What’s It Good For?

Yesterday (Sunday) I did some “poking around” with several of my SBC (Small Board Computers). The Raspberry Pi. 

Raspberry Pi
Raspberry Pi with fan-less heat sink case.

One of them is shown to the right, a RPi4B, is in full time use running OctoPrint, a print server application for 3D printers. It’s the only thing it does and it does if very well. I can say it is fully useful and has a full time job.

I powered up another RPi4 I have installed in a super nice “Argon One” metal case with a fan and a M.2 150GB SSD. What it is… is a nice little Linux mini-PC. For which I presently have absolutely no real use. 

I did some web browsing and sent a couple of emails with that RPi. This SBC computer is never going to replace the MAC-mini and the WIN10 (almost WIN11) Intel NUC I use as my “daily drivers” (everyday use).

I have thoughts. At some point in the future I can use the Argon case RPi as my logging computer with my amateur radio station. Unfortunately the radio equipment got fried to a crisp with a direct lightning strike. I am presently unwilling to rebuild the station as I have no, good-to-great location within the house. So everything Ham Radio is in a bit of a limbo.

I can use a second OctoPrint server, as the application will only handle one active print job. I have it configured for three of my printers and it will operate with them all, no problem. Just not at the same time.

It is theoretically possible to run two server apps on one computer. Both at the same time. But the complexity of doing that is not necessary with the relative low cost of simply using another, separate RPi.

One of the very strong attractions of an SBC is their low cost making them an excellent choice for embedded single use applications, like OctoPrint. Also popular is use as a NAS (Network Attached Storage (file) server) with a large data storage drive.

A headless server is the perfect use of a SBC. No monitor, no keyboard and low power. Just sits there doing a job. 

The RPi is neat “piece of kit” as the Britts like to say. But without a real job, most of mine just lay around gathering moss. A bit of dust actually.

I will eventually build up another OctoPrint or perhaps a NAS. But at this point I have a solution looking for a problem. SBC’s with nothing to do.

I am well reminded way back in 1975, when I built my first computer (an IMSAI 8080) and was showing it off, the most common comment was, “That’s nice, but what is is good for?” 

I would say, “Anything you program it to do.” But I knew justification was going to be the most important task for any computer. Especially true today for a new SBC. That hasn’t changed. But the question is seldom openly asked, 46 years later.

Lead Photo Credit: By Don DeBold – Flickr: IMSAI 8080 Computer, CC BY 2.0,

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