The MagPi, Issue 88

The MagPi Issue 88The latest issue of The MagPi Magazine includes a whopping 12-page feature investigating the thermal performance of the Raspberry Pi 4 Model B single-board computer as it is affected by a series of firmware updates released since its launch earlier this year.

When I reviewed the Raspberry Pi 4 at launch, I highlighted its dramatically increased power draw and heat output compared with its predecessor the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+. In the months since, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has been working to address the issue through a series of firmware updates – and, with assistance from Eben Upton and Tim Gover, my feature runs through each release and sees what difference it actually makes.

For the feature, I had to develop a method of benchmarking the Raspberry Pi. Power draw was relatively straightforward: the built-in current meter in a bench-top power supply is used to measure the minimal draw at idle and peak draw at load. For thermal performance, I wrote a custom benchmark which uses two open-source utilities – glxgears and stress-ng – to place a heavy load on both the CPU and the GPU while measuring the resulting temperature rise and the speed of the CPU, which throttles at 80°C to protect the silicon.

These measurements provided a graph of temperature rise and fall, the latter thanks to a five-minute cool-down period built into the benchmark, but for a more visual approach I also took thermal imagery of the board at idle and load to demonstrate which components are responsible for the heat output and better highlight the improvements made at each firmware revision. This was no small undertaking: the benchmarking and thermal imagery was completed for five firmware revisions, the last of which was not publicly available at the time of testing, plus a baseline Raspberry Pi 3B+ for comparison.

The feature also takes a look at a real-world workload, in which temperature and clock speed is measured while a four-worker compile of the Linux kernel is carried out. This revealed something which may come as a surprise to critics of the board: Using the latest firmware, the Raspberry Pi 4 did not throttle at all during the compilation – something that can’t be said for the Raspberry Pi 3B+, which throttled to 1.2GHz from 1.4GHz almost immediately. For the final bit of testing, there’s even a comparison of the Raspberry Pi 4 running sat flat on a desk and balanced vertically – at Upton’s suggestion – with a resulting dramatic impact on the throttle point and operating temperature.

Finally, firmware developer Tim Gover was kind enough to answer my questions on what the Raspberry Pi 4 firmware actually does, how it is developed, and how it can have such a dramatic impact on power usage – along with the confirmation that USB mass-storage booting and IPv6 network booting are on the to-do list for future releases.

The full feature, and plenty more beside, can be found at your local newsagent, supermarket, or downloaded at no cost in digital form under a Creative Commons licence from the official website.

Custom PC, Issue 91

This month’s ‘Download’ news analysis column focuses on the big news of the month: OCZ’s decision to cease competing in the crowded RAM market in order to focus its efforts on lucrative solid-state storage devices.

Again, the ‘Download’ column is all about personal opinion and looking beyond the obvious facets of an image: as a result, I dig into my past to find the technologies I have invested in over the years, only to find the companies behind them closing down or changing businesses entirely.

It made for a sobering list: from my decision to get an Atari ST (1040STe upgrade to 4MB, if you’re curious) instead of a Commodore Amiga through to my purchase of a 3dFX Voodoo accelerator board and taking in my use of IBM ‘Deathstar’ hard drives, an AdLib Music Card, and a Cyrix processor, it made for eye-opening reading on just how badly I can make purchasing decisions at times.

Thankfully, my pain is the readers’ pleasure; with plenty of humour thrown in, I’m hoping this month’s column will be the best yet.

Custom PC, Issue 90

This month’s Custom PC magazine includes, as usual, my regular ‘Download’ opinion editorial along with a page of news snippets culled from those written for Bit-Tech, the magazine’s online presence.

This month, I take a look at tablet PCs with a prediction that 2011 will be the year the slate-format devices hit the mainstream with a vengeance.

However, this prediction is tempered with an explanation of why I, personally, wouldn’t buy one. (Hint: how much does the iPad cost again?)

When articles are on a subject on which I am passionate, it provides me with a real impetus which – I hope – comes across in the piece and makes it an interesting read, whether or not the reader agrees or disagrees with the sentiments contained therein; or even when they’re completely ambivalent to the subject of tablet computing.

Custom PC, Issue 89

This month’s Custom PC magazine includes two pieces of mine: as well as the regular ‘Download’ news analysis column, a piece entitled “2010: The Year in Review” looks at the best and worst that the magazine has witnessed over the past year.

Spanning a bumper ten pages, the “Year in Review” piece summarises the biggest news stories of the year – hardware releases, game reviews and even the occasional bit of politics – to provide a handy guide to the staff’s take on events.

Ending on a two-page look at the coming year, the piece was completed to a tight deadline and involved significant research in order to accurately portray not just my opinion but that of the magazine’s staff in general.

Despite requiring an all-nighter or two, the deadline was met; and the art department did a cracking job making the piece into a stunning and easy-to-read marvel towards the back of the mag.

The ‘Download’ column this month looked at the work done on my fund-raising campaign to see Bletchley park purchase the Turing-Newman papers for display. Focusing on the use of social media – in particular microblogging service Twitter – it provides a hopefully interesting behind-the-scenes look at an event that gained plenty of traction in the mainstream media.

Custom PC, Issue 88

This month’s Custom PC magazine includes a six-page feature on the technologies behind smartphones in addition to my regular ‘Download’ column and news snippets culled from the Bit-Tech website.

Designed to offer a comprehensive yet readable look at smartphone technologies, the piece includes box-outs on the history of British chip giant ARM, a look at each connection generation from 0G to 4G and a comparison of resistive and capacitive touch-screen displays.

Each of the major phone brands are also summarised in their own box-outs – Android, BlackBerry, Apple and Windows Phone all get a mention – while Mozilla’s Seabird concept product is analysed.

It was a fun piece to create; and while the requirement to provide accompanying graphics with publishing rights caused a few sleepless nights Googling frantically, I’m more than pleased with how it turned out.

The ‘Download’ column this month looks at ‘accidental-on-purpose’ leaking of pre-release data from graphics giants AMD and Nvidia, and bemoans the role that technology journalists – myself included – play in pandering to the hype machine.

Custom PC, Issue 87

This month’s Custom PC magazine sees my regular ‘Download’ news analysis column take a look at the rivalry between AMD and Intel, ahead of the launch of the latter’s next-generation Sandy Bridge processor line.

While I’ve been contributing news to Custom PC – via its Bit-Tech online persona – for some time, it’s always an honour to be asked for an opinion piece rather than objective reportage.

The result, hopefully, is a piece which entertains as well as informs, and provides what could be a very dry subject – predictions for the launch of a marginally faster processor, for which very few firm details are available without breaching a non-disclosure agreement – with a more light-hearted feel.