The Pi 4 is out and the RPi foundation has made some interesting choices. So many interesting choices I found myself asking “Is the Raspberry Pi 4 a mistake?” In my opinion you are looking at a product that is great for home labs and clusters, but really puzzling for the makers and tinkerers. Billing the RPi 4 as a true desktop contender
, as they have always aimed to become, has always seemed like an interesting choice to me. Heck they even brand the page as “Your tiny, dual-display, desktop computer”
. Are people lacking in access to a desktop that would consider a RPi? Do these same people have dual monitors and 2 microHDMI to HDMI cables laying around? Let’s dive in.
- 2 micro HDMI outputs. Dual monitors in a small footprint? Yes. Cables people have hanging around? No. I contend that few people are using a RPi in all seriousness as a desktop replacement. I have to be skeptical the RPi 4 changes that calculus. RPi’s are well known as makers tools. Remote systems. Tinkering oddities. Clusters. Possibly with the RPi4, finally a competent mini-NAS solution. Something to consider. HDMI has a license fee for each port, based on specs. They upped the cost of the product here somewhat. Consider HDMI vs displayport and it is even less clear cut that this was in any way a good consideration. Now people need to have yet another cable they didn’t need before. MicroHDMI to HDMI.
- Broadcom restricted binary blobs. Not really open source friendly, and downright problematic when you need to change some hardcoded nonsense, like the camera exposure and shutter values. This has gotten in the way of the maker community in many ways since the RPi became a mainstay, sometime around the B+. Even if we do now have access to an SPI boot EEPROM and bootcode.bin is no more, this is a half-step until they release the PXE boot. They have promised this however and could lead to implementing alternative firmware interfaces. That said, if most of the hardware is sitting with blobbed bins, those could be hard stops in firmware development. How much this opens up will depend on the talent working on it and the devices restrictions (and alternative implementations existing for said chipsets).
- So-so WiFi. Major advancements in WiFi have occurred in the past few years. This device can get around 85Mbits down and up on 5ghz. That is okay, but certainly not for all tasks. If you are thinking of using this for a WiFi Kodi install, it may well pass the snuff test at this data rate I would like to see the margin a bit higher but the real world will be sure to let us all know very soon. All the rest of the specs will allow for you to have a 4k60 experience (only with 1 microHDMI 2 in use however) with ease.
- No PoE. I love that we finally have a true GB capability with this version in hardwired configs, but the lack of PoE is baffling. This is a convenience factor that sucks to not have. Especially for makers.
- Still no SATA. Yes we have USB3 and USB-C on the board, but this means adapters. More adapters make for more space and more electric demand. In regard to the USB-C that may be usable for drive adapter also if connected to an hub since it is needed for power also. This power design fault may play out in the peripherals a bit more I fear. While not perfect for a micro NAS, it is a heck of a contender thanks to the non-gimped bandwidth.
- Power consumption on the RPi 4 makes it a bit harder for the remote use case. 3 Amps is not just going to be sustainable with trickle charging and small footprints. Get out the container projects.
While many of the improvements are amazing, it also seems like they have given up or are giving up on a certain segment. This may actually be smart, as a ESP32 is a rather capable maker friendly gadget in the $15 price range (with cellular) with ultra-low power specs. As well the maker space has a huge influx of new entrants at very low prices. No one would consider these as a desktop and we may be seeing a purposeful segmentation from the good folks at the RPi foundation.
The RPi 4 hits it off with certain segments amazing. In some regards I think the RPi 4 is a mistake. I think I need a new Kodi RPi myself at these specs and price. Tinkering however presents a problem for the RPi 4 at this price point, with these features. Not that each RPi has to hit a certain segment perfect, but that Zero W is still among my maker favorites.