 400.

It’s also worth noting that while the Pi 400 supports dual displays, it does so with micro-HDMI ports, not full-size ones, and it comes with a single cable. You’ll need an extra cable if you want to use your Pi 400 with two displays – and since it comes with a micro HDMI to HDMI cable and not an adapter, it gets complicated if you want to use it with portable devices, for example. LED displays that have off-sized ports themselves.

Finally, there’s no 3.5mm audio jack on the Pi – if you’ve connected it to a television or monitor with speakers, it can provide audio via HDMI; otherwise you need a supported USB audio device. I tested with a cheap USB gaming headset, which worked fine.

Press—Raspberry Pi OS

I started testing the Pi 400 using the native Raspberry Pi OS Linux distribution, which is basically Debian with LXDE and lots of middleware optimizing it for the Pi. Unfortunately, there’s almost nothing in the way of standard benchmarking tools running on ARM Linux – all I could find was the Phoronix Test Suite, which would have taken more time than it took me to test the device in total. So for the most part I’m going to talk about my subjective experience, rather than hard numbers.

The good news about the Pi 400 is that it’s a credible desktop PC, in that you can indeed use it to its fullest without breaking anything. With that said, you’re unlikely to forget you’re using a very cheap ARM device. Like the Pinebook Pro, the Pi 400 exhibits heavy latency when opening applications that might be lived with, but go unnoticed.

Also like the Pinebook Pro, once the applications are actually Openthey generally run smoothly enough – although we found the Pinebook Pro’s hex-core 2.0 GHz large / 1.5 GHz small CPU noticeably more powerful than the Pi 400’s straight-line 1.8 GHz quad-core. biggest problem i had was with high resolution high frames per second youtube videos.

I’ve only tested the Pi 400 with a 1080p monitor, so I can’t speak to its chops with 4K videos, but it definitely isn’t capable of handling the Costa Rica in 4K 60fps HDR video with no visible frame drop, even not at 720p. The main issue here seems to be the 60fps rate, not the 720p resolution. I also tested the “Forests” episode of the Netflix docu-series Our planet on YouTube at 1080p, and that video played flawlessly.

Looking at the CPU usage while playing the 60fps Costa Rica video, we see that the tiny 1.8 GHz Broadcom quad-core CPU is struggling – it’s at its limit, with a CPU usage for all cores of more than 90 percent. While the BCM2711 supports video decoding hardware offload – without which this video would play in seconds per frame, rather than just dropping frames a bit – the hardware offload can only do so much, and the CPU is asked to handle more. than it can handle in software.

This effect is even more visible when entering or exiting full screen view. On a standard desktop PC, that operation might take 100-150 ms. On the Pi 400, it often lasts as long as three or four full seconds, during which the video itself continues to play, but the surrounding controls and framework only partially render/stop rendering while the shift occurs.

Getting audio out of the Pi 400 was a bit of a challenge; it tried to provide basic audio over HDMI, and the Raspberry Pi OS audio control dialog isn’t the best. Even after changing the output device to USB audio (my gaming headset), YouTube produced no audio – and there’s no “test” button I could find in Pi OS, like the one in Ubuntu’s audio check box. Closing the browser completely and reopening it after changing the output device resolved the issue and the headset sound played fine after that.

All these quibbles aside, I must again note the huge price of the Pi 400 – it’s only $70 for the device itself or $100 for a kit that includes a mouse, SD card, micro HDMI to HDMI cable, USB C power supply and a 247-page color guide packed with tips and projects.

For $100 or less for a functional, reliable, well-packaged, and integrated desktop computing device, I won’t get mad if YouTube looks funny and hangs around for a few seconds when it shifts back and forth from full screen. Yes, Walmart’s $350 Gateway laptop is significantly more powerful and includes a screen, battery, and much better keyboard…but who $350 would buy five Raspberry Pi 400s.

Leave a Comment