The original Raspberry Pi can take more credit than any other for getting cheap single board computers into the hands of makers, and it’s yet to be dethroned. Four generations and seven years running, “Pi” is shorthand for “an inexpensive computer you can build a project around.”
Pi landed in a big way. The company was likable: Their stated mission was to make a computer so affordable that any school, even in developing countries, could afford to have a classroom full of them. So to drive the volume that was going to get costs down, they were catering to us first-world makers. They had a good pitch for the vendors, too: Sure, the computer was cheap and margins were low, but the buyer was still going to need cables, and those have a good markup, right? And the earliest models landed with real uses: You could build a media center around one, an arcade emulator… what else could you invent? So invent we did.
But can you open a web page on one?
For a computer that asked you to plug a keyboard, mouse and monitor into it, it gave your the feeling you should be able to treat it like a little computer, but stress it too hard and you were never more than one command away from locking it up.
So this was the thing I wanted to know: Was the Pi 4 finally the model that would perform like I’ve always wanted a Pi to perform?
I’m happy to say it does. This whole review has been written on the Pi 4 itself, in Google Docs, with other web pages open in many other tabs, as I ran an install of ROS in a terminal window, all at the same time.
Of everything I’ve thrown at this PI, I’ve only seen it crash once: While compiling a particularly hefty bit of C++, a thermometer icon started to flash on-screen. It popped up briefly, went away, came back, staying longer each time. Minutes later, the system went down completely, and I had to pull the plug before it would restart. I grabbed a tiny heat sink off another of my single board computers, and stuck it on the Pi. I deleted the compile directory and started fresh, for a fair comparison. This time it ran to completion without a hint of problems.
To my thinking, the Pi 4 is finally the beginner-friendly Pi I’ve wanted for the Maker community all along. It can do everything it promises without needing to go through the more arcane rituals earlier Pis often demanded. No need to re-install a stripped down version of the OS to free up space and power. No need to tiptoe around, keeping only a few windows open at a time for fear of overloading it. Those days are behind us. The Pi 4 is a hearty little machine in the same tiny size and for the same tiny price we’ve loved since the beginning.