The new Raspi3 arrived and - sounds obvious, dude? - I unpacked it. The most interesting characteristics of this new model together with the super-attractive new processor speed is the double network support Ethernet and Wi-Fi and the availability of Bluetooth. Without forgetting the same form factor of the previous models: we can replace the new PI3 model in all the previous projects while the things will continue working fine.

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One of the first tests in my opinion was the worth to do was installing different platforms; This means exploring two important aspects:

  1. The reactivity of the various Linux communities to release proper OS images
  2. A performance check by the user side.

 

Setting up a test platform

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I have setup a test platform including 120 Gb SSD storage connected and powered through a SATA to USB connector. The USB powered mass-storage attached to the PI3 has two usages:

  • Testing the USB capabilities of the PI3 to support external devices powered by the itself
  • Make available a consistent amount of disk space useful in a couple of tests

In addition a multi colour LED backlighted full keyboard and an optical mouse have been attached to the Raspberry. For the entire tests this was the platform configuration, powering the PI3 just with a 2A standard power adapter, the one used for the previous PI2 models without I met any power problem at all.

 

BerryBoot

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I have not experienced before an extensive use of many different platforms on the Raspberry PI before so the use of the BerryBoot seemed immediately a great option. Unfortunately some (understandable) delusions arrived later.

Berryboot is a simple boot selection screen, allowing you to put multiple Linux distribution on a single SD card. In addition it allows you to put the operating system files on an external USB hard drive instead of on the SD card itself.

I can add that the short tutorial to create the micro SD card starting the BerryBoot os well done and easy to understand. There is also a specific link to create the micro SD for the PI3 so I proceeded.

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The positive feeling was on the first screen: the Raspberry PI3 WiFi worked perfectly. On BerryBoot it is essential an Internet connection as the OS images are downloaded from their dedicated repositories on-demand; this is the reason of a large storage available. It is possible to address the download and the operating system installation on different storage supports as I have done installing all the tested platforms on the SSD USB disk. With BerryBoot you can install on the same device more than one platform and select what OS should be launched on every boot as well as the storage for the installation of the image.

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The images above shows respectively the destination storage selection, the list of the available operating systems (impressive!) and the boot OS selection on the Raspberry PI 3 startup (after their installation). Unfortunately if the BerryBoot components seems updated to support the new PI3 features, most of the downloaded images was not:

  • Debian jessie is available for the last Raspberry PI3 compatible version (including a GUI for the Bluetooth manager)
  • OpenELEC available version is 6.0.3, the same of the official site distribution
  • Ubuntu Mate and Ubuntu Core available versions are  the release 15.04 while the official Ubuntu site distribute the version 16.5 LTS, as well as the Raspberry PI main site

I have also tried to download under BerryBoot RetroPie but the installation works very bad and does not support all the peripherals of the new device.

Investigating in depth I saw that it is possible to manually add images to BerryBoot for local installation; this implies something more complex than what a use expect using this tool to save time and optimise its image installation procedure.

Another issue appeared after some boots of the system. When I tried to add a new platform to BerryBoot unpredictably the WiFi stopped working and it was no possible to restore it again. This is one of the traps that makes crazy the newbies users. No problem was detected on the BerryBoot micro SD but the WiFi continued working improperly and the BerryBoot started looping on the WiFi network search, always with no results. On other platforms instead WiFi worked fine.

 

The conclusion

At the actual date the BerryBoot is not yet 100% reliable for the Raspberry PI3 full support. We can hope that the available images on their repositories will be updated to the last stable versions very soon.

 

OpenELEC media center

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The OpenELEC - Kodi media center on PI3 worked almost fine. All the features are working correctly and spending some time to fine tune the media center sessions, adding some plugins for personalisation etc. the system is really nice. Works well from the network with Internet Radios, Jamendo and many other music portals, youtube videos are streamed well and so on. Playing more in depth with the system configuration unfortunately the most interesting features of the new model PI3 seems almost ignored:

  • The speed tests shown in the Kodi system status screen shows just 860-900 MHz as processor speed
  • Bluetooth is recognised and always appear as a device unable to discover nothing
  • WiFi works perfectly on the first run and the network setup has no problems
  • Rebooted the system a lot of times and always the connection was perfect
  • Easy to use with the external mass storage for both large cached files and local files streaming (video and music)
  • Samba protocol seems not working fine and very difficult to set with the WiFi connection active

 

The conclusion

After about half a day of intensive usage the feeling is that the compatibility is mostly for the Raspberry PI2, inherited for most of the features by the PI3. It is possible that a new release is needed to support the new platform specific features, including the proper processor speed detection / settings.

 

Ubuntu Mate 16.04 (and Jessie)

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While running the BerryBoot Ubuntu Mate distribution I found many issues installing and setting the peripherals on the Raspberry PI3. Ubuntu 16.04 LTS instead represent a real improvement. Every installation step after the image boot worked fine and on the first try.

Together with the last Jessie image distribution (for the PI3) Ubuntu Mate is the only one that supports all the peripherals including the Bluetooth device. As well as the WiFi connection - stable and reliable also in this case - the Bluetooth installed perfectly and I was able to connect a desktop Macbook Pro, a Bluetooth handsfree audio device and several Android mobile. The only strange issue that I have no idea why it occurs is with Android: The Bluetooth on PI3 discover them as audio devices, but then it is possible to send and receive files.

 

Few words on the official Raspbian Jessie distribution

The Jessie distribution provided by the BerryBoot dates 2016.03 it works fine and also the Bluetooth layer is recognised and can be managed as well: unfortunately there is not a GUI available for the Bluetooth settings; this is almost annoying as any change and Bluetooth setup should be done by terminal. About this version of Jessie the official raspberrypi.org site apologised just for the missing GUI Bluetooth component; as expected from the X-Window system we will find the Bluetooth settings (discoverability, nearby devices etc.) in a the top bar widget The urgency to release a stable distribution obliged the team to exclude this tool. The full distribution, including the Bluetooth GUI support is part of the version starting from the 2016-05-27-raspbian-jessie image available from the official site.

 

The conclusion

Probably the best solution to start with the Raspberry PI3 being reasonably sure that all the hardware features are available in a stable system is to install one of these two distributions. The choice is yours. I think that also in the case you want to build your own media system of any other custom setting, it is the worth to start from a complete and stable Linux distro.

 

RetroPie

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To full test the RetroPie installation I have added to the test platform also a PS2 compatible controller (bright blue in the image above) supporting USB and Bluetooth connectivity. Also with this extra device (uses the USB to charge the non removable Bluetooth battery) the PI3 had no problems of powering everything.

As mentioned above the RetroPie distribution available from the BerryBoot repositories had a lot of problems due some partial incompatibility accordingly with the note on the official RetroPie site:

We also offer up images for use with BerryBoot, although we are afraid we cannot offer support for them as we don’t use them ourselves – but feel free to post on the forum if you have trouble.

I have installed the same version from the RetroPie site and all worked fine excluding the Bluetooth connection that is not recognised at all.

The following video shows the platforms in action and the RetroPie platform running a game on the Raspberry PI3.