Hands-On: RaspberryPi NOOBS 1.3.12

I'm trying out the new RaspberryPi NOOBS 1.3.12 software release - and itching to get my hands on the new RaspberryPi 2 hardware that I just ordered!
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

There's plenty of excitement in the Raspberry Pi world this week: the big news is the announcement of the Raspberry Pi 2 hardware - the long-awaited and much-anticipated successor to the immensely popular original unit, which will now be known as the Raspberry Pi 1.

But that's not the only news: there is also a new release of the Raspbian operating system and the NOOBS (New Out Of Box Software) package. I am just back from a week in Amsterdam, and will be leaving in a few days for a short trip to Iceland, so I just have time to download and install the new software on my two Raspberry Pi 1 units (Model B and B+), and I have ordered a RPi 2 so I hope that will be waiting for me when I return. At least, the Swiss Pi-Shop says that it will be available on 3 February so I am keeping my fingers crossed - because almost all of the excitement is about the Raspberry Pi 2.

Raspberry Pi 2
Raspberry Pi Foundation

What everyone is excited about is the CPU, which is a quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 running at 900MHz, and the memory which has been doubled from 512MB to 1GB. The announcement says that the RPi 2 gives approximately six times the performance of the RPi 1 Model B+. The actual improvement will depend on the specific tasks being run, of course, and is said to range from 1.5 times to more than 20 times better.

The other really good news about this new unit is that it is both physically and functionally identical to the Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+. Physically that means that it can use the same case and peripheral adapters as the B+, and it has the same design improvements and advantages, such as four USB ports, combined audio/video output jack, and so on.

Functionally this means that it will run all the same software as the B+. This is something that the Raspberry Pi Foundation has said from the beginning, that if they ever made a new and improved model they didn't want it to instantly render all of the existing systems obsolete. It appears that they have succeeded beautifully in that.

I will write more about the Model 2 next week, hopefully, when I actually have one. If you want all the details right now, read the original blog post yourself; if you want some first-hand information about what it is like to actually use one, watch for my next post.

Speaking of first-hand information, let's move on to the practical experience part of this post, the new NOOBS package and Raspbian operating system release. Those are available as always from the Raspberry Pi Downloads page. As far as I can tell from a quick scan of the page, only Raspbian has been updated in the NOOBS 1.3.12 package, the versions of Pidora, openElec, and RaspBMC are the same as was in 1.3.11. There is also a version of Snappy Ubuntu Core available separately, but it has not been integrated into the NOOBS package yet - that is promised for sometime in the next few weeks.

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I have always download the full NOOBS installer package before, but this time I decided to try the 'NOOBS lite' package to see how it worked, and how it compares to the full package. The lite package contains only enough to boot the Raspberry Pi, bring up the wired network interface, and then list and download/install the available operating systems via the network.

There is a huge difference in size. The lite package is about 22MB while the full NOOBS package is over 700MB, so there is a corresponding difference in the amount of time needed to download them. Some of the time saved on downloading is given back when you actually select and install the operating systems from the lite installer menu - but even then it will only download the operating systems you have actually chosen to install, so the size and time savings still going to be substantial.

I chose to install Raspbian, openelec, and RaspBMC, and I was surprised to find that the actual installation time, after selecting and clicking 'Install', didn't seem to be all that much longer than it is when installing from the full NOOBS installer package on an SD disk. So it seems to me that the decision between the two could be made based on how many RPi's you need to install - if there is only one, I would most likely choose NOOBS lite, but if you have more than one to install (such as my B and B+ units) it probably pays to download the full NOOBS installer just once rather than downloading the individual packages repeatedly for each unit.

The installation and configuration are identical to the previous Raspbian and NOOBS releases. The major change in this release, and as far as I can tell just about the only change in this release, is the addition of an ARMv7 kernel, to support the new RPi 2. The Raspbian desktop is the same redesigned and cleaned-up version that was in the NOOBS 1.3.11 release.

openelec installs version 4.0.5, but after booting that can be updated to 4.2.1 via the System/openelec/System/Updates menu. That still leaves you running the final version of XBMC (13.2), though, rather than the latest version of Kodi (the successor to XBMC), because openelec will not automatically perform updates across major version releases.

If you want to update to openelec 5.x (whatever the latest version is, currently 5.0.1), you can do so manually. First download the standard tar file (not the diskimage file) from the openelec downloads page. Then comes the tricky bit, you need to copy the tar file into the openelec 'updates' directory.

Raspbian LXDE Desktop
The Raspbian LXDE Desktop
The simple way I chose to do this was to insert the RPi SD card on one of my Linux systems, then mount the partition called Storage (the actual partition number will vary depending on what operating systems you have installed, but the partition name will always be 'Storage'). The updates directory is actually called /.update within this partition, so just copy the tar file there. Then put the SD card back into the RPi and boot openelec - it should notice the updated tar file immediately, and go straight into the update process.

Raspbmc, on the other hand, is set to automatically keep itself up to date by default. So it notices after you boot it that it is out of date, and it automatically downloads and installs the latest version, which includes the latest Kodi (XBMC) version.

That's about it for today. I'll be back next week with a post about the new Raspberry Pi hardware - unless I get really lucky and someone offers me a job while I am in Iceland - assuming that the unit I have ordered is delivered by then. Fingers crossed.

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