A look at RISC OS on the Raspberry Pi 3

posted in: Hardware, Reviews | 1

raspberry-pi-3Released back in February 2016, the Raspberry Pi 3 marked the Pi’s fourth year in existence. The latest board from the Raspberry Pi foundation brings in a number of interesting features, including built-in wireless connectivity and a more powerful processor.

A while ago we took a hands-on look at the Raspberry Pi 2, the board’s hardware specs and the way it handles RISC OS. For the most part it passed the test with flying colours. Considering the amount of cash required to purchase it, you get an awful lot of bang for your buck – and it runs RISC OS 5 very well.

So it’s not a surprise that the Pi 3 follows the same path as its predecessor. Let’s take a look at the board, and what you can expect from it if you’re planning on running RISC OS on it.

The board itself

The Pi 3 has quite a powerful processor, powered by a BCM2837 SoC (System on a Chip) and featuring a 64-bit ARM Cortex A53 quad core processor running at 1.2GHz.

There’s no RAM upgrade when compared to the Pi 2, the board is loaded with 1GB of RAM, which is not horrific for most use cases using a Unix/Linux operating system and it’s certainly more than enough if it’s going to be predominantly a RISC OS machine.

An interesting upgrade with this board is the VideoCore IV which handles video and graphics now clocking in at 400MHz compared to earlier models at 250Mhz.

Physically the Raspberry Pi 3 looks very similar to the Pi 2; there’s a new Wi-fi and Bluetooth chip (BCM43438) on the underside of the board and the location of the status LEDs has changed slightly. What’s cool is the antenna used for wireless communications is located on the outer edge of the board, this is so add-on boards shouldn’t interfere with wireless connectivity.

Specs:

  • Architecture: ARMv8 Cortex-A53
  • Processor: Broadcom BCM2837 1.2GHz
  • RAM: 1GB
  • SD Micro: SDUSB4
  • Ethernet:10/100
  • Wireless: B/G/N, Bluetooth

Setting up RISC OS

Getting RISC OS 5 up and running on the Pi 3 is exactly the same as you’d do it on its predecessors. Just download RISC OS from ROOL’s website and stick it on an SD card with at least 2GB of space on it.

There’s a very useful guide available here that covers everything you need to do to get your Pi up and running with RISC OS as well as how to use the OS, where to get more software etc.

How it handles RISC OS

Generally, the Pi 3 handles RISC OS very well. The only down-sides I’ve come across are down to compatibility issues between RISC OS and the hardware, this doesn’t cause any huge problems but it just means you don’t get the most out of the board.

One of these issue is RISC OS does not support the Pi 3’s 4 cores, it can only utilise one. Also, there’s no wi-fi support built into RISC OS as it stands so networking has to be hard-wired.

Apart from that, it’ll run whatever 32-bit software you throw at it including 26-bit apps running under Aemulor.

Everything I’ve chucked at it has run flawlessly, I even went to the extent of spinning up a web server using WebJames and then hammering it from a few external computers – not a hitch.

Overall

The Raspberry Pi 3 is a great piece of kit, if you already know how RISC OS performs on the Pi 2 (Shameless plug: which you should do if you read this blog!) handled RISC OS then you wouldn’t be surprised to know that I’ve not come across any kind of bottle-neck with the Pi 3.

A question you might have is, is it worth opting for the Pi 3 compared to the Pi 2? If you’re only going to be running RISC OS on it then I’d argue no, I found the experience across both boards to be pretty much identical. If you’re going to be using the board for other operating systems then I’d definitely opt for the Pi 3 purely because of its extra compute capabilities and it’s built-in wi-fi support.

The Raspberry Pi 3 Model B is currently priced around the £32.50 mark depending where you look – Amazon has the best price from the searching I’ve done so far.

One Response

  1. I have had two Raspberry Pi 3s for a while now, one using RISC OS 5.23, the other Raspbian. No problems with either. In upgrading from Raspberry Pi 2 to 3 there is one slight problem: the BCM2837 does not use the SWP instruction, so any C code which used that has to be recompiled. In the old days software authors creating applications for RISC OS did not on the whole distribute the source code. I hope the lesson has now been learned that this is a fast track to obsolescence.

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