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What’s wrong with people?

February 2, 2013

D – I know, that is a loaded question! What really makes me shake my head vigorously is the constant bickering by some that the Pi doesn’t do this or doesn’t do that. Why does it not have wireless build in? What – no native SATA3 support? What were they thinking not to add at least six USB3 ports? How can they be so stupid and not add VGA out? Why the bleeping bleep does the Pi not have surround sound output and drive my 128 speakers? No Gigabit Ethernet?  Just read the Pi forum and you can get plenty of more totally unreasonable complaints paired with obnoxious insults and accusations towards the Foundation. In case you have no clue what I mean with “Foundation” feel free to read this: http://www.raspberrypi.org/about. That page will answer many questions right there. One thing up front: I do NOT speak for the Foundation and I have no ties with them.

For those who did not bother to read up on what the Foundation set out to do, here my summary in a nutshell: the Foundation set out to create an inexpensive computer that can be used for educational purposes especially for teaching programming. The key words / phrases here are “inexpensive”, “educational”, and “teach programming”. Everything else the Pi can do is just gravy, such as the multimedia capabilities of the SoC (system on a chip). And out of all those the key word that should explain a lot is “inexpensive”.

C’mon folks, you paid 35$ for a board that has a processor, memory, graphics, sound, USB, Ethernet, and then some. There is nothing out there that provides those features at that price point. There isn’t even anything at that price point that offers even less features (aside from the model A Pi for 25$). Are you seriously expecting a whizbang device that runs circles around a system that costs ten times as much? Are your freaking kidding me? Sorry, but are you freaking kidding me? It really upsets me that some are so out of line in their demands and insults. Here we have a few people who spend their spare time on bringing a marvelous piece of computer hardware to the masses for a really low price and they have to defend themselves for doing that? I am convinced that they could have spent their weekends with watching TV, eating cheese, and drinking wine rather than redesigning a small computer for the nth time to get the cost down so that it becomes affordable for as many people as possible.

Everything about the Pi was designed to keep costs low while keeping as many features in place. Given what the Pi can do and what people use it for I can only bow in front of the designers and engineers. The Pi is an engineering marvel, a new wonder of the world. That said, yes, it has some shortcomings. Flash doesn’t work well, web browsing is not that great, the USB has some known issues, and there is some hardware that does not work well with the Pi. Yes, that is a bit annoying, but it cost you only 35$! And the limitations as well as the intentions are well documented. So don’t buy a Pi and then complain that it doesn’t do X or Y and that it really should do that when others already publicly documented that it isn’t so. On top of that, the Foundation consist of a small staff of volunteers and financials that are intended solely to support the goal of providing an inexpensive computer for learning how to program. In other words, the Foundation is not Google or Samsung, they cannot assign a dozen engineers and developers on a task and get back to you within a few days with a solution for free.

I listed some of the more common complaints with my rebuttal:

– not enough USB ports: each USB port needs to provide for sufficient 5V current which requires are larger power supply and a larger board size to house the USB ports as well as wider and / or differently routed traces on the board. That all adds to the production cost and the easy fix is connecting a powered USB hub. Alternatively, get a Logitech keyboard and mouse combo with the unified receiver which uses only one USB port

– no gigabit Ethernet: the Ethernet chip on the model B Pi is hooked up the to USB 2.0 root hub for cost reasons. USB 2.0 provides a maximum bitrate of 480 Mbit/s – less than half of what gigabit Ethernet would need. Adding a GbE chip would also increase cost and requires wiring it up directly to the SoC which would require a different SoC as the currently used one does not provide for that and that would require also board design changes sending cost through the intentionally shallow roof

– no VGA: VGA is still popular, but nevertheless a dead technology. One aspect in designing anything from scratch these days is to make it so that a redesign is not needed within a matter of a few years, especially when there are no resources to do that. On top of that, the SoC used does not provide for the signals required for VGA. Those signals could be generated from the HDMI output, but that circuitry is costly in regards to money and board space. There are HDMI to VGA converters that are not that expensive, but I suggest saving that and invest into a LCD with DVI and use an HDMI to DVI cable.

– no USB3 / SATA: costs money, not supported by SoC, adds zero benefit to the goal of creating an inexpensive computer for educational purposes

– no microSD slot: the idea was tossed around by the designers but the decision was made not to use microSD cards as children will have a much better experience handling regular SD cards than the tiny microSD cards. Some claim that the SD card socket is fragile. I haven’t had any problems with it so far, but I do not swap SD cards often. And with Berryboot switching OS images is possible without swapping SD cards. And for all those who are concerned about the port breaking and not having a microSD slot, there are extension cables that plug into a regular SD slot and provide for a microSD socket on the other end. Add some duck tape and there ya go!

– bad sound quality: I watched an HD movie on the Pi and found that the analog sound is fine. The audiophile enthusiast surely disagrees, but for those folks we have the tube amps and specially crafted speakers that each cost around 10,000$. The SoC provides for the analog and digital (via HDMI) sound output, adding anything different (better) would drive up cost and also add zero benefit to the intention of providing an inexpensive computer for educational purposes. If there is a need for better sound get a USB sound device, but make sure that it is supported by Raspian.

– everything else: number one reason is always keeping costs down, number two reason is lack of benefit for creating an inexpensive computer for educational purposes. There are other reasons that are valid, but in the end they come down to these two reasons.

So, with that out of the way I can only ask that anyone who does have a reasonable suggestion posts it here: http://www.raspberrypi.org/phpBB3/viewforum.php?f=24.

And for those who are interested in a more powerful computer system with a small form factor take a look at the following options:

Foxconn D250S – dual core processor, video with VGA and HDMI, 5.1 sound, and gigabit Ethernet on board, takes up to 4GB of SO-DIMM RAM, has 4 USB 2.0 ports and 2 SATA II ports – for more info see http://www.foxconnchannel.com/ProductDetail.aspx?T=motherboard&U=en-us0000560

=> At Newegg that board costs 50 bucks and requires memory, a drive of some sorts, a power supply, monitor, keyboard, mouse

ECS VX900-I – single core processor, video with VGA and HDMI, 5.1 sound, and gigabit Ethertnet, takes up to 8GB of regular DDR3 RAM, 4 UBS 2.0 ports, and 2 SATA III ports – for more info see http://www.ecs.com.tw/ECSWebSite/Product/Product_Detail.aspx?DetailID=1374&CategoryID=1&DetailName=Feature&MenuID=155&LanID=9

=> Newegg sells this puppy for 60 bucks and requires memory, a drive of some sorts, a power supply, monitor, keyboard, mouse

ASRock – AD2700-ITX – dual core processor, video with VGA and HDMI, 7 channel sound, gigabit Ethernet, takes up to 4 GB SO-DIMM, USB 3.0 and SATA III –  for more info see http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/AD2700-ITX/

=> Newegg sells this board for 85 bucks and it really is a nice bundle, except for this: “Due to lack of Intel 64-bit VGA driver support, this motherboard does not support 64-bit OS”. No 64 bit OS? And not even due to a hardware limitation? This board also requires memory, a drive of some sorts, a power supply, monitor, keyboard, mouse

As you can see from these low cost boards they are all much more expensive as a Pi, do not come with memory, require a power supply that costs more, and need the same set of accessories plus they do not run off inexpensive SD cards. Yes, agreed, any SATA drive is faster than SD cards, but one would hope so as SATA drives are more expensive as well! Also, these boards require standard ATX PC power supplies that are more expensive, but not by that much. Further, these boards are all ITX format which is noticeably larger than the Pi’s format. Technically, none of these boards or the Pi need an enclosure, but a nice box for the Pi can be had for 15 bucks, and ITX enclosure costs at least three times as much. And none of these ITX boards have composite video out or any GPIO pins to use. For doing anything with electronics an Arduino board would be needed, which adds to the cost although the Arduino is not that expensive. And further, none of these boards have wireless Ethernet. Yes, it can be added, but that applies for the Pi as well.

Are we clear now that asking for tons of stuff in a 35$ cost frame is just not going to happen any time soon? Did it sink in what the intention for the Pi is? Great! If not, please tell us how to make it happen, adding all the great hardware for an insanely low price. And no, getting an old Dell from Freecycle doesn’t count. The Pi is delivered as brand new with warranty, Bobby from around the corner does not do that.

See, you can get something that is faster with more features running Windows if you spend three or four times as much. Or you can get a tablet like the Nook or Kindle Fire. They are nice and do a lot of things, but they, too, cost quite a bit more than the Pi. Lastly, I cannot stress it enough: the Pi costs 35$! Adjust the expectations accordingly. Thank you!

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From → The Pi hardware

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