“This is a 4K platform that quadruples the performance of the previous ones”.

Little big ideas are also successful. Knows it very well Eben Upton, which together with a team of engineers began in 2011 a spectacular path with which it turned the Raspberry Pi -27 million units sold later- in what it is today.

The Raspberry Pi 4 is the latest member of this prodigious family, and taking advantage of its launch we wanted to talk to Eben Upton about this product, your present and your future. We had already had the opportunity to talk to him in 2016 and 2018 – at that time he trolled us a bit, there was another RPi at the end in that period that he mentioned – and now we have been able to discover and confirm with him some of the keys of the Raspberry Pi 4.

“This is a 4K platform that quadruples the performance of the previous ones”

The principles

No time to eat – and it was already hours – Upton (United Kingdom, 1978) had had the day we had a chat via Skype. The activity is frantic after the launch of the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B, and the visible head of the Raspberry Foundation apologized: “if you don’t mind, I’ll pick a bit,” he commented at the beginning of the conversation.

The first question was a trip to the past. Where did the interest that led you to create the Raspberry Pi come from? Upton told us how his childhood had been very favorable to what would turn out to be his future. His father, an academic, had access to microcomputers when almost no one had it at the time.

“This is a 4K platform that quadruples the performance of the previous ones”

At the age of 3 he already had a computer at home, and soon he began to make his first steps with somewhat more advanced machines. First with the Osborne 1 and later with the legendary BBC Micro, the computer that revolutionized education in the UK and created a generation of future computer scientists.

Later on he would have other computers such as the Amiga for which he developed a game by programming it – “in 68000 assembler”, he confessed to us – but curiously when he began his university studies he did not opt ​​for computer science, but for the career of Physics and Engineering.

“This is a 4K platform that quadruples the performance of the previous ones”

He would end up completing his studies specializing in the branch of computer science, and after working in the computer science department of St. John’s College in Cambridge would end up working for Broadcom.

It was in these stages that the Raspberry Pi was born: in Cambridge it realized that interest in computer science had decreased in the last decade, which led him to devise a project to try to generate more interest in this discipline from an early age.

“This is a 4K platform that quadruples the performance of the previous ones”

How? Creating a cheap and accessible computer that could be used in educational settings and by hobbyists to rekindle that interest. It seems that he achieved his goal.

Let’s talk about the Raspberry Pi 4

Our conversation with Eben Upton got really interesting when we started talking about the Raspberry Pi 4. We asked him in the first place about the jump to 28 nm: until this model had been used micro with 40 nm lithography, but why the I jump at 28, and not to something more advanced like 14 nm, for example?

The answer was simple: “It is the most profitable (lithographic) process”. That’s right: migrating to a more advanced solution would have endangered the always low cost of the Raspberry Pi, and in fact the leap to this lithographic node brings in itself notable improvements.

“This is a 4K platform that quadruples the performance of the previous ones”

In fact, the processor is deceiving if you look at its four cores (like the previous one) and its working frequency (1.5 GHz compared to the 1.4 GHz of its predecessor). The difference is in the type of cores used, the Cortex-A72, far superior to the Cortex-A53 that had been used until now and that still maintain that commitment to efficiency and, as Upton pointed out, to cost.

For this engineer the differences are remarkable. “The Cortex-A72s have improved frequency, are larger cores, offer more parallelism and between 2x and 4x the performance of their predecessors. I would say that on average they are three times as powerful than what we had until now. ”

Not only that, pointed Upton, who also spoke of other improvements in the Raspberry Pi 4. As the memory “now is LPDDR4, faster and also with more capacity options.” Indeed we have options of 1, 2, 4 GB, but that type of memory “solves bottlenecks associated with non-multimedia scenarios“.

“This is a 4K platform that quadruples the performance of the previous ones”

The changes they are also noticeable in connectivity, of which we highlighted “the dedicated USB 3.0 bus for Gigabit Ethernet” that eliminates the bottleneck that the USB 2.0 bus represented in the previous Raspberry Pi. Especially in the Rpi3B +, with a GbE connector that could not express its potential.

The Raspberry Pi 4 speaks in 4K

There is another scenario in which the new Raspberry Pi 4 shines: multimedia content. “This is a 4K platform, with four times the performance of the previous ones. It decodes video 4 times faster, scans pixels 4 times faster, displays and renders them 4 times faster. ”

That is closely related to a particularly differential section in these Raspberry Pi 4, which abandon the full-size HDMI connector and they change it for two Micro HDMI connectors.

Why that decision? For Upton it was one of the key development options, mainly because gives the option of working with two monitors (up to 4K at 30 Hz) at the same time, or with 4K at 60 Hz. The productivity benefits are obvious to him.

“This is a 4K platform that quadruples the performance of the previous ones”

When we asked him if he thought multi-monitor setups were really that popular, he gave us a resounding answer: “in our offices all the team uses configurations with two monitors“For Upton that option was clear, and the possible hassle of having to buy new cables or adapters is not an obstacle, or not at least one that does not compensate for what we earn.

A few days before the Raspberry Pi 4 was launched, in Engadget we took out the crystal ball to try to guess what this model would integrate. Those responsible for the Raspberry Foundation lived up to expectations, but along the way a couple of options were left that some users demanded.

For example, the potential inclusion of an M.2 connector or a SATA port to use other mass storage media. When asking Upton for that decision not to integrate them, he did not give us a single reason: he gave us three.

“This is a 4K platform that quadruples the performance of the previous ones”

“The first, what USB 3.0 port is good enough. If you need SATA connectivity, there are good adapters, and the same goes for SSD media, you can also connect them via USB. “That’s right, and in fact there are those who have already started testing SSD drives on which the system partition can be mounted. Raspbian (although the boot partition has to still use the micro SD card for now).

“The second”, continued Upton, “that there were no free PCIe lanes for an M.2 connector, for example. And the third, that our form factor did not make it easy either. The connector could have been integrated under the board, for example, but that decision would have been disruptive“.

Three models, three orientations

One of the great surprises of the new Raspberry Pi 4 is that there is not just one model, but three differentiated by the amount of onboard RAM. We wanted to ask Eben Upton about that decision and, above all, who would he recommend each model.

“Well it’s clear that the 4GB model is geared towards enthusiasts, It is the one that has had the most demand by far“It is true: it is the most difficult to find today despite being the most expensive, and in fact it is sold out in some stores. Here Upton also clarified something logical:” it is also true that the first to buy are usually enthusiasts, so that demand for the 4GB model makes sense. ”

For their part, the 1 and 2 GB models “have perhaps a more industrial orientation“, since they continue to offer good performance. The 1 GB model is special because” it allowed us to keep our eternal promise to offer a Raspberry Pi for 35 dollars “, but be careful because he himself confessed a secret about that model a little half between The two extremes.

For him “the 2 GB model is surprisingly good, because it performs really well in web browsing, and also for educational environments and even for enthusiasts.” For him, this sector of users “will choose 2 or 4 GB according to their workload and needs”, but it seems clear that the 2GB model may have more surprises in store than you might expect.

The last question in the hardware section is dedicated to the USB-C port, which those responsible for the Raspberry Pi chose to charge it for its better performance for the needs of the Raspberry Pi 4. That decision it has nevertheless brought some problems, and the absence of two resistors in the design means that not all USB-C cables are compatible when trying to charge the RPi4.

The foundation is already working on a review, but in the meantime Eben Upton told us how the problem is not that big and some media had been primed with it. “We haven’t burned down a house“he joked.

“This is a 4K platform that quadruples the performance of the previous ones”

The Raspberry Pi 4 looks askance at Android and Windows 10

Upton acknowledges that the role of the Raspberry Pi as a desktop PC was one of the keys to a much more competitive design in this area, but at the moment that productivity depends on Linux, an operating system popular with enthusiasts but one that can pose barriers to mainstream users.

That made us ask him about the potential support of Windows 10, a system that in fact some developments managed to make compatible with the Raspberry Pi 3. Here Eben confessed that “I was pleasantly surprised that someone managed to make Windows 10 work on the Raspberry Pi, but I was very disappointed in his performance“.

That, of course, makes the question of whether the Raspberry Pi 4 could work with Windows 10. “Now we have more memory and a more powerful processor, so it is doable, but the main challenge is that there is no DirectX support, something that forces everything to be rendered by software. Still, with the Raspberry Pi 4 we have removed some of the limitations that made it difficult. ”

We will have to be attentive to see how future projects evolve in this regard, but there is another interesting platform in this area: Android (and Android TV). As Upton explained to us, while Windows 10 was controlled by Microsoft and ultimately they are the ones who enable this compatibility with hardware of all kinds, The same does not happen with Android, since its base is Open Source and it could fit the Raspberry Pi 4.

“This is a 4K platform that quadruples the performance of the previous ones”

“I would like to see it, but the truth is that this support is not a fundamental objective for us. Here it is important to highlight that the GPU is now fully open and that will make driver development easier“, which in turn opened the door to new projects in this sense.

In fact, the co-founder of the Raspberry Foundation admitted that “the more things that are open, the more people can collaborate and work on them. I hope someone does that work, it would be a great advantage for the platform“.

The last question had a curious answer. When questioning Upton to try to find out what feature he was most proud of on the Raspberry pi 4, it was clear to him. “What I’m most happy about is the dual MIcro HDMI output. It was a personal preference that I wanted to integrate at all costs, I am proud although it was very hard for both the hardware and the software team, I think it was a great achievement “.