I have had a chance to do some power draw monitoring of my Raspberry Pi and to compare with other low power ARM devices devices such as the SheevaPlug. The Raspberry Pi is really hard to beat – pulling roughly 2.0w when idle (with nothing plugged in to the USB or A/V outputs) to 3.2-3.3w at load (with HDMI output and USB keyboard and mouse) when using a standard Amazon Kindle charger as the power source. Something I’ve not had a moment to try is decoding HD video as I’d imagine that would load both the CPU and GPU but I can’t see the load being much higher given the combined CPU and GPU part (I’ll update this post when I confirm this).
Contrast these figures against 4.0w idle to 4.9-5.2w load for the SheevaPlug (also without any USB attachments). Admittedly the SheevaPlug has a slightly faster (1.2Ghz vs 700Mhz) ARM processor than the Raspberry Pi, but it also lacks the RCA/HDMI video output circuitry and has a wonky integrated PSU.
Probably the biggest difference between power consumption of the two devices will be related to power supply efficiency. As I already mentioned, the SheevaPlugs are renowned for being let down by cheap and inadequate integrated power supplies. In fact, I’m on my second Plug for that very reason. Since there is no (easy) way to test both devices with the same power supply, any comparison should probably be taken with a grain of salt.
In a somewhat strange move, Walmart announced that, despite selling out stock of their pilot gOS systems, they would not be reordering stock. This effectively means Walmart have shelved the idea, officially citing too little interest. This is a huge shame as what Linux desperately needs on the desktop is some degree of representation. Who better than a major national retailer?
Of course, there are other issues not often considered. Whilst a well configured linux distribution is generally far more hardy than a Windows system, tech support is a key issue. Retraining people to deal with a fringe group of users is likely to be a cost retailers would not happily swallow. This is compounded because these cheap linux desktops are literally that, cheap. This means (I assume) the product margins would be much thinner than traditional desktops. It would be a shame if this is goodbye for popular, mass adoption of Linux PCs and with any luck it is just a temporary stumble. PC World are still selling EEE PCs at incredible rates and with the new 900 Series EEE pc around the corner as well as other exciting F/OSS systems like the cloudbook PC.
If anything, working part time in retail for the last few years has shown me the incredible jump in the number of laptops (and sublaptops) being sold over traditional desktop PCs. This has been reflected in part by the astronomical interest in the EEE PC compared to the more casual interest that was paid to the gOS PC. If the desktop market is over-saturated or in decline then inevitably it will be bad news for any new products unless they completely revolutionise the market. Lets face it, the adoption of Linux on the desktop hardly comes close to being this, especially compared to the advances Apple keep making. Outside of tech blogs, casual geeks and developing nations, the interest is minimal at best with Joe Public preferring to stay safe with that he or she knows.
Saying this, the possibility of explosive growth for Linux on the portable (or ultraportable) is good. The EEE pc has not succeeded because it is a linux laptop. It has sold hundreds of thousands of units because it is cheap and ultra-small. The fact that it runs linux has almost been pushed to the background. I do however hope this emerging market for cheap, F/OSS powered systems market expands quickly in the coming months and years, to quote Betruger, “Wonderful things will happen here, just stay out of my way…”.