When the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced the release of the Pi 400, the company described it as “a complete personal computer, built into a compact keyboard.” This is a bold statement from a company selling project-based single board computers since the first Raspberry Pi release in 2012.
To me, “complete” means including everything needed, hardware and software, to use the Pi 400 as an everyday computer. Let’s explore the Pi 400 as a complete personal computer.
My first Raspberry Pi was a Pi 3, and I use them for specific purposes, such as a media server, print server, and home automation server. I ordered the Pi 400 on November 13 and received it on November 30. Using it for three weeks now as a desktop computer, I’m impressed with what it can do, and I learned what it does not do so well.
What follows is my review of an ‘out of the box’ Raspberry Pi 400 Personal Computer Kit.
Pi 400 Hardware Basics
The Pi 400 is described as a Pi 4 inside of a keyboard. While that is not technically true, the Pi 400 has mostly the same components as a Pi 4 in a different form factor. More importantly, it has the components you would expect in a personal computer.
- CPU/GPU — 64-bit quad-core ARM (Cortex-A72 at 1.5ghz), VideoCore (VI at 500MHz)
- 4 GB RAM (LPDDR4)
- 3 USB Ports (2 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0)
- 2 HDMI Ports (mini)
- Networking — Gigbit Ethernet port, Wifi (dual-band 802.11ac), Bluetooth (5.0).
- Storage — microSD, up to 512GB.
- 40-pin GPIO Connector (general purpose input/output)
The Pi 400 is available in two packages:
Raspberry Pi 400 Personal Computer Kit — includes Pi 400 (keyboard and computer), mouse, power supply, HDMI mini cable, microSD with Rasberry OS installed, and Raspberry Pi Beginners Guide (book). With this package, you supply only the monitor (or television). Cost $100 USD.
Raspberry Pi 400 Unit — includes Pi 400 (keyboard and computer) only. With this package, you supply themouse, power supply, HDMI cable, microSD with Raspberry OS. Cost $70 USD.
I purchased the Pi 400 Personal Computer Kit, which is a great value.
Pi 400 Setup
No technical skills required.
Setting up the Pi 400 Personal Computer Kit is easy. After removing all parts from the package, connect the monitor with the supplied HDMI mini cable, mouse, and power cable. The microSD containing the operating system is already in the microSD slot. That’s it!
Upon boot up, a setup screens walk you through a few prompts: location and timezone, password, and wifi connection. The last step, the system update, took twenty minutes for me. The length of time likely depends on how outdated the software is on your microSD.
When the update is complete, you will reboot. Your new PC is ready!
Raspberry OS and MicroSD
The official operating system for the Pi 400 is Raspberry Pi OS, a Linux distribution, which comes pre-installed on a microSD.
The Raspberry Pi OS Desktop is not a modern looking interface, but it’s straight-forward and easy to use. I expect anyone familiar with Windows or Mac OS will not have trouble using Raspberry Pi OS. Other Linux distributions are also available for the Pi 400. With the Pi using microSD as its primary storage, it’s inexpensive and easy to download a few other operating systems to try out. But this review is of Raspberry Pi OS only.
Technical Note: As of this writing, Raspberry Pi OS is 32-bit. I bet you are thinking, “a 32-bit OS can only access 4GB of memory,” and you are correct. Pi Os 32-bit was modified to access all 8GBs of memory, as the Pi 4 has a 8GB option. A 64-bit version of Raspberry Pi OS is available as a beta release. While stress testing will show the 32-bit OS version is not as performant as 64-bit, it’s unlikely you will not notice a difference for everyday use on the Pi 400.
The Pi 400 Computer Kit comes with a 16GB microSD. There is 6GB of free space after installation, which is adequate to get started. A larger microSD, 32GB or 64GB, would be a useful upgrade. You can also boot from a USB drive; details are available at RaspberryPi.org.
Raspberry Pi 400 comes with dozens of software applications for system management, productivity, programming, and gaming out of the box. They provide a good representation of the Pi 400 capabilities, such as LibreOffice, Scratch, Python, and Mindcraft.
Thanks to the evolution of web browser capabilities and browser-based services, a well-functioning browser checks the box for many personal computing needs, such as browsing the Internet, Facebook (and other social media), Youtube, and e-mail.
Pi OS provides a utility to add software from a repository of hundreds, or maybe thousands of applications. The user interface is not very friendly, and it is challenging to find the software unless you know the application’s exact name, but it works.
Streaming Services — Out of the box, Chromium browser does not support DRM video streaming from services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+. With “The Office” leaving Netflix on December 31, 2020, I had a problem. I needed to get as much Michael Scott as possible (That’s what she said). The Pi community has solved this problem, thanks to Veselin at blog.vpetkov.net. With just a few commands in the terminal, a media friendly version of Chromium is added to your menu.
Performance is important. To call the sub-$100 Pi 400 a “personal computer,” it needs to perform well in that environment. I’ve used the Pi 400 daily for three weeks for common computing tasks. While it’s not as quick as my high-end computers, it performs well. It’s an uncompromising solution for everyday computer tasks.
Connecting During The Pandemic
During the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020, video calls have become critical in people’s lives with families, friends, teachers, and students all connecting on Zoom, Teams, Meet, and many other platforms.
Zoom is my primary tool. I tried a Zoom client, installed with PiKiss, and Zoom in the browser. Neither approach worked well; in fact, it wasn’t usable on the Pi 400 or Pi 4 (8GB) with Raspberry Pi OS, but I’ve seen others on YouTube having success with Zoom.
Both Facebook Messenger and Google Meet worked well in the browser. I’ll be keeping my eye on the developments in this area.
Sound and Printing
The Pi 400 does not include a 3.5mm audio output jack for speakers, which is available on the Pi 4. Sound can come from a monitor or TV through the HDMI connection, a USB speaker connected through the USB Port, or Bluetooth.
When I received the Pi 400, sound through a USB speaker was not working. In early December, a new version of Pi OS, 5.4, was released and it included Pulse Audio, a sound server. After the upgrade, the sound worked as expected.
The 5.4 release of Pi OS also included CUPS, Common Unix Printing System, to access and manage local and network printers. My LaserJet network printer was recognized and worked without issue.
It’s encouraging that the Raspberry Pi Foundation recognizes ‘must-haves’ for the Pi to become a personal computer and are actively making improvements.
Because there is no fan or spinning drive, the Pi 400 is silent. Passive cooling keeps the Pi 400 from overheating and throttling the CPU. A keyboard-size heat shield is connected to the top of the CPU with a thermal pad, resulting in heat being dispersed through the shield.
The Raspberry PI is a low powered, single-board computer. Using an Energy-Use Monitor to measure the power usage at the outlet, the Pi 400 uses 2.5 watts at idle. To put “low powered” into perspective, I also measured a few other computers in my house at idle and played a YouTube video in the browser. I’ve included an estimated cost per year at idle (given my utility rates).
Pi 400 (Quad-core ARM, 4 GB RAM)
Idle: 2.5 Watts ($2.28/yr) YouTube: 4.0 Watts
MacBook Air (2020, i3, 8GB RAM)
Idle: 8 Watts ($7.29/yr) YouTube: 10 Watts
System76 Gazelle (i7, 16GB RAM)
Idle: 17.5 Watts ($15.94/yr) YouTube: 28.5 Watts
Rebel Tower (My build, Ryzen 9, 32 GB RAM, AMD GPU)
Idle: 60 Watts ($90.19/yr) YouTube: 94 Watts
For a personal computer, the Pi 400 is very power efficient. As an experiment, I used it for 8.5 hours, watching Netflix, browsing, and writing this article powered by a 10000mAh portable charger.
The computer is the keyboard. It’s solid and feels good to type on. To me, it’s not the best or worst I’ve used. There’s not much more to say.
Not So Smart: Apple’s Smart keyboard for the iPad is $159, and is pretty dumb compared to the Pi 400!
Help and Documentation
In addition to the “The Official Raspberry Pi Beginner Guide” that comes with Pi 400 Personal Computer Kit, there is a virtual bookshelf full of digital resources available in Pi OS’s Help menu. For example, it contains “Getting Started” guides and every edition of the MagPi magazine. The Raspberry Pi has a large online community with answers to many questions you may have.
Is the Pi 400 a “complete personal computer”? Yes.
Is there is room for improvement? Yes.
With the Raspberry Pi being a project-based computer for most of its life, a consumer-focused desktop interface has not been a priority. While it’s usable, it has a long way to go to compete with mature distributions like Ubuntu. I’m in the process of reviewing alternative OSs and will be sharing my findings. Stay tuned.
While the Pi 4 is available in an 8GB RAM model, the Pi 400 is not. For the purposes of my “daily use” testing, 4GB was enough RAM. I hope to see an 8GB model in the future; the more RAM the better!
Where is the Pi 400 a good fit?
- A computer for someone that needs day-to-day computing tasks, browsing, writing, e-mail, social media, and casual video streaming.
- A secondary, or family computer, online access, and homework.
- The Pi 400 runs on Linux, a great computer to use and learn Linux.
- While I’m evaluating the Pi 400 as a desktop computer, it’s still a Raspberry Pi, an amazing single-board computer that took the world by storm. Its 40-pin GPIO connector interfaces with additional hardware; such as temperature sensors, LEDs, pulse rate monitors, and much more. The perfect computer for a budding engineer.
The Pi 400 is this generation’s Commodore 64, making computing accessible in a form factor that’s approachable with endless possibilities.