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Interviews: Ask Raspberry Pi Founder and CEO Eben Upton a Question 134

It's been roughly five years since we last interviewed the founder and CEO of Raspberry Pi (Trading) Ltd., Eben Upton. Eben currently serves as a technical director and ASIC architect for Broadcom. He founded the Raspberry Pi Foundation in 2009 to develop and market a $25 microcomputer for education. He has also founded two successful mobile games and middleware companies, Ideaworks 3d Ltd. and Podfun Ltd., and served a Director of Studies for computer science at St. John's College, Cambridge. Ebon has agreed to take some time out of his busy schedule and answer some of your questions.

You may ask Eben as many questions as you'd like, but please, one per comment. We'll pick the very best questions and forward them to Eben Upton himself. (Feel free to leave your suggestions for who Slashdot should interview next.)

Go on, don't be shy!
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Interviews: Ask Raspberry Pi Founder and CEO Eben Upton a Question

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  • Do you feel that... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 22, 2016 @02:50PM (#52750081)

    the RE'd open source VC4 firmware, once feature complete, will finally quell open source advocates dislike of your claims that the Pi was a 'fully' open source system by allowing them to run their own software at all levels of Pi operation? If so, do you foresee any changes being made by broadcom in future revisions of the VC4 that will 'intentionally' break compatibility with the initialization code or see keyed firmware signing required at some or all levels of the Pi hardware, as has happened on Intel, AMD, and a variety of other ARM SoCs?

    • I would also like an answer on the roadmap for opening up the hardware. There are some really interesting projects out there such as "Aros" (Native) . that would greatly benefit from this - particularly the USB stack. N.
      • Reverse engineering (unless performed by the supplier of the equipment before sale time) is never an alternative to proper documentation.
        The problem is that subtle bugs may not be track-downable if you just have reverse engineered documents, it encourages suppliers to not make available documentation, and that the product may not actually ever become workable.
        For the maker to simply refer to an ongoing project in no way means it's not open.

  • by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @02:51PM (#52750083)
    What do you think about RISC-V?
  • by Yvan256 ( 722131 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @02:53PM (#52750101) Homepage Journal

    Will each form factor get updated over time? I'm talking about the A+ and especially the Zero.

  • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @02:53PM (#52750103)

    Currently, vendors are having to limit availability due to supply shortage. Is it intended that this will not be the case in the future, or is the foundation concentrating on other things?

  • Secure Boot via GPU? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I recall years ago researching and seeing a post, I think by a broadcom employee, suggesting it would be fairly trivial if anyone were interested to have them modify the GPU firmware to support basic signed bootloading (keys and their management under full control of the device owner of course). I wonder if anything came of that, or could possibly come sooner rather than later (hint hint).

    I can't quickly find the thread, but here is boot sequence outline from stackexchange

    http://raspberrypi.stackexchange.c

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... with a date with your sister Kate...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What do you regret the most/what would you change if you were to do it all over?

  • by Mysticalfruit ( 533341 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @03:05PM (#52750201) Homepage Journal
    Thank you for creating a such an awesome and useful little computer.

    I've used Pi's to do everything from automatically watering my xmas tree to teaching a fourth grade class basic electronics to doing remote backups of my data (with a pi in my house and one far away at my buddies.)

    That last operation suffers greatly from the lack of ram resources on a raspberry pi. My "pi" in the sky remote backup node has an SO-DIMM slot on the back I could stick a 8 or 16GB so-dimm in. 1-4 SATA ports so I write faster and a gigE ethernet interface.

    I understand that you're under financial pressures to keep the cost down, but I see a real market for a Pi 3+.

    Also, follow slashdotters... if there's a platform out there that accomplishes this that's not a proprietary NAS let me know. I've also investigated several microST motherboards but I don't want to have to deal with a "real" power supply, etc.
    • by psergiu ( 67614 )

      The Pi already has the maximum possible RAM size. The RAM is accessed trough the VideoCore chip and the VideoCore was built for a max of 1Gb.
      Pi 3+ will have to either use a new VideoCore chip - if Broadcom decides to make one - or a new APU altogether - breaking compatibility with all the other Pi versions.
      Get a cheap micro-ATX board with a passive cooled CPU and you'll have all your DIMM slots and SATA ports.

    • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

      Also, follow slashdotters... if there's a platform out there that accomplishes this that's not a proprietary NAS let me know. I've also investigated several microST motherboards but I don't want to have to deal with a "real" power supply, etc.

      Not at a similar price point. A older mini-ITX system would have higher power draw, but would outperform a RPI3 easily. And there are multiple options that use a laptop power supply (E.g. Intel DH61AG). Embedded servers [newegg.com] or something running a Bay Trail or Braswell CPU

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      You will struggle to saturate gigabit and SATA on that CPU. It just doesn't have that kind of high speed external bus, it's not designed for it. Unlike old machines running at a few megahertz you can't just tack stuff on to the main memory bus any more.

      As for a NAS platform, I use an Intel DQ77KB with a used Xeon CPU. It wasn't cheap, but it is fast and you get 4x SATA ports, a mini-SATA port for an SSD, 2 SODIMM sockets, a mini PCI-e and a full size 4x PCI-e socket. It runs from 19V so you can use a common

    • Kind of along the same lines; is there any thought to moving to a USB-C (USB 3.1) connection? This would allow running USB, power, network, and video over a single port, which would ultimately reduce costs.

      I expect the main problem is the bus speed, and costs of the controller chips involved with USB-C.

  • This place is a ghost town, you know.

  • by linuxguy ( 98493 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @03:08PM (#52750233) Homepage
    I own all of the major Raspberry Pi hardware versions that have been released. I love them all. I only have one wish. Faster I/O. Will the next hardware release address this? USB 3.0, 1Gbps NIC, faster SD card interface. Any one of these upgrades would be great. All of them? Would be awesome! :)
    • Don't forget about tying all the USB-ports into a single on-board USB-hub, thereby limiting their combined maximum speed to that of a single port!

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @03:08PM (#52750235)

    The RaspberryPi is quite famously manufactured in the UK. Is this still a long term strategy or have recent events such as the Brexit and the rise of Pi competitors forced a review of the future of manufacturing in the UK?

  • Wake-on-LAN (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Will wake-on-LAN be available on the RPi platform someday?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      the usb/ethernet chip has support for both wake on magic packet & ethernet state change.
      just need to connect ethernet jtag with a powermanagement ic (preferable one with RTC)
      for wake on lan, wake on alarm, power/reset button, spi/i2c rtc, battery charging/support and power over ethernet (with a poe chip)
      but those chips can cost as much as a rpi zerro =)

  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @03:12PM (#52750267)

    Some of us are still waiting for a low-cost 4 GB + 4 Core embedded device with a Real-Time-Clock ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

    • Whoops, forgot to close a tag ...

      Some of us are still waiting for a low-cost 4 GB + 4 Core embedded device with a Real-Time-Clock ( $50 < .. < $100 )

      Are there any plans to support anything like that in the (near) future?

      • Some of us are still waiting for a low-cost 4 GB + 4 Core embedded device with a Real-Time-Clock

        2Gb, 8 core, RTC. Gigabit ethernet. Odroid XU4. $79

        • Thanks! Not bad!

          Not sure why RAM is limited to 2 GB though. For symmetric RAM/core usage thats only 256MB / core which isn't bad.

          Definitely going to keep my eye on this series.

  • by rkhalloran ( 136467 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @03:13PM (#52750273) Homepage
    The Pi was designed as a cheap-as-chips (pun unintended) computer for classroom education. Obviously since then it's been put to a myriad of Other Uses. Which of these have struck you as the "best" or most unexpected usage outside the classroom?
  • by rkhalloran ( 136467 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @03:15PM (#52750283) Homepage
    The latest model is impressive, but given the plummeting cost of hardware (thank you, smartphones), what features would you like to see in The Next Pi? More/faster CPU cores, better wireless, gigabit ethernet, USB 3.0 support, ???
  • Low power display (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Nukenbar ( 215420 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @03:17PM (#52750299)

    What are the challenges in bringing a lower power display (e-ink or otherwise) to market?

    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      And if you do plan on making an official e-ink display, please choose a 4-bit panel. Multiple sizes with different aspect ratios would be nice too.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @03:18PM (#52750309)

    Plans for non usb based networking?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As the owner of many PIs (1,2,&3) I have one request. Add a SATA port. This would solve boot time, loading time, and storage issues preventing the PI from completely replacing a desktop.

    Outside of that, perfect product!

  • To what extent do you take power consumption into account when designing new models – should we expect new models to continue to use more power as they get more powerful or do you plan to try to keep them below a certain level?
  • Did you target the credit card size from the get-go or was it more of a happy coincidence that the Pi ended up that size?
  • by Camembert ( 2891457 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @03:56PM (#52750589)
    I much admire the Raspberry Pi project, philosophy and products With the luxury of perfect hindsight, what would you have done differently if you could go back in time?
  • by Camembert ( 2891457 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @03:58PM (#52750603)
    Since the Pi products make computing accessible for most everyone, would it be worthwhile to develop an all-in-one PI like the One Laptop Per Child concept?
    • I do like this idea, not least because it would effectively be a user-upgradable laptop. I know the pi-top [pi-top.com] exists, but the fact it costs more than a cheap laptop/chrome-book means it's not terribly practical. Plus, it's not the most aesthetically pleasing design ever!
    • the pi-top is pretty much that.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A lot of Pi users such as myself have experienced bricked SD cards after running a Pi continuously for weeks or months. SD cards, even premium ones, are not terribly robust when used to store a root file system that experiences lots of small writes. Disabling logging helps by reducing the number of writes to the card, but isn't a good solution if you need logs. Have you looked at any alternative storage options for the root file system?

  • by G00F ( 241765 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @04:01PM (#52750629) Homepage

    Since raspberry Pi 2, the CPU hasn't been the weakest link, but then my use of the device isn't classroom, but home server, or connected to a TV. But I was very disappointed in the improvements in the 3 as it addressed non issues.

    The single USB 2.0 bus really limit things. All IO sharing ~35MB/s . Even a single USB 3.0 bus would be 10x increase. After that it's RAM. I know these are constraints based on the chips you can get cheap, but any chance of seeing an upgrade?

     

  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Monday August 22, 2016 @04:03PM (#52750647)

    What is your "answer" for Parallela?

    * Parallella: The Most Energy Efficient Supercomputer on the Planet - Ray Hightower of WisdomGroup
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There are some early schematics but none for the RPi Zero nor RPi 3; what's up with that?


  • As per the official comments in https://www.raspberrypi.org/magpi/pi-3-interview/ "USB and PXE network boot" when will the updated Firmware/BIOS image be ready that will enable Raspberry-Pi 3 MMC cardless PXE booting ?

    Keep up the great work,
    Thanks
  • by Gaygirlie ( 1657131 ) <`gaygirlie' `at' `hotmail.com'> on Monday August 22, 2016 @04:08PM (#52750687) Homepage

    Raspberry Pis and most other hobbyist-SBCs are based around various ARM SoCs, but as a whole the big picture is horribly fragmented, with this board having slightly different bootup-sequence than that board, requiring board-specific steps in software, and this board having totally closed GPU and video-engine software and that board having some parts of them open, and this board supporting VDPAU or such for video-decoding and that board using OMX, cameras being only useable with specific boards, even though they share the exact same CSI-connector and so on -- how high do you value the idea of standardizing some of these things, and do you believe there will be any progress worth mentioning in the next 10 or 20 years?

    Personally, I'm feeling quite apathetic about it all. I can't foresee manufacturers being willing to work together for a standard, let alone one that'd be open and freely accessible to hobbyists, and I believe that especially all the GPU and video-engine stuff will be kept under lock and key indefinitely. Part of the problem is that pretty much all of these SBCs are built around tablet-SoCs, with no SoCs specifically designed for hobbyist-use and SBCs.

  • Do you yourself use Raspberry Pis in your daily life and if so what for?
  • Lovely card.. I have a few and they are fun to use. I will wait for more speed. I assume no SATA is a power problem. Is that true?
  • You've founded multiple successful ventures related to technology. While many entrepreneurs may manage to pay their own bills working out of their garage, to "own their job", you've had success beyond that, more than once. What do you think is the biggest reason your projects have been much more successful than the typical entrepreneurial venture which never grows beyond just a few people?

  • I've been leading some CoderDojo sessions on Raspberry Pi programming at the local library, and the Pi is a great teaching tool.

    However, I feel like the software that comes with the Raspbian distribution is falling behind. Two key examples:

    * Scratch - The 1.x version of Scratch that comes pre-installed is pretty ancient. While this is partly due to some bad technology choices the Scratch team has made, it'd be great if out of the box we'd have an option for Scratch 2.0 support (or some competing equivalent)

  • Somebody already asked about RISC-V and there are plans for a SoC based on RISC-V like the lowRISC project... but what do you think about creating a Raspberry Pi using free / open ISAs like OpenRISC, OpenSPARC or even RISC-V?
  • The archaic ARMv6 architecture CPU in the original Pi is radically different from the ARMv7+NEON of the Pi2 or the ARMv8 of the Pi3. When the Pi2 was released you said the performance advantage of ARMv7 builds optimized for the Pi2 wasn't big enough to justify the complication of having a separate OS image. But after the introduction of the Pi3, as people migrate to newer Pis and the rest of the open source ARM world takes v7 and NEON for granted, don't the scales start to tip in favor of builds for modern

  • Any chance of a somewhat more expensive unit with a consumer grade case and a (even if just for brief power outages) battery?
  • Any thoughts on how to address the "add-on syndrome" that plagues SBCs like the Pi products? As in the board is $35, but then after a power supply, case, SD card, wifi (if not equipped), USB hub, etc... you hit around $80-100. It makes it hard to run multiple projects at once, plus the quality of packaged hardware from retailers is often questionable at best.
  • In many ways the Pi has come to define an entire new genre of personal computing - something for hobbyists and students alike. It's perfect in this regard... But with all that you've learned from the various Pi models, would you ever consider a different price point/feature set? Do you get asked for this?

    For example, if we gave you a budget of £50, or £75, or £100, would building a machine to these price points interest you? What feature set would you consider?
  • Do you think there would be a place for something like a very cheap 6502 or z80 board similar to the Raspberry Pi only with much less complex hardware, as a teaching tool for closer to bare-metal instruction? Any plans?
  • Hi Eben,

    I teach classes using the Raspberry Pi 2 (soon to be switching to 3, I hope) in a variety of contexts, such as with students wanting to learn ARM assembly and to K-12 teachers who want to do physical computing in their science classrooms.

    It feels to me like the RPi is focused a little too much on Python and Scratch. I understand that it's called the Pi because of Python, but ARM assembly is my favorite assembly language, and bare metal assembly in particular is just a really natural fit for physical

  • If rPi3 is an official AOSP build target, is there a market for a $75 smartphone with lifetime software updates supported by the community; One Phone Per Child, anyone?

    (Yes, I know others have tried and failed with opensource phones. The closest thing currently seems to be monohm's crowdfunded runcible but it's out of the price range for all but enthusiasts.)

  • If I go to buy a pi in Canada the $5 will be over $20 delivered, the $25 will be over 50(before shipping), and the $35 one will be $60+(before shipping).

    The exchange rate isn't that great in Canada but it is nowhere that bad. This pretty much defeats the whole $5 and put it everywhere thing. What I am asking you is to prioritize deliveries to companies that will actually charge a reasonable price. A price that includes shipping. Then they have a habit of only having the "kits" in stock. This translates to paying another 40 for a crap SD card, a crap wall wart, and a crap case.

    I would love to use some zeros robots and hand them to my kids to potentially destroy. But considering it is almost cheaper to by a crap laptop on the used market in Canada than a Pi this is just silly.
  • Will Broadcom ever fix the timing problems in its SoC to fix the SD card corruption issue or are we going to be stuck with USB/network boot as a workaround that only works on Pi3's?

  • Why doesn't hardware designed for schoolchildren not have a shutdown button?

    Would a button or even a pair of jumpers really add that much to the cost of materials?

  • I mean everything. GPU sources (including firmware), bootloader, etc? After all the publicity, financial success, and so on the least you could do is get us the full code via any means at your disposal including reverse engineering (even if it takes several years).

  • The Pi is really nice for "soft" realtime projects - but running a full OS like Linux means that you can't ever get really solid realtime performance.

    The hardware is now down cheap enough to replace Arduino's in the role of "bare to the metal" devices - and it sure would be nice not to have to have two families of boards in my hardware supplies box.

    So how about a bare-to-the-metal OS - with nothing beyond the ability to download an executable and boot/run it and all of the hardware exposed...or perhaps some

  • How did your move from software to chip design of an graphics processor, that had an ARM added on to become the Pi, come about? Do you think more coders, especially those adept at assembler, should cross the bridge to Verilog and VHDL?

  • Was the Pi Zero designed as a marketing campaign to sell subscriptions to the Raspberry Pi magazine, or is that just the way it ended up?

    Follow-up: is there any plan to release a similar product with built in wifi?

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