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RoadTest the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B (2GB) - Review

Scoring

Product Performed to Expectations: 10
Specifications were sufficient to design with: 10
Demo Software was of good quality: 10
Product was easy to use: 10
Support materials were available: 10
The price to performance ratio was good: 10
TotalScore: 60 / 60
  • RoadTest: RoadTest the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B (2GB)
  • Buy Now
  • Evaluation Type: Development Boards & Tools
  • Was everything in the box required?: Yes
  • Comparable Products/Other parts you considered: Beaglebone, Neo, panda
  • What were the biggest problems encountered?: Temperature is the biggest issue with the RPI4.

  • Detailed Review:

    The Raspberry Pi 4 was worth the wait
    Rpi 4B 2GB
    Rpi 4B 2GB

    The Rpi 4 is the latest in the long line of Pi's and comes in several flavors. I am reviewing the 2GB version. You can get the Rpi 4 in 1GB, 2GB or 4GB of RAM. This range of RAM sizes opens the door to so many more projects. With the faster processor you can easily use the Rpi 4 for everything from a simple weather station to a network sniffer or a home server for sharing of music, video and files. The list of possibilities was endless under the Pi 3 line and the limits were just pushed back, way back. The specs of the Rpi 4 are at the end of the review.

     

    With the new Rpi 4 hardware comes a new operating system. Raspbian is the official OS for the Pi line and is made available free from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The previous version was known as Stretch. The latest and greatest is called Buster. As of the writing of this review the latest version is 9/26/2019. Like all of the Raspbian OS's before it, Buster comes in several flavors:

     

    • Buster with Desktop and recommended software (pretty much everything you might need is already there) (2.5GB)
    • Buster with Desktop (the desktop is complete, you add what software you want to run) (1.1GB)
    • Buster Lite (minimal install, you add what you want) (435MB)

     

    If you are running a Rpi 4 you need to run Buster. To every rule there is an exception. If you love a fight, have lots of time and just can't leave Stretch you can find scripts that will attempt to make Stretch run on the Rpi 4. For the rest of us, just get Buster. It has some security enhancements along with some additions for the new Rpi 4 CPU. Fun fact: Buster is named after the dog in Toy Story. The real dog (in the movie), not the slinky dog. Image of Buster

     

     

    The link to Raspbian Buster is: https://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads/raspbian/

    You can also run other OS's on the Rpi 4. Some of the more common ones are:

     

    • DietPi  (my favorite - it is very light weight and just works)
    • Manjaro
    • LibreELEC
    • OpenMediaVault

     

    For this review, I ran Buster Desktop and DietPi.

     

    Let's not forget the micro-SD card. Can't boot the Rpi 4 without a micro-SD Card. The largest micro-SD card is still 32GB. The size limitation is driven by the format that the Rpi 4 uses, FAT32. FAT32 max's out at 32GB. You can use a larger card but you will not reap the benefits without some hoop jumping. The cool part is that good quality, high speed (U3 class) 32GB micro-SD cards are cheap and easy to find. Another nice thing about the Rpi 4, the micro-SD card slot now supports a theoretical max of 50MBps, twice as fast as the Rpi 3B+.

     

    One of the first differences in the Rpi 4 and the previous Pi line is the way it is powered. It is still powered via a USB port but that port is a USB-C.
                                                     Image of Rpi 4 USB-C Port

    The power requirements for the Rpi 4 have gone up. The Foundation recommends a 3.0A power supply. That is up from the 3B+'s 2.5A. Worth noting, the Rpi 4 has a problem with the USB-C port. Some electronically marked cables will see the Rpi 4 as an USB Audio device and therefore not apply power. The Pi Foundation has acknowledged the issue and will resolve it in future builds but can not do anything about it in this release. Of all of the USB-C cables I have only one did not work with the Rpi 4. Safest approach, get the official Pi Foundation Charger and cable. 

    The Rpi 4 runs HOT. I tested my Pi first with no heat sinks (not recommended), with heat sinks and finally with heat sinks and a fan. The numbers are below but it is no surprise that running the Pi with heat sinks and a fan keep it much cooler. Why do you care? First, heat kills electronic components. Keep them cool, they last longer. Second, the Pi monitors the CPU heat and at around 80* C it starts throttling the CPU. So the Pi will automatically slow the CPU to reduce heat. A Rpi 4 with no heat sinks or fan will hit that 80*C pretty quick if it is doing anything.
    Image showing CPU temp after stress test       Image  CPU temp after stress test with fan
    Temp immediately after a stress test, no fan, no heat sink.      Running with a heat sink and fan. Running cool.

     

    The Raspberry Pi Foundation released a firmware update to the Rpi 4 to help with the heat issue. I recommend applying that updated firmware it will save you a couple of degrees C right out of the box. Throw in some heat sinks and fan. The case I use comes with the heat sinks and fan and the is virtually silent so no issues there.

     

    Image pre-firmware cpu temp    Image post-firmware temp
    Idle temps of the Rpi 4 before and after the firmware update that addresses excessive heat

     

    Testing the Rpi 4 to see if it is backward compatible to the Pi 3B+. I was able to find several common apps that require upgrading to work on the newer Pi. The good news is that by October 2019, the Rpi 4 was released July 2019, all of the apps that found would not run have been upgraded. So if you have older software you want to bring forward to the new Rpi 4 you can. You may need to update some apps but likely you are an old hand at that if you have been running a Pi for any length of time.

     

    The Rpi 4 comes with four USB ports just like the 3B+ did but on the Rpi 4, two of those USB ports are USB 3.0. USB 3 is rated for over 400MB/s. You can easily tell the USB 3.0 ports, they are blue. This is a great upgrade to the Rpi 4. If you do large data transfers like music, video or photos you immediately see the difference between USB 3.0 and USB 2.

    Image Rpi4 I/O ports

     

    Testing the Rpi 4 with a SSD drive and 2GB and 4GB file transfers I saw throughput of above 360 MB/s on Reads and above 320 MB/s on Writes. Compare that to the Pi 3B+ which got down around 35 MB/s. USB 3.0 rocks and glad to see the Rpi 4 bring 2 USB 3.0 ports to the show.

    Another nice addition to the Rpi 4 is there are now 2 micro-HDMI video ports. So you can run two displays for your desktop. You can run 2 HDMI ports at 4K, 30fps or you can run 1 4K 60fps. That is pretty impressive for such a small board. It would have been nice if both ports could do full 4K at 60 fps but the Rpi 4 has to have some room to grow.

     

    The new Pi has faster ethernet and BlueTooth as well. The Rpi 4 scored an average of 941 Mbps. That is up dramatically over the 3B+ which got 232 Mbps. Both were tested using iperf3 and averaged over 20 cycles. So the newer board design helps with ethernet transfers a lot.

     

    WiFi has not changed much. The Rpi 4 outperforms the Rpi 3B+ on a 5GHz wireless lan but not by as much as I would have thought. The difference in ethernet is dramatic, the difference in WiFi is marginal. The Rpi 4 hit an average speed of 112.6 Mbps while the 3B+ hit 96.2 Mbps on a 5GHz wifi. Still that is a 17% improvement, nothing to sneeze at. The difference on a 2.4GHz wireless is non-existent.

     

    While a straight up speed test will produce an accurate number, they tend to be meaningless in the overall performance of a computer. The speed test that has become the defacto standard for single board computers is GIMP. Rendering a high resolution image and exporting it while timed is a pretty good real world test when comparing different SBC's. The Rpi 4 took 44.14 seconds while doing the same with the same image on a Pi 3B+ took 69.04 seconds. That is a pretty healthy overall performance improvement on the Rpi 4's part. The Rpi 4 is significantly faster than the 3B+.

     

    The GPIO header on the Rpi 4 is the same as its predecessors. In fact the header has remained the same since the Rpi 2. All of the hats and shields will work on the Rpi 4. Good thinking on the Pi Foundation's part.

     

    The size and layout has changed with the Rpi 4 so cases for Rpi 3B+ will not fit it. Shop carefully for your case. It is very frustrating trying to work with the GPIO header with a poorly designed case. Good news is that are tons of cases to select from. Pick one that has the heat sinks with it. A fan is a good idea too.

     

    The Rpi 4 is powerful. It is moving in to the inexpensive desktop range. Throw a monitor or two, keyboard/mouse, speakers and an SSD drive and you have got a pretty nice desktop that is small, cheap, fast and fully functional.

     

    I run HomeAssistant along with NodeRed, Mosquitto, a HotSpot app, SAMBA (drive sharing), NTP and a VPN client on my Rpi 4. Works fine, it is very responsive, zippy even. My Rpi 3B+ could run all of the same apps but it did not do it so well. It literally took 5 minutes for HomeAssistant to come up.  NodeRed was painfully slow and sometimes you would drop connections on the WiFi. I would only use the SAMBA drive when I had something I really wanted backed up. With the Rpi 4, I run it all, it runs fast, no more dropped connections and I get a kick out of backing up via an ethernet cross over cable. That GigaBit ethernet is insanely fast.

     

    The Pi Foundation deserves a lot of credit for the Single Board Computer revolution. They have not been sitting around the water cooler talking about how good they are. Well, they probably do but they have put some effort in to making the Rpi 4 a valuable addition to the Pi line. It will be interesting to see what people do with the increased performance of the Rpi 4. I will be using it as a network analyzer tool. I have added a case that includes a 4" touchscreen. Loaded all of my favorite network tools including WireShark, added some scripts and I now have an all-in-one network tool that fits in a small bag. With the addition of a small port mirroring switch and a large USB battery pack I can run the Rpi 4 and switch to do a network analysis without tying up my laptop. I can even leave it onsite and check on it with TeamViewer which runs wonderfully on the Rpi 4B 2GB.  I did have some connection drops when attempting to use AnyDesk with the Rpi 4B and Buster that I did not have under the Rpi 3B+ and Stretch.  I believe the issues are with Buster though.  TeamViewer does not have the disconnect issue.

     

    Image Rpi 4 with 4" LCD
    Rpi 4 with 4" LCD Touchscreen - the basis for my network analyzer

     

    Whether you are looking to get in to the Single Board Computer game or looking to upgrade, it is hard to beat the Rpi 4. The price/performance ratio is outstanding, the support is unbeatable and it is well made. The Pi Foundation has a little work to do but they are still hitting the ball out of the park.

     

     

    The Specs

    **Rpi 3B+****Rpi 4**
    RAM1GB
    DDR2
    1,2 or 4GB
    DDR4
    CPU1.4-GHz
    4 Core Broadcom BCM2837B0
    Cortex A-53
    1.5-GHz
    4 Core Broadcom BCM2711B0
    Cortex A-72
    Resolution1260x16002 4K 30fps or
    1 4K 60fps+1080p
    USB4xUSB 2.02xUSB 3.0
    2xUSB 2.0
    Power2.5A@5v
    via micro-USB
    3.0A@5v
    via USB C
    BlueTooth4.15.0
    WiFi802.11ac
    2.4/5 GHz
    802.11ac
    2.4/5 GHz
    PoERequires add-on boardBuilt in
    Ethernet330MbpsGigaBit
    VideoVideoCore 4
    400MHz
    1 HDMI
    VideoCore 6
    500Mhz
    2 micro-HDMI
    SD Card Slotup to 32GB
    FAT32
    25MBps max throughput

    FAT32
    50MBps max throughput
    GPIO40 Pin
    unchanged from Pi 2
    40 Pin
    unchanged from Pi 2
    Sizeinch: 3.2 x 2.2 x 0.76
    mm: 82 x 56 x 19.5
    inch: 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.76
    mm: 88 x 58 x 19.5
    Price~$35~$35/$45/$55

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