microSD cards' SBC days are numbered

Raspberry Pi M.2 HAT+

For years, SBCs that aren't Raspberry Pis experimented with eMMC and M.2 storage interfaces. While the Raspberry Pi went from full-size SD card in the first generation to microSD in every generation following (Compute Modules excluded), other vendors like Radxa, Orange Pi, Banana Pi, etc. have been all over the place.

Still, most of the time a fallback microSD card slot remains.

But microSD cards—even the fastest UHS-II/A2/V90/etc. ones that advertise hundreds of MB/sec—are laggards when it comes to any kind of SBC workflow.

The two main reasons they're used are cost and size. They're tiny, and they don't cost much, especially if you don't shell out for industrial-rated microSD cards.

microSD card slot on Raspberry Pi

Limiting Handbrake threads to prevent throttling on M2 Macbook Air

Due to a recent surgery, I've been recovering at a location outside my home for a few weeks. I brought all my media with me on a spare hard drive, but one movie I had ripped but never transcoded wouldn't play on the 'Smart' TV here.

It seems to do okay with some H.264 profiles, but not the one for this 4K Blu-Ray rip. Therefore, I thought I'd transcode the file so it would play.

I also wanted to do other work on my laptop—in my lap. And unfortunately for Apple's latest M2 MacBook Air, there's no fan or heat sink to keep the M2 SoC cool.

And that meant the temperature around the top middle of the keyboard—and the bottom middle of the laptop—got quite uncomfortably hot with Handbrake's default settings, which would max out the CPU during the transcoding process.

I could encode anywhere between 10-18 fps at 4K resolution with x264, but the SoC temperature rose to 105°C and was uncomfortably hot within a minute or so.

Microsoft is still far behind: Windows on ARM

In spite of Microsoft's cryptic announcement of Project Volterra, and Qualcomm's continuous lineup of 'flagship' ARM SoCs for Windows, Microsoft is still behind the 8-ball when it comes to ARM.

Apparently, in 2016, Microsoft entered into an exclusivity deal with Qualcomm. That's why all official 'Windows on ARM' devices use Qualcomm SoCs. At the time, Apple hadn't yet pulled off its third major architecture shift for macOS, from Intel X86 to ARM.

Looking back, products like the Surface Pro X and the myriad ARM for Windows laptops, were basically built to a budget and for portability above all else. They were never competitive with Intel/AMD-based computers. Microsoft seemed to think ARM would always remain in a niche, only used for light, mobility-first devices.

Three more graphics cards on the Raspberry Pi CM4

Last year I tested two older graphics cards—a Radeon 5450 and a GeForce GT710—on a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4.

Jeff Geerling holds NVidia and ASRock Rack GPU and Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 with quizzical look

This year, I've been testing three more graphics cards—a GeForce GTX 750 Ti, a Radeon RX 550, and the diminutive ASRock Rack M2_VGA.

The Compute Module 4, if you didn't know already, exposes the BCM2711's single PCI express lane, and the official IO Board has a nice, standard, 1x PCIe slot into which you can plug any PCI express device.

M.2 on a Raspberry Pi - the TOFU Compute Module 4 Carrier Board

Ever since the Pi 2 model B went to a 4-core processor, disk IO has often been the primary bottleneck for my Pi projects.

You can use microSD cards, which aren't horrible, but... well, nevermind, they're pretty bad as a primary disk. Or you can plug in a USB 3.0 SSD and get decent speed, but you end up with a cabling mess and lose bandwidth and latency to a USB-to-SATA or USB-to-NVMe adapter.

The Pi 4 actually has an x1 PCI Express gen 2.0 lane, but the USB 3.0 controller chip populates that bus on the model B. The Compute Module 4, however doesn't presume anything—it exposes the PCIe lane directly to any card it plugs into.

TOFU board by Oratek - Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 Carrier with M.2 slot

And in the case of Oratek's TOFU, it's exposed through an M.2 slot, making this board the first one I've used that can accept native NVMe storage, directly under the Pi:

Kubuntu Focus M2 Linux laptop review and MacBook Pro comparison

A few months ago, I replaced my Core i9 MacBook Pro with a Raspberry Pi 4 model B with 8GB of RAM for a day, and I made a video and a blog post about the experience.

Obviously there's a vast difference between a new Core i9 laptop with 32 GB of RAM, a dedicated GPU, and a 2 terabytes of fast storage and a tiny Raspberry Pi running ARM. So it wasn't a fair fight, but I could do a lot of things well enough, and every generation of Pi has gotten better.

Kubuntu Focus M2 Linux laptop

A few weeks ago, someone from Mindshare Management asked me if I'd like to do the same test, but this time with an almost one-for-one replacement laptop: the new Kubuntu Focus M2.

Review video: Check out the video that goes along with this review: