Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few years, then you’ve heard of the Raspberry Pi which is a low-priced single board computer. Today, the Raspberry Pi 4 got released and it’s a great improvement over its predecessor but should you buy one?
What hardware does the Raspberry Pi 4 pack in?
The Raspberry Pi 4 Model B (the only RPi4 model at the moment) is the direct successor to the Model 3B/3B+ and comes with some pretty nice improvements while keeping the same $35 price tag. These improvements, which include a better CPU/GPU and more RAM, will be discussed in this list in relation to the Raspberry Pi 3B+:
When it comes to CPU performance, the RPi 4 eats the RPi 3B+ for breakfast although performance is similar to a measly Celeron N3060 from 2016 in some web-based tests
The CPU is still a Quad-Core ARM64 chip from Broadcom but the clock speed has been increased to 1.5GHz from 1.4GHz
Other than that, the cores are now of the Cortex-A72 rather than the Cortex-A53 variant which translates in significant performance boosts thanks to a wider instruction pipeline and support for out-of-order execution
From Linpack and SysBench CPU tests performed by Tom’s Hardware, the RPi 4 is 4x and 1.5 faster respectively
In regards to RAM, 2GB and 4GB variants have been added while the 1GB model has been retained
The 1GB model costs $35, the 2GB one $45 and the 4GB comes in at $55
OpenArena is a fun game based on the Quake III Arena engine but the RPi 4 still can’t get 60FPS @ 720p which raises a few questions about how good its GPU is…
The GPU has been upgraded to a VideoCore VI @ 500MHz from a VideoCore IV @ 400MHz and this brings along 4K monitor support and OpenGL ES 3.x which could be very useful for emulation (more below)
Unfortunately, the GPU or the drivers don’t seem to be too great since the OpenArena Benchmark (an FPS game based on the Quake III Arena engine from 1999) returned a measly 41.4FPS @ 720p. This is an improvement over the 27.8FPS that the RPi 3B+ was able to do but it’s still not great considering how the age of Quake III engine
Furthermore, video playback on YouTube seems to be pretty horrid as it manages to stutter even at 480p when in full-screen mode although 1080p offline clips seem to play fine
When it comes to I/O, the RPi 4 provides a refreshing improvement over its predecessor since it has dual micro-HDMI ports, 2 USB 3.0 and 2 USB 2.0 ports, a USB-C port for charging, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 5.0 and a microSD reader that has a maximum throughput of 50MB/s
Finally, the thermals of the RPi 4 don’t seem to be great as it could heat up to the mid-70s (degrees Celsius) while the RPi 3B+ only got the lower-60s (degrees Celsius) under heavy load and throttling is to be expected after a few minutes unless you install a heatsink
Is it a good choice for emulation and gaming?
As of right now, the very popular emulation software RetroPie isn’t working on the Raspberry Pi 4 which didn’t allow folks to test out emulation performance although some conclusions can be probably be reached with the benchmarks we have.
Many emulators are more CPU-intensive than GPU-intensive so existing emulators, for consoles like SNES, PSP and PS1, will undoubtely work better and allow for more accurate emulation & enhancements which are usually more demanding. Furthermore, OpenGL ES 3.x will allow some emulators to run on the Raspberry Pi for the first time and these include Yaba Sanshiro (Sega Saturn), better GlideN64 performance with the GLES3 backend and even Dolphin (Wii/GameCube).
However, it’s important to note that the GPU doesn’t seem to be a powerhouse from the few tests that are available which could potentially mean that it’ll be the system’s bottleneck when it comes to gaming. In light of this, it’s probably a better idea to either wait and see how the RPi 4 really performs in emulation when RetroPie gets updated but more realistically, it’s important to note that Raspberry Pi is probably not the ideal console for emulation and gaming.
If you want a cheap device to hook up to a spare television/monitor for some gaming/emulation, you’re probably better off looking at local market places for a cheap used PC/laptop that’s a decade old or perhaps make use of an older system that you no longer use since some upgrades could greatly improve performance!
On a concluding note, I would personally say that it’s unlikely that the RPi 4 will become a go-to device for post-4th generation home console emulation & gaming but it’ll certainly do these tasks better than its predecessors.
That being said, if you’re considering buying this device for these purposes, you should certainly wait a bit till RetroPie and other software gets updated to check out how they work before putting down money on this since $55 can go a long a way in the used computer market!
I'm a girl that's liked technology from day 1. Mostly interested in the PSVita/PSP scene but I've always modded my stuff when it's possible, that is :)Contact me via DM at @KawaiiAuroraA on Twitter if you have any questions/concerns about my articles or if you have any article requests.