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Raspberry Pi vs Mini PC for general purpose use

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#1 gmiller123456

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Posted 13 June 2021 - 01:13 PM

Just curious as to what others think about this.  I consider the Raspberry Pi, as a general purpose PC, to essentially be obsolete, at least as it's current price point.  Compared to the price of a refurbished Mini PC, I'm curious as to how anyone can justify going with a Raspberry Pi.  I really don't think the cost of the Pi has kept up with the pace of the PC market.

 

The original Pi released almost 10 years ago was $35.  And today the price of a low end Pi is still $35, the biggest difference being the CPU and amount of RAM, 700Mhz/512Mb vs 1.4Ghz/2Gb.   And, you still have to add, shipping, power supply, cooling, case, and SD card. It's hard to set a minimum price because there are a lot of options at different price points, but it's hard to imagine coming in at a full PC for under $50, and $60 is more reasonable.

 

Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago, I got a refurbished NUC with no HD for $60 (i3 1.7Ghz, 8Gb RAM), picked up a 64Gb mSATA SSD for $13, so that's $73 for a PC ready to go on my doorstep. Yes, it's a used PC, and yes, it still probably costs more, and yes I had to shop around.  But what you're getting is way more powerful and solid.  And once you add in a keyboard, mouse, screen, and a place to put it all, the savings is negligible.  IMHO, it makes way more sense to put a little extra money to get something a lot better.

 

Granted, I do still see a use for the Pi, just not as a general purpose PC.  It's still a better option for small electronics projects, robotics, home automation, etc. where the size, weight and power requirements matter, or if you need the GPIO pins.


Edited by gmiller123456, 13 June 2021 - 06:49 PM.


#2 dswtan

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Posted 13 June 2021 - 01:20 PM

I don't disagree with your fundamental conclusion (I use NUCs), but why would you prefer a "general purpose PC" in the specific role of attaching (or near) your 'scope, where size, weight, power are ALL important or at least very useful?

 

It seems Pi (or any small PC) is EXACTLY what you want in the typical astro application of a dedicated CPU at the scope. I totally understand why people still use Pi and variants (ASIair, etc.).



#3 BlueMoon

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Posted 13 June 2021 - 01:38 PM

 

It really seems like the Pi Foundation is asleep at the wheel.

The Pi was conceived as an "anyone can afford" computing device since it's conception and release 2012. The Raspberry Pi Foundation has not only maintained that primary goal but helped encourage and foster an entire software and hardware "ecosystem" for the device. It has put computing into the hands of millions who would not have had access to other hardware platforms.

 

It seems hardly "asleep at the wheel" for a device in it's 9th year of production.

 

 

I really don't think the cost of the Pi has kept up with the pace of the PC market.

It was never intended to compete in that sector. IMO, comparing a Pi to current "price/features" in other PC type devices is an "apples and oranges" issue.

 

Clear skies.


Edited by BlueMoon, 13 June 2021 - 02:07 PM.

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#4 rgsalinger

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Posted 13 June 2021 - 01:41 PM

I've been using cheap refurbished computers for about 5 years now on my three systems. However, the allure of the RPI is that you can download something onto it and have an imaging system with less work than configuring a PC. So, for some people it remains a viable solution.

Rgrds-Ross


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#5 TelescopeGreg

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Posted 13 June 2021 - 05:34 PM

I've been using a Raspberry Pi to control my imaging sessions for several years.  I find their low power, ease of management (no "Patch Tuesday" headaches), stable operation, and free software to be very appealing.  And when something does go sour, a reboot takes seconds, not minutes.  The entire system fits on a small SD card, which can easily be backed up whole.

 

The Pi is definitely not a general purpose computer, and as has been noted, was never intended to be such.  Controlling an imaging system, however, is not a general purpose task.  No spreadsheets, no graphical renderings, no word processing.  You're doing real-time control and data acquisition; those are perfect tasks for a small dedicated computer running Linux.


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#6 gmiller123456

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Posted 13 June 2021 - 07:00 PM

It seems hardly "asleep at the wheel" for a device in it's 9th year of production.

I went ahead and deleted my comment on that, it's a matter of opinion and not really relevant to my point.



#7 Seiten

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Posted 13 June 2021 - 07:15 PM

Couldnt agree more.  And to note, there are TONS of folks on here controlling their scopes and their imaging sessions with a Raspberry PI.  I know you've heard of the ASIAir Pro. And with the growing vulnerability and instability of Windows based machines, I have to admit that I dont see why the key software developers are not steering their software to be Linux based.  Soon enough, MS will have complete control of our Windows operating systems and we will have no say in what it looks like or what it evolves to.  Much of the manufacturing industry relies on small scale Linux operated controllers.  They just work!  I built my own VOIP phone system (PBX) with a Raspberry PI.  It has been running for months with no errors, no glitches and no lock-ups.  Ive almost forgot how to logon to it.  Its like a rock!  Cybersecurity experts claim that Windows based products and their vulnerabilities are so common that data backup servers should actually be Linux based so that the all common ransomeware-as-a-service cant find your data stores so easily as to encrypt them and hide them from you.  Microsoft gutted their software testing groups and outsourced testing  to software houses in India.  Almost immediately, Windows updates started causing problems.  And when advanced users started forgoing future updates, MS forced an update that prevented users from doing so.

 

 

I've been using a Raspberry Pi to control my imaging sessions for several years.  I find their low power, ease of management (no "Patch Tuesday" headaches), stable operation, and free software to be very appealing.  And when something does go sour, a reboot takes seconds, not minutes.  The entire system fits on a small SD card, which can easily be backed up whole.

 

The Pi is definitely not a general purpose computer, and as has been noted, was never intended to be such.  Controlling an imaging system, however, is not a general purpose task.  No spreadsheets, no graphical renderings, no word processing.  You're doing real-time control and data acquisition; those are perfect tasks for a small dedicated computer running Linux.



#8 gmiller123456

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Posted 13 June 2021 - 10:56 PM

Seems to be several people confused in a Linux vs Windows debate.  The Mini PCs/NUCs can run Linux perfectly fine, there are even astronomy distros too.  For those that actually prefer Windows, pretty much all of the refurbs are old corporate PCs where the license is tied to the CPU, so you actually get a free copy of Windows with most of them.  The NUCs I bought for $60 have a Windows 8 Pro license, which can be upgraded for free to Windows 10.  I actually put Ubuntu on them though.

 

I haven't actually tried any of the Linux astronomy distros, so if typing "sudo apt install xxxx" is a deal breaker, you'll want to compare what's available.  On the other hand, the Mini PCs that come with hard drives installed usually come with Windows already installed.

 

For people who have size as a major requirement, my NUC is 4.5"x4.5"x1.25". The brick for the NUC power supply is 4"x1.5"x1"  The Raspberry Pi case I have is 3.5".2.5"x1".  The USB 2.5A power adapter I have is 1.25"x1.25"x1".

 

For people who have weight as a major requirement, the NUC weighs about 500 grams, the power supply and cable about 200 grams.  My Pi, with case weight about 200 grams.

 

Instead of NUCs, there's also the so called "one liter" PCs, and they're, well... One liter in size smile.gif  I measured one at 6.5"x6.5"x1", so actually a little less than a liter.  The weight is probably 2x the NUC, power supply is about the same weight and size.  

 

I hooked up my Kill-a-Watt to measure the power usage.  Idle is about 6W, CPU pegged is about 25W, running Stellarium it "idles" at about 13W.  I did not measure the Pi, but from what I've read it is about 6W pegged, and 2W idle.  That's going to be a tough comparison though, because the NUC will actually do more in a shorter period of time.


Edited by gmiller123456, 14 June 2021 - 08:40 AM.


#9 vio

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 07:58 AM

I like the simplicity of having a specialized appliance (computer?) for image captures. To another extreme, who would rather have full PCs for their smart thermostat, garage door, door locks, phone, bulbs, TV? And know that there’s a good possibility that they could one day get a virus from reading emails or browsing the internet on those computers controlling any of those devices?


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#10 gmiller123456

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 08:13 AM

I like the simplicity of having a specialized appliance (computer?) for image captures. To another extreme, who would rather have full PCs for their smart thermostat, garage door, door locks, phone, bulbs, TV? And know that there’s a good possibility that they could one day get a virus from reading emails or browsing the internet on those computers controlling any of those devices?
 

Again, there's some confusion about the (lack of) differences between the platforms.  The Pi runs Linux, the NUC can run Linux, they'll have the exact same security holes.



#11 astrokeith

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 08:35 AM

This is a difficult thread for me - the RPi is not and should not be considered as a general purpose computer. It was never meant to 'compete' with PC's new or refurbished.

 

So far 40 millions RPis have been sold, and I believe the majority of those have been built into projects. Robots, home controllers, etc, etc. They dont need mass storage. The OS is normally less than 4GB.

 

Power consumption is low. Even flat out batch plate-solving I cant get my 4B to draw more than 3W. 

 

My Dob drive has a RPi at its core. It auto boots the scope control program and handles the maths easily. It manages motor drives, handbox, wifi & serial comms. Its running a combo of Python and Java. This is what RPis are good for, indeed they are almost unique in being able to do this so easily.

 

I have a NUC that handles the few windows programs I have to put up with (I'm a MAC user). It consumes x4 the power, it x6 as heavy, I did a few simple comparisons in plate-solving performance between the NUC and the RPI4B and I think the RPI was quicker!


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#12 sbradley07

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 09:59 AM

Again, there's some confusion about the (lack of) differences between the platforms.  The Pi runs Linux, the NUC can run Linux, they'll have the exact same security holes.

Maybe you can clarify your intent for this thread.  The thread title and opening post position a debate on the merits of two platforms "for general purpose use," and it mentions nothing of their use for astronomy-specific tasks.  That made sense to me since general purpose ≠ astronomy-specific.  But the fact that you started the thread in the "Astronomy Software & Computers" forum led to some assumptions that this was about Windows vs Linux for astronomy.  So if your intent was true a comparison based on general purpose use, Bluemoon  put it best that it's an apples to oranges comparison.



#13 gmiller123456

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 10:16 AM

When I say "general purpose use", I mean both the Pi and the NUC used for (generally) dedicated astronomy tasks like controlling the mount, camera, plate solving, etc.  To me, that's pretty general purpose.  As opposed to, as someone mentioned earlier, a thermostat, which is going to have a fifty cent micro controller in it dedicated to a very specific task.

 

Whether or not people agree on that terminology, or what the Pi's original design goal was, isn't really of interest to me.  As purely a practical matter, the two can, and often are used for the exact same purposes even when constrained to just astronomy tasks.  The NUC/Mini PC can serve as a drop in replacement for most of what astronomers use a Pi for.



#14 BlueMoon

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 10:58 AM

 

As purely a practical matter, the two can, and often are used for the exact same purposes even when constrained to just astronomy tasks.

That's hardly "general purpose" then.



#15 gmiller123456

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 11:10 AM

Like I said, not really interested in debating terminology. What term do you think I should use? I'll go back and change it.

#16 BlueMoon

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 11:24 AM

Like I said, not really interested in debating terminology. What term do you think I should use? I'll go back and change it.

Frankly, it's not about the terminology.

 

 

I consider the Raspberry Pi, as a general purpose PC, to essentially be obsolete, at least as it's current price point.  Compared to the price of a refurbished Mini PC, I'm curious as to how anyone can justify going with a Raspberry Pi.  I really don't think the cost of the Pi has kept up with the pace of the PC market.

The point I'm trying to make is that you made a statement, an opinion, about the Pi as being "general purpose" and compared it to other mini-computers.

 

 

When I say "general purpose use", I mean both the Pi and the NUC used for (generally) dedicated astronomy tasks

 

Then, later in the thread, you specifically assign it to the "astronomy" domain, which isn't "general purpose" it's a specialization and that changes the conditions of the argument. Folks, including me, were debating your initial point of view. That's all. 

 

Clear skies.



#17 rgsalinger

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 11:24 AM

Personally, I find the RPI underpowered for what I like to do with my systems. So, I use Intel based computers. That's the hardware side. If the RPI's capabilities suit your use cases, then I'm sure that it's a solution to be considered. Since I have not done that as yet, I can't comment on the smoothness of implementation and how much Linux one has to absorb to keep it working.  I must admit that I'm a skeptic at this point. 

 

The other issue is with regards to what OS to use. I've been using Win10 for imaging since before the public release. In all that time I've had exactly one problem with one astronomy related driver. I do take precautions with regards to the endless stream of updates. My workflow is to get them done before I start imaging. That may suit me but not "you". Once you understand how to avoid them during imaging hours and how to get them done before you start, that issue disappears. 

 

My cheap Win10 boxes have two nice features. First, I have a wide choice of what software I want to use and in what combinations. Second, maybe 90 percent of amateur aesthetic imagers are using that architecture. So, issues with drivers and software expert advice is easy to get and any driver/software issues are rapidly identified. When a Win10 update broke some ASCOM drivers the problem was fixed in under a week. (And you could have have just reverted and waited.) 

 

I think if you want to make an informed decision it's got to be about what computers you own now and how you see this hobby developing for you. Most members here have a Windows laptop that can be turned into an imaging system very quickly. To me that's got to be easier than buying a kit, downloading an OS and tons of software using that OS which you know nothing about. No knock on Linux, just that everyone knows how to use the Windows file explorer. If you're a Mac user then you're "stuck" a bit and perhaps that makes an RPI solution a much better choice. 

 

Rgrds-Ross


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#18 astrokeith

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 11:34 AM

Building on on others' comments, your comparison is 'apples vs second hand oranges'

 

So lets look at it again, buying new (or would you prefer we buy a used Pi?)

 

The Nuc new costs about x4 a Pi new,

Its about x5 heavier (I've just weight a PI4 in a case and its <100g)

It draws 1/5 the power (just measured it running astroberry) 2-3W (idle-solving)

 

You can have a clean spare Astroberry OS waiting on an SD card for about 30m minutes work and $6.

 

You can put either on a pillar or tripod, the Pi can go on the OTA.

 

You asked for peoples' thoughts. You had quite a few but it seemed they didnt fit your original premise that the NUC was 'better'. OK so you got a bargain. Be happy with it but NUCs and Pi's are not the same.


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#19 kel123

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 12:12 PM

When I saw the title of the thread, I thought it was one of those posts asking for advice on which one to use for a particular setup, only to learn that it is a screed against RPis.
I have to say this is a very unnecessary apples to oranges comparison and faux debate. It is an exercise in futility.
Why not use the one that serves your purpose better and leave others to do the same? Everyone, their own.
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#20 gmiller123456

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 12:14 PM

Then, later in the thread, you specifically assign it to the "astronomy" domain, which isn't "general purpose" it's a specialization and that changes the conditions of the argument. Folks, including me, were debating your initial point of view. That's all. 

 

I said "even if", not "only when".  I don't think I have to say that no one is going to break into your house and validate you're not running Linux, or using it for something other than Astronomy.



#21 gmiller123456

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 12:21 PM

Building on on others' comments, your comparison is 'apples vs second hand oranges'

 

So lets look at it again, buying new (or would you prefer we buy a used Pi?)

 

The Nuc new costs about x4 a Pi new,

Its about x5 heavier (I've just weight a PI4 in a case and its <100g)

It draws 1/5 the power (just measured it running astroberry) 2-3W (idle-solving)

 

You can have a clean spare Astroberry OS waiting on an SD card for about 30m minutes work and $6.

 

You can put either on a pillar or tripod, the Pi can go on the OTA.

 

You asked for peoples' thoughts. You had quite a few but it seemed they didnt fit your original premise that the NUC was 'better'. OK so you got a bargain. Be happy with it but NUCs and Pi's are not the same.

If you can get a used Pi for a lower cost, then yes, that changes things.  Or even if the cost of new Pi's drop.  If you are aware of a place to get used Pis for cheap, please share it here.

 

If you do the comparisons in relative terms, like 5x the weight and 5x the power, it sounds like a lot.  In absolute terms, it's a few watts and a few hundred grams.  Maybe that's an deal breaker for some, but I doubt it is for most people.  But those are the things certainly worth discussing so people can decide for themselves.



#22 astrokeith

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 12:33 PM

I dont think I've ever seen a second hand Pi for sale. It could be..

 

Their value is so low it isn't worth the effort

 

or

 

They are too useful to let go.



#23 sbradley07

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 03:15 PM

Some manufacturers and vendors love the Pi!  ZWO is selling boatloads of them, Stellarmate has an hardware option, and Atik is now onboard.  Pretty much every website we buy our gear from is selling them.  I have yet to see a NUC-based offering.  

 

If the platform you choose meets your needs, then you found your solution.  I have a NUC in my observatory, a stickPC and a stellarmate Pi for mobile imaging rigs, and control everything from my Mac.  They're just tools.  



#24 sbradley07

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 03:19 PM

They are too useful to let go.

My old Pi 3 is now a wifi access point in my observatory.  



#25 Spile

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Posted 14 June 2021 - 04:21 PM

I run a vpn server on a Raspberry Pi and for even lower spec a smart alarm on an ESP32 that is seven times cheaper than the RPI!




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