Raspberry Pi 3 Model B review

Getting a Raspberry Pi computer has been on my wishlist for quite some time now, ever since it got out I think. But then while the computer is not prohibitively expensive, they are not dirt cheap either and as always I’ve got other priorities that I have to spend my money for. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised when my wife got me a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B as my birthday present last year (thank you darling!).

The Pi that I got was the latest Pi 3 Model B with Broadcom QuadCore 1.2GHz processor and 1GB of RAM. It is a barebone unit which is basically a small motherboard with all the components soldered to it. Amazingly it has got most of the ports and components of a full-fledged computer like USB 2 ports (4 of them), full-size Ethernet port, composite video and audio output jack, HDMI port, MicroSD card slot, Wi-FI and also Bluetooth connections. All of that on a single board the size of a credit card.

iFlix on Raspberry Pi

 Low-voltage power warning

Out of the box you will get the Raspberry Pi board and nothing else. The casing is sold separately and I got mine for 15 ringgit from Lazada. Sure you can use the Pi exposed as it is but for safety and longer life-span I would recommend putting it in a case. To power the Pi, I use my iPad charger brick together with a regular micro USB cable. The recommended power supply voltage is 5.1V which exactly what the iPad charger supplies. Any lower you might not get the Pi to turn on. At first I used a cheap 5 ringgit micro USB cable to power the Pi but it was not long before I got intermittent power offs and a low-voltage warning on the screen. Apparently you need a quality micro USB cable to connect the power supply to the Pi and after replacing the cable with one original Motorola micro USB cable (from my phone), it works beautifully.

 Netflix on Raspberry Pi

Other peripherals that you need include a full-sized HDMI cable, a keyboard and mouse - at least for the initial setup. You can use a virtual keyboard later on but a wireless mouse would prove to be really convenient. An ethernet cable if you don't plan to connect to Wi-Fi or you just want a faster network connection. The minimum memory card size is 8GB so I would recommend something bigger than that.

So what operating system should you use with the Raspberry Pi? Before getting the Pi, I read somewhere that they will be making a special version of Windows 10 for the Raspberry Pi. After further reading however, I found it this special version Windows 10 IOT Core is nothing like the regular desktop Windows version that you and I are used to. It is actually an operating system designed for embedded systems not unlike point of sale (POS) devices and kiosks. That means it has no graphical user interface like Windows 7, 8 or 10 and you can’t definitely install regular x86 or x64 programs on it.

That leaves us with the next best thing, nay make that the best thing of course since Raspbian is the official and most popular operating system for all models of Raspberry Pis ever made. And the easiest way to install Raspbian OS on your microSD card is to download NOOBS (new out of the box software) and run the OS installation from there. After booting with NOOBS, you get a selection of Linux operating systems to choose from like Pidora, LibreELEC, OSMC, Risc OS and Arch Linux apart from the popular Raspbian OS. From there on, the installation process should be pretty straightforward, even for beginners.

Raspbian OS comes preinstalled with a fair selection of open source soft software in several categories like programming, office, Internet and games. The default browser is Chromium which is the open source version of Google Chrome. First thing I noticed about streaming videos with Chromium is the video is pretty laggy and not as smooth as they usually are. So I searched around for a fix and found a few solutions for the video performance problem. To make your YouTube stream smoother, install this h254ify Chromium extension and if that doesn’t work follow this instruction. To make Netflix and similar video streaming sites work on Raspbian, follow the steps on this article. You might also want to increase the GPU memory from the standard 128MB to 256MB but not more than that cause else your Raspberry Pi might run erratically.

 GoMovies on Raspberry Pi

 Spotify on Raspberry Pi

How does the Pi performs overall? After going through the various fixes above, I find the performance average for a computer but exceptional considering its size and price. YouTube video runs pretty smoothly. I got Netflix and iFlix working albeit at below par quality. Other video streaming sites like GoMovies is on and off. Video playback from Kodi or external media is okay. Music streaming like Spotify and other audio streaming sites work seamlessly since they require less processing power. I did not attempt to install or play any games on the Pi although I suspect they should work alright for less-intensive graphic games like Minecraft which is pre-installed. For a media centre computer, the Raspberry Pi could be better. For every other purpose like programming, education or hobbyist, it should be perfect.

 YouTube streming

Would I recommend the Raspberry Pi? Yes if you’re prepare to tinker around with the settings or you’ve got a specific project in mind. There are literally hundreds of things you can do with the Raspberry Pi like a photo booth, a home surveillance system, a DIY arcade video game, a wearable camera and Internet Radio streaming box among others. If you just want a working digital media player or set-top box than you better get a regular Apple TV or Android boxes with built-in Chromecast. They are much more superior in quality, ease of use and less complicated to set up.