Performance, Browsing & Media on the Raspberry Pi.
The little raspberry pi is an impressive little box of tricks. I have had it for about a week now experimenting and playing.
One of first things i did once i got the box booting consistently was to install chromuim and do some surfing. Naturally i started out by checking my own webistes (jkg3.com and pluslion.com). Things looked pretty good and performance while not exactly snappy was usable.
I then pointed it at the pages i have been working on in work and all was pretty smooth. These pages are all pretty light. Performance was not fantastic but it was workable. While the Pi is not a fast web browser its quite usable. Its not as fast as a modern laptop, but for the cost the performance is pretty incredible.
The Pi does struggle with heavier pages, keeping with a BBC theme, the new homepage was far from smooth and the new responsive channel pages took minutes to load. I don’t use facebook so did not check how it performed, however as facebook has always been pretty static i would guess it’s performance there to be acceptable.
Lets take a quick step back, this device costs sub £20*. As far as i am aware that sets a whole new low price point for an acceptable web experience. It also challenges us web developers to think about performance without only considering it through a prism of ‘mobile’ and small screens.
Finally, the Pi is in very early stages. The software is pretty immature. There is work underway to port a faster OS (rasbian) and with it more up to date and better performing JS engines. Once this work is stable i will give it a test drive.
After experimenting with browser performance i thought i would give media playback a go. After a bit of reading i got omxplayer working. The video playback is offloaded to the GPU so the performance is very good with 1080p trailers playing back perfectly.
I’m going to try a higher bluray quality file and see how the Pi handles it.
In order to give the Pi a bit of a heftier media workout i have installed the openelex based XMBC client. First impressions are pretty good, Media playback and the UI are smooth and steady. It’s happily loading media over the network form the iMac.
It’s making me reconsider my media setup, currently we have an Apple TV connected to itunes running on an iMac. The Pi could feasibly act as both server and UI without to many compromises. If your in the markets for a little home server (for meda etc) the Pi seems like a great starting point.
The XMBC interface is pretty snappy, its not as fast as i have seen it on more powerful hardware but it is usable. I have installed a lighter Apple TV theme which performs better than the stock theme.
There are loads of rough edges but these will be worked out with time i am sure. I am hoping to investigate some different remotes too. Right now sharing the keyboard between two machines is proving to be a hassle.
My next steps will be to look at what options the Pi presents for building a small media system, where it also acts as the backup drive for other machines on the network.
Its early days for the Pi, it has lots of optimisation left but the signs are good that the Pi can be a viable home machine for users with small needs. Web browsing is a little slow but workable and should improve considerably as time goes on. Media playback is solid and with time i expect will become as smooth as any commercially available setup box is.
*well, eventully will cost sub £20, i am ignoring the cost of a keyboard and mouse for now. Cheating i know ;)