HackSpace magazine

Raspberry Pi 400

By Ben Everard. Posted

Raspberry Pi computers are stripped bare. You get a PCB with all the processor, memory and connectivity, but to get a fully working computer your need to add a case, SD card, keyboard, monitor and power supply. Well, not any more the Raspberry Pi 400 bundles the processor – and indeed all the electronics – from a Raspberry Pi 4 into keyboard. As such, it looks reminiscent of a commodore 64, BBC micro or whatever your favourite 80s nostalgia machine is.

To use, the 400 is exactly the same as a Raspberry Pi 4 model B, but with the added advantage of a passive cooling system that means you can run it safely at 1.8GHz.

We won’t go through all the specs and experiences of using it as a desktop machine other than to say it performs excellently for most tasks. If you’re wondering about how a Raspberry Pi -based machine performs as a daily driver, The MagPi took a more detailed look at what it means to run a Raspberry Pi as a main desktop computer at: https://magpi.raspberrypi.org/issues/85.

The Raspberry Pi 400 has 4Gb of RAM, so that’s not as much as the highest variant of the Raspberry Pi 4 model B (which has 8Gb), but it’s plenty for almost all usual desktop use. If you really need to squeeze every drop of performance out your Raspberry Pi computer, you may need to stick to using a discrete board for now.

The Raspberry Pi 400 breaks out all the usual connectors behind the keyboard – three USB ports (2 USB 3 and one USB 2), two micro HDMI ports, SD card, 40 pin GPIO header and ethernet. The only differences between this and a Raspberry Pi 4 are one missing USB 2 (which is taken by the keyboard), no audio jack (though HDMI audio is still available) and an additional Kensington lock connector should you need to secure the device to your desk. If you need analogue audio, you can add it using a USB sound dongle or an audio HATs.

We found the keyboard comfortable to type on. It’s comparable with the laptop keyboard this reviewer uses day in-day out, and you can get it in a range of different localisations including UK, US, DE, ES, FR and IT.

There’s a few reasons to really like the Raspberry Pi 400. The first is cost – at $100 for the kit including mouse, 16GB SD card and getting started guide, it’s one of the cheapest ways getting a computer. The only thing you need to add is a monitor, so even if you don’t already have one of these, you should end up with change for £200 after getting a complete setup.

For makers, there’s the added advantage of having a tidy, solid computer for your desk built on the same hardware you use in projects. Want to fiddle with something? Just pop the SD card out of your embedded Raspberry Pi board and put it in your 400, and you can make any changes you like. It’s got the same 40 pin GPIO header as other Raspberry Pi boards, so you can use exactly the same HATs, PHATS, bonnets and other bits of extra hardware. The only slight disappointment here is that anything with a display on top will face away from the user rather than towards them. It’s a bit of a shame that you can’t have the glorious technicolour of a Unicorn HAT dazzling your eyes as you type, but unfortunately, the laws of geometry can not be broken. Not even by the Raspberry Pi engineering team. If this is a problem for your setup, you can use a GPIO extension cable to access the GPIO header more easily form the front of the machine. This reviewer has recently been playing with a Stemma QT / Qwiic compatable HAT which works really well for making a desktop machine that you can quickly and easily plug additional hardware into.

Its a computer, Neat

We suspect that a significant market for these machine will be institutions that want a set of cheap, customisable machines that ‘just work’. The Raspberry Pi 400 feels solid in our hands. While we haven’t had it for long enough to be able to definitively say that is robust enough to cope with rough handling in, say, a school, it’s certainly tougher than other machines in a similar price range that we’ve used. The SD card as a storage medium also works well here as it allows people to carry around their own data and operating system while also making it easy to re-flash the card to get it back to an initial setup.

Obviously a huge advantage of Raspberry Pi boards is that they’re tiny and can be embedded in projects. However, in cases where you don’t need this, the Raspberry Pi 400 is a cost effective, solid and tidy option for a desktop Raspberry Pi computer.


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