What is RISCOS used for?


It has been almost a year since I reported on the current status of RISC OS 5.xx on the Raspberry Pi 4. At that time it was still very rudimentary, although it could run but due to incomplete USB support, the problems began with the power supply.

Most of the incomplete things were already solved with RISC OS 5.28 - USB now works without any tricks, i.e. you can use USB-C as intended for the power supply and the “normal” USB ports for USB. The Ethernet is now also stable and quite fast, and the 4 GiB variant now also works without any problems. Even the 8 GiB variant does now, but due to its 32-bit nature, RISC OS can only use 4 GiB in the absence of support for the Aarch32 “Large Physical Address Extension” technology. So the only thing missing is real USB3 support, but that needs to be cleaned up in the USB stack (e.g. reporting the current BSD stack, as outlined in this ROOL bounty).

Shortly after the release of 5.28, the Raspberry Pi Foundation came around the corner with their latest creation, the Raspberry Pi 400. For the first time, a departure from the concept “bare circuit board, the rest is found”. That was already apparent, there is now an “official power supply”, an “official housing”, an “official keyboard” and an “official mouse”. If you combine all of this and keep in mind why there has been a “Model A” and a “Model B” since the first variant of the Raspberry Pi - the new product “Raspberry Pi 400 Kit” is ready. You could call it “the latest homage to the great age of 8/16 bit home computers”. Or the 32-bit home computer, if you think of the Acorn A3010 or 3020.

If you haven't noticed: the Pi 400 is basically a Pi 4 in the 4 GiB RAM variant in a compact keyboard housing. All connections are on the back, the analog sound output has been omitted, everything else is there - from the GPIO to the 2 microHDMI to the Ethernet. And only 3 instead of 4 USB sockets, because the keyboard is already integrated. The microSD card is also inserted in the back, and finally with a reasonable spring-slot mechanism like the one that was last found on the RPi B +. Thanks to the internally installed cooling plates, you could set the clock a little higher, 1.8 GHz compared to 1.5 GHz. You can buy the 400 in two versions, as a bare device or as a “kit” including a printed beginner's manual, power supply unit, microSD card with pre-installed Raspbian and microSD-SD adapter with Raspberry Pi logo, microHDMI cable and the well-known raspberry red - white USB mouse. Different localized variants are available, which is a good idea with an integrated keyboard. I decided on the DE variant.

RISC OS Open Ltd. announced shortly after Christmas that a corresponding distribution of RISC OS Pi based on a slightly updated RISC OS 5.28 with a fancy pinboard backdrop was available - and that via the official Raspberry Pi Imager. This means that the RISC OS installation process can be carried out with a few clicks using a PC of your choice via the imager. I've actually tried that and it works without any problems. Professional tip: Shutting down Linux, swapping the card and pressing the power button again is not enough, probably because the computer is only in a kind of standby mode. You have to switch off the power for a short time, then the RISC OS card will be accepted without complaint.

Unfortunately, the finished images have the flaw that they cannot use the capacity of the microSD card in any way - it always remains at the size envisaged by the image, in this case just under 2 GiB. RISC OS still doesn't support real partitions (otherwise you could just set up the rest of the space as a second partition), and the Filecore format is the nightmare of any partition resizer application, so it simply doesn't exist. Therefore, from my point of view for RISC OS at the moment only the procedure “by hand” is suitable: take the existing Pi with RISC OS on it, set up a microSD card reader and empty large microSD card, SystemDisc, microSD accordingly (I recommend a large FAT Area, which can be used for data transfer with other operating systems as long as the network is not yet working), adjust config / txt and cmdline / txt, unpack HardDisc4-ZIP. As always, I had little luck with EDID and the RISC OS idea of ​​automatic screen recognition during my setup, and so I always configure the correct screen mode in the config / txt and use disable_mode_changes, because this is much easier for ADFFS in conjunction with AnyMode Operating mode is.

Incidentally, the “Power” function via the keyboard (Fn + F10) requires the cooperation of the operating system, under RISC OS there is no support yet. It's a shame, shutdown with subsequent power-off would be nice.

I also took a look at the Raspbian distribution - now called “Raspberry Pi OS” - but still find it surprisingly out of round for a mass product, which is mainly noticeable when you select “German” as the language. Because even after that, it continues to be alarming in English. On the other hand, the German translation of the beginner's manual included with the “kit” is quite successful (even if I would never have thought of replacing the original German word “overscan” with “overscan”). Interested parties can download it as a PDF, you don't have to buy the “kit”. Note that many of the screenshots also show the respective German version, because someone thought about it and worked with a plan. If someone else would write a corresponding manual, adapted to RISC OS and with BBC BASIC examples ...

And the hardware? Everything makes a pretty solid impression. The keyboard is laptop-like with a hard stroke and short key travel, but angled a little too steeply for my taste - but of course, the motherboard has to go somewhere. It is a very compact layout, and annoying for RISC OS purposes, because it only has space for 10 F-keys and so the often used F12 key is only available via modifier (here called “Fn”, in combination with F2) the F12 key) is accessible. But at least the eye is not offended by a Windows logo, because that is where the popular raspberry is located. The mouse is unspectacular in the best sense of the word, at most the somewhat short cable could be annoying. The microSD card is a SanDisk branded product, but it does not set any speed records. As expected, the power supply works fine, as does the (also rather short) microHDMI-HDMI cable.

Is the Pi 400 - whether naked or as a “kit” - now worth the money? Everyone has to decide for themselves, the surcharge compared to the bare 4 GiB board is ultimately limited. Who, like me, is used to tinkering, and if the computer setup is built around a KVM switch and therefore the integrated keyboard is not an advantage - well, as I said, the surcharge is limited, and if you use the computer fast ”wants to take it with you elsewhere, the all-in-one design may be an advantage after all. In my opinion, it is a shame that the newly gained space was not used to replace the fiddly microHDMI ports with their full-size HDMI counterparts. You don't have to consistently end every wrong way - with the nacken Pi4 board there was at least the “we had no space” excuse.

Perhaps one of the newer Pi 4 cases suits my needs better - is now lying around here with all the necessary materials waiting to be assembled: an aluminum case with USB3-M.2-SATA adapter and power button called “Argon One M2 ”, A Pi 4 in the 8 GiB version, and a Samsung M.2 SATA SSD with 512 GiB which hopefully fits well into the case. In this case, a housing with two full-size HDMI sockets, a built-in IR sensor, a software-controlled fan, and the analog sound output is also retained. In addition, a very intelligent solution for the GPIO pins. Very promising.