I was fortunate enough to be able to order a Raspberry Pi 3 on Monday morning from The Pi Hut. This was because I’d taken the day off work as holiday, because I’d been to see the brilliant Adam Hills in Birmingham the evening before. This meant that the email announcing the Pi 3’s arrival was just about the first thing I read that day – and I ordered it immediately. It arrived today, so as is my tradition, the first thing that I’ve done with it is to run the FORTRAN version of the Whetstone Double Precision benchmark, compiled using gfortran.
Before I get to the results, it’s worthwhile noting how simple the Pi 3 was to set up and attach to my wireless network. I still remember my experience with the original Pi some four years ago, where simply getting an operating system onto an SD card took quite a lot of effort, and persuading it to work over WiFi even more. I think I spent a couple of days getting it to work properly – possibly longer – and got to play around in configuration files that I’d forgotten all about in the 25 or so years that had passed since I used to hack Sun UNIX kernels for a living.
Now, four years on, the first startup process is stupidly easy. Along with the Pi 3 (£30) and a case (£13), I’d bought a micro SD card with Raspbian pre-loaded (£6). This automatically configured itself when I powered up the Pi 3 for the first time and once that had finished (around 10 minutes or so) immediately rebooted into the desktop environment. A simple right-click on the WiFi Networks icon on the task bar allowed me to select my network and enter its password.
Installing a FORTRAN compiler was simple – all I had to do was open a terminal window and type:
sudo apt-get install gfortran
I also installed a copy of scrot (for taking screenshots) and gimp, so that I could edit them. A pre-installed version of Libre Office meant that I’d also got a spreadsheet editor with no effort – and no additional cost. Both gimp and Libre Office Calc seem to run exceptionally well on the Pi 3. I did try gimp on the original Pi, but lost the will to live waiting for it to do anything. As for Libre Office, I wouldn’t have dreamt of trying it.
So, to the results. The graph below compares the same benchmark using identical source code on the original Pi B, the Pi 2, Pi Zero and Pi 3. Over 10 runs, it manages an average of just under 400 MIPS – and like the Pi 2, that’s on one of its four cores (as the benchmark isn’t threaded). So at a cost of £30, that works out an amazing 7.5 pence per MIP – or less than 2 pence per MIP if you’re running something that can utilise all four cores simultaneously. The Raspberry Pi Foundation say that the Pi 3 is 10x faster than the original – this benchmark result therefore more than supports their claim.
All I need to do now is to find something useful to do with it (I have a couple of Internet of Things projects I’m looking at), although if my Windows 10 desktop ever gives up the ghost I think I might be tempted to simply replace it with a Pi 3, attached to my network storage device. The whole of this article has been prepared using the Pi 3, using the pre-installed Epiphany web browser to access my self-hosted WordPress site.
If my Pi 3 continues to perform reliably, I’m not sure why I’d ever need to buy a traditional Windows desktop again.