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Raspberry Pi 2 review: The revolutionary $35 micro-PC, supercharged

Brad Chacos | Feb. 23, 2015
Let's cut right to the chase: This thing rocks. The new Raspberry Pi 2 Model B fixes the most glaring issues of the three-year-old original Pi, and even better, it manages to do so at the same $35 price point of its predecessor. This credit card sized-mini PC delivers a shocking amount of value for the money.

I also wanted to test the new processor's capabilities directly, so I installed the Sysbench benchmarking tool and ran its CPU test. The RP2 delivered much improved single-thread performance over the Raspberry Pi Model B, but the real boost came in multi-threaded performance, thanks to the shiny new quad-core processor. Using the full power of the new processor, the Raspberry Pi 2 was more than five times faster than its single-core predecessor, and that's without touching the RP2's baked-in overclocking capabilities. Zoom!

The performance increase provides tangible real-world benefits as well. While it took the Model B a full 1:01 to boot up, the Raspberry Pi 2 hit the desktop in a mere 33 seconds. What's more, actually using the Raspberry Pi 2 is a far more pleasurable experience. Programs and websites no longer take forever to launch in Raspbian (though you still won't confuse the Pi 2 for a full-powered PC). Navigating the menus in the home theater PC-focused OpenELEC operating system is far more fluid on the new hardware.

Simply put, you can actually use the Raspberry Pi without wanting to scream and pull out your hair at the excruciating slowness. That, paired with the extra USB ports, makes for a staggering improvement in sheer usability.

The Raspberry Pi 2 software experience

Along those lines, the stark Raspbian operating system comes preloaded with helpful software, including the aforementioned Epiphany browser and even a free, stripped-down version of the blockbuster Minecraft game created just for the Raspberry Pi. A central "Pi Store" points you to more than 100 additional games and apps, including productivity tools like the LibreOffice suite.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation's goal with these devices is to introduce people to programming, however, and it shows in software that's preinstalled on Raspbian. You'll find versions of Wolfram Mathematica, Python program creation tools, and Scratch, an animation coding IDE for kids.

That focus on teaching the basics of computer science permeates the entire Raspberry Pi experience. While the installer is well laid-out and will get you up and running in mere minutes, you will need to roll up your sleeves and delve into the command line. Just getting this thing running is an educational experience in and of itself for people weaned on Windows.

Speaking of which, another cool tidbit: When Microsoft releases its version of Windows 10 for the Internet of Things, it will be made available free of charge to Raspberry Pi 2 users.

Counting pennies

Be warned, however, that getting the Raspberry Pi 2 up and running is likely to cost your more than the $35 price tag, though you might have most of the accessories you need already. Here's a full list of what you'll need to use the micro-PC:

  • A 5 volt micro-USB cord capable of drawing at least 1200mA from the wall. Any micro-USB tablet charger should work just fine. (Note that using add-on devices like the camera can increase the Raspberry Pi 2's power needs.)
  • A USB keyboard and mouse
  • A microSD card with a compatible operating system installed. 4GB works, but a greater storage amount would be better if you plan to save files, install additional software, et cetera. You can purchase microSD cards with Raspbian preinstalled from Element14 and other Raspberry Pi suppliers.
  • An HDMI cable or combined composite video/3.5mm audio cord
  • A monitor or television to connect to
  • An Ethernet cable or USB Wi-Fi adapter

 

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