I Wrote a Paper for a PhD Course on an Overclocked Raspberry Pi 4
… and it was AMAZING! Here’s why.
Way Fewer Distractions
Writing a research paper on the overclocked Raspberry Pi 4 (4GB) was a great experience because I was on a computer that was literally not capable of being as distracting as my other computers.
All I really needed was Google Docs and a few tabs to pull up my sources with a keyboard, mouse, and a monitor. I wrote the entire five page paper in about three hours, which is pretty fast for me.
Sure, it’s got a tiny little quad-core ARM processor and barely enough GPU power to make it through 720p YouTube for music on the side with seven tabs open, but I was blown away by the level of productivity I achieved by using this little thing.
By the nature of the machine I was using to do my work, I could not be distracted by instantly switching between 70 tabs (yeah, I’m that guy), seeing three different IDE’s for various code projects open and ready for my attention, getting Microsoft notifications from Windows, having Slack notify me, etc.
It was simple, clean, and effective for researching and writing. There was a small amount of lag or delay between tabs, but it was not a deal-breaker. Maybe it’s just that this is a new experience, but I preferred how I felt writing a paper on the Pi to how I felt on my normal Windows 10 workstation. I genuinely felt less distracted by extraneous things and was able to focus much better without all the audiovisual clutter.
I broke it a few times for sure!
Eventually, 2000 MHz on the CPU and 700 MHz on the GPU was stable. I could have probably gone a little higher on both, but I would rather have it just work with a little headroom leftover than be on the red line about to crash.
I had it stable at 1750 MHz on CPU and 600 on GPU for the first overclock following and modifying the directions here and here, but decided to push my luck to try 2147 MHz CPU and 750 MHz GPU. It technically booted, but froze before I could do anything a bunch of times in a row, so I started over.
For this overclock, I was running Raspberry Pi OS (32-bit), which I found to be a definite improvement over the last version of Raspbian.
Honestly, without the overclock, the experience was pretty bad. I did not think I would have been able to deal with the slowness. I did buy the CanaKit that came with a little case, some heat sinks, and a fan, so that definitely helped with managing to be stable over time during the work.
Can a Pi Handle an Online PhD Course?
The short answer is yes!
As of this writing, I am in the coursework phase of my PhD. It is honestly pretty similar to the level of work for when I was doing most of my master’s courses, and this one is basically a short to medium length research paper each week plus some discussion board work with other students. Basically, it’s a lot of reading and a lot of typing for right now.
Obviously with course requiring specialized programs or intense programming, I would use my normal desktop or laptop that are made for that.
For basic productivity and doing work that involves just a browser, the Pi is awesome!
Does Blackboard Work?
Yes, Blackboard works. I have not found anything broken about it with the stock Chromium that comes installed on Raspberry Pi OS 32-bit. I was surprised, but it seems like it’s good to go.
The next big test of whether the Raspberry Pi 4 (4GB) will be writing the final research paper for my current class coming up. I will write an article about that experience of doing everything for my class on a Pi. Make sure to follow me here on Medium, so you do not miss that one!