I am not one of those individuals who gets the new fancy hardware because I am an Internet nobody and that is just fine by me (as I sulk, rocking back and forth in the corner). That doesn’t mean I am not without my opinions.
I watched a video early in the morning about the Pi 400 on Retro Recipes from the perspective of using it as a kind of retro machine, like an ultimate emulation machine in a compact size. The marketing on the box says it is a “complete personal computer built into a compact keyboard” which interestingly like the Commodore 64 of years past.
Granted, that is a much larger keyboard in comparison but for the time, it was rather compact when compared to its contemporaries of similar performance. The back of the Pi 400 has all the typical ports exposed on a standard Pi 4 so you have available all that was previously available but in a different form factor.
This isn’t, by any stretch, an amazingly high performing computer but it is also no slouch. It features a Broadcom BCM2711 quad-core Cortex-A72 (ARM v8) 64-bit SoC @ 1.8GHz processor, 4GB of DDR4 RAM, wireless networking, dual-display output through 2 micro HDMI ports for 4K video playback, MicroSD Card slot for whatever operating system you plan to run, 2x USB 3.0 ports, 1x USB 2.0 port USB-C for power a Gigabit Ethernet port and finally a 40-pin GPIO header so all the fun of the Raspberry Pi is exposed.
It is claimed to have an operating temperature from 0°C to +50°C ambient. I am quite sure that going above 50°C would likely cause some kind of thermal throttling.
Essentially, this is a Pi 4 in a different package with the intent to be manufactured until 2026. That is an incredible length of time.
This machine has the footprint of 286 mm × 122 mm × 23 mm. If you are metric shy, that is 11-¼” x 4-⅜” x ⅞” That makes this machine quite small and indeed compact. According to Perifractic Retro Recipes. The design is solid with just a bit of sponginess on the Enter key, “5% from perfect” was the claim
It is quite obvious with the internals, that this is a completely different design than the standard Pi 4.
I am pleasantly surprised to see this elegantly simple designed board on the interior, not just a Pi 4 with connector wires to the back. It does look like reliability was a factor in the design and manufacturing of this equipment.
I am not sure how many times one would plan on getting to the internals of this computer, as everything for which you need access is on the back, I am concerned about cooling. The CPU is heat taped to the metal shield so that should help with thermal dissipation. I know that some early Pi 4s did have serious issues with getting too hot. That makes me a bit concerned and therefore, I would be interested in seeing what some stress testing would yield on this machine.
If you have any interest in developing things on single board computers, this is absolutely a great way to work on something to rapidly test it out. Since there isn’t the mess of parts and pieces as you would more likely have with a standard Raspberry Pi, here you plug in the power, the monitor, and whatever you are working on to the back of the Pi4. Admittedly, unless you are developing to deploy this on the Pi 4, some of the specifics may not work on early versions of the Pi. I can’t say for sure but I do know that there are different images for different Pis.
I see a strong propensity for this device to become the “Ultimate Retro Arch machine” that you keep in your living room or video game den. With the keyboard, sturdy case and available USB ports on the back, it would be cost effectively simple to play all the games of yester-year on this without putting at risk of damage, the real hardware. Specifically, I am thinking for those times I do play retro-games with my kids, I do worry just a bit for the safety of my machines.
Although I think there is a better argument for an old netbook, I do think that this would be a great choice for a child’s first computer. It would, perhaps be better, to have them sit properly at a desk and do their typing tutor there or a nice little work station to learn and explore, taking advantage of the GPIO on the back, making wonderful electronics creations which leads me to my last point.
As an inspiration education tool for children or adults. Lets be fair here, this is a toy for an adult, just as much as it is for a child. This is a super cool kit that is more than just an educational tool for youngest of populations. This is a great tool for any age to learn and dig into it that has the vulnerable bits protected. This frees up any apprehension of getting all the right pieces and not having some collection of things that looks like a science experiment, dominating a desktop or workbench. The GPIO pins on this device are shielded from an accidental drop or scoot that might short something out. This is a much safer way to conduct reckless mad-scientist like electronics experimentation
What I Like
The kit looks like the way to go. It has a retail of $100 (though I can’t find anyone selling it at this time) which comes with an official power supply, mouse, HDMI cable and perhaps, most importantly, a beautiful manual that is loaded with pages of all kinds of informative educational excitement. This is essentially an educational tool that comes with a real manual like the days of old. For me, the manual is key. Thumbing through the pages documentation, running my fingers down the inner spine of the book encourage it to stay open and explore all that it has to offer. There is something about that smell of a freshly bound book that makes an experience real and memorable (I realize, I am dreaming here).
The build quality looks more than adequate. I would absolutely gauge my expectations around the $100 mark and wouldn’t try to compare this with a modern Dell Latitude in fit, function and performance. That would be completely ridiculous. Based on other reviews, they keyboard looks to be just 5% from perfect which is more than adequate for me and especially more than adequate as an educational tool.
All the connections are on the back, like in good all-in-one Commodore 64 fashion and is nicely shrouded to protect against accidental shorting of pins or parts on the board. It doesn’t protect against everything but would protect against most accidental clumsiness.
Perhaps most important of all, this is spearhead into he inspiration of future generations to develop and create solutions. It is that first computer you can feel good about giving a child that he or she can take the time to learn and create. This is the beginning of something that is far better than having them plunk away on a phone or tablet being entertained like mindless automatons. This can be used to just just consume but to create and give to the world in which we live.
What I Don’t Like
The case uses clips to hold it together as opposed to screws. I am aware that screws do cause significant increases in manufacturing cost, so I understand the decision to forego case screws. That just happens to be my preference.
There are some incompatibilities between the Pi 400 and the Pi 4. Though I believe it has largely been worked out and since it is Linux that is running on top of the hardware, I am quite certain, through the magic of configuration files, kernel modules can be turned on and off based on the underlying hardware platform.
Since this is an ARM based system, anything that is built to run on top of it is likely to be unique for this specific ARM platform. ARM tends to lack standards across the architecture, which I believe is holding back the wide spread adoption of ARM (among other things). It is at least one reason I don’t just run out and by ARM devices.
Worst of all, I can’t seem to find any place that has them for sale. It looks like it’s sold out! So, all I can do at this point is kick my feat up, dream and wonder about all the fun I could be having with this… until my goldfish-like attention span drifts me off to another intellectual curiosity.
This is a great little piece of kit that is essentially a STEM course in a box. The design, the look and from what I can tell by other reviews, build quality are top notch, especially at this price point of $100 for the kit and $70 for the computer/keyboard itself.
I don’t have an immediate use for such a device but I can say that I would love to get my hands on one and play with it. Test it out and see what it can do. I do think it would make for a great Retro Arch machine. Even better would be to run openSUSE on this with all the Retro goodness and even for some productivity.
I think the best use of this particular machine is in education. The cost is low enough that you could buy for a whole classroom without breaking the bank and inspire future generations to develop and create wonderful solutions for the next generation of challenges.
Lastly, why 400? Should I have been making parallels to the Atari 400 as opposed to the Commodore 64? The keyboard on the Atari 400 was awful…