Raspberry Pi – Is It Worth Getting One?

rpicluster

I’ve previously written a little bit about the Raspberry Pi, but mostly about specific things. And when I hear people talking about the RPI, it’s mostly about specific things. So, what about the whole picture? Is it worth getting a RPI?

Yes. Go get one if you don’t already have one.

Some uses:
Music player
Video player / handle a display (Synergy is available)
Lightweight HTPC
Gaming
Programming
Shell server
Hardware hacking / Prototyping
Web server
Cheap NAS
BitTorrent server
OwnCloud server
Security camera

You’re getting a cheap all-in-one computer with low power consumption and good connectivity capable of running more or less any simple service. If you’re into hardware hacking you got GPIO pins and quite a lot of community support and sample code to get started. I recently got a RGB LCD screen (warning: a lot of soldering required :3!).

Raspberry Pi is overall a good platform for a lot of purposes, which becomes its true strength. Because it often falls short compared to other platforms. You can run a web server with OwnCloud, but it will be slow. You can share your old external hard drive and use it as a NAS, but don’t expect any rapid transfers. There are a few games that will run, but the experience is better elsewhere. It can play music but the audio isn’t great and might feature some static.

I can’t complain on the video, though. It can play 1080p with audio via HDMI as long as the bitrate isn’t too high, which is amazing. 720p works flawlessly. There are images optimized for HTPC usage available. But then again, you want to play h.264. I haven’t tried any other codec, but unless there is hardware acceleration available, it will be sluggish.

The bottom line is that the Raspberry Pi is slow. The ARM processor isn’t very strong, especially with graphics. The included python games feature delay and feel non-responsive, and web browsing is impossible using an ordinary browser. The included lightweight browser makes a good job, but it still isn’t good enough. You will be disappointed with the performance if you have any expectations at all.

For the price, and seeing how well-balanced it is, it’s sure worth getting one. There are a lot of uses for a silent all-in-one computer. Sometimes a lot of horsepower isn’t required, and this is where the RPI shines.

Home Network Storage With Point and Click ZFS!

nas

I’ve kind of forgotten to post about my “new” NAS, which sort of replaced my old Buffalo Link Station Live 3Tb.

I had somewhat of a complicated relationship with the Link Station – on one hand it “did what it was supposed to”, but on the other hand it didn’t do anything else. Yes, it had a lot of nice features, but it couldn’t run them because then it would run out of system resources.

So when I upgraded my PC (as in bought a new one, reused the SSD and one drive), I was thinking of converting the leftover hardware into a NAS.

I wanted the following features:
* More than 3T storage in one logical drive
* One disk redundancy
* Portability (Can restore volume on another machine)
* Semi-future-proof
* Silent (as in I should be able to sleep with it on)
* Encryption

Since I’m mostly familiar with Linux, I looked into some software-RAID possibilities. The idea was that I could install a distro onto a flash drive, thereby saving an internal HDD slot, and run a software RAID creating both one logical drive and giving me redundancy.

While researching, a friend of mine lost his array due to software error (probably some human error too, perhaps) when the system drive got corrupted. I didn’t like the idea that some setups required configuration on the system disk because then the setup wouldn’t be portable in case of a system failure.

I’ve had my eye on ZFS for some time, but never got around to implementing it because of the hardware requirements. Suddenly ZFS looked like a much better option. Originally I kind of wanted to run services on my NAS as well, which probably wouldn’t be possible with the kind of memory ZFS requires. However, I knew that if I were to run a multitude of services on the same machine which also hosted all my files, I’d eventually break something important. So perhaps, I thought, it’d be better to just go for ZFS.

Point and click ZFS? FreeNAS!

FreeNAS works flawlessly for me, albeit a bit slow at times. That might not be FreeNAS fault, though, it could be my SATA controller. It’s currently hosting 3x1T and 3x3T of storage, shared over a gigabit interface.

The admin web interface is very responsive and the only operation that actually takes a while is volume mounting, which is to be expected. It’s only done once per reboot anyway. You have access to pretty much all configuration from there, and a (somewhat laggy) terminal. A regular console is available if you plug in a display and keyboard.

Finally, let’s round it up with a little bit of pros and cons.

Pros:
Point and click ZFS, with disk encryption and network sharing.
Extensive admin web interface.
Based on FreeBSD.
Can run from a CD or USB drive.

Cons:
If something breaks you might have to bring up a terminal.
You can’t put files on the flash drive, i.e. scripts etc.
Could have been better at displaying system information, like S.M.A.R.T details and disk temperature.

Bottom line: go install FreeNAS if you need a file storage machine!