Insert whitty Pie-based pun here

posted in: Hardware, Reviews, Technology | 1

IMG_0054We’ve had a Raspberry Pi port of RISC OS for a number of years now, but despite it’s price I hadn’t taken the plunge.

The main reason was that the setup I had – Virtual RPC-SA running RISC OS 4.02 on my PC rig just worked. It may be outdated when compared to RISC OS 5 running on newer ARMv7 hardware but tt did everything I wanted to do, and it did it well. Stability was never an issue, and performance didn’t throw up any problems unless I tried playing an graphics/processing intensive games like Quake 2.

Neverthless, I decided a week ago that I’d waited long enough. I found a number of Pi 2’s available for purchase online for around the £30 for personal use, but in the end I opted for picking it up in person at a local Maplin’s branch. The price was £34.99 for a standlone unit, and £39.99 for unit with a 8GB Micro SD card loaded with NOOBS (I’ll get into what it is later).

The Raspberry Pi 2 Model B is the second generation Raspberry Pi, which replaced the original in February.

Since the initial launch of the Pi there have been three versions of the flagship B model, starting at 256MB RAM and increasing to 512MB with the second B and B+. All of these variants have kept the BCM2835 with an ARM v11 700Mhz CPU in common – which interestingly is the same as a Now TV box that is being constantly advertised on British TV at present.

The Pi 2 has bid farewell to the ARM11 and replaced it with a Cortex-A5 CPU running at a much improved 800MHz, a massive improvement over the original boards is the Pi 2’s quad cores, which really makes for good value for money considering the price tag.

To go with the new CPU, RAM has also received an upgrade to a very modest 1GB. The rest of the hardware, however, matches that of the B+: a Videocore GPU, a 40-pin GPIO, four USB 2 ports and 10/100 Ethernet. Physically the Raspberry Pi 2 also has the same dimensions as the B+.

IMG_0055Raspberry Pi 2 specifications:

  • A 900MHz quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU
  • 1GB RAM

Apart from the above, the Pi shares largely the same specs as the 1 B+:

  • 4 USB ports
  • 40 GPIO pins
  • Full HDMI port
  • Ethernet port
  • Combined 3.5mm audio jack and composite video
  • Camera interface (CSI)
  • Display interface (DSI)
  • Micro SD card slot
  • VideoCore IV 3D graphics core

Setup-wise, the only slight issue I encountered was my monitor’s lack of HDMI port, but one HDMI-VGA adapter later (available for £3+ on eBay) and I was on my way. The only mandatory installation instruction with the Pi is it need to be plugged into a power source. You could even let it run headless with no keyboard and mouse attached if you really wanted to.

The Pi takes a mini-USB power source of around +5V 2A – which is standard for most phone chargers nowadays. My Sony Xperia phone charger works a treat.

As you’d expect for a fanless board, the Pi is virtually silent when running, and despite running it continuously for several days inside a case, performing tasks, the machine remains cool and is as stable and fast as ever.

NOOBSI’d opted for the Pi 2 with an 8GB Micro SD card (a Micro-Standard SD adapter is supplied for compatibility with SD slots on PCs and Macs), which comes with NOOBS as standard. NOOBS allows for the installation of a range of Operating System for the Pi without network access or imaging software.

When the machine is booted up for the first time, you’re prompted with a menu listing operating systems available for install. The list includes the likes of Debian, Arch Linux, Raspbian, RaspBMC and what I was really surprised at – RISC OS. You just click on the OS you want to install, and it’ll install it right infront of you before booting itself to your new operating system.

An issue I quickly came across after installing RISC OS from NOOBS, was the version supplied on even the latest version of NOOBS (as of June 2015 anyway) is not compatible with the Raspberry Pi 2, only the original edition.

IMG_0059
The Raspberry Pi 2 running Netsurf on RISC OS 5.21

It wasn’t a huge problem though, I downloaded a RISC OS 5.21 Pi disc image from the ROOL website and installed the disc image onto a Micro SD using Pi Baker for OS X (Guide for Windows, although there’s probably a utility out there somewhere that does it automatically).

Once up and running, I managed to run every program I threw at it. Pluto and Messenger Pro work splendidly, managed to get Duke Nukem 3D running with a good FPS rate and the rendering of photos through Photodesk is now a very quicky and painless process.

It is worth noting that running 26-bit legacy software will need an application like Aemulor Pi to run on the Raspberry Pi, but the majority of regularly maintained software packages nowadays are 32-bit and ARMv7 compatible so it’s not a complete necessity.

The only slight niggle I can think of with the Pi 2 running RISC OS, is the OS’ inability to utilise more than one core in its quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU. Not that it causes any issues however, the Pi 2 provides more than enough processing power, RAM and everything else you need for a seemless RISC OS experience – well worth the £30 – £40 price.

If you are thinking of taking the plunge and setting up RISC OS on a Raspberry Pi, here’s a nice video tutorial from Rick Murray (who also wrote some (test-quality) Joystick support software recently if it may be of interest):

One Response

  1. Rolly Estomaguio

    I am having a problem with RPi A+ using RISCOS. It won’t complete the booting process and keeps on searching for internet connection (Contacting DHCP server for Ethernet over USB interface) even though there is no wi-fi dongle connected on its USB port. The same MicroSD used on this works on my RPi 2.

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