Easy As Pi
Feb 1, 2021
My Macbook is in the shop for butterfly keyboard and battery-related issues, so I’m operating off of a Raspberry Pi for the week.
I’ve been meaning to get a Pi for some time to tinker with. (I’ve always had the strange vision of building a telegraph powered by a potato. Don’t ask me why.) My computer-less week—during quarantine, no less—seemed like a great excuse to splurge for the $100 Canakit version, which comes with 4GB of RAM, a quad-core CPU, plus a case and cooling supplies. (BYO monitor, keyboard, and mouse.)
To get straight to the point, for a $100 machine, the Pi is surprisingly good as an emergency desktop replacement. It can handle a browser with ~10 tabs open, and play back 1080P video with a few minor hiccups. I was able to draft emails to my co-authors, re-organize my Google Calendar, add notes to my Notion—all the standard fare of a grad student’s life, minus, you know, the actual work. The best part is there is no webcam, so one is automatically excused from having video on in Zoom weetings.
Below are a few small tweaks that have greatly improved my Raspbian quality of life. Please reach out to me if you have any other tips—I’m all ears.
Raspbian comes bundled with Chromium as a default browser. Chromium on default settings is rather sluggish with even a few tabs open, and almost made me want to quit my experiment. Disabling smooth scrolling in “chrome://flags” sped things up immensely.
The default fan speed produces a high-pitched whirr that quickly gave me a headache. Annoyed, I unplugged the fan from the case, and went about my business until a little thermometer icon informed me that the machine was running dangerously hot. I settled for the middle ground of moving one of the fan’s pins so it spun slower. The sound is much better, and I haven’t noticed any hit on performance.
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